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 Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.

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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Sat Jan 14, 2012 5:01 pm

THE DOUBLE MIRROR: A Skeptical Journey into Buddhist Tantra by Stephen Butterfield –

In The Double Mirror, the author's personal history-- as a student of the late Tibetan master Chogyam Trungpa, known for his unconventional lifestyle and "crazy wisdom" teaching style-- is the framework for an incisive and eloquent examination of a profound spiritual journey. Writing both from a critical perspective and from his direct experience of Vajrayana practice, the author look at Buddhist tantric teachings and practices and their expressions in Vajradhatu, Trungpa's organization. While discussing how the institution may sometimes function like a "cult," Butterfield nonetheless experiences Buddhist tantra as an authentic system of profound spiritual transformation.

The Double Mirror explores the effects of Buddhist practice on personality, autonomy, perception, and health, and discusses what Buddhism has to offer American. With skeptical intelligence, Butterfield illuminates the stages, teachings, and assumptions of the Tibetan Buddhist path, offering a frank and insightful portrayal of the ideal and reality of spiritual life.

Stephen T. Butterfield was a student of the school of Buddhism founded by Chogyam Trungpa in the 1970's. At first enthralled by the authentic, liberating practices of Tibetan Buddhism, he also comes to grips with the inevitable corruption and authoritarianism inherent in any large organization. He grapples with the issues that every religious practitioner must confront, the paradox that the very practices so enriching and enlightening are contained within a structure full of ego, psychosis and greed. He discovers that Buddhism is not any more pure than Christianity, and that this is part of the thin line that a truthful, honest practitioner must always walk. He also describes the stages and teachings given at the stages within the Vajrayana tradition. Always honest in his critiques as well as praises, Stephen captures the journey of a seeker unwilling to settle for dogma, always seeking the truth behind the words, in actual experience. Although his conclusions are not always happy and comfortable, his appraisal of his Buddhist education is quite engaging.

THE GURU PAPERS: Masks of Authoritarian Power by Joel Kramer –

The Guru Papers demonstrates with uncompromising clarity that authoritarian control, which once held societies together, is now at the core of personal, social, and planetary problems, and thus a key factor in social disintegration. It illustrates how authoritarianism is embedded in the way people think, hiding in culture, values, daily life, and in the very morality people try to live by. The book unmasks authoritarianism in such areas as relationships, cults, 12-step groups, religion, and contemporary morality. Chapters on addiction and love show the insidious nature of authoritarian values and ideologies in the most intimate corners of life, offering new frameworks for understanding why people get addicted and why intimacy is laden with conflict. By exposing the inner authoritarian that people use to control themselves and others, the authors show why people give up their power, and how others get and maintain it.

SHOES OUTSIDE THE DOOR: Desire, Devotion, and Excess at San Francisco Zen Center by Michael Downing –

"Shoes Outside the Door is a not only a fine history of the San Francisco Zen Center and Zen in the United States, it is a cautionary tale, valuable to anyone embarked on a spiritual practice." --San Jose Mercury News. Eastern tradition collides with Western individualism in this provocative and compulsively readable investigation of Buddhism, American-style. A genuine spiritual movement becomes strangely entangled with elitist aesthetics, the culture of celebrity, multi-million-dollar investment portfolios, sex scandals, and an unsolved crime. Told Rashomon-fashion by a singular mix of hippies, millionaires, intellectuals, and lost souls whose lives are almost unbelievably intertwined, Shoes Outside the Door is the first book to examine the inner workings of the profoundly influential San Francisco Zen Center. In exploring the history of the most important institution in American Buddhism, author Michael Downing provocatively captures the profound ambivalence of people who earnestly seek both inner peace and worldly satisfaction.

Why did the richest, most influential, highest flying Zen center in America crash and burn in 1983? Novelist Michael Downing wondered the same thing, and after three years of interviewing members and poring over documents, his Shoes Outside the Door tells the story. Womanizing, BMW-driving Richard Baker was the abbot and visionary behind the rapid growth of the San Francisco Zen Center, but in many ways he was the antithesis of his teacher and predecessor, the inimitable and revered Shunryu Suzuki, who would choose the bruised apples out of compassion. After the early death of Suzuki, a blind and driven cult formed around Baker, seemingly filling the void until this "[banned term] Nixon of Zen" finally slept with his best friend's wife and brought his world crashing to the ground. Working with direct quotations from students and workers of the Center and its many enterprises, Downing delivers a page-turning exposé of a community that is as laudable as it is laughable. And as an outsider to both the community and Buddhism, he does it with wit and an even hand. --Brian Bruya --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly: This intense investigation/indictment from novelist Downing (Breakfast with Scot, etc.) uncovers the alleged abuses of power of Richard Baker, former abbot of the nation's most influential Zen center. Downing devoted three years to exploring how and why Baker, the only Dharma heir of Shunryu Suzuki, the founder of San Francisco Zen Center (SFZC), was toppled from the abbacy of SFZC by popular demand in 1983. He interviewed more than 80 participants in Baker's rise and fall, not including the disgraced abbot himself, who sent Downing a letter explaining his position. Downing tells the story with a novelist's attention to character and detail, and what unfolds is a gripping account of how the bright and charismatic Baker helped Suzuki and Zen gain a foothold in the West; took over SFZC; expanded its activities dramatically (by, among other initiatives, creating the fabled Greens restaurant); grew increasingly alienated from his followers while surrounding himself with celebrities and physical luxury; and finally stumbled by having an affair with the wife of one of SFZC's main backers. The problem with the book, and it's a serious one, is that Downing takes sides; for example, he refutes point by point the text of Baker's letter to him. What might have been a grand account of the making of a tragedy, then, is instead a mitigated tale of villainy. Yet because the debacle at SFZC holds lessons for anyone who cares about how religious structures, perforce hierarchical, can and should operate within a democratic society, this book deserves a wide reading, and not only by the many Buddhists who will buy it lickety-split.

MONKEY ON A STICK: Murder, Madness, and the Hare Krishnas by John Hubner and Lindsey Gruson

Reviewed by Sandy Andron, Ed. D.

There are parts of Monkey on a Stick that read remarkably like a breaking news story on the front page of your local daily newspaper. Like many tragic stories of this nature, the names, places, methods, locations, and victims are identified with the horrific circumstances detailed for the reader. The authors, newsmen by profession, are far more charitable than this reviewer when they ask at the conclusion of the book, ‘How had people who set out to make peace and love end up molesting children, running drugs, committing murder?”

Early in the text, and throughout the pages of this book is a litany of quotations that suggest that there were multiple agendas early on as the Krishna organization was gaining impetus. If "absolute power corrupts absolutely," as Lord Acton suggested so long ago, then the leadership of the movement might well be worshipping at that altar rather than at Kirishna's. Hubner and Gruson rightly point out that the Krishna movement degenerated into a number of competing cults that have known murder, the abuse of women and children, drug dealing, and swindles that would impress a mafia don.” Judge Howard Munson, cited in the notes (p. 387), in a 1980 case, expresses similar concern about the duplicity of the Krishnas.

The title of the book comes from an Indian parable. It explains that when a monkey steals bananas from a plantation in India, the farmers kill and impale the monkey on a stick as an example to other monkeys to stay away. Leaving it thus on display, the message to others is plain and obvious. One is reminded of the old stocks in Salem, of the witch trials, of branding, and of equally barbaric and merciless customs. Thus understood, however, we see the message as the caveat to members of the group not to defect, nay, not even to question the orders of the hierarchy. Some did. Some died.

Examples in the book are myriad. Beneath the dhotis (Indian robes) and the shikhas (pony tails) were lurking minds which directed their devotees to steal even from one another. In response to accusations that stolen property was found in a member’s van, the remarkable response is, ‘And why were you snooping around our vans?”, and further, that the theft was perpetrated out of “Love for Krishna. They were simply taking what they had to have to use in his service.” And finally, “Krishna smiles on every endeavor, as long as it is done in his service.” Convoluted thinking. No?

Airport solicitors were told- ‘I don’t care what you do, as long as you make your quotas.” Devotees who recoiled from questionable Krishna solicitation methods were told that they were simply exercising their First Amendment religious expression rights, and those who were still reticent were kicked out of the movement. Justifying stealing by calling it ‘liberating it [money and goods] for Krishna" just doesn’t wash. Nor does the rationalization of drug smuggling: the leaders told followers that the drug money went to build temples, and the more temples there were the more converts there would be, and this would mean fewer drug addicts. One day, bingo, no more drug users. Such reasoning wouldn’t acquit in Logic 101!

When arms caches which would equip a small army are found, when hate literature, larceny, and political totalism are discovered among the Krishna, when children are raped in front of other children and devotees are instructed that "three things are better when you beat them: your drum, your dog, and your wife," it is not surprising that deaths also occurred in the groups and that the seeds of destruction were planted just as surely as the corpses of recalcitrant followers.

What motivated one woman to say she had played so many parts in so many scams that she felt like an actress in a second-string repertory company is not explained in this book any more than what prompted others to commit murder and still others to direct them to do so. But that is not for journalists to decipher. They are chronicling the degeneration of a would-be religious organization mired in what the Krishna themselves call maya (illusion). Far from their stated goal and ideal of egolessness, Krishna leaders sought power, even divinity. They failed.

The vignettes on leaders and devotees throughout Monkey on a Stick - which connect the stories of many people by the ongoing investigation of a policeman - are at times confusing, since individuals’ Krishna names and former names are used interchangeably. But the book nonetheless reads well, and is often riveting, and the whole is certainly greater than the sum of its parts. For those interested or involved in cult-related work, the book is a must for your reading list. It is the definitive work to date exposing the inner workings of the Hare Krishna movement.

This book review appeared in The Cult Observer, 6(4), July/August, 1989, p. 18.

CARTWHEELS IN A SARI: A Memoir of Growing Up in a Cult by Jayanti Tamm

In this colorful, eye-opening memoir, Jayanti Tamm offers an unforgettable glimpse into the hidden world of growing up “cult” in mainstream America. Through Jayanti’s fascinating story–the first book to chronicle Sri Chinmoy–she unmasks a leader who convinces thousands of disciples to follow him, scores of nations to dedicate monuments to him, and throngs of celebrities (Sting, Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela) to extol him.

When the short, bald man in flowing robes prophesizes Jayanti to be the “Chosen One,” her life is forever entwined with the charismatic guru Sri Chinmoy, who declares himself a living god. A god who performs sit-ups and push-ups in front of thousands as holy ritual, protects himself with a platoon of bodyguards, and bans books, TV, and sex. Jayanti’s unusual and increasingly bizarre childhood is spent shuttling between the ashram in Queens, New York, and her family’s outpost as “Connecticut missionaries.” On the path to enlightenment decreed by Guru, Jayanti scrubs animal cages in his illegal basement zoo, cheerleads as he weight lifts an elephant in her front yard, and trails him around the world as he pursues celebrities such as Princess Diana and Mother Teresa.

But, when her need for enlightenment is derailed by her need for boys, Jayanti risks losing everything that she has ever known, including the person that she was ordained to be. With tenderness, insight, and humor, Jayanti explores the triumphs and trauma of an insider who longs to be an outsider, her hard-won decision to finally break free, and the unique challenges she confronts as she builds a new life.

Tamm's parents met in the Manhattan apartment of the guru Sri Chinmoy and quickly married each other at his insistence; when they violated his commandment not to have sex with each other, however, he regrouped by declaring that their daughter, Tamm, would become his greatest disciple. The cult leader was a skilled manipulator, and Tamm's descriptions of her internalization of his predation, constantly blaming herself for not feeling worshipful enough, are wrenching. The outward pressures were equally difficult: she was forbidden a college education and sent abroad when she was caught violating the cultwide ban on dating—and the first time she was banished from the group, she begged for readmittance. Tamm, now in her late 30s and a professor at Ocean County College in New Jersey, is unsparing in her account of the psychological damage Sri Chinmoy inflicted on her and her family, from her parent's loveless marriage to her half-brother's gleeful acceptance of the role of the guru's enforcer. She reveals the difficulties in shaking off the guru's influence—under which she had spent literally her entire life before her final expulsion—and though readers might wish to hear more about how she eventually regained her identity, the harrowing details of her story create a sense of emotional devastation that will linger. (Apr.)

In this frank, clear-eyed memoir, Tamm recounts her youth as the chosen disciple of Sri Chinmoy, the wildly charismatic leader of a New York–based spiritual sect that counts celebrities and heads of nations among its millions of followers. “All of my childhood memories involve trying to obey and please guru,” Tamm writes, and with concise, absorbing detail, she describes her early years, spent playing board games such as “Disciple Chutes and Ladders” (“Did not meditate soulfully—Go back ten spaces”); her chaste but forbidden teen encounters with guys, after which the Guru reminds her, “The Supreme is your eternity’s boyfriend”; and a young-adult crisis that leads to a suicide attempt and, ultimately, her break with the cult. Tamm never sensationalizes the facts, and her narrative restraint only intensifies the emotional impact of each incident. Witty, compassionate, and often heartbreaking, Tamm’s story offers crucial insight into a cult’s inner workings and methods of indoctrination. All readers, though, will recognize universal coming-of-age themes as Tamm discards unwanted childhood lessons and begins to shape an independent adult life. --Gillian Engberg

WITHOUT THE GURU: How I took My Life Back after Thirty Years by Michael Finch

For 30 years Mike Finch gave his total allegiance, his energy, his devotion, his dreams, and his love to Guru Maharaji (the Lord of the Universe, Prem Rawat​). He also gave Maharaji and his organizations two inheritances, a house, and hundreds of thousands of dollars. As Maharaji's former chauffeur Mike was close to him personally; he lived as a renunciate in Maharaji's ashrams, and was authorized to reveal Maharaji's secret teachings. The book is a narrative of Mike's time with Maharaji, and his struggle to surrender his life to Maharaji, and to achieve the liberation that Maharaji promised.

It is a story of being confined within a rigid belief system, realizing it, and learning how to break out from it. It is a story of how he came to live, think, feel, behave, and love, without 'the Guru', meaning both Maharaji, as the actual guru in his life; and in a more general sense of learning to face oneself and the world without any intermediary or negotiator, of any kind, in between.

Recommendation from Steve Hassan

I have recently made the time to finally read this fine book, although I was sent a review copy over a year ago. I am glad that Mike followed up and sent me another copy, and that we had the chance to sit down for lunch, along with a brief addition of his lovely life-partner Gail.

I have been doing my 'work' of helping former members and raising awareness since I left my own involvement with the Unification Church (yes, the Moonies) back in 1976. I say this here, because it is rare that I get to learn from a fellow traveler, a former member from another totalistic group, with insights and perspectives that dovetail with some of my own conclusions, but from a somewhat different orientation.

I heartily recommend this book for people to read. Not just former members of Guru Maharaji (aka Prem Rawat), not just former members of other eastern 'guru' groups, nor even other cult groups of every shape size and orientation. It is a book that the general public can benefit from reading - especially the last fifty or so pages. I also think people who have been devoted to a religion of any kind who have left it would find this insightful - but particularly former long term members of high demand groups and cults.

In my cult experience, my recruitment and indoctrination to have utter and complete belief in Sun Myung Moon as the Lord of the Universe paralleled Mike Finch's. They achieved my total submission to Moon and his beliefs and practices and organization within a few months. I dropped out of college, donated my bank account, turned my back on poetry, art, my family, friends to work for the Messiah and to 'save the world.' I was prepared to die or be killed for Moon. I was also absolutely sure I would spend the rest of my life doing his 'will.' That ended abruptly when I fell asleep while driving a fundraising van, and my family did an intervention and rescued me. When I learn about Lifton and brainwashing, Jonestown and other cults - like Scientology, Krishna, TM, Children of God, DLM - it became clear that all of these groups were deceptively recruiting and using social influence techniques and other mind control methods to enslave people. And so I began my crusade which has lasted these several decades.

Mike Finch: He walked out on his own, with the help and prodding of his life-partner Gail, who had woken up herself to the realization that not only was Maharaji not the Lord incarnate, but also that he was extremely abusive and harmful. She helped him see what he knew from his experience was true.

This book, and his web site where he continues his exploration, restarts his life and continues to evolve, surely is a very important guide for the multitudes of people who are still in cult groups after twenty or thirty years. He also offers them hope, that you can come out, and reclaim your personal power and move forward.

Read this book and share it with others!

Steve Hassan

THE RAJNEESH CHRONICLES: The True Story of the Cult that Unleashed the First Act of Bioterrorism on U.S. Soil by Win McCormack (Editor)


The Rajneesh Chronicles is a collection of in-depth investigative and analytical articles published in Oregon Magazine covering the establishment of the city of Rajneeshpuram in Central Oregon in mid-1981 to its dramatic disintegration at the end of 1985. While most press treated the Rajneeshees' antics as a humorous sideshow typified by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh’s dozens of Rolls-Royces, editor in chief Win McCormack and other of the magazine’s writers systematically exposed the full range of the cult's depraved behavior, including its involvement in prostitution and international drug smuggling, sexual exploitation of children, abuse of homeless people imported into Rajneeshpuram to register as voters, and the use of brainwashing techniques bordering on torture. The tale of the Rajneeshees has become an amorphous legend few inside or outside of Oregon understand. The Rajneesh Chronicles fully illuminates the shocking reality behind that legend.

THE MOTHER OF GOD by Luna Tarlo

This is a mother's account of her experience as a disciple of her own son - Andrew Cohen, a well-known American guru - and of her struggle to free herself from his control. What had been a close, affectionate relationship slowly becomes a nightmare of domination. The story begins quiely in India and unfolds with growing intensity as Andrew, his mother, and a few people who have gathered around him, travel to England, Holland, Israel, and finally the United States, but which time Andrew has attracted hundreds of devotees to his "meetings." The abuse of power, incessant fear, and the pyschology of obsession are all explored here from an intimate perspective. Since brainwashing cults and their grandiose gurus are proliferating - in this country and all over the world - this book is not only a mother's lament, but also a finger pointing to the growing appeal everywhere of authoritarianism and absolutism.

AMERICAN GURU: A Story of Love, Betrayal and Healing-former students of Andrew Cohen speak out


American Guru is a multifaceted account of life in the contemporary spiritual community known as EnlightenNext, and the controversial "teaching methods" of its New York-born founder, self-proclaimed "guru" Andrew Cohen. With contributions from several of Cohen's former students, William Yenner recalls the thirteen-year trajectory of his career as a leader and manager in Cohen's community--his early days as an idealistic "seeker," his years of service on EnlightenNext's Board of Directors, his ultimate disillusionment and departure,and his efforts to make sense of his experiences as a once-devoted follower of a "Teacher of Evolutionary Enlightenment." With wit and insight, Yenner and his colleagues have produced a riveting cautionary tale on the dangers of authoritarian spirituality, and an insider'scase study on the promises and pitfalls of postmodern discipleship. "William Yenner's courageous exposé, American Guru, is a powerful reminder that all of our tendencies toward idealization of dharma teachers must be carefully examined." -William Morgan, Psy.D., member of the Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy,co-author of Mindfulness and Psychotherapy "William Yenner's true, uncensored-and finally ungagged-moving personal story, in combination with the powerful reflections, recollections and contributions of other former community members, makes American Guru an essential source document for the study and understanding of authoritarian spiritual sects." -Hal Blacker, former editor of EnlightenNext magazine "American Guru is not a mean-spirited book. It is, rather, a refreshingly honest one." -David Christopher Lane, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy, Mt. San Antonio College Check out the book online at www.americanguru.net

ENLIGHTENMENT BLUES: My Years with an American Guru by Andre van der Braak


Enlightenment Blues is Andre van der Braak’s compelling first hand account of his relationship with a prominent spiritual teacher. It chronicles both the author’s spiritual journey and disenchantment as well the development of a missionary and controversial community around the teacher. It powerfully exposes the problems and necessities of disentanglement from a spiritual path.

“Enlightenment Blues is the account of a young man's sincere and protracted struggle to transform his life according to the teachings of the American guru Andrew Cohen. Ruthlessly honest and unsettling, Andre van der Braak gives a vivid first-hand account of an uncompromising experiment in establishing Indian spirituality in a modern Western setting. This story is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the allure and pitfalls of surrendering one's authority in the hope of spiritually transforming the world” Stephen Batchelor, Author Buddhism without Beliefs

“Narrated with the psychological subtlety and drama of a good novel, Enlightenment Blues is a precise, profound dissection of the guru-devotee relationship. It should be required reading for all who are currently engaged in or considering studying under a spiritual teacher.” John Horgan, author of Rational Mysticism

"A profound contribution. The maturity and balance of this book place it at the front rank of works on contemporary spirituality. All the major themes of the spiritual quest are here - reason versus emotion, the problem of the ego, the guru, self-doubt, the place of altered states. Andre van der Braak has the creative gift of being able to hold opposing ideas in his mind without moving towards premature closure. Hence this heartfelt account of his eleven years in the Cohen movement is a beautiful testament to one man's quest to discover his own reality. Enlightenment Blues deserves the widest readership." Len Oakes, Prophetic Charisma

“Enlightenment Blues is the personal story of one man’s eleven year journey into and out of a group of seekers of enlightenment with a charismatic leader who claims to be an exemplar of perfection. What distinguishes this book are the writer’s insights and honesty in portraying the workings of an authoritarian belief system that operates under the guise of spiritual revelations. Anyone who has ever belonged to such a group, or knows anyone who has, or who wants to understand what the appeals and dangers of surrendering to a guru consist of, would benefit from reading this book.” Joel Kramer, author, The Guru Papers

"Andre van der Braak’s story is our own story. We walked the ‘yellow brick road’ whether it was Zen or Yoga or Advaita. We desperately wished for or found a Guru who could help us find our way home and we wholly gave ourselves. Andre’s talk of it is fresh and innocent. He takes us by the hand through a hazardous trail. Neither bitter nor estranged, nor having lost his passion for the way, he remembers with us what really happened, and why.” Orit Sen-Gupta, Author, Dancing the Body of Light – The Future of Yoga

Andre van der Braak lived in Andrew Cohen’s spiritual community for 11 years, an involvement initiated shortly after Cohen had begun teaching. He was one of the original editors for “What is Enlightenment Magazine”. He was also an editor for Cohen’s first teaching text, Enlightenment is a Secret, which entailed reading over 4,000 pages of transcribed talks, and editing them into book form.

SORCERER'S APPRENTICE: My Life with Carlos Castaneda by Amy Wallace


Sorcerer’s Apprentice opens with Amy Wallace’s first meeting with Carlos Castaneda, the infamous anthropologist-turned-shaman, whose books described meetings with Yaqui Indian spiritual teacher don Juan. Castaneda’s rise was meteoric in the late 1960s as he wrote massive bestsellers, inspired many to experiment with psychedelics, and was dubbed “the Godfather of the New Age.” The possibility that Castaneda’s experiences may have been fabricated did little to compromise his legend.

As the daughter of best-selling novelist Irving Wallace, Amy was rarely shy around famous people. When her father insisted she meet Castaneda, she at first demurred. Little did she know that a delightful first meeting would begin a 20-year friendship, followed by her descent into the dramatic and deeply troubled affair chronicled in this book. Sorcerer’s Apprentice unblinkingly reveals the inner workings of the “Cult of Carlos,” run by a charismatic authoritarian in his sixties who controlled his young female followers through emotional abuse, mind games, bizarre rituals, dubious teachings, and sexual excess. Wallace’s story is both specific and universal, a captivating cautionary tale about the dangers of giving up one’s power to a tyrant–and about surviving assaults on body and spirit.

"Amy Wallace expertly maps the territory where mysticism merges into insanity, or perhaps the unmarked land between screwball comedy and terrifying tragedy. I can’t recall a stranger, sadder narrative than this."
—Carolyn See, author of Making a Literary Life

“Truth hurts … and so does Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Amy Wallace’s harrowing account of her years as Carlos Castaneda’s lover and disciple is a cautionary tale for our times, the story of a woman whose search for meaning took her to the brink, and [banned term] near cost her everything. In this painfully honest memoir, she takes us deep inside the Castaneda cult and shows us the mind games, ego trips, and petty cruelties that wore the guise of wisdom. ‘Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!’ the Wizard once tried to tell Dorothy. Amy Wallace has ripped the curtain down, and laid the wizard bare for all to see.”
—George R.R. Martin, author of A Game of Thrones

“Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a haunting and brutally honest memoir that reads like a tender love story and, at the same time, a taut psychological thriller. Amy Wallace writes with wisdom, grace, courage, and candor about one of the most charismatic figures of all our times, and she allows us to witness both the splendor and the danger of entrusting one’s fate to a powerful man or woman.”
—Jonathan Kirsch, author of The Harlot by the Side of the Road and The Woman Who Laughed at God

"I simply could not put this book down. Amy Wallace’s relationship with Carlos Castaneda was transformative, exciting, abusive, and painful. This is a cautionary tale, containing essential insights for all of us. Thank you, Amy, for having the courage to tell your story so that others may learn from it, and from the redemptive powers of your own healing."
—Susan Piver, author of The Hard Questions
From the Inside Flap
"Amy Wallace takes you behind the scenes into the bizarre personal and sexual life of one of the most influential yet elusive figures of the 60s and beyond—Carlos Castaneda. This book is her journey with the man and his inner circle from her unique vantage point as one of his lovers and wives. Her idealism and disillusionment mirror that of an era which left many, like Amy, searching for hope and unwilling to descend into cynicism and bitterness. Amy’s struggle to rebuild a new foundation, though a story of seduction and betrayal on many levels, is also about the author’s reaching for transformation and personal meaning. This book will greatly interest anyone who was ever affected by ‘the teachings of don Juan.’ "
—Joel Kramer & Diana Alstad, co-authors of The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power

"Carlos Castaneda told astonishing truths, with an empowering Gnostic brilliance. He also told astonishing lies, spinning out like wild silk from a crazy spider’s [banned term]. Sorcerer’s Apprentice tells the horrifying, heartbreaking tale of the lives entangled in his web. And it hurts like a son of a [banned term]. With far greater personal honesty than Castaneda ever managed, Amy Wallace drags us—first happily, then screamingly—deep into the Cult of Carlos: boldly capturing both the staggering beauty and the utter steaming nonsense of his world. It’s an [banned term]-kicking, soul-grinding book, beautifully written and breathtakingly acute. I suggest that you read it, and test your faith."
—John Skipp, novelist, filmmaker

"Amy Wallace has gone through the looking glass of Castaneda’s magic and come back out the other side with her wits, and wit, intact. What’s more, she has remembered it all with a novelist’s eye and ear, so the result is a harrowing and vivid look at life inside a charismatic circle—the petty tyrannies, the abusive cruelties, the sometimes unintended silliness. If this remarkable book is evidence, what enabled her to survive Castaneda and his cult is a lucid, generous, often funny intelligence that spares no one, least of all herself."
—Joe Kanon, author of Los Alamos

"Amy Wallace expertly maps the territory where mysticism merges into insanity, or perhaps the unmarked land between screwball comedy and terrifying tragedy. I can’t recall a stranger, sadder narrative than this."
—Carolyn See, author of Making a Literary Life

"Amy Wallace’s compelling memoir reveals what some of us suspected all along: Don Juan’s teachings are a yucky way of knowledge."
—Jon Winokur, author of The Portable Curmudgeon

"Carlos Castaneda was one of the shapers of human consciousness during the period between the Beatles and the end of the twentieth century. After his death he remains a major spiritual and intellectual force. Yet he cast a schizophrenic shadow over our civilization. On the one hand, he taught us that we are here for a brief time in a beautiful, wondrous manifestation, and we must throw off the shackles of materialism, academic reductionism, and commercial distraction to realize our destiny, to experience the vast, untapped potential of our body-minds; on the other hand, he made the task so daunting and ultimately (if one reads him literally) terrifying and hopeless that he paralyzed many of his devotees and readers into inaction, submission, addictions, and denial. Amy Wallace has finally come along to liberate us from the spell. She says, ‘I will show you Carlos as he was. Follow the authentic spirit guide in him, but reject the manipulations of a tragically flawed and jealous guru. You are free to meet the Eagle on your own terms.’ "
—Richard Grossinger, author of Planet Medicine

"I read Sorcerer’s Apprentice with absolute fascination. Like millions of others, I had always wondered what was behind the Castaneda myth. My own life once gave me the choice of going down the guru path, a choice I rejected because, to me, it’s morally wrong for one person to claim closer knowledge of deity than any other. It’s always a lie, and the fearsome consequences of that lie in the life of the unfortunate creature who takes the guru path, as well as his followers, is exposed here with breathtaking candor. Sorcerer’s Apprentice is an extremely powerful book and fair warning both to those who would presume to claim special favor in the spirit, as well as those drawn by their own needs to such people. Amy Wallace warns us with her honesty and her careful attention to crucial emotional details, that guru-worship is a disease. For those who have wondered whether or not Castaneda’s various guides were real in some objective sense, reading this book will clear up the mysteries that need solving. But it is also a compassionate book, deeply so, because compassion inevitably flows from honesty of this high an order. It is a triumph of Amy Wallace’s heart to have written this, and I thank her for the wisdom and enrichment of spirit that reading it has given me."
—Whitley Strieber, author of Communion --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

THE GURU LOOKED GOOD: A Memoir by Marta Szabo

from Amazon.com: Marta Szabo's The Guru Looked Good is essential reading for anyone once involved in Siddha Yoga, a similar spiritual group, movement or organization they questioned, corporate culture, or dysfunctional relationships where they gave their power away, betrayed themselves or felt betrayed.

Without knowing anything about me personally, Szabo clarified most of the nagging questions I'd had about the organization - I was involved in Siddha Yoga for over fifteen years and know friends and family who were involved much longer - and helped me put together a puzzle I believed unsolvable. Szabo brilliantly lays bare (without pointing fingers or attacking anyone else's "experience") the dysfunction festering at the core of Siddha Yoga, and the troubling dynamics surrounding it's charismatic leader.

In the past, almost everything I'd ever read about Siddha Yoga that was "critical" (mainly the magazine articles in the 1990s, in particular The New Yorker piece, O Guru, Guru, Guru by Lis Harris) seemed laced with a nastiness that felt personal and led me to question the motives of the authors. Szabo's book is the opposite - not an attack against an organization but rather one individual's personal account.

In a straightforward, here's-my-story-draw-your-own-conclusions way, Szabo inspired me look back at my own experience with Siddha Yoga and trust the things I'd always felt intuitively but couldn't articulate - suspicions and secrets I'd buried as successfully as Siddha Yoga had buried the truth of its own history.

Szabo helped me finally reconcile the disparity that was always present between my own personal experience (which was overwhelmingly positive) and the things about Siddha Yoga "the organization" that continued to gnaw in my gut. As I read TGLG, the things I'd hidden from myself and things Siddha Yoga had concealed rose to the surface and came together. After I finished TGLG I felt a combination of deep sadness and great relief.

Szabo's memoir will also be of particular interest to those who were damaged, abused or oppressed as children - and then later sought ways, successful or not, to make sense of themselves, to escape or heal through their relationships, spiritual seeking, drug use, or work in the world.

Speaking as someone previously involved, it has been interesting to note in recent years how Siddha Yoga's once center-stage-in-the-spiritual-community presence has gradually tiptoed off into the wings, and is now heading for the exit - perhaps due to the fact that so much of what Szabo exposes (by simply telling her own story) finally caught up with them.

Another review: This is an excellent personal account of a lengthy involvement in a cult by a woman who had already left another oppressive, high-demand cult leader, only to find herself caught up by a different one, the guru of Siddha Yoga. Szabo eventually finds herself treated as one of the privileged elite of the group, since she is a personal secretary to the guru, but she soon discovers the deadening emptiness of this privilege. As with all such groups led by a charismatic cult leader, it soon turns out that a higher spiritual life involves pleasing the guru's every whim, and that the real purpose of the group's existence, no matter what its claims about encouraging spiritual growth, is to pump up the ego of the cult leader. (For another example of this dynamic in action, I recommend Jayanti Tamm's _Cartwheels in a Sari_). Szabo eventually discovers that even a life of relative ease and privilege isn't worth throwing away her writing talent and ambitions for, and she courageously breaks free. I wish, however, that Szabo had chosen a better title for this book, because the title is not explicitly referred to in the text and seems needlessly vague. But this is a minor complaint; overall, the writing is very good and the book is an excellent read.

MY LIFE IN ORANGE: Growing up with the Guru by Tim Guest

London journalist Guest (the Guardian; the Daily Telegraph) shares the bittersweet story of his nomadic childhood as a member of the sannyasin, a group of people who swathed themselves in orange and lived in the various communes of the infamous Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. In 1979, when Guest was six, he was brought into the group by his mother, a lapsed Catholic who "surrendered herself to the world without a second thought," moving to England, Germany, India and Oregon to work for the cause of Bhagwan's Eastern mysticism (which involved, among other things, engaging in sexual freedom and inhaling laughing gas). Guest played with the ragtag children of the hippie adults working in these ashrams, sometimes going for long periods of time without his mother's love or guidance. He systematically observes the daily lives of the sannyasin and their master, refusing to trash the devotees or their spiritual beliefs, instead targeting the manipulations of Bhagwan, whom he depicts as a power-mad holy man who taught restraint, poverty and obedience yet collected Rolls-Royces and told jokes "cribbed from Playboy." Guest forgives his neglectful mother as he records Bhagwan's fall from grace through American tax evasion, lawsuits and denials of admittance from country to country until his empire crumbled. Honest and vivid, this is an absorbing book about survival and good intentions gone awry.

From The New Yorker: Guest's memoir recalls an ambulant childhood—a ranch here, an ashram there—among the disciples of the infamous guru Bhagwan Rajneesh, a Rolls-Royce-driving charismatic who instructed his followers to wear only the colors of the sun and to liberate themselves from bourgeois hang-ups. For his followers, the Bhagwan's communes were lands of plenty, filled with sex, drugs, t'ai-chi sessions, and primal-scream therapies. Their children, however, survived largely on their wits: Guest and his friends swipe beedi cigarettes from the commissary and get high on Darjeeling, but they're starved for belonging and belongings. One of Guest's attempts to spend time with his mother is thwarted by a sign that reads, "Motherhood Group in Progress. Please Do Not Disturb." Occasionally, his recriminations smack of a similar self-indulgence, but, as the guru's regime crumbles, Guest's account of paradise lost gains acuity from the fact that, for him, it was mostly hell in the first place.
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Sat Jan 14, 2012 8:28 pm

CITIES ON A HILL: A Brilliant Exploration of Visionary Communities Remaking the American Dream (one chapter forcused on Rajneesh's Oregon commune)

FitzGerald (Fire in the Lake here explores four subcultures whose members she sees as quintessentially American: all of them share a belief that theycan remake their lives and, in doing so, lay the groundwork for transforming society. San Francisco's Castro neighborhood, haven of the gay-rights movement, was a sexual free-for-all before the AIDS epidemic hit; the author contrasts Harvey Milk's "hip politics" of the 1970s with the more stoic, conservative outlook of homosexuals today. She probes the questionable financial transactions of Jerry Falwell's Baptist church in Virginia, whose mostly white, middle-class parishioners come off here as cultish conformists. The residents of Sun City, a Florida retirement village, are pioneering a national experiment: retirement on a mass scale. They lead highly scheduled, busy lives and are disentwined from their children. Red-clad disciples of silent guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh turn out to include many articulate ex-professionals. While FitzGerald bends the evidence to fit her thesis, her report brilliantly succeeds in getting inside the minds of these communities. Major ad/promo; first serial to the New Yorker.

The idea of starting fresh, building a new (restructured, better) life, not only individually, but communally with other like-minded souls, is, says Pulitzer Prize-winning author FitzGerald, probably quintessentially American. In a fascinating study, she focuses on four contemporary communitiesSan Francisco's Castro district, Rajneeshpuram in Oregon, Sun City retirement village in Florida, and Reverend Jerry Falwell's parish enclave in Virginiathat are diverse but related examples of the "prodigiously fertile and hugely profligate" countercultural movements in the United States in recent decades. A very readable and thoughtful work, this is highly recommended for academics and the general public as a contribution to understanding our uniqueness as a nation.

THE GOLDEN GURU: The Strange Journey of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh by James S. Gordon

Gordon speculates that Indian guru Rajneesh owned 93 Rolls Royces as a clever reminder to his disciples that the whole of existence is just a play, a game. That woolly thought is fairly typical of the twaddle that weighs down this firsthand report by an NIMH psychiatrist who tracked the laconic holy man for 13 years, from Poona, India to his communal ranch in Antelope, Ore. In India, Gordon found the movement "in many ways sensible and attractive" while recognizing the physical violence and coercion that were common occurrences. His sojourn to Rajneeshpuram in Oregon yields a grisly tale of paranoia among disciples, attempted poisonings and ruthless manipulation by the swami's assistant, Ma Anand Sheela. Gordon's conflicted stance, a mixture of admiration and disillusion, reverence and dismay, is immoderate in light of the episodes he describes.

HELLBENET FOR ENLIGHTENMENT: Unmasking Sex, Power, and Death with a Notorious Master by Rosemary Hamilton

A fascinating account of Rosemary Lansdowne's spiritual odyssey with Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and her confrontation with religious fascism. The author describes how she went from being the director of Canada's Mortgage and Housing Corporation to a cook at the infamous Oregon ashram.

This is an insider's look at one of the most interesting chapters in twentieth-century American religious life. For two years in the late 1980s, Rajneesh was a media mainstay, attracting thousands to his teachings and scandalizing thousands more.

Lansdowne looks directly into the evil that emerged from within the Rajneesh commune and the fanaticism that ultimately brought down the ashram and ended in the deportation of its spiritual leader. For the first time, light is shed on how such negative behavior evolved within the tight-knit group of devotees.

INSIDE SCIENTOLOGY: The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion by Janet Reitman

Scientology, created in 1954 by a prolific sci-fi writer named L. Ron Hubbard, claims to be the world’s fastest growing religion, with millions of members around the world and huge financial holdings. Its celebrity believers keep its profile high, and its teams of “volunteer ministers” offer aid at disaster sites such as Haiti and the World Trade Center. But Scientology is also a notably closed faith, harassing journalists and others through litigation and intimidation, even infiltrating the highest levels of the government to further its goals. Its attacks on psychiatry and its requirement that believers pay as much as tens and even hundreds of thousands of dollars for salvation have drawn scrutiny and skepticism. And ex-members use the Internet to share stories of harassment and abuse.

Now Janet Reitman offers the first full journalistic history of the Church of Scientology, in an evenhanded account that at last establishes the astonishing truth about the controversial religion. She traces Scientology’s development from the birth of Dianetics to today, following its metamorphosis from a pseudoscientific self-help group to a worldwide spiritual corporation with profound control over its followers and even ex-followers.

Based on five years of research, unprecedented access to Church officials, confidential documents, and extensive interviews with current and former Scientologists, this is the defining book about a little-known world.

HEARTBREAK AND RAGE: Ten Years under Sun Myung Moon by K. Gordon Neufeld

Mass weddings. Matching ceremonies where people meet their future spouses for the first time. Desperate flower-sellers approaching bar customers late at night. Isolated farms where young men and women are rapidly transformed into fanatical devotees of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. All these are well-known aspects of life in the Unification Church​, often called the "Moonies". In Heartbreak and Rage: Ten Years Under Sun Myung Moon, a Cult Survivor's Memoir, K. Gordon Neufeld recalls his own participation in all of these events in a powerful and engrossing, and occasionally wistful and tender, memoir. Neufeld recounts his own rise in the ranks of the Unification Church to the position of a leader-in-training at the Unification Theological Seminary, a promotion that indirectly led to his growing disillusionment. Yet even when he found himself rejected by the woman Moon had chosen for his bride, and by the church to which he had been unswervingly dedicated, he refused to give up, but carried on until there was absolutely no way to continue. At last, demonstrating great courage, Neufeld broke free from his state of mental transfixion without the aid of deprogrammers. This is an unforgettable story of persistence, devotion, love and loss.

INSANE THERAPY: Portrait of a Psychotherapy Cult by Marybeth F. Ayella


Sensational media coverage of groups like Heaven's Gate, the People's Temple, and Synanon is tinged with the suggestion that only crazy, lonely, or gullible people join cults. Cults attract people on the fringe of society, people already on the edge. Contrary to this public perception, Marybeth Ayella reveals how anyone seeking personal change in an intense community setting is susceptible to the lure of group influence. The book begins with the candid story of how one keen skeptic was recruited by Moonies in the 1970s - the author herself. Ayella's personal experience fueled her interest in studying the cult phenomenon. This book focuses on her analysis of one community in southern California,

The Center for Feeling Therapy, which opened in 1971 as an offshoot of Arthur Janov's Primal Scream approach. The group attracted mostly middle-class, college-educated clients interested in change through intense sessions led by licensed therapists. At the time of the Center's collapse in 1980, there were three hundred individuals living in the therapeutic community and another six hundred outpatients. Through interviews with twenty-one former patients, the author develops a picture of the positive changes they sought, the pressures of group living, and the allegations of abuse against therapists. Many patients contended that they were beaten, made to strip before the group and to engage in forced sex, forced to have abortions and give up children, and coerced to donate money and to work in business affiliated with the Center. The close of the Center brought yet more trauma to the patients as they struggled to readjust to mainstream life. Ayella recounts the stories of these individuals, again and again returning to the question of how personal identity is formed and the power of social influences. This book is a key to understanding how 'normal' people wind up in cults. Author note: Marybeth F. Ayella teaches Sociology at St. Joseph's University.

THE RISE AND FALL OF SYNANON: A California Utopia by Rod Janzen

Chuck Dederich--a former Alcoholics Anonymous member who coined the phrase "Today is the first day of the rest of your life"--established Synanon as an innovative drug rehabilitation center near the Santa Monica beach in 1958. Synanon evolved quickly into an experimental commune and "religion" that attracted thousands of nonaddict members and was strongly committed to social justice and progressive education. Over 25,000 people were members of Synanon at various times, including jazz musicians Charlie Haden and Stan Kenton; supporters of the group included Senator Thomas Dodd, comedian Steve Allen, and psychologist Abraham Maslow. In its later years, however, the group became involved in highly publicized violent actions--including putting a rattlesnake in the mailbox of a Los Angeles-area attorney--making the group's name synonymous with paranoid cults.

Based on extensive primary sources and interviews with former members, The Rise and Fall of Synanon explores how the institution evolved in the context of American social, political, and economic trends. Historian Rod Janzen argues that the group's downfall resulted from members giving too much power to Synanon's charismatic founder and a small group of top-level associates. Media attention focused on the group's cultlike activities, neglecting the community's significant successes in drug rehabilitation and social integration. Janzen's in-depth analysis of Synanon serves as a fascinating case study of how alternative societies can change over time and how the general public's reactions to such societies can shift from tolerance to stances of fear and active opposition.
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Sat Jan 14, 2012 10:21 pm

LIVES IN THE SHADOW: with J. Krishnamurti by Radha Sloss

This is not only the story of one person. It is the story of the relationships of J. Krishnamurti and people closely involved with him, especially Rosalind Williams Rajagopal and D. Rajagopal, my mother and father, and of the consequences of this involvement on their lives. Recently there have been biographies and a biographical film on Krishnamurti that have left areas, and a large span of years, in mysterious darkness. It is not in the interest of historical integrity, especially where such a personality is concerned, that there be these areas of obscurity."Sloss's achievement in Lives in the Shadow with J. Krishnamurti is to have made him interesting without embalming him in flattery. . . . She brings us insights and information that help to flesh out someone who has been projected as a spiritual skeleton by too many biographies. . . . Without ever losing sight of her huge affection for her subject, Sloss is able to look beyond the myth."Times Literary Supplement, London

Review from Amazon: Radha Rajagopal Sloss's unique book is something of an unofficial biography of 20th century philosopher J. Krishnamurti and the events surrounding his career as a religious/philosophical teacher. The daughter of Rosalind Williams Rajagopal and husband D. Rajagopal, Radha Rajagopal Sloss's book is not a sordid expose, it is not graphic or insulting. It is simply a sincere account of her very real experiences growing up in amazing circumstances among amazing people. There is a lot of information here which isn't included in "official" biographies of philosopher J. Krishnamurti, which helps the reader get a better idea of the politics and humanness which even great men may be affected by. Author Sloss in fact, mentioned this tendency of official biographies to ignore or excuse certain parts of Krishnamurti's life as a reason for penning this work.

Some of the controversy this book generated is due to the fact that certain students and followers of Krishnamurti believe that he was a living example of a perfect human. This volume dispels that myth, indeed, he looks quite human throughout this writing. It was interesting to find how Krishnamurti dealt with some of his biggest stressors, including financial disagreements with friend D. Rajagopal, and the pregnancy (by him) of his dear lover Rosalind Williams Rajagopal. Radha describes her love of "Krinsh" (Krishnamurti), who was like a second father to her, and how his increasing unwillingness to deal with problems damaged many relationships and people. Included are numerous letters to and from Krishnamurti, D. Rajagopal and Rosaling Rajagopal, and numerous other individuals who were active on the Theosophical movement or Krishnamurti's teachings. A very worthwhile read for anyone with an interest in history, philosophy, or the full history of J. Krishnamurti.

Another Review from Amazon: I read this book many years ago and was quite shattered by it. It paints a vastly different picture of Krishnamurti the man than the one we are presented in the comparatively hagiographical accounts of Lutyens et al. However over time my view has changed. Krishnamurti never encouraged followers or worshipers of himself or anyone else. He never extolled chastity as an ideal and had a relatively liberal attitude to sexual relations. So I no longer feel that this account makes him a hypocrite. Also the author is plainly, clearly biased. She has an ax to grind and a score to settle. This, obviously, affects the entire account. Finally, however, the lesson is - don't project your ideal of perfection on ANYONE. It is reassuring for us to have a hero, someone we can tell ourselves has 'made it' and whose accomplishments we can hope to emulate. Well, don't! Krishnamurti himself always deprecated this. Much or even most of what he taught still stands. Just don't expect anything from it - which is a major part of the teaching. The hard part of modern spirituality is NOT to have beliefs WITHOUT falling into nihilism or materialism. This book is part of that hard teaching. There is the 'middle way' between the extremes of adulation, on one hand, and cynicism, on the other. This is what we must find. [If that sounds Buddhist, it is.]

MY FATHER"S GURU: A Journey through Spirituality and Disillusion by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson

As a child growing up in the Hollywood Hills during the 1950s, Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson thought it was perfectly normal that a guru named Paul Brunton lived with his family and dictated everything about their daily rituals, from their diet to their travel plans to his parents’ sex life. But in this extraordinary memoir, Masson reflects on just how bizarre everything about his childhood was–especially the relationship between his father and the elusive, eminent mystic he revered (and supported) for years.

Writing with candor and charm, Masson describes how his father became convinced that Paul Brunton–P.B. to his familiars–was a living God who would fill his life with enlightenment and wonder. As the Masson family’s personal guru, Brunton freely discussed his life on other planets, laid down strict rules on fasting and meditation, and warned them all of the imminence of World War III. For years, young Jeffrey was as ardent a disciple as his father–but with the onset of adolescence, he staged a dramatic revolt against this domestic deity and everything he stood for.

Filled with absurdist humor and intimate confessions, My Father’s Guru is the spellbinding coming-of-age story of one of our most brilliant writers.

“An uncompromising yet compassionate book . . . A coming-of-age memoir unlike any other.”
–The Toronto Star

“AN EXTRAORDINARY CAUTIONARY TALE …. about the enduring human impulse to imbue charismatic individuals with superhuman attributes.” –San Francisco Chronicle

“Told with a mixture of humor and compassion. . . . Throughout this confessional book a grown man tells of an unusual, even weird childhood and the blind submission that consumed his family’s life.” –ROBERT COLES, The New York Times Book Review

“My Father’s Guru is an interesting account of a warped upbringing made fascinating by the insight it provides into Masson’s adult life. He makes no excuses: in initially revering Freud and other authority figures, Masson realizes he was seeking new and better gurus that Brunton–and was fated to reject them pitilessly when they showed themselves, like Brunton, to be merely human.” –Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Beneath the guru-bashing, the book is Masson’s poignant and loving indictment of his parents, worth reading for his psychological portrait of coming-of-age disillusionment.”

THE SHADOW OF A GOD-MAN: Exposing Sathya Sai Baba, India's Most Famous Guru by David Lane - Kindle Edition


Was Sathya Sai Baba, the world famous guru from India who just recently died, really an Avatar of God or was he merely a sleight of hand magician who deceived millions with his tricks? This critical study provides overwhelming evidence to suggest that Sai Baba was not what he claimed to be.
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Sun Jan 15, 2012 12:38 pm

LIFE 102: What to do When your Guru Sues You by Peter McWilliams

From Library Journal - In 1978, during a period of self-doubt and spiritual crisis, prolific author McWilliams (Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do, Prelude Pr., 1993) met self-styled guru John-Roger. During the following 15 years of devotion and discipleship, he became a key John-Roger operative, ghostwriting such best sellers as Do It! and Life 101 (both Prelude Pr., 1991). Here, McWilliams offers his vivid, and sometimes vitriolic, reconstruction of that decade and a half, framed as a search for the internal and interpersonal dynamics that bound him. McWilliams's edgy humor and engaging style, which sets this book apart from other commendable cult-insider exposes (e.g., Mark Laxer's Take Me for a Ride, LJ 11/1/93), make this a magnetic read for even those little interested in New Age avatars. Add John-Roger's recently revived fame in relation to the California senate race and the broad popularity of his earlier titles written with McWilliams, and you have a hot topic. Recommended, especially for public and church libraries and for large academic religion collections. -- Bill Piekarski, Southwestern Coll. Lib., Chula Vista, Cal.
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From Booklist: McWilliams, an astonishingly successful self-published writer, became a follower of the self-styled guru John-Roger during the 1970s. When John-Roger "diagnosed" McWilliams as having AIDs, he also told the writer he had the cure: if McWilliams would write books, put John-Roger's name on them, and give him half the proceeds, he would talk to God. Brainwashed, McWilliams went along with it, and over the next six years wrote such successful books as Life 101 (a New York Times best-seller) while giving John-Roger the credit and the money. Now deprogrammed, McWilliams wants to (a) warn people about cults in general and John-Roger's cult in particular and (b) tell readers what a scumbag John-Roger is--a task he carries out with some relish. The chapter on how John-Roger also duped Ariana Huffington, wife of senatorial candidate Michael, is one of the dishiest in the book. Although McWilliams spells out how he came under John-Roger's spell, it still seems incredible that a brash, funny guy could actually believe that a chubby, balding con man was actually Jesus' best friend. It makes for an intriguing, witty book, though also a rambling and repetitive one. When McWilliams gave up gurus, he must have given up editors, too. Leon Wagner

Review from amazon.com: There is a lot of excellent information in this book for anyone who has been in a cult, certainly. I bought it for a slightly different reason: I wanted to hear how Peter McWilliams explained to himself the incredible stupidity of being sucked into such a bag of lies. I am satisfied with his descriptions, and the book is cheerful, and upbeat! Well worth the purchase price, and I am lucky to have stumbled upon it.

Like Peter, I consider myself to be reasonably intelligent, etc., and yet had been married to a person for 20 years (and tied up in court battles with him for the next 7) who was recently diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. He was punitive, abusive, and selfish. I wondered if reading Peter's account of having made a similar series of terrible choices would help me in my recovery.

It did, and I highly recommend this book, and would love to thank Peter in person, if I could find an address for him. Also, like Peter, I was depressed in this negative relationship, so in 1992 I bought his book You can't afford the Luxury of a Negative Thought. Again, paralleling the author, as soon as my depression lifted, I was able to "get out" of the problem relationship. How interesting, then, that as the saga of disengaging reaches it's completion, Peter has again left me some "bread crumbs" to find my way home again.

OUTRAGEOUS BETRAYAL: The Dark Journey of Werner Erhard from EST to Exile by Steve Pressman

From Publishers Weekly: Before he abandoned his wife and children, changed his name to Werner Erhard, moved to California and began promoting his self-awareness programs, known in the 1970s as est and later as the Forum, Jack Rosenberg was a car salesman in Philadelphia. Inspired by a self-help course called Mind Dynamics, by Napoleon Hill's book, Think and Grow Rich , by Scientology and cybernetics, and advised by a skilled tax lawyer, Erhard launched est in 1971. And for 20 years he reigned as guru of the "human potential movement." According to freelance journalist Pressman, the womanizing, charismatic and demanding Erhard collected tens of millions of dollars from 500,000 people who took his courses. Eventually lawsuits, desertions among his coterie and the rise of new New Age mind-improving programs ended Erhard's empire and in 1991, owing millions to the IRS and others, he went into exile in Mexico. Pressman here cuts into him with surgical precision.

From Library Journal: Pressman, a San Francisco-based journalist, offers a compelling account of the 1980s guru who rose from selling used cars to peddling personal transformation. Erhard's dubious Est program--today known as The Forum--promises outlandish benefits in return for outlandish cash outlays. Like many of his predecessors, (notably L. Ron Hubbard, the demented fabricator of Scientology, whom Erhard briefly followed), Erhard progressed from a tireless, aggressive proselytizer to a psychotic egomaniac. Pressman skillfully documents Erhard's ascension to godlike status, and his irrevocable, shameful plummet following an episode that aired in 1991 on 60 Minutes , in which Erhard's daughter accused him of sexual abuse (a charge that Erhard allegedly deflected by characterizing it as "a nurturing experience"). Most public libraries should place this expose on the same shelves as Wendy Kaminer's I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional ( LJ 6/1/92)

Review from amazon.com: It all came flooding back to me, the EST training, followed by a communication seminar, an advanced communication seminar, the Six Day training (where we were to become "commandos", were required to watch some, er, "offbeat" movies, and talk about real personal stuff), then Mastery Of Empowerment, where we did Zen like meditations, repeatedly acknowledged that Werner was Source (of ??? not exactly specified), and got a jolly good vibe going.

Oh yes, there were also seminars with Fernando Flores, an interesting fellow who was once the finance minister for Salvador Allende, heavily into language and information theory... once upon a time Werner's left brain, so to speak, who inexplicably wasn't there on Mount Olympus one day...

Needless to say, there's a lot of stuff, many narratives woven together that many self proclaimed Forumites don't know about, weren't there when it happened, all of which got simplified and cooked down into easy to digest tales of days gone by.

Let me tell ya something. It never is so simple, never was, never will be. Pressman's book Outrageous Betrayal rings true as pure coin to my ears, it succeeds in capturing the flavor of the 70's into the 80's hustle, the strange blend of improvisation, amateurishness, needfulness, as well as the intensity, the drive, the self deception, and the absurdity of that era. Werner was kind of an uber-manifestation of all that.

Somewhere along the line I found myself growing. The sense of community and shared purpose that once was sustaining and uplifting turned stale and oppressive. It was time to move on,
grow up another notch, leave the great psychodrama behind for another generation to project it's unresolved collective issues on.

Reflecting on it, there is no way that something as intense and nutso, while mind expanding and challenging too, could have possibly happened had Werner Hans been a normal run of the mill dude. You couldn't get there from here without the sound and the fury.

Its that complexity, trickster archetype, puer aeternus and senex stuff that James Hillman talked about that Pressman can't wrap his mind around, 'cause he's treating Werner as just another scandalous mountebank when he was much more than that.

I still loved reading the book, no qualms with the truth telling approach, Pressman is right on with what he says, only too bad he couldn't fold it in with the larger story, which isn't all that sweet and perfect either, just larger, weirder, more glorious, and kinda creepy too...

To this day I ask myself, what the heck was THAT ???

The I discovered a fantastic little book written in 1895 by Gustave Le Bon titled The Crowd... most highly recommended for anyone thinking about LGATs or mass thinking of any kind. This incredible book put it into perspective for me. I think it should be required reading for every college student in America.

If you are considering any large group spiritual or self help-transformative seminar, please take the time to read Le Bon's masterpiece carefully, and read it twice, and take notes, before you sign on the line. Bon Voyage kiddos... life can surpass any fiction ever written. This book is extremely valuable for anyone finding themselves in the unpleasant situation of feeling ridiculous for having succumbed to a bad relationship.

THE GREAT NAROPA POETRY WARS by Tom Clark


Review from amazon.com: This slim, hard-to-find polemic is an early source on the infamous and shadowy "Merwin Incident". Clark's primary source of information on the incident itself is the even harder to find "The Party, A Chronological Perspective on a Confrontation at a Buddhist Seminary", written by students in a Naropa class led by Ed Sanders. Clark is out for blood, and delivers in a relentlessly flippant, journalistic style. The more you know about the world Clark is circumscribing, the more quickly you spot errors and distortions, calculated to transmit Clark's disdain for not only Naropa and Vajradhatu (Trungpa's institutions) but the wider world of Tibetan Buddhism. Below, we will see also that Clark's work was calculated to create or exacerbate conflicts in the poetic community. Clark's work stands as a bracing antidote to the Trungpa community's propaganda machine, but Barry Miles' "Ginsberg: a Biography" may be more reliable and certainly appears to be more fair-minded, without shying from telling the story.

The incident took place in Snowmass, Colorado, at the Fall 1975 Seminary, a three month program intended for advanced, committed students of Trungpa. Poet W. S. Merwin and his girlfriend Dana Naone were allowed to join even though they did not have the established student-teacher relationship with Trungpa. This turned out to be a mistake, as the poet and his girlfriend brought with them an independent spirit not suitable for the environment. Two months in, Trungpa hosted a Halloween party, at which he showed up drunk and immediately got naked. Merwin and Naone retreated from the party to their room. Trungpa instructed his "Vajra Guard" to bring them back to the party, by force if necessary. Force was necessary. The Guard broke down the locked door to Merwin's room. Merwin smashed a bottle and used the broken end to fend them off, drawing blood, but ultimately the Guard captured their targets and brought them to the party. Trungpa threw sake in Merwin's face, racially insulted Naone, and demanded they remove their clothes. When they refused, he ordered his Guard to strip them. Naone asked the onlookers to help them or to call the police. Only one made a move in their defense, and got punched by Trungpa for his efforts. Trungpa then began punching the man stripping Naone for being too slow about it, so that man sped up by ripping off the remaining clothing. Then everyone else stripped and began to dance, and Merwin and Naone got back to their room.

That's the core story. The remaining 85 pages of the book describe Trungpa; his institutions, and their attempts to cover up and sanitize the incident; and other reports suggesting that the Merwin incident was not an exception, but rather a salient indicator of the nature of Trungpa's leadership.

There's a fifteen page interview with Allen Ginsberg​, in which Ginsberg pathetically attempts to rationalize and excuse Trungpa's abuse. Other sources (including Miles) reveal that the Boulder Monthly removed Ginsberg's more respectful comments about Merwin and kept the less respectful ones. I don't know what Clark's motives were, but they weren't friendly. Keep this in mind as you read.

Appended letters from Ginsberg and from Anne Waldman (who cofounded, with Ginsberg, the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa) show considerable sophistication in their calculated coolness (Waldman) and sweet humility (Ginsberg), but their actions speak louder than words, and even their words do not go far enough, going nowhere near the concept of an authority figure like Trungpa bearing any responsibility for his actions.

TRAVELER IN SPACE: Gender, Identity and Tibetan Buddhism by June Campbell

Review from amazon.com: I am very glad that June Campbell had the courage to write this book because it serves as a much needed disillusionment for 'submissive - blind-faith - type Buddhists'. It encourages all of us - men and women alike - to question more deeply what we want to find in Buddhism and how we can use its teachings in our own life. In order to spiritually grow these questions are essential.

I do not share however June's roundabout criticism of Tibetan Buddhism. Despite its many flaws it is a fantastic road-map for the spiritual path.

In actual fact, I missed a bit of self-criticism. A blind person can see that Tibetan Buddhism comes from a medieval country. How can anybody expect equality of women there? Didn't think June twice when she took her vows as a nun which include the vow to always see monks as superior? I have always wondered which woman in her right mind can do such a thing. Also, in my 20 years of Buddhism I have met quite a few women with similar experiences as June. Luckily, these women do not feel abused but take full responsibility for these experiences.

I think this experience did serve June as a much needed wake-up call to stop her blind-faith type of spirituality and I hope it does the same for many others without having to go through the same trauma.

Another review from amazon: Campbell provides a fresh, common sense perspective on Tibetan Buddhism, informed by her practice and her association with Kalu Rinpoche, a venerated teacher in the Kagyu tradition. Vajrayana represents a remarkable and seamless integration of Mahayana, Hinduist tantra and proto-Mongolian shamanic tradition. Since it became a state religion under Tibetan kings, the shamanic element receded into the background. As far as Campbell is concerned, this resulted in severing the connection with the feminine, earthly energy - Tibet became a theocracy ruled by men for men. Spiritual authority was handed through the "tulku" system, which consisted of taking young boys (never girls) from their mothers and putting them into monasteries under strict regimen of doctrinal studies and meditation.

On the psychological level, such a system would have a tendency for creating men who are disconnected from women while having the very normal biological impulse to have sex. Unfortunately, motherless monks and tulkus would have no idea how to deal with women except from a position of cultural-spiritual authority and, Campbell would say, domination. Tulkus have been raised into cognitive dissonance: women are polluting, they are an obstacle to practice, at best women can serve others and at worst they are a nuisance - yet women are also transformed into dakinis, female aspects of being that men must associate with in order to reach enlightenment. Part of this paradox has been sublimated through tantric practices imported from India and China that used imagined spiritual consorts. Another part, however, resulted in the tradition of real people-consorts and mistresses kept by lamas. They would rationalize this as a recapitulation of the famous union between Padmasambhava and his consort Yeshe Tsogyal that represents the bedrock of Vajrayana despite the fact that female lamas like Yeshe Tsogyal have not been seen in Tibet for hundreds of years due to suppression of female assertiveness and power by the tulku system. Subcontracting a religion to men alone is usually a bad, very bad, idea as we can clearly see in the West.

The Kalachakra tantra (practiced by Kalu), for example, has frightening apocalyptic aspects that reflect the male psyche under duress including religious warfare and extreme violence against women - something that few Western bliss bunnies eager to get initiated into the practice comprehend. Nor was the pre-China Tibet a bed of roses. Critics such as Michael Parenti would say that Tibetan hierarchy had been no less venal, autocratic, power-hungry and brutal towards its serfs (peasants and herders) than the medieval Catholic Church. Serfs were taxed upon getting married, taxed for the birth of each child and for every death in the family. They were taxed for planting a tree in their yard and for keeping animals. They were taxed for religious festivals and for public dancing and drumming, for being sent to prison and upon being released. Those who could not find work were taxed for being unemployed, and if they traveled to another village in search of work, they paid a passage tax. Monasteries lent peasants at 50% interest. If the peasant could not pay, they were made into slaves. All this was an integral part of "religion".

The Tibetan religio-political setup has been dismantled in a brutal if not genocidal, manner by the Chinese in what is one of the great tragedies of the XXth century. However, reverberations of old chauvinist attitudes have trickled up to this day, as can be seen by the Naropa cult around Trungpa (another tulku) who cavorted intoxicated with his female devotees ("dakinis"), and Campbell's interaction with Kalu RInpoche. Kalu's father was a tulku and his sons have inherited the teacher mantle, which may be relevant with respect to the scandal caused by the intergenerational and intercultural psychological drama described by June Campbell. June, acting as Kalu's translator, was asked to become his "consort". When tantric sex is practiced between equals, energy flows in a circle to the great benefit of both partners. Practiced between unequals, the flow is in one direction, essentially a transfer of life force from the weaker less aware partner to the stronger one. Essentially a form of vampirism or to put it more mildly, a way to prolong the life of a highly respected teacher at the expense of a devotee who will no doubt accrue great merit and be rewarded in a future incarnation. While this was a clear case of cultural misunderstanding, it is just as clear that Kalu's entourage was aware that the situation was not kosher as they swore Campbell to secrecy (family secrets again; a trademark of any cult).

If this happened within the Tibetan community, it would have been part of a cultural setup that is taken for granted. The Western psyche, however, does not work that way. It is much more individualized, and subsumed with shame, anger as well as an innate belief in inviolate human integrity. It was not until years later that the sheer anger at the disrespect she was shown and revulsion forced Campbell to speak out. This book thus that paints a historical, cultural, psychological, sexual and personal portrait of a fascinating religion that looks behind the lines of its ordinary glow. A religion which represents a pinnacle in the human ability to establish a relationship between the sacred and the profane and nudge us towards conscious evolution. As such, however, Vajrayana is also ever so human, depending on its messengers represented in this book by both Kalu Rinpoche and June Campbell. The two teach us about equally important aspects of incarnation. Blind devotion and uncritical acceptance of hierarchy is, in this context, anti-spiritual and an aspect of ignorance. In some visualizations practiced by Campbell, the Lama (spiritual teacher) was made into an authoritative diety in the mind of his students. How could you refuse to have sex with your own deity, especially in the context of increased prestige within the cult? Will Westerners groveling at the feet of ever-so-human holy men eventually learn this lesson, which is a precondition for becoming self-aware?
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Sun Jan 15, 2012 1:33 pm

DAVID WANTS TO FLY - a documentary film by David Sieveking about the TM / Transcendental Meditation movement

http://www.linktv.org/programs/david-wants-to-fly - this film has been or will be airing free on LINKTV - linktv.org

Category: Documentaries
Regions: North America
Topics: Religion / Spirituality, Music / Art / Culture, Media

<-- Watch the full documentary online for a limited time!

To meet master film director David Lynch in person and talk to him about filmmaking! A dream come true for young David Sieveking, who first finds himself sitting face-to-face with his idol in spring 2006.

The meeting takes place on the periphery of a workshop in the USA where Lynch is giving a talk on the sources of creativity. Paramount among them is transcendental meditation (TM), a technique the cult filmmaker has reputedly practiced daily for over thirty years. But he had never before spoken about it in public. Could TM be the mystery behind Lynch's dark, inscrutable films?

Although the location of the workshop -- the Maharishi University of Enlightenment in Iowa -- does strike David, the young filmmaker from Berlin, as somewhat strange, it is also mysterious and fascinating. Maharishi? Wasn't that the legendary 1960s guru -- guiding light of the hippie movement, savior of the western world and personal spiritual tutor of the Beatles? An entirely new chapter in the life of David Sieveking has begun. Fairfield, Iowa is a new world where everything seems possible -- even flying, without the aid of any machinery!

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi​, founder of Transcendental Meditation, promised creativity, health, professional success, world peace and no less than "heaven on earth". David Sieveking decides to take the personal advice of the great David Lynch and begins to practice TM himself. Even master film directors start as novices, after all. And the best thing about it: TM is easy to do. Not cheap, but easy!

Funded by donations Maharishi and his followers built up an unparalleled global enterprise with the global headquarters in the Netherlands; a world peace center in India; a clandestine "TM world government" in the Swiss Alps; over 20 "Invincible Universities" have been founded and there are obscure gated camps dedicated to "yogic flying". For the second time, David Sieveking discovers a whole new world.

The more research the young filmmaker does, the more discrepancies surface. Suddenly TM apostates start contacting him, former high-ups in the organization who claime to have been ruined by the Maharishi -- financially as well as psychologically. Should he believe them? Is TM just a cynical money machine after all, as critics maintain, or a guru sect gone haywire?

Throughout the odyssey that follows David Sieveking never loses the sly sense of humor that gives this surprising film its strength, elegance and ambiguous charm.

About Doc-Debut

This film is airing as part of Doc-Debut, a series on Link TV highlighting unique and groundbreaking international documentary films. Each week features the U.S. television premiere of a new foreign doc, offering American audiences unprecedented perspectives on world events and culture, as seen through the eyes of individuals across the globe. The series also provides a unique outlet for films by independent directors and producers to reach a much wider international audience.

DOC-DEBUT airs every Sunday at 8pm Pacific and every Saturday at 8pm Eastern.
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Mon Jan 16, 2012 10:29 am

There are also many books on the darker side of religion in general - which often focus on the more extreme examples like religious terrorism, jihad, Jonestown, polygramy or doomsday cults, the inquisition and crusades, and so on. Certainly what happened at OBC is hardly in the same category. However, some of these books do address key issues of blind faith, total devotion to an authority figures, the abandonment of critical thinking, the shunning of former members, isolation - that applies in one way or another to many less extreme religious and political groups and movements - the psychology and sociology of organizations, families, institutions, and so on. There are also many scholarly books on why monotheism in Christianity, Islam and Judaism inherently leads to violence and persecution.

WHEN RELIGION BECOMES EVIL: Five Warning Signs -- by Charles Kimball


By now it's commonplace to remark that more violence than good has been committed in the name of religion. The terrorist attacks of September 11 and the continuing Israeli-Palestinian strife confirm this age-old aphorism. Wake Forest religion professor Kimball has made something of a career out of speaking about the ways in which religion becomes evil. Every religion has the capacity to work either for good or evil, and he contends that there are five warning signs that we can recognize when religion moves toward the latter. Whenever a religion emphasizes that it holds the absolute truth-the one path to God or the only correct way of reading a sacred text-to the exclusion of the truth claims of all other religions and cultures, that religion is becoming evil. Other warning signs include blind obedience to religious leaders, apocalyptic belief that the end time will occur through a particular religion, the use of malevolent ends to achieve religious goals (e.g., the Crusades) and the declaration of holy war. Kimball focuses primarily on the three major Western monotheistic religions, although his examples also include new religious movements such as the People's Temple, Aum Shinrikyo and the Branch Davidians. Religion can resist becoming evil by practicing an inclusiveness that allows each tradition to retain its distinctiveness while it works for the common good. Kimball's clear and steady voice provides a helpful guide for those trying to understand why evil is perpetrated in the name of religion.

From Library Journal: 9/11 A Baptist minister and author with a doctorate in the history of religions from Harvard, Kimball was involved in facilitating communication with the militant students who held hostages at the U.S. embassy in Iran in 1979. He also served as the director of the Middle East office of the National Council of Churches and since 1990 has worked in a university setting. His background explains why he is more than qualified to deal with the controversial subject of this book. After 9/11, we all need to consider how religious practice can lead to evil. Kimball includes many religions in his discussion but focuses on Christianity and Islam because they are the largest and are both missionary religions. Is religion part of the problem of evil? Kimball answers yes and no. He offers five warning signs (e.g., absolute truth claims, calls for blind obedience) of when religion is in danger of becoming corrupt. As he points out, it is urgent for us all to be aware of these signs because we all share one planet. His book is extremely informative, well written, and timely. Highly recommended for all libraries. John Moryl, Yeshiva Univ. Lib., New York

From Review on amazon.com: This is a magnificent book. There are some typos and minor errors, such as the repeated misspelling of Hal Lindsey's name, but that is understandable for a first edition. There is quite a lot to ponder and savor within its relatively brief length (213 mid-sized pages) and it makes its points and justifies them while remaining easy-to-read. It explains the core tendencies that corrupt religion and provides a clarion call for more inclusive, honest, and dynamic religion in this new century.

A valid criticism that was raised by another reader is Dr. Kimball's use of the term "authentic" (which means genuine, real, true, undoubted, unquestionable, factual, verifiable) for his sort of religion. That assumes that all religious expression that he disagrees with is "inauthentic." One may argue that one type of religion is better than another in certain specific ways, as the author has, but that does not mean that bad religion is inauthentic. Bad religion is as real as good religion, just as bad politics are as real as good politics. Using the term authentic provides a temptation to use it as a copout. When someone criticizes the bad use of religion, an apologist could reply, "Well, that is not 'authentic' religion. Only good religion is true religion," thus making criticism of religion impossible, because any ills will be brushed aside as "inauthentic" and not due to religion at all. I prefer Dr. Kimball's other adjectives for good religion: healthy, dynamic, honest, etc.

A second valid criticism that was raised is, that while it is true that Jews, Christians, and Muslims all stem from the same root, Kimball goes overboard when he says on page 50 that "There is simply no ambiguity here. Jews, Christians, and Muslims are talking about the same deity." That is an oversimplification. While clerics in these religions are fond of saying they worship the same Abrahamic God, their conceptions of that God are different.

A third criticism that has been raised is that Kimball does not address the issue of the possibility that a religion's "authentic sources" themselves may contain moral and theological errors that encourage evils. I think this ommission is understandable given the focus of the book. Kimball's book is not a comprehensive discussion of religion, but rather a discussion of the corruptions of mainline religion.

My only other wish is that Kimball had accompanied his five warning signs of "evil" religion with their counterparts that indicate more positive religion, which I attempt below...

Charles Kimball's five warning signs of corruption in religion:
1. Absolute truth claims
2. Blind obedience
3. Establishing the "ideal" time
4. The end justifies any means
5. Declaring holy war

My five signs of integrity and dynamism in religion:
1. Dynamic and relational truth and ongoing learning
2. Critical thinking and honest inquiry
3. Making the best of every time and leaving the determination of the end time to heaven
4. Both means and end are important and linked
5. Declaring holy peace
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Mon Jan 16, 2012 9:06 pm

Josh--Regarding religion generally, there are of course the so-called "Four Horsemen" of the new Atheism, each of whom took a mighty whack at the edifices of organized religion in their best-sellers:

Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion

Daniel C. Dennett, Breaking The Spell

Sam Harris, The End of Faith

Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great

These books focus on the Abrahamic religions, but the authors each turn an "intellect vast and cool and unsympathetic" (thank you HG Wells) eastward, as well.
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Mon Jan 16, 2012 10:40 pm

Sam Harris is an old friend of mine
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Tue Jan 17, 2012 2:37 pm

Huh, small world moment. I really respect Sam's mind and his writing. I hope that he can continue to write such interesting books as "The End of Faith" and "The Moral Landscape", and find a relatively broad audience for them.

...not to mention crank out all those great country songs. :-p (Yes, I know there are actually two Sam Harris's (Harrii?) in public view.)
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Wed Feb 01, 2012 5:51 pm

Contributing this to this section on the modern cultic experience. Carlos Castaneda was certainly one of the creative examples of completely fraudulent myth making - but very creative. It astonishes me that all kinds of spiritual and new age authors still revere him and quote from him. But I guess what that proves is that a good story is so much more compelling than ordinary daily life - which is why religion is all about creating great stories.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Margaret Runyan Castaneda dies at 90; ex-wife of mystic author

Carlos Castaneda's ex-wife believed that a key figure in his spiritual bestsellers — Mexican shaman Don Juan — was an extravagant fiction, drawn in part from conversations and activities the couple shared.


By Elaine Woo, Los Angeles Times

January 30, 2012

They were an unlikely couple, the Latin American immigrant and the West Virginia divorcee whose paths crossed in mid-1950s Los Angeles.

But, by Margaret Runyan Castaneda's account, she and Carlos Castaneda were kindred spirits whose time together helped turn him into a countercultural phenomenon.

Carlos wrote "The Teachings of Don Juan," a 1968 bestseller that told of his peyote-fueled adventures with Don Juan Matus, a Mexican shaman who purportedly guided him to an alternate realm inhabited by giant insects, witches and flying humans. Presented as an anthropological work, the book resounded with a generation of youthful rebels who turned the 1970s into a rollicking era of social and pharmacological experimentation.

Decades after their marriage ended, Margaret wrote her own book, which punctured some of the mystery surrounding the man who came to be viewed as either a godfather of New Age or one of its greatest charlatans.

"Much of the Castaneda mystique is based on the fact that even his closest friends aren't sure who he is," Margaret wrote in her 1996 book "A Magical Journey with Carlos Castaneda."

Margaret, who has died at 90, said she believed that Don Juan was an extravagant fiction drawn from many sources, including conversations and activities she shared with Carlos during their long, tangled relationship. She went so far as to describe her ex-husband's books, which include "A Separate Reality" (1971) and seven other bestsellers, as "our biography."

Her death Dec. 24 in Glendale, Ariz., from a heart attack was confirmed by her only survivor, son C.J. Castaneda, also known as Adrian Vashon. His birth certificate lists Carlos as his father even though his biological father was a different man.

Many puzzles surround Carlos Castaneda's legacy, including whether his marriage to and divorce from Margaret were ever official.

"She was a very engaging person, who was interested in the things that Carlos was interested in at that time," said Douglass R. Price-Williams, who was a UCLA anthropology professor when Carlos was a graduate student there in the early 1970s.

"She saw through some of his mythmaking, but not all of it," the professor said. "She was sort of confused herself. Anyone who knew him any length of time was confused about the man.… It didn't surprise me at all that comes across in her book."

Born Nov. 14, 1921, in Charleston, W. Va., Margaret Runyan was the oldest of six children of a dairy farmer who, according to her son, read her the entire Book of Knowledge, a popular children's encyclopedia.

In the late 1930s, after graduating from high school, she briefly worked for Union Carbide before heading west and settling in California. She found a job in Los Angeles at Pacific Bell, eventually rising to night chief operator.

She met Carlos in 1955 when her dressmaker's daughter delivered some garments to her apartment. The daughter brought a friend she introduced as "Carlos from South America."

For Margaret, an attractive brunet who was some years older than Carlos, it was enchantment at first sight.

She already was immersed in the philosophy of Neville Goddard, a metaphysics teacher with a burgeoning L.A. following. The next time she saw Carlos, she slipped him her phone number inside a copy of Goddard's book about controlling one's dreams, a power that Carlos later claimed he learned from Don Juan. They began dating several months later and in 1960 were married in Mexico.

According to Margaret's memoir, Carlos had been deceptive since the beginning of their relationship, telling her, for instance, that he was born in Brazil, the son of a professor. Legal documents would later show that he was born in Peru and was the son of a goldsmith.

She theorized that Carlos came up with the name Don Juan Matus because of their mutual enjoyment of Mateus wine, which, she wrote, "he jokingly referred to as his most valuable teacher."

She also suggested that Carlos was inspired to structure his books as a conversation with Don Juan because of a remark she once made about Plato turning Socrates into a character in his famous dialogues.

"His books are conversations he is holding with himself," Margaret told author Richard de Mille in "The Don Juan Papers," a collection of essays critical of Carlos' work.

She wrote humorously of the reactions Carlos elicited when the myth collided with the man. She described, for instance, how the hipster crowd at a college lecture in the early 1970s was shocked when a short-haired, dour-looking man in a conservative business suit walked into the room.

"Everybody looked at everybody else in stunned silence," she wrote. "This was the purveyor of the new mysticism … a guy who looked like a Cuban bellhop."

She and Carlos lived together as husband and wife for only six months in 1960, agreeing to part after he began disappearing on weekend trips. He later said he was visiting Don Juan and immersing himself in the research that would inspire his many strange tales.

In late 1960, Margaret wrote, she accompanied Carlos to Mexico for a divorce. She subsequently met a friend of his named Adrian Gerritsen and conceived her son with him. Soon after, she said, Carlos told her their divorce was invalid. He helped raise the boy and insisted on a new birth certificate that identified him as the father.

According to her book, she finally obtained a divorce in 1973, but her son says no divorce papers can be found.

In later years, Carlos cut off contact with Margaret and her son, especially after the author handed over management of his affairs to Cleargreen Inc., a company run by his followers. She did not learn of his 1998 death from cancer until two months after his cremation. His death certificate, like much of his life, seemed to reflect an alternate reality: It stated that he was never married.

At the end of her memoir, Margaret described their last, mystifying encounter.

It happened in 1993, when Carlos gave a talk in Santa Monica to promote his book "The Art of Dreaming."

"He put his arms around me, kissed my cheek and expressed his seeming delight to see me," she wrote. "Then he stood back and just looked at me. When he did that, I asked if he would sign the book I had in my hand.… His answer, [which] I never expected, was: 'Oh, I'm sorry, my hands are too tired.' "

He threw kisses as he drove away.
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Sat Feb 04, 2012 5:14 pm

A few more books to add:

FEET OF CLAY: A Study of Gurus -- Saints, Sinner and Madmen -- by Anthony Storr

Every generation has its charismatic spiritual leaders, its gurus. Some are true saints while others conceal unspeakable depravity. Anthony Storr, Oxford professor of psychiatry, analyzes an interesting array of gurus and finds many commonalities among them--an isolated childhood, a need for certainty, a demand for obedience. He also elucidates aspects of this psychological profile in various intellectual, artistic, and political figures of history. This eye-opening book invokes a larger issue: in our search for guidance and truth, when and why do we cross the line from reasoned inquirer to unquestioning follower?

From Publishers Weekly

"The wisest men follow their own direction and listen to no prophet guiding them," wrote Euripedes. Storr (Music and the Mind), a psychiatrist, uses this ancient caution as the epigraph to a fascinating yet frustrating investigation into the appeal of guru figures. He analyzes the lives and works of the destructive, unbalanced cult leaders Jim Jones and David Koresh, and he uses their symptoms,isolation, narcissism, paranoid delusion to take the measure of other, generally more respected, "gurus," including Gurdjieff, Freud, Jung, Rudolf Steiner, Rajneesh, St. Ignatius, even Jesus. While insisting that none of these latter can be described as insane, Storr considers their authoritarian certainty an ominous sign. Stressing that there can be a charisma based on goodness and genuine devotion to truth rather than on the power of personality, Storr warns against teachers who claim to know what he judges no single person can know: "No one knows in the sense that Gurdjieff or Rajneesh or Jung believed that they knew and were supposed to know by their disciples." But Storr's elegantly written account is tarnished by his own unacknowledged authoritarianism. He never entertains the notion that there may be states of consciousness states of knowing?that exceed customary bounds, so that a strange cosmology like Gurdjieff's might be understood not as a paranoid delusion or mere belief, but as a challenge to habitual modes of perception and cogitation that is composed with a clock maker's care.

SOMEBODIES AND NOBODIES: Overcoming the Abuse of Rank by Robert W. Fuller

Fuller, former president of Oberlin College, believes there is an insidious force in America that has heretofore gone unrecognized. This "disorder without a name," which he terms "rankism," is discrimination beyond race, gender or educational background. While Fuller observed rankism in action both at Oberlin and as a physics professor at Columbia University, he was only able to fully identify it when he was no longer affiliated with a university. "Lacking the protection of title and status in the years after Oberlin, I experienced what it's like to be taken for a nobody." Fuller goes on to describe the various forms of rankism: scientists taking credit for the work of assistants, nursing home staff treating elderly patients poorly, priests sexually abusing churchgoers, etc. Rankism is an assault on personal dignity and should not be tolerated, says Fuller. According to the author, the condition exists because "rank is linked to power and power protects those who hold it" and "high rank inhibits protests and shields perpetrators." Fuller provides numerous examples, from family dynamics to corporate settings. Although some may argue rankism is just another form of racism, Fuller makes a persuasive case for recognizing this behavior as an abuse of power that transcends race-or gender. But the book falls short of providing enough concrete steps on how to fight this abuse, including only two brief chapters.

About the Author

Robert Fuller has had three distinct careers. First, he taught physics at Columbia University in New York City. Second, he was president of Oberlin College which he led through a series of educational reforms, many of which drew national attention. A third career eventually came to be called "citizen diplomacy" which took him all over the world. Fuller is a correspondent for the Pacific News Service, and has written for numerous periodicals, with articles on rankism appearing most recently in the summer 2001 issue of Leader to Leader, a publication of The Peter Drucker Foundation.
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Sat Feb 04, 2012 10:19 pm

THE OTHER SIDE OF EDEN - Life with John Steinbeck by John Steinbeck IV and Nancy Steinbeck

The official description of the book is below. Much of the book is an honest no-holds barred account of John and Nancy Steinbeck's relationship with Trungpa and his community, including the intense cultic aspects of the group and Trungpa's alcoholism that caused his early death. Fascinating biography. I just bumped into this book as I was going through some boxes. I forget that I had it.........
As the son of a celebrated literary icon, John Steinbeck IV grew up in a privileged world peopled by the literati and the intellectual elite. Sadly, it was also a world of alcoholism, bitter divorce, estrangement, and abuse, on the part of both his mother and father. In this fascinating memoir, the late son and namesake of John Steinbeck writes with great insight and a gift for lyrical expression about his often painful youth. Left unfinished at his untimely death, this testament to his life is here reconstructed by his wife of twelve years. Interweaving her own reminiscences of her life with John Steinbeck IV, Nancy Steinbeck has created an engrossing account from two perspectives: her husband's memories of his chaotic and adventurous upbringing and her own thoughts on their journey together to make a new life apart from the long shadow of a famous father and a troubled past.

Though laboring under the burden of being the son of a 20th-century legend, the younger Steinbeck established himself as a respected journalist in his own right, mainly through his writing on wartime Vietnam, which had a profound impact on his life. The Other Side of Eden contains many thoughts on Vietnam, including a memorable scene of his father's visit to the war-torn country while the younger Steinbeck was in the army. There are also vivid recollections of his mother's abusive, alcoholic rages; his lonely years in boarding school; his long battle with drug addiction; his strained relationship with his remote, conflicted father; and the connection of East of Eden to Steinbeck's real-life family.

Nancy Steinbeck adds important perspective as an outsider getting to know this complex family through her husband, and in the end helping him to put his life on a sound footing. Both Nancy and John, in their search for spiritual identity, were drawn to Tibetan Buddhism. Along the way they befriended a strange and fascinating collection of characters, from the Dalai Lama to William Burroughs and Abbie Hoffman. Their tale of triumph in the struggle against parental abuse, drug addiction, and the seductive trap of guru worship is a must read for all Steinbeck fans, as well as anyone who survived the sixties.
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Mon Feb 06, 2012 1:01 pm

More on Carlos Castaneda:

From Salon.com

Thursday, Apr 12, 2007
The dark legacy of Carlos Castaneda by Robert Marshall


The godfather of the New Age led a secretive group of devoted followers in the last decade of his life. His closest "witches" remain missing, and former insiders, offering new details, believe the women took their own lives.

http://www.salon.com/2007/04/12/castaneda/

For fans of the literary con, it’s been a great few years. Currently, we have Richard Gere starring as Clifford Irving in “The Hoax,” a film about the ’70s novelist who penned a faux autobiography of Howard Hughes. We’ve had the unmasking of James Frey, JT LeRoy/Laura Albert and Harvard’s Kaavya Viswanathan, who plagiarized large chunks of her debut novel, forcing her publisher, Little, Brown and Co., to recall the book. Much has been written about the slippery boundaries between fiction and nonfiction, the publishing industry’s responsibility for distinguishing between the two, and the potential damage to readers. There’s been, however, hardly a mention of the 20th century’s most successful literary trickster: Carlos Castaneda.

If this name draws a blank for readers under 30, all they have to do is ask their parents. Deemed by Time magazine the “Godfather of the New Age,” Castaneda was the literary embodiment of the Woodstock era. His 12 books, supposedly based on meetings with a mysterious Indian shaman, don Juan, made the author, a graduate student in anthropology, a worldwide celebrity. Admirers included John Lennon, William Burroughs, Federico Fellini and Jim Morrison.

Under don Juan’s tutelage, Castaneda took peyote, talked to coyotes, turned into a crow, and learned how to fly. All this took place in what don Juan called “a separate reality.” Castaneda, who died in 1998, was, from 1971 to 1982, one of the best-selling nonfiction authors in the country. During his lifetime, his books sold at least 10 million copies.

Castaneda was viewed by many as a compelling writer, and his early books received overwhelmingly positive reviews. Time called them “beautifully lucid” and remarked on a “narrative power unmatched in other anthropological studies.” They were widely accepted as factual, and this contributed to their success. Richard Jennings, an attorney who became closely involved with Castaneda in the ’90s, was studying at Stanford in the early ’70s when he read the first two don Juan books. “I was a searcher,” he recently told Salon. “I was looking for a real path to other worlds. I wasn’t looking for metaphors.”

The books’ status as serious anthropology went almost unchallenged for five years. Skepticism increased in 1972 after Joyce Carol Oates, in a letter to the New York Times, expressed bewilderment that a reviewer had accepted Castaneda’s books as nonfiction. The next year, Time published a cover story revealing that Castaneda had lied extensively about his past. Over the next decade, several researchers, most prominently Richard de Mille, son of the legendary director, worked tirelessly to demonstrate that Castaneda’s work was a hoax.

In spite of this exhaustive debunking, the don Juan books still sell well. The University of California Press, which published Castaneda’s first book, “The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge,” in 1968, steadily sells 7,500 copies a year. BookScan, a Nielsen company that tracks book sales, reports that three of Castaneda’s most popular titles, “A Separate Reality,” “Journey to Ixtlan” and “Tales of Power,” sold a total of 10,000 copies in 2006. None of Castaneda’s titles have ever gone out of print — an impressive achievement for any author.

Today, Simon and Schuster, Castaneda’s main publisher, still classifies his books as nonfiction. It could be argued that this label doesn’t matter since everyone now knows don Juan was a fictional creation. But everyone doesn’t, and the trust that some readers have invested in these books leads to a darker story that has received almost no coverage in the mainstream press.

Castaneda, who disappeared from the public view in 1973, began in the last decade of his life to organize a secretive group of devoted followers. His tools were his books and Tensegrity, a movement technique he claimed had been passed down by 25 generations of Toltec shamans. A corporation, Cleargreen, was set up to promote Tensegrity; it held workshops attended by thousands. Novelist and director Bruce Wagner, a member of Castaneda’s inner circle, helped produce a series of instructional videos. Cleargreen continues to operate to this day, promoting Tensegrity and Castaneda’s teachings through workshops in Southern California, Europe and Latin America.

At the heart of Castaneda’s movement was a group of intensely devoted women, all of whom were or had been his lovers. They were known as the witches, and two of them, Florinda Donner-Grau and Taisha Abelar, vanished the day after Castaneda’s death, along with Cleargreen president Amalia Marquez and Tensegrity instructor Kylie Lundahl. A few weeks later, Patricia Partin, Castaneda’s adopted daughter as well as his lover, also disappeared. In February 2006, a skeleton found in Death Valley, Calif., was identified through DNA analysis as Partin’s.

Some former Castaneda associates suspect the missing women committed suicide. They cite remarks the women made shortly before vanishing, and point to Castaneda’s frequent discussion of suicide in private group meetings. Achieving transcendence through a death nobly chosen, they maintain, had long been central to his teachings.

Castaneda was born in 1925 and came to the United States in 1951 from Peru. He’d studied sculpture at the School of Fine Arts in Lima and hoped to make it as an artist in the United States. He worked a series of odd jobs and took classes at Los Angeles Community College in philosophy, literature and creative writing. Most who knew him then recall a brilliant, hilarious storyteller with mesmerizing brown eyes. He was short (some say 5-foot-2; others 5-foot-5) and self-conscious about having his picture taken. Along with his then wife Margaret Runyan (whose memoir, “A Magical Journey With Carlos Castaneda,” he would later try to suppress) he became fascinated by the occult.

According to Runyan, she and Castaneda would hold long bull sessions, drinking wine with other students. One night a friend remarked that neither the Buddha nor Jesus ever wrote anything down. Their teachings had been recorded by disciples, who could have changed things or made them up. “Carlos nodded, as if thinking carefully,” wrote Runyan. Together, she and Castaneda conducted unsuccessful ESP experiments. Runyan worked for the phone company, and Castaneda’s first attempt at a book was an uncompleted nonfiction manuscript titled “Dial Operator.”

In 1959, Castaneda enrolled at UCLA, where he signed up for California ethnography with archaeology professor Clement Meighan. One of the assignments was to interview an Indian. He got an “A” for his paper, in which he spoke to an unnamed Native American about the ceremonial use of jimson weed. But Castaneda was broke and soon dropped out. He worked in a liquor store and drove a taxi. He began to disappear for days at a time, telling Runyan he was going to the desert. The couple separated, but soon afterward Castaneda adopted C.J., the son Runyan had had with another man. And, for seven years, he worked on the manuscript that was to become “The Teachings of Don Juan.”

“The Teachings” begins with a young man named Carlos being introduced at an Arizona bus stop to don Juan, an old Yaqui Indian whom he’s told “is very learned about plants.” Carlos tries to persuade the reluctant don Juan to teach him about peyote. Eventually he relents, allowing Carlos to ingest the sacred cactus buds. Carlos sees a transparent black dog, which, don Juan later tells him, is Mescalito, a powerful supernatural being. His appearance is a sign that Carlos is “the chosen one” who’s been picked to receive “the teachings.”

“The Teachings” is largely a dialogue between don Juan, the master, and Carlos, the student, punctuated by the ingestion of carefully prepared mixtures of herbs and mushrooms. Carlos has strange experiences that, in spite of don Juan’s admonitions, he continues to think of as hallucinations. In one instance, Carlos turns into a crow and flies. Afterward, an argument ensues: Is there such a thing as objective reality? Or is reality just perceptions and different, equally valid ways of describing them? Toward the book’s end, Carlos again encounters Mescalito, whom he now accepts as real, not a hallucination.

In “The Teachings,” Castaneda tried to follow the conventions of anthropology by appending a 50-page “structural analysis.” According to Runyan, his goal was to become a psychedelic scholar along the lines of Aldous Huxley. He’d become disillusioned with another hero, Timothy Leary, who supposedly mocked Castaneda when they met at a party, earning his lifelong enmity. In 1967, he took his manuscript to professor Meighan. Castaneda was disappointed when Meighan told him it would work better as a trade book than as a scholarly monograph. But following Meighan’s instructions, Castaneda took his manuscript to the University of California Press’ office in Powell Library, where he showed it to Jim Quebec. The editor was impressed but had doubts about its authenticity. Inundated by good reports from the UCLA anthropology department, according to Runyan, Quebec was convinced and “The Teachings” was published in the spring of 1968.

Runyan wrote that “the University of California Press, fully cognizant that a nation of drug-infatuated students was out there, moved it into California bookstores with a vengeance.” Sales exceeded all expectations, and Quebec soon introduced Castaneda to Ned Brown, an agent whose clients included Jackie Collins. Brown then put Castaneda in touch with Michael Korda, Simon and Schuster’s new editor in chief.

In his memoir, “Another Life,” Korda recounts their first meeting. Korda was told to wait in a hotel parking lot. “A neat Volvo pulled up in front of me, and the driver waved me in,” Korda writes. “He was a robust, broad-chested, muscular man, with a swarthy complexion, dark eyes, black curly hair cut short, and a grin as merry as Friar Tuck’s … I had seldom, if ever, liked anybody so much so quickly … It wasn’t so much what Castaneda had to say as his presence — a kind of charm that was partly subtle intelligence, partly a real affection for people, and partly a kind of innocence, not of the naive kind but of the kind one likes to suppose saints, holy men, prophets and gurus have.” The next morning, Korda set about buying the rights to “The Teachings.” Under his new editor’s guidance, Castaneda published his next three books in quick succession. In “A Separate Reality,” published in 1971, Carlos returns to Mexico to give don Juan a copy of his new book. Don Juan declines the gift, suggesting he’d use it as toilet paper. A new cycle of apprenticeship begins, in which don Juan tries to teach Carlos how to “see.”

New characters appear, most importantly don Juan’s friend and fellow sorcerer don Genaro. In “A Separate Reality” and the two books that follow, “Journey to Ixtlan” and “Tales of Power,” numerous new concepts are introduced, including “becoming inaccessible,” “erasing personal history” and “stopping the world.”

There are also displays of magic. Don Genaro is at one moment standing next to Carlos; at the next, he’s on top of a mountain. Don Juan uses unseen powers to help Carlos start his stalled car. And he tries to show him how to be a warrior — a being who, like an enlightened Buddhist, has eliminated the ego, but who, in a more Nietzschean vein, knows he’s superior to regular humans, who lead wasted, pointless lives. Don Juan also tries to teach Carlos how to enter the world of dreams, the “separate reality,” also referred to as the “nagual,” a Spanish word taken from the Aztecs. (Later, Castaneda would shift the word’s meaning, making it stand not only for the separate reality but also for a shaman, like don Juan and, eventually, Castaneda himself.)

In “Journey to Ixtlan,” Carlos starts a new round of apprenticeship. Don Juan tells him they’ll no longer use drugs. These were only necessary when Carlos was a beginner. Many consider “Ixtlan,” which served as Castaneda’s Ph.D. thesis at UCLA, his most beautiful book. It also made him a millionaire. At the book’s conclusion, Carlos talks to a luminous coyote. But he isn’t yet ready to enter the nagual. Finally, at the end of “Tales of Power,” don Juan and don Genaro take Carlos to the edge of a cliff. If he has the courage to leap, he’ll at last be a full-fledged sorcerer. This time Carlos doesn’t turn back. He jumps into the abyss.

- – - – - – - – - – - -

All four books were lavishly praised. Michael Murphy, a founder of Esalen, remarked that the “essential lessons don Juan has to teach are the timeless ones that have been taught by the great sages of India.” There were raves in the New York Times, Harper’s and the Saturday Review. “Castaneda’s meeting with Don Juan,” wrote Time’s Robert Hughes, “now seems one of the most fortunate literary encounters since Boswell was introduced to Dr. Johnson.”

In 1972, anthropologist Paul Riesman reviewed Castaneda’s first three books in the New York Times Book Review, writing that “Castaneda makes it clear that the teachings of don Juan do tell us something of how the world really is.” Riesman’s article ran in place of a review the Times had initially commissioned from Weston La Barre, one of the foremost authorities on Native American peyote ceremonies. In his unpublished article, La Barre denounced Castaneda’s writing as “pseudo-profound deeply vulgar pseudo-ethnography.”

Contacted recently, Roger Jellinek, the editor who commissioned both reviews, explained his decision. “The Weston La Barre review, as I recall, was not so much a review as a furious ad hominem diatribe intended to suppress, not debate, the book,” he wrote via e-mail. “By then I knew enough about Castaneda, from discussions with Edmund Carpenter, the anthropologist who first put me on to Castaneda, and from my reading of renowned shamanism scholar Mircea Eliade in support of my own review of Castaneda in the daily New York Times, to feel strongly that ‘The Teachings of Don Juan’ deserved more than a personal put-down. Hence the second commission to Paul Riesman, son of Harvard sociologist David Riesman, and a brilliant rising anthropologist. Incidentally, in all my eight years at the NYTBR, that’s the only occasion I can recall of a review being commissioned twice.”

Riesman’s glowing review was soon followed by Oates’ letter to the editor, in which she argued that the books were obvious works of fiction. Then, in 1973, Time correspondent Sandra Burton found that Castaneda had lied about his military service, his father’s occupation, his age and his nation of birth (Peru not Brazil).

No one contributed more to Castaneda’s debunking than Richard de Mille. De Mille, who held a Ph.D. in psychology from USC, was something of a freelance intellectual. In a recent interview, he remarked that because he wasn’t associated with a university, he could tell the story straight. “People in the academy wouldn’t do it,” he remarked. “They’d be embarrassing the establishment.” Specifically the UCLA professors who, according to de Mille, knew it was a hoax from the start. But a hoax that, he said, supported their theories, which de Mille summed up succinctly: “Reality doesn’t exist. It’s all what people say to each other.”

In de Mille’s first exposé, “Castaneda’s Journey,” which appeared in 1976, he pointed to numerous internal contradictions in Castaneda’s field reports and the absence of convincing details. “During nine years of collecting plants and hunting animals with don Juan, Carlos learns not one Indian name for any plant or animal,” De Mille wrote. The books were also filled with implausible details. For example, while “incessantly sauntering across the sands in seasons when … harsh conditions keep prudent persons away, Carlos and don Juan go quite unmolested by pests that normally torment desert hikers.”

De Mille also uncovered numerous instances of plagiarism. “When don Juan opens his mouth,” he wrote, “the words of particular writers come out.” His 1980 compilation, “The Don Juan Papers,” includes a 47-page glossary of quotations from don Juan and their sources, ranging from Wittgenstein and C.S. Lewis to papers in obscure anthropology journals.

In one example, de Mille first quotes a passage by a mystic, Yogi Ramacharaka: “The Human Aura is seen by the psychic observer as a luminous cloud, egg-shaped, streaked by fine lines like stiff bristles standing out in all directions.” In “A Separate Reality,” a “man looks like a human egg of circulating fibers. And his arms and legs are like luminous bristles bursting out in all directions.” The accumulation of such instances leads de Mille to conclude that “Carlos’s adventures originated not in the Sonoran desert but in the library at UCLA.” De Mille convinced many previously sympathetic readers that don Juan did not exist. Perhaps the most glaring evidence was that the Yaqui don’t use peyote, and don Juan was supposedly a Yaqui shaman teaching a “Yaqui way of knowledge.” Even the New York Times came around, declaring that de Mille’s research “should satisfy anyone still in doubt.”

Some anthropologists have disagreed with de Mille on certain points. J.T. Fikes, author of “Carlos Castaneda, Academic Opportunism and the Psychedelic Sixties,” believes Castaneda did have some contact with Native Americans. But he’s an even fiercer critic than de Mille, condemning Castaneda for the effect his stories have had on Native peoples. Following the publication of “The Teachings,” thousands of pilgrims descended on Yaqui territory. When they discovered that the Yaqui don’t use peyote, but that the Huichol people do, they headed to the Huichol homeland in Southern Mexico, where, according to Fikes, they caused serious disruption. Fikes recounts with outrage the story of one Huichol elder being murdered by a stoned gringo.

Among anthropologists, there’s no longer a debate. Professor William W. Kelly, chairman of Yale’s anthropology department, told me, “I doubt you’ll find an anthropologist of my generation who regards Castaneda as anything but a clever con man. It was a hoax, and surely don Juan never existed as anything like the figure of his books. Perhaps to many it is an amusing footnote to the gullibility of naive scholars, although to me it remains a disturbing and unforgivable breach of ethics.”

After 1973, the year of the Time exposé, Castaneda never again responded publicly to criticism. Instead, he went into seclusion, at least as far as the press was concerned (he still went to Hollywood parties). Claiming he was complying with don Juan’s instruction to become “inaccessible,” he no longer allowed himself to be photographed, and (in the same year the existence of the Nixon tapes was made public) he decided that recordings of any sort were forbidden. He also severed ties to his past; after attending C.J.’s junior high graduation and promising to take him to Europe, he soon banished his ex-wife and son.

And he made don Juan disappear. When “The Second Ring of Power” was published in 1977, readers learned that sometime between the leap into the abyss at the end of “Tales of Power” and the start of the new book, don Juan had vanished, evanescing into a ball of light and entering the nagual. His seclusion also helped Castaneda, now in his late 40s, conceal the alternative family he was starting to form. The key members were three young women: Regine Thal, Maryann Simko and Kathleen “Chickie” Pohlman, whom Castaneda had met while he was still active at UCLA. Simko was pursuing a Ph.D. in anthropology and was known around campus as Castaneda’s girlfriend. Through her, Castaneda met Thal, another anthropology Ph.D. candidate and Simko’s friend from karate class. How Pohlman entered the picture remains unclear.

In 1973, Castaneda purchased a compound on the aptly named Pandora Avenue in Westwood. The women, soon to be known both in his group and in his books as “the witches,” moved in. They eventually came to sport identical short, dyed blond haircuts similar to those later worn by the Heaven’s Gate cult. They also said they’d studied with don Juan.

In keeping with the philosophy of “erasing personal history,” they changed their names: Simko became Taisha Abelar; Thal, Florinda Donner-Grau. Donner-Grau is remembered by many as Castaneda’s equal in intelligence and charisma. Nicknamed “the hummingbird” because of her ceaseless energy, she was born in Venezuela to German parents and claimed to have done research on the Yanomami Indians. Pohlman was given a somewhat less glamorous alias: Carol Tiggs. Donner-Grau and Abelar eventually published their own books on sorcery.

The witches, along with Castaneda, maintained a tight veil of secrecy. They used numerous aliases and didn’t allow themselves to be photographed. Followers were told constantly changing stories about their backgrounds. Only after Castaneda’s death did the real facts about their lives begin to emerge. This is largely due to the work of three of his ex-followers.

In the early ’90s, Richard Jennings, a Columbia Law graduate, was living in Los Angeles. He was the executive director of Hollywood Supports, a nonprofit group organized to fight discrimination against people with HIV. He’d previously been the executive director of GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. After reading an article in Details magazine by Bruce Wagner about a meeting with Castaneda, he became intrigued. By looking on the Internet, he found his way to one of the semi-secret workshops being held around Los Angeles. He was soon invited to participate in Castaneda’s Sunday sessions, exclusive classes for select followers, where Jennings kept copious notes. From 1995 to 1998 he was deeply involved in the group, sometimes advising on legal matters. After Castaneda’s death, he started a Web site, Sustained Action, for which he compiled meticulously researched chronologies, dating from 1947 to 1999, of the lives of Patricia Partin and the witches.

Another former insider is Amy Wallace, author of 13 books of fiction and nonfiction, including the best-selling “Book of Lists,” which she co-authored with her brother David Wallechinksy and their father, novelist Irving Wallace, also a client of Korda’s. (Amy Wallace has contributed to Salon.) She first met Castaneda in 1973, while she was still in high school. Her parents took her to a dinner party held by agent Ned Brown. Castaneda was there with Abelar, who then went under the name Anna-Marie Carter. They talked with Wallace about her boarding school. Many years later, Wallace became one of Castaneda’s numerous lovers, an experience recounted in her memoir, “Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” Wallace now lives in East Los Angeles, where she’s working on a novel about punk rock.

Gaby Geuter, an author and former travel agent, had been a workshop attendee who hoped to join the inner circle. In 1996 she realized she was being shut out. In an effort to find out the truth about the guru who’d rejected her, she, along with her husband, Greg Mamishian, began to shadow Castaneda. In her book “Filming Castaneda,” she recounts how, from a car parked near his compound, they secretly videotaped the group’s comings and goings. Were it not for Geuter there’d be no post-1973 photographic record of Castaneda, who, as he aged, seemed to have retained his impish charm as well as a full head of silver hair. They also went through his trash, discovering a treasure-trove of documents, including marriage certificates, letters and credit card receipts that would later provide clues to the group’s history and its behavior during Castaneda’s final days.

During the late ’70s and early ’80s, Jennings believes the group probably numbered no more than two dozen. Members, mostly women, came and went. At the time, a pivotal event was the defection of Carol Tiggs, who was, according to Wallace, always the most ambivalent witch. Soon after joining, she tried to break away. She attended California Acupuncture College, married a fellow student and lived in Pacific Palisades. Eventually, Wallace says, Castaneda lured her back.

Castaneda had a different version. In his 1981 bestseller, “The Eagle’s Gift,” he described how Tiggs vanished into the “second attention,” one of his terms for infinity. Eventually she reappeared through a space time portal in New Mexico. She then made her way to L.A., where they were joyously reunited when he found her on Santa Monica Boulevard. In homage to her 10 years in another dimension, she was now known as the “nagual woman.”

Wallace believes this was an incentive to get Tiggs to rejoin. According to Wallace and Jennings, one of the witches’ tasks was to recruit new members. Melissa Ward, a Los Angeles area caterer, was involved in the group from 1993 to 1994. “Frequently they recruited at lectures,” she told me. Among the goals, she said, was to find “women with a combination of brains and beauty and vulnerability.” Initiation into the inner family often involved sleeping with Castaneda, who, the witches claimed in public appearances, was celibate.

In “Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” Wallace provides a detailed picture of her own seduction. Because of her father’s friendship with Castaneda, her case was unusual. Over the years, he’d stop by the Wallace home. When Irving died in 1990, Amy was living in Berkeley, Calif. Soon after, Castaneda called and told her that her father had appeared to him in a dream and said he was trapped in the Wallace’s house, and needed Amy and Carlos to free him.

Wallace, suitably skeptical, came down to L.A. and the seduction began in earnest. She recounts how she soon found herself in bed with Castaneda. He told her he hadn’t had sex for 20 years. When Wallace later worried she might have gotten pregnant (they’d used no birth control), Castaneda leapt from the bed, shouting, “Me make you pregnant? Impossible! The nagual’s sperm isn’t human … Don’t let any of the nagual’s sperm out, nena. It will burn away your humanness.” He didn’t mention the vasectomy he’d had years before.

The courtship continued for several weeks. Castaneda told her they were “energetically married.” One afternoon, he took her to the sorcerer’s compound. As they were leaving, Wallace looked at a street sign so she could remember the location. Castaneda furiously berated her: A warrior wouldn’t have looked. He ordered her to return to Berkeley. She did. When she called, he refused to speak to her.

The witches, however, did, instructing Wallace on the sorceric steps necessary to return. She had to let go of her attachments. Wallace got rid of her cats. This didn’t cut it. Castaneda, she wrote, got on the phone and called her an egotistical, spoiled Jew. He ordered her to get a job at McDonald’s. Instead, Wallace waitressed at a bed and breakfast. Six months later she was allowed back.

Aspiring warriors, say Jennings, Wallace and Ward, were urged to cut off all contact with their past lives, as don Juan had instructed Carlos to do, and as Castaneda had done by cutting off his wife and adopted son. “He was telling us how to get out of family obligations,” Jennings told me. “Being in one-on-one relationships would hold you back from the path. Castaneda was telling us how to get out of commitments with family, down to small points like how to avoid hugging your parents directly.” Jennings estimates that during his four years with the group, between 75 and 100 people were told to cut off their families. He doesn’t know how many did.

For some initiates, the separation was brutal and final. According to Wallace, acolytes were told to tell their families, “I send you to hell.” Both Wallace and Jennings tell of one young woman who, in the group’s early years, had been ordered by Castaneda to hit her mother, a Holocaust survivor. Many years later, Wallace told me, the woman “cried about it. She’d done it because she thought he was so psychic he could tell if she didn’t.” Wallace also describes how, when one young man’s parents died soon after being cut off, Castaneda singled him out for praise, remarking, “When you really do it, don Juan told me, they die instantly, as if you were squashing a flea — and that’s all they are, fleas.”

Before entering the innermost circle, at least some followers were led into a position of emotional and financial dependence. Ward remembers a woman named Peggy who was instructed to quit her job. She was told she’d then be given cash to get a phone-less apartment, where she would wait to hear from Castaneda or the witches. Peggy fled before this happened. But Ward said this was a common practice with women about to be brought into the family’s core.

Valerie Kadium, a librarian, who from 1995 to 1996 took part in the Sunday sessions, recalls one participant who, after several meetings, decided to commit himself fully to the group. He went to Vermont to shut down his business, but on returning to L.A., he was told he could no longer participate; he was “too late.” He’d failed to grasp the “cubic centimeter of chance” that, said Kadium, Castaneda often spoke of. Jennings had to quit his job with Hollywood Supports; his work required him to interact with the media, but this was impossible: Sorcerers couldn’t have their pictures taken.

But there were rewards. “I was totally affected by these people,” Jennings told me. “I felt like I’d found a family. I felt like I’d found a path.” Kadium recalls the first time she saw Tensegrity instructor Kylie Lundahl onstage — she saw an aura around her, an apricot glow. Remembering her early days with the group, she remarked, “There was such a sweetness about it. I had such high hopes. I wanted to feel the world more deeply — and I did.”

Although she was later devastated when Castaneda banished her from the Sunday sessions, telling her “the spirits spit you out,” she eventually recovered, and now remembers this as the most exciting time of her life. According to all who knew him, Castaneda wasn’t only mesmerizing, he also had a great sense of humor. “One of the reasons I was involved was the idea that I was in this fascinating, on the edge, avant garde, extraordinary group of beings,” Wallace said. “Life was always exciting. We were free from the tedium of the world.”

And because, as Jennings puts it, Castaneda was a “control freak,” followers were often freed from the anxiety of decision-making. Some had more independence, but even Wallace and Bruce Wagner, both of whom were given a certain leeway, were sometimes, according to Wallace, required to have their writing vetted by Donner-Grau. Jennings and Wallace also report that Castaneda directed the inner circle’s sex lives in great detail.

The most difficult part, Wallace believes, was that you never knew where you stood. “He’d pick someone, crown them, and was as capable of kicking them out in 48 hours as keeping them 10 years. You never knew. So there was always trepidation, a lot of jealousy.” Sometimes initiates were banished for obscure spiritual offenses, such as drinking cappuccino (which Castaneda himself guzzled in great quantities). They’d no longer be invited to the compound. Phone calls wouldn’t be returned. Having been allowed for a time into a secret, magical family, they’d be abruptly cut off. For some, Wallace believes, this pattern was highly traumatic. “In a weird way,” she said, “the worst thing that can happen is when you’re loved and loved and then abused and abused, and there are no rules, and the rules keep changing, and you can never do right, but then all of a sudden they’re kissing you. That’s the most crazy-making behavioral modification there is. And that’s what Carlos specialized in; he was not stupid.”

Whether disciples were allowed to stay or forced to leave seems often to have depended on the whims of a woman known as the Blue Scout. Trying to describe her power, Ward recalled a “Twilight Zone” episode in which a little boy could look at people and make them die. “So everyone treated him with kid gloves,” she said, “and that’s how it was with the Blue Scout.” She was born Patricia Partin and grew up in LaVerne, Calif., where, according to Jennings, her father had been in an accident that left him with permanent brain damage. Partin dropped out of Bonita High her junior year. She became a waitress, and, at 19, married an aspiring filmmaker, Mark Silliphant, who introduced her to Castaneda in 1978. Within weeks of their marriage she left Silliphant and went to live with Castaneda. She paid one last visit to her mother; in keeping with the nagual’s instructions, she refused to be in a family photograph. For the rest of her life, she never spoke to her mother again.

Castaneda renamed Partin Nury Alexander. She was also “Claude” as well as the Blue Scout. She soon emerged as one of his favorites (Castaneda officially adopted her in 1995). Followers were told he’d conceived her with Tiggs in the nagual. He said she had a very rare energy; she was “barely human” — high praise from Castaneda. Partin, a perpetual student at UCLA and an inveterate shopper at Neiman Marcus, was infantilized. In later years, new followers would be assigned the task of playing dolls with her.

In the late ’80s, perhaps because book sales had slowed, or perhaps because he no longer feared media scrutiny, Castaneda sought to expand. Jennings believes he may have been driven by a desire to please Partin. Geuter confirms that Castaneda told followers that the Blue Scout had talked him into starting Cleargreen. But she also suggests another motivation. “He was thinking about what he wanted for the rest of his life,” Geuter told me. “He always talked about ‘going for the golden clasp.’ He wanted to finish with something spectacular.”

Castaneda investigated the possibility of incorporating as a religion, as L. Ron Hubbard had done with Scientology. Instead, he chose to develop Tensegrity, which, Jennings believes, was to be the means through which the new faith would spread. Tensegrity is a movement technique that seems to combine elements of a rigid version of tai chi and modern dance. In all likelihood the inspiration came from karate devotees Donner-Grau and Abelar, and from his years of lessons with martial arts instructor Howard Lee. Documents found by Geuter show him discussing a project called “Kung Fu Sorcery” with Lee as early as 1988. The more elegant “Tensegrity” was lifted from Buckminster Fuller, for whom it referred to a structural synergy between tension and compression. Castaneda seems to have just liked the sound of it.

A major player in promoting Tensegrity was Wagner, whose fifth novel, “The Chrysanthemum Palace,” was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner prize (his sixth, “Memorial,” was recently released by Simon and Schuster). Wagner hadn’t yet published his first novel when he approached Castaneda in 1988 with the hope of filming the don Juan books. Within a few years, according to Jennings and Wallace, he became part of the inner circle. He was given the sorceric name Lorenzo Drake — Enzo for short. As the group began to emerge from the shadows, holding seminars in high school auditoriums and on college campuses, Wagner, tall, bald and usually dressed in black, would, according to Geuter and Wallace, act as a sort of bouncer, removing those who asked unwanted questions. (Wagner declined requests for an interview.) In 1995 Wagner, who’d previously been wed to Rebecca De Mornay, married Tiggs. That same year his novel “I’m Losing You” was chosen by the New York Times as a notable book of the year. John Updike, in the New Yorker, proclaimed that Wagner “writes like a wizard.”

In the early ’90s, to promote Tensegrity, Castaneda set up Cleargreen, which operated out of the offices of “Rugrats” producer and Castaneda agent (and part-time sorcerer) Tracy Kramer, a friend of Wagner’s from Beverly Hills High. Although Castaneda wasn’t a shareholder, according to Geuter, “he determined every detail of the operation.” Jennings and Wallace confirm that Castaneda had complete control of Cleargreen. (Cleargreen did not respond to numerous inquiries from Salon.) The company’s official president was Amalia Marquez (sorceric name Talia Bey), a young businesswoman who, after reading Castaneda’s books, had moved from Puerto Rico to Los Angeles in order to follow him.

At Tensegrity seminars, women dressed in black, the “chacmools,” demonstrated moves for the audience. Castaneda and the witches would speak and answer questions. Seminars cost up to $1,200, and as many as 800 would attend. Participants could buy T-shirts that read “Self Importance Kills — Do Tensegrity.” The movements were meant to promote health as well as help practitioners progress as warriors. Illness was seen as a sign of weakness. Wallace recalls the case of Tycho, the Orange Scout (supposedly the Blue Scout’s sister). “She had ulcerative colitis,” Wallace told me. “She was trying to keep it a secret because if Carlos knew you were sick he’d punish you. If you went for medical care, he’d kick you out.” Once Tycho’s illness was discovered, Wallace said, Tycho was expelled from the group.

- – - – - – - – - – - -

If Castaneda’s early books drew on Buddhism and phenomenology, his later work seemed more indebted to science fiction. But throughout, there was a preoccupation with meeting death like a warrior. In the ’90s, Castaneda told his followers that, like don Juan, he wouldn’t die — he’d burn from within, turn into a ball of light, and ascend to the heavens.

In the summer of 1997, he was diagnosed with liver cancer. Because sorcerers weren’t supposed to get sick, his illness remained a tightly guarded secret. While the witches desperately pursued traditional and alternative treatments, the workshops continued as if nothing was wrong (although Castaneda often wasn’t there). One of the witches, Abelar, flew to Florida to inspect yachts. Geuter, in notes taken at the time, wondered, “Why are they buying a boat? … Maybe Carlos wants to leave with his group, and disappear unnoticed in the wide-open oceans.”

No boats were purchased. Castaneda continued to decline. He became increasingly frail, his eyes yellow and jaundiced. He rarely left the compound. According to Wallace, Tiggs told her the witches had purchased guns. While the nagual lay bedridden with a morphine drip, watching war videos, the inner circle burned his papers. A grieving Abelar had begun to drink. “I’m not in any danger of becoming an alcoholic now,” she told Wallace. “Because I’m leaving, so — it’s too late.” Wallace writes: “She was telling me, in her way, that she planned to die.”

Wallace also recalls a conversation with Lundahl, the star of the Tensegrity videos and one of the women who disappeared: “If I don’t go with him, I’ll do what I have to do,” Wallace says Lundahl told her. “It’s too late for you and me to remain in the world — I think you know exactly what I mean.”

In April 1998, Geuter filmed the inner circle packing up the house. The next week, at age 72, Castaneda died. He was cremated at the Culver City mortuary. No one knows what became of his ashes. Within days, Donner-Grau, Abelar, Partin, Lundahl and Marquez had their phones disconnected and vanished. A few weeks later, Partin’s red Ford Escort was found abandoned in Death Valley’s Panamint Dunes.

Even within the inner circle, few knew that Castaneda was dead. Rumors spread. Many were in despair: The nagual hadn’t “burned from within.” Jennings didn’t learn until two weeks later, when Tiggs called to tell him Castaneda was “gone.” The witches, she said, were “elsewhere.”

In a proposal for a biography of Castaneda, a project Jennings eventually chose not to pursue, he writes that Tiggs “also told me she was supposed to have ‘gone with them,’ but ‘a non-decision decision’ kept me here.” Meanwhile, the workshops continued. “Carol also banned mourning within Cleargreen,” Jennings writes, “so its members hid their grief, often drowning it in alcohol or drugs.” Wallace, too, recalls a lot of drug use: “I don’t know if they tried to OD so much as to ‘get there.’ Get to Carlos.” Jennings himself drove to the desert and thought about committing suicide.

The media didn’t learn of Castaneda’s death for two months. When the news became public, Cleargreen members stopped answering their phones. They soon placed a statement, which Jennings says was written by Wagner, on their Web site: “For don Juan, the warrior was a being … who embarks, when the time comes, on a definitive journey of awareness, ‘crossing over to total freedom’ … warriors can keep their awareness, which is ordinarily relinquished, at the moment of dying. At the moment of crossing, the body in its entirety is kindled with knowledge … Carlos Castaneda left the world the same way that his teacher, don Juan Matus did: with full awareness.”

Many obituaries had a curious tone; the writers seemed uncertain whether to call Castaneda a fraud. Some expressed a kind of nostalgia for an author whose work had meant so much to so many in their youth. Korda refused comment. De Mille, in an interview with filmmaker Ralph Torjan, expressed a certain admiration. “He was the perfect hoaxer,” he told Torjan, “because he never admitted anything.”

Jennings, Wallace and Geuter believe the missing women likely committed suicide. Wallace told me about a phone call to Donner-Grau’s parents not long after the women disappeared. Donner-Grau had been one of the few allowed to maintain contact with her family. “They were weeping,” Wallace said, “because there was no goodbye. They didn’t know what had happened. This was after decades of being in touch with them.”

Castaneda’s will, executed three days before his death, leaves everything to an entity known as the Eagle’s Trust. According to Jennings, who obtained a copy of the trust agreement, the missing women have a considerable amount of money due to them. Deborah Drooz, the executor of Castaneda’s estate, said she has had no contact with the women. She added that she believes they are still alive.

Jennings believes Castaneda knew they were planning to kill themselves. “He used to talk about suicide all the time, even for minor things,” Jennings told me. He added that Partin was once sent to identify abandoned mines in the desert, which could be used as potential suicide sites. (There’s an abandoned mine not far from where her remains were found.) “He regularly told us he was our only hope,” Jennings said. “We were all supposed to go together, ‘make the leap,’ whatever that meant.” What did Jennings think it meant? “I didn’t know fully,” he said. “He’d describe it in different ways. So would the witches. It seemed to be what they were living for, something we were being promised.”

The promise may have been based on the final scene in “Tales of Power,” in which Carlos leaps from a cliff into the nagual. The scene is later retold in varying versions. In his 1984 book, “The Fire From Within,” Castaneda wrote: “I didn’t die at the bottom of that gorge — and neither did the other apprentices who had jumped at an earlier time — because we never reached it; all of us, under the impact of such a tremendous and incomprehensible act as jumping to our deaths, moved our assemblage points and assembled other worlds.”

Did Castaneda really believe this? Wallace thinks so. “He became more and more hypnotized by his own reveries,” she told me. “I firmly believe Carlos brainwashed himself.” Did the witches? Geuter put it this way: “Florinda, Taisha and the Blue Scout knew it was a fantasy structure. But when you have thousands of eyes looking back at you, you begin to believe in the fantasy. These women never had to answer to the real world. Carlos had snatched them when they were very young.”

Wallace isn’t sure what the women believed. Because open discussion of Castaneda’s teachings was forbidden, it was impossible to know what anyone really thought. However, she told me, after living so long with Castaneda, the women may have felt they had no choice. “You’ve cut off all your ties,” she said. “Now you’re going to go back after all these decades? Who are you going to go be with? And you feel that you’re not one of the common herd anymore. That’s why they killed themselves.”

On its Web site, Cleargreen maintains that the women didn’t “depart.” However, “for the moment they are not going to appear personally at the workshops because they want this dream to take wings.”

Remarkably, there seems to have been no investigation into at least three of the disappearances. Except for Donner-Grau, they’d all been estranged from their families for years. For months after they vanished, none of the other families knew what had happened. And so, according to Geuter, no one reported them missing. Salon attempted to locate the three missing women, relying on public records and phone calls to their previous residences, but discovered no current trace of them. The Los Angeles Police Department and the FBI confirm that there’s been no official inquiry into the disappearances of Donner-Grau, Abelar and Lundahl.

There is, however, a file open in the Marquez case. This is due to the tireless efforts of Luis Marquez, who told Salon that he first tried to report his sister missing in 1999. But the LAPD, he said, repeatedly ignored him. A year later, he and his sister Carmen wrote a letter to the missing-persons unit; again, no response. According to Marquez, it wasn’t until Partin’s remains were identified that the LAPD opened a file on Amalia. “To this day,” he told me, “they still refuse to ask any questions or visit Cleargreen.” His own attempts to get information from Cleargreen have been fruitless. According to Marquez, all he’s been told is that the women are “traveling.” Detective Lydia Dillard, assigned to the Marquez case, said that because this is an open investigation, she couldn’t confirm whether anyone from Cleargreen had been interviewed.

In 2002, a Taos, N.M., woman, Janice Emery, a Castaneda follower and workshop attendee, jumped to her death in the Rio Grande gorge. According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, Emery had a head injury brought on by cancer. One of Emery’s friends told the newspaper that Emery “wanted to be with Castaneda’s people.” Said another: “I think she was really thinking she could fly off.” A year later, a skeleton was discovered near the site of Partin’s abandoned Ford. The Inyo County sheriff’s department suspected it was hers. But, due to its desiccated condition, a positive identification couldn’t be made until February 2006, when new DNA technology became available.

Wallace recalls how Castaneda had told Partin that “if you ever need to rise to infinity, take your little red car and drive it as fast as you can into the desert and you will ascend.” And, Wallace believes, “that’s exactly what she did: She took her little red car, drove it into the desert, didn’t ascend, got out, wandered around and fainted from dehydration.”

Partin’s death and the disappearance of the other women aren’t Castaneda’s entire legacy. He’s been acknowledged as an important influence by figures ranging from Deepak Chopra to George Lucas. Without a doubt, Castaneda opened the doors of perception for numerous readers, and many workshop attendees found the experience deeply meaningful. There are those who testify to the benefits of Tensegrity. And even some of those who are critical of Castaneda find his teachings useful. “He was a conduit. I wanted answers to the big questions. He helped me,” Geuter said. But for five of his closest companions, his teachings — and his insistence on their literal truth — may have cost them their lives.

Long after Castaneda had been discredited in academia, Korda continued to insist on his authenticity. In 2000, he wrote: “I have never doubted for a moment the truth of his stories about don Juan.” Castaneda’s books have been profitable for Simon and Schuster, and according to Korda, were for many years one of the props on which the publisher rested. Castaneda might have achieved some level of success if his books had been presented, as James Redfield’s “Celestine Prophecy” is, as allegorical fiction. But Castaneda always insisted he’d made nothing up. “If he hadn’t presented his stories as fact,” Wallace told me, “it’s unlikely the cult would exist. As nonfiction, it became impossibly more dangerous.”

To this day, Simon and Schuster stands by Korda’s position. When asked whether, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the publisher still regarded Castaneda’s books as nonfiction, Adam Rothenberg, the vice president for corporate communication, replied that Simon and Schuster “will continue to publish Castaneda as we always have.” Tensegrity classes are still held around the world. Workshops were recently conducted in Mexico City and Hanover, Germany. Wagner’s videos are still available from Cleargreen. According to the terms of Castaneda’s will, book royalties still help support a core group of acolytes. On Simon and Schuster’s Web site, Castaneda is still described as an anthropologist. No mention is made of his fiction.

Robert Marshall's novel, "A Separate Reality," was released last fall from Carroll & Graf. A visual artist as well as a writer, he lives in New York City. More Robert Marshall
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Thu Feb 16, 2012 6:27 am

THE BETRAYAL BOND: Breaking Free of Explotive Relationships by Patrick J. Carnes

Exploitive relationships can create trauma bonds--chains that link a victim to someone who is dangerous to them. Divorce, employee relations, litigation of any type, incest and child abuse, family and marital systems, domestic violence, hostage negotiations, kidnapping, professional exploitation and religious abuse are all areas of trauma bonding. All these relationships share one thing: they are situations of incredible intensity or importance where there is an exploitation of trust or power.

In The Betrayal Bond Patrick Carnes presents an in-depth study of these relationships, why they form, who is most susceptible, and how they become so powerful. He shows how to recognize when traumatic bonding has occurred and gives a checklist for examining relationships. He then provides steps to safely extricate from these relationships.

This is a book you will turn to again and again for inspiration and insight, while professionals will find it an invaluable reference work.

By A Customer

A copy of THE BETRAYAL BOND, given to me by who?, I don't recall, had been sitting on my bookshelf unread for at least two years when I finally took serious note of it, last Friday, June 22, 2001, while searching for yet another escapist novel. Actually, I was given no choice in the matter. Like a note to Alice (in Wonderland) the red lettered title suddenly jumped at me, screaming, "READ ME!" A day later, I emerged from reading, and answering the various questionaires, if not a new woman, a profoundly altered one.

Where do I begin? In the beginning I was a severely beaten and incestuously molested girl and teenager. Then I married a man who said I was "nothing" compared to him and abandoned me for months at a time or beat me to make that point even clearer. Then I divorced him and worked my way through a series of disastrous relationships with men who had no intention of remaining faithful. I went to Al-Anon for several years but that only got me over the alcohol-related stuff. Affiliation with a 12 Step group still did not prevent me from entering what proved to be the most devastating relationship of all in which I was sexually exploitative by a Catholic priest who dangled the promise of marriage, only to renig on it after he was ordered by his superior into sex offender treatment.

He is still a priest, who now attends Sex Addicts Anonymous meetings, and I am over the worst of the post-traumatic shock disorder I suffered from after learning about his Mr. Hyde side.

So, I have to assume this was the perfect time for me to finally read this book, because I was really ready for it. I all but inhaled the thing, nodding along rapidly, recognizing myself in so much of it it was painful, but freeing as well. I have tools now. I'm not a lost cause. I don't have to avoid men for the balance of my life; I just have to become a lot more conscious of what I'm doing and why. This is particularly a godsend because the reader can begin to use this, without the help of others, as a way to rebuild the ability to deal with others again.

I particularly like the comprehensiveness of this book. There is not one type of abuse, personal, social or institutional that Carnes doesn't discuss. He hits them all, with bulls eye accuracy. There is no where to hide in this book and that's precisely what makes it so great -- a powerful testament to the assertion "the truth shall set you free." Amen!

However, I was disappointed to note that Carnes' support group listing at the back of the book does not include clergy (or religious) abuse support groups. This is a serious omission given the fact he provides so many references to clergy and religious abuse throughout the book. In reprints of this book, I hope he will amend that oversight as there are several such groups in existence throughout the world. I belong to one and know that I would probably be dead of suicide by now if I hadn't been referred to the support group I now belong to, by my therapist. Most people think clergy abuse is only about sexual molestation of children or adolescents by their pastor, but it's not. And people like me, who needlessly suffer alone, in the belief there are not others out there like them need desperately to be told otherwise.

Carnes book represents a remarkable breakthrough in terms of exposing all the insidiously complex and baffling psychological mechanisms that keep abuse and betrayal bonding at the denial level. As with the 12 Steps, this book is only a first step in dismantling the overall problem. But what a powerful Step in the right direction it is. More, more.
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Fri Feb 17, 2012 5:56 pm

THE GREAT FAILURE: My Unexpected Path to Truth by Natalie Goldberg

From Publishers Weekly

"Of course, we are drawn to teachers that unconsciously mirror our own psychology," writes Goldberg in a memoir about her wrestling match with her particular devil. In Writing Down the Bones, she coupled writing with the insights of Zen Buddhism, showing writers how to use a stream of consciousness approach to move through blocks and understand their true experience. Here, however, as Goldberg explores the link between her elegant Zen master, Katagiri Roshi, and the gritty, charming bartender father who sexually violated her, she inadvertently demonstrates this approach's shortcoming. Years after his death, Goldberg learned that Katagiri, the teacher who taught her so much (and the subject of Long Quiet Highway), carried on affairs with female students. Goldberg was shattered; she'd wanted to believe he was an immaculate refuge. Liberation through disillusionment is a universal and durable theme, yet as Goldberg muses and tells stories—splicing in a long Zen tale for a little extra-dimensional oomph—her account closes rather than opens up. In spite of her fluid writing and honesty, the work feels insular and self-cherishing, like personal notes rather than a compelling narrative for the rest of us. Many readers will conclude that this is a not-so-great failure after all, or perhaps a heartache that hasn't really healed.

From Booklist

Goldberg is renowned for Writing Down the Bones (1989), a book that inspired millions of people to express themselves through writing. Also known for her study and practice of Zen Buddhism, described in Long Quiet Highway (1993), Goldberg has taken readers time and again into her world of raw feeling, real experience, and broad awareness. In her new memoir, Goldberg seeks to reconcile misconceptions about her long-time Zen teacher and entangled feelings of love and anger for her father with truths she has discovered. Readers looking for writing advice, even by example, may be disappointed. Goldberg's writing is straightforward and utilitarian, and her mission is personal as she tries to come to grips with two influential figures in her life. What readers are most likely to appreciate and to learn from is her dogged determination to get at the truth and to come clean about personal failings. This is the path toward better understanding, a road Goldberg has unwaveringly navigated throughout her writing life. Janet St. John

From an amazon.com review:

This book differs in subject and style from Natalie Goldberg's previous books. Here she writes of feeling betrayred by two father figures, her natural father and her Buddhist teacher Katagiri Roshi, the bartender and the monk of the subtitle. Attending an abuse group, she begins to remember episodes from her childhood and she wants her family to acknowledge how they harmed her.

Without sparing herself, and with a hint of irony, Goldberg writes of confronting her parents by letter. They react with almost comic bewilderment. Goldberg's mother, Sylvia, a child of immigrants, views the world literally: did you eat and sleep? Were you warm? Her father, Buddy, ran a "rough" bar for years. His response to Goldberg's accusations was, "Were you on drugs?" Psychology, the author summarizes, was developed in a country outside Brooklyn.

Even after the family reconciles - which means she begins speaking to them after three years - Goldberg's parents still don't understand her new life. When Goldberg offers to give them a Zen experience, her father begins singing along with the silence bell. In one of their last visits, Buddy whispers an insulting remark about Natalie's weight.

The author gets her second shock, as word spreads about Katagiri Roshi's numerous love affairs with Zen students. She begins to remember episodes she'd tried to ignore. She recalls Roshi's remarks about her beauty. And ultimately she recognizes that Roshi gave her a tremendous gift, regardless of his personal life. She writes (page 136) that both artists and religious leaders can be "enlightened" in their work, yet function "cruelly and ignorantly" in their personal lives.

Toward the end of Great Failure, Natalie writes about crashing her car while fiddling with knobs on her tape deck. She adds, almost casually, that she'd been given "two or three" speeding tickets in the past six months, including one where the police actually chased her down. These episodes were disturbing.

She realizes she's acting out rather dangerously, and she realizes she's in an in-between phase, losing Roshi but not finding another touchstone. She doesn't judge herself, just reports, and in fact people often do behave in unusual, even bizarre ways when they're in the eye of the transitional hurricane.

I think the key to this book is Natalie's wish to be remembered like her heroes, not just as a writer, but as someone who dealt with loneliness and made mistakes. Because she tells these stories about herself, that's exactly how she will be remembered.
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Mon Apr 09, 2012 5:54 pm

Hare Krishna Transformed by E. Burke Rochford, Jr.

New York, NY: New York University Press (The New and Alternative Religion Series), 2007. ISBN 978-0-8147-7579-0 (paperback), $22. 288 pages.

Reviewed by Marcia R. Rudin


Because I’ve been involved in counter-cult work for nearly 30 years, one of my major interests today is how cultic groups change and accommodate themselves to new circumstances over time. E. Burke Rochford, Jr., details this process in the ISKON movement in his important new book Hare Krishna Transformed.

Rochford, a professor of sociology and religion at Middlebury College in Vermont, has studied ISKON for 30 years. Hare Krishna Transformed is an excellent examination, via personal interviews and research questionnaires, of how this troubled group has adapted to changing and often dire circumstances in order to survive.

In the 1980s ISKON could no longer able support itself through the sales of literature and preaching that had produced its large income in the 1970s. Members, who until that time had lived primarily together in ISKON temples and communities, were forced to obtain outside jobs to support themselves and the movement. They were also forced to seek individual housing. These changes brought them into more contact with the outside materialistic world and weakened the group’s opposition to the alien popular culture.

At the same time, the young members began to marry, most of these marriages arranged by the group leaders as the only acceptable outlet in the Hare Krishna movement for handling sexual urges. The formation of families caused child-, women-, and family-related issues to come to the fore at the same time the rank and file members were questioning the legitimacy of the leadership.

Rochford concludes that these struggles and the resulting changes the group made have transformed ISKON from an isolated counter-culture organization into a mainstream congregational one. Changes in the economic structure of the organization and the living conditions of its members have caused ISKON to soften its opposition to the outside-world culture. Such changes include that Hare Krishna children now attend public schools and ISKON must accommodate that fact. As a result, IKSON could no longer assert totalistic claims over the lives and identity of householders and their children, in large part because ISKCON’S leaders lost their ability to control their members through financial dependence…Freed from ISKCON control, householders formed social enclaves between the larger culture and their local ISKCON community, which resulted in the disintegration of ISKON’S traditional communal structure. (p. 67)

Hare Krishna leaders were forced to accelerate reforms when children who had grown up in the group disclosed the occurrence of severe physical, psychological, and sexual abuse in Hare Krishna ashram-based Gurukalas (boarding schools to which children as young as 5, and sometimes 3 years old, were sent); these schools operated either in the United States or in India from 1971 to the 1980s (p. 74). When the extensive child-abuse accusations became public, primarily through a federal lawsuit filed in June 2000 in Dallas, Texas on behalf of 44 young men and women who claimed to be abuse victims, ISKON leaders were forced to deal with these accusations publicly. By 2002, the number of plaintiffs in the case had grown to ninety-two (p. 92).

Busy with their own work and separated physically from their children, parents had had little knowledge of the treatment and the inadequate education provided to them. Many who cared for children and taught in the Gurukalas were not qualified and did not like these jobs, which were on the lowest rung of the work ladder. Often occurring out of frustration and hidden from supervision, physical, psychological, and sexual abuse became rampant. High leaders themselves sometimes instigated the abuse, and they certainly ignored it.

The abused youngsters’ revelations prompted many ISKON women also to complain about and attempt to rectify discrimination against them. Active and increasingly assertive and organized ISKON women protested the negative view of women (women are the source of sexual temptation, they are not qualified for leadership roles in the movement, their spiritual role is to raise children and submit to the men). This protest prompted a counter-movement among some men in the group, which was ultimately defeated. As a matter of practicality, women’s leadership roles in the group also increased because with most of the men working at outside jobs, ISKON needed the women to fulfill leadership roles in the remaining temples, and in the complicated and time-consuming organizational structure.

As the result of drastically declining membership among westerners—the original recruits and target of founder Prabhupada’s outreach—and of declining income, ISKON has turned to cultivating Hindu immigrants from India since the beginning of the 1980s to increase membership and financial contributions. ISKON initially appealed to the Indian immigrants because in those years there were few other Hindu temples to attend in the United States. Today most new ISKON members are Hindus from India who come to the group’s temples only on Sundays, primarily to meet other Indians and to affirm their Hindu heritage and identity. According to Rochford, this trend has resulted in a dilution of Prabhupada’s original teachings and a general “Hinduization” of the ISKON movement. (Rochford reports little social interaction between the Western ISKON members and the Indians, who do not share the group’s spiritual teachings, especially Prabhupada’s emphasis on preaching.) Rochford also points out that ISKON leaders early on deliberately linked ISKON to traditional Hinduism to counteract accusations that the group was a cult. The leaders were able to deflect much criticism of the movement by connecting ISKON to other historical Hindu movements, and by using Indian Hindus to accuse cult critics and the government of religious discrimination when cult accusations were made.

The author summarizes the important changes ISKON has undergone:

…world accommodation has gone hand in hand with the production of new cultural repertoires supportive of families and community development. When they were pushed out of the movement’s oppositional world to establish lives in the conventional society, householders reworked ISKON’S traditional culture to make it responsive to new institutional demands… From radical beginnings that placed preaching and conversion above the needs of families, the Hare Krishna has evolved into an American religious community centered on family life. (p. 214)

As to Rochford’s methodology: I am not a sociologist. However, my father was a sociologist, and when I was as young as 5, he warned me about the pitfalls of statistics. While it appears that Dr. Rochford’s research is for the most part accurate and extensive, my common sense and my father’s long-ago warnings prompt me to wonder about the pool of interviewees and survey subjects Rochford (and other sociologists of religion) draw from, especially when they are querying ex-members about their attitudes after they have left the group. For example, according to Rochford’s study of former ISKCON members, “In virtually every case, those former ISKCON members who responded to the Centennial Survey affirmed their unwavering commitment to Prabhupada” (p. 165). Rochford admits that the ISKON ex-member population from which he drew his survey subjects might be a bit skewed: “The sample of former ISKCON members is weighted toward those who remained in the devotee networks either inside our outside ISKCON. This is because the Centennial Survey questionnaires were distributed through devotee networks. Although considerable effort was made to include a wide range of former members, it is clear that those who were no longer involved in devotee relationships were unlikely to participate in the Centennial Survey.” (footnote p. 244-245, referring to points made on p. 164).

I would like to have heard more from those ex-Hare Krishnas who have networked with ICSA and other helping organizations or individuals who have over the years reported abuse and mistreatment at the hands of the group and complete disillusionment with it. It seems to me Rochford could have gained access to them for his surveys if he had networked with us. (He claims he put in "considerable effort," but these people are readily available to us.) As usual, the sociologists of religion still ignore this pool of ex-members, attributing criticism of “new religious movements” to “deprogrammers” and “anti-cult” groups. (p. 13). (By the way, when are these scholars going to stop using these outdated terms?)

I realize that it is not the purpose of Rochford’s book to deal with the issues of abuse in of ISKON or other “new religious movements,” other than to point out how the revelations of extensive child abuse and discrimination against women forced ISKON to deal with these issues and to modify its structure to better accommodate children, women, and the burgeoning family structure in the movement. To be fair, Rochford does credit the ISKON leaders, as we “anti-cult” people do also, with honestly and openly dealing with the scandals of child abuse when they surfaced. (Of course, they were forced to do so when the now-grown children made public the abuses; before that, these accusations were swept under the rug, a practice not uncommon in mainstream religions and institutions, as well.)

And while sociologists of religion emphasize changes that “new religious movements” undergo over the course of time, they rarely if ever acknowledge changes in the “anti-cult” movement, particularly the constant increase in balance of fine scientific studies of cultic movements that ICSA researchers undertake. The sociologists must be aware of these studies—Rochford himself was featured as a prominent speaker at (formerly) AFF conferences in Seattle in 2000 and in Connecticut in 2003.

Perhaps the problem here is these sociologists’ use of the term “new religious movements” to describe what we in the counter-cult movement call, for want of a better term, “cults.” The key question is, as Rochford quotes fellow sociologist Eileen Barker, “When do new religions stop being new? … In the twenty-first century the Unification Church, ISKON, and Scientology are beginning to look old” (p. 215). Does the use of the term “new religious movements” mean that when these groups grow older they are no longer abusive because they have had to accommodate themselves to the outside culture they created themselves to battle? Although this might be the case for ISKON, if you believe Dr. Rochford (and before I accept that it is, I want to hear from ex-members not in ISKON’s network), it is not true for some of the other older groups.

Hare Krishna Transformed is extremely useful for scholars. Rochford argues his points carefully and systematically, building his argument with excellent summaries at the end of each chapter and introductions to the next points he will make. He includes extensive appendices with explanation of statistics, charts, and data tables. The book includes numerous explanatory footnotes, a large glossary of terms, and a large useful bibliography.

Hare Krishna Transformed also will appeal to a general audience. For example, the first chapter, “Growing Up,” which traces the life of a boy born into and raised in the movement, is especially interesting. Rochford’s organization of ideas and writing is extremely clear, and the book is highly readable. Anyone interested in how these groups modify themselves over time and the situation of ISKON in particular today should read this fascinating and informative work.
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Mon Apr 09, 2012 6:03 pm

Prophet’s Daughter: My Life with Elizabeth Clare Prophet Inside the Church Universal and Triumphant By Erin Prophet

Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press, 2008. ISBN-10: 1599214253; ISBN 13: 978-1-59921-425-2 (hardcover). $24.95 ($16.47 Amazon.com). 304 pages.

Review by Joe Szimhart


Ten years ago, journalist Scott McMillion interviewed Erin Prophet for his article “Prophet’s Daughter Is Writing a Book” (Bozeman Chronicle, March 16, 1998). In that interview, the author projected that her book would be out in 1999. Prophet’s Daughter eventually saw publication in September of 2008. That delay might have been a good thing. The author’s life took many turns in the past decade, until she settled in the New England area. During that gestation period, she refined this memoir of an extraordinary journey through and beyond her mother’s cult.

I mean “cult” in the ordinary sense because no other word describes the reverence and ritual surrounding the “mantle” of Elizabeth Prophet as “Mother” and “Mother of the Universe.” If you read this account, you will appreciate the difficulty any author would have to “keep it real” while writing about a past that resembles a fantasy novel. Erin grew up believing she was Mahatma Gandhi reincarnated. Her siblings Moira, Sean, and Tatiana believed in past lives as John F. Kennedy, King Arthur, and Helena Roerich. They believed this because their mother and father told them it was so. Elizabeth Prophet 1939-2009) ceased her function as a guru due to the early onset of Alzheimer’s, diagnosed by 1998; but her mythic and symbolic status remains strong among Summit Lighthouse followers.

The author’s father Mark L. Prophet (1919-73) founded Summit Lighthouse (a.k.a. Church Universal and Triumphant) in 1958. Erin was the second of four children born to Mark and Elizabeth after they wed in 1961. Mark trained Elizabeth to be a spirit medium or “Messenger” for a host of nearly forty disembodied Ascended Masters who guide the affairs of humanity and the entire cosmos. Erin was in training to be the next Messenger until she gradually defected from the Teachings of her parents, starting in 1993.

True to its title, the book focuses on this unusual, exhilarating and difficult relationship between mother and daughter/guru and disciple. The book is also a privileged insider’s overview of life in the group as it faced social, legal, and political conflicts in its growth from nearly a thousand members when Mark died to well over ten thousand at its peak under Elizabeth (group members estimate more than twenty-five thousand members).

Erin Prophet opens her story with perhaps the most pivotal event of the group’s history. On March 14 of 1990, around two thousand church members went underground into survival shelters to avoid annihilation from a predicted nuclear strike. Unknown to the general membership, Erin, as junior messenger or “seer,” had an integral role in revealing the specific dates related to her mother’s prophecy of a “doom cycle” based on a form of astrology. We learn from Erin just how tenuous these predictions were; yet thousands of devotees moved everything from locations around the globe to be in Montana by the late 1980s. The church members spent millions of dollars and volunteered many man-hours to build several large underground shelters, including one that held more than 700 people. They stocked these shelters with provisions to last more than a year, all because Elizabeth through the “Masters” said they must to survive. After all, these “Keepers of the Flame” might be responsible for reconstituting a devastated planet with a culture based on Ascended Master teachings.

Although CUT leaders spun the nonevent of doomsday as merely a “drill,” most members saw it differently. Erin makes it clear that they fully expected to survive a nuclear hit that night. As they all emerged the next morning, they saw nothing on the surface had changed. It was a beautiful day. Inwardly, many hundreds of followers did change that day; and over the following few years, they would withdraw from participation, defect, or gradually drift away from the “Teachings.”

Splinter groups formed, led by former members who claimed to channel the “Masters.” Faith in Guru Ma or Mother as prophet was shattered except among the most devoted. Nevertheless, CUT reorganized as a less fear-laden New Age religion governed by committee by the late 1990s as Mother lost all ability to function as Messenger. Since then, CUT has enjoyed new membership more aligned with goals of personal ascension than fear of annihilation.

Erin reveals another theme regarding her mother’s medical condition that contributed to the guru’s odd religious obsessions and the direction the group took. Elizabeth suffered from petit mal seizures or blackouts from an early age. This disorder may have contributed to her profound visionary experiences throughout her life. The magical way Elizabeth perceived the illness also contributed to her various phobias of bad energy and psychic attack. Indeed, as Erin confirms throughout her story, Elizabeth and her followers used an elaborate book of “decrees” (chanted mantras, or a form of casting spells with words and swords) to “clear” just about any problem imaginable. With the decrees, Mark and Elizabeth Prophet combined elements of Theosophy, New Thought, and the older “I AM” movement to spiritualize everything real and imaginable.

Elizabeth kept her condition hidden from members as much as possible, especially after she began having “tonic-clonic” seizures, a.k.a. grand mal, that required hospitalizations. I recall in 1980, while I was still peripherally involved with CUT, strong rumors of Mother’s “epileptic” condition. Later, in a 1982 interview, the estranged parents of Betty Clare, as they called their only child, confirmed this. I understood Mother’s affliction then as petit mal events. Erin clears this up for us because she had access to the medical report and was witness to some of her mother’s worst seizures. Elizabeth used several medications to control her affliction; she also turned to a host of alternative diets and treatments, including high colonics, mustard plasters, chiropractors, and massages. She did not like the side effects of more effective seizure drugs such as Depakote, which can cause a sluggishness and weight gain.

Although Erin does not use the phrase in her book, her mother referred to some dark forces as “malicious animal magnetism,” a concept taken from the Christian Science of Mary Baker Eddy.

Christian Science was Elizabeth’s religion when she met Mark Prophet around 1960. Keeping the dark forces at bay with constant chanting is a core activity of CUT. This feature, called decreeing, was carried over from CUT’s primary foundation group, the “I AM” Activity, founded by Guy and Edna Ballard in the 1930s.

The author describes a good example of Mother’s paranoid projections that occurred during the “Mull trial.” Erin spends considerable attention on CUT’s lawsuit against and countersuit by Gregory Mull, who was an architect on staff with CUT for six years. During a personal dispute over money and the guru’s behavior, Mother dismissed Mull from the group in 1980. Erin reveals that Mother Prophet wanted to retrieve approximately thirty thousand dollars “loaned” to Mull that he claimed was due him as wages by the group. Erin does not report that Mull also challenged Mother’s private ethics after he discovered that the guru kept a file of confession letters sent by group members. These letters should have been burned after the guru read them. Mull eventually won more than one million dollars awarded by a jury in 1986 for, among other things, “involuntary servitude.” An appellate court upheld the verdict in 1989.

On page 101, Erin reveals how this loss in court created a “catalyst” for the group to shut down most remaining church activity in the Los Angeles area and move the entire headquarters to Montana. Mother saw Mull, her ex-husband Randall, and anyone else involved in the litigation as aligned with “fallen ones” and “black magicians.” The doom themes that attended group beliefs from the early 1970s now came into sharper focus. Erin and CUT members decreed continually to stop the dark energies and to hurl the “karma” back upon the attackers. Erin muses over what would have happened if “mom” had merely settled with Gregory for what he initially asked. We learn how that was not possible because Mother was stubborn and entitled. The trial would have serious reverberations in more ways than a loss of money.

The trial enabled Elizabeth’s ex-husband Randall to testify under oath to crucial, damaging facts about group behavior and the guru’s character. He revealed, for example, that he had an affair with Elizabeth before Erin’s father died. At the time, Erin and all the Prophet children were incensed that Randall would “lie” under oath. Purity in sexual behavior was a fundamental teaching if not an obsession in CUT.

As Erin reveals later in the book, when her mom knew she was losing her battle with dementia, Elizabeth confessed a host of personal failures to her family. One of the more significant was that she indeed had an affair that entailed “mutual masturbation” with Randall before Mark died. With the pile of other conflicts already stressing the Prophet children as they grew into adulthood, this was a last straw. Something emotionally unraveled after that for all of them. In Erin’s words, “She had just undermined so many of the decisions I had made in my life” (248).

For the most part, Erin Prophet fulfilled her task to write this book with a keen and at times raw honesty. As the short reviews (21 at this writing) on Amazon.com reveal, ex-members who were there before and during the “shelter” period found Erin’s testimony rich with insight and meaning. CUT sympathizers reacted with disgust as if Erin were a confused traitor, with one reviewer calling her book a “hall of mirrors.” Any reader, familiar or not with CUT, must appreciate the utter weirdness and difficulty of such self-exposure—after all, this is about her mother, her father, and her siblings. Add to that the complex if confusing, not to mention comical richness of, CUT teachings that borrow from and violate a host of religions and myths.

Erin easily left out hundreds of pages of story. What she included is enough to make her point clear. That point is that her mother might have exhibited a certain leadership charisma and an extraordinary talent for channeling, but the world of CUT Masters was essentially all in Elizabeth’s head. That world was primarily dependent on one woman’s stability in reason, ethics, and health. Perhaps as memes the same Masters continue to speak through hundreds of other channels today; but Elizabeth Prophet’s Masters are gone, if indeed they were ever there. Erin leaves little doubt that the Ascended Masters of CUT depended on the Prophets for their very existence. None of the Prophet children could get their heads into it to continue the legacy.

One issue I have with this book is personal, so I very well might be the only one interested in what I say next. Like me, I imagine that the vast majority of people who bought this book soon after its release have a personal connection to the CUT experience. Among the buyers will be a handful of scholars who continue to study the movement. Erin Prophet leaves out some significant aspects of CUT teaching and facts about her family that attracted me to the group in 1978 and subsequently drew me into it as a devotee for nearly two years. I want to make it clear that I was never a core member, but I did go to three conferences and I pursued CUT’s Keeper of the Flame fraternity for one year. My deeper interest at the time was with Agni Yoga (AY), a Theosophy movement started by Nicholas Roerich and Helena Roerich in the early 1920s. In 1978, when friends of mine in CUT revealed that Helena Roerich reincarnated as Elizabeth Prophet’s youngest daughter Tatiana, I was curious to meet this auspicious little girl. The closest I got was seeing her from afar at CUT conferences in 1979.

Erin hardly mentions connections to the Roerichs and Agni Yoga. On page 149, she does report reading the Morya-related writings of the Roerichs. Agni Yoga is never mentioned. For me, it was significant not only that El Morya, the ascended “sponsor” of the Prophets, was integral to the Agni Yoga foundation myth but also that “he” dictated that the Prophets would fulfill both the “I AM” teachings of the Ballards and the Agni Yoga of the Roerichs. I was very familiar with both movements prior to my intro to CUT, so this seemed like a natural, or should I say supernatural, progression for the book to take for me.

The general reader should understand that this Agni Yoga aspect of CUT is controversial at best. In 1980 (two years before I rejected the Roerich teachings), the director of AY, then in New York at the Roerich Museum, explicitly denied to me in person that AY approved of anything the Prophets were doing. Sina Fosdick told me that Mark and Elizabeth approached her with their newer “Morya” message many years before, but she declined to align with them. Nevertheless, the Prophets continued to use images of Nicholas Roerich paintings to illustrate their book covers and teachings. The museum had not given CUT permission to do so. This is one example of just how self-entitled the Prophets were as they patched anything they could get away with from any source into their private religion. Since 1990, Agni Yoga has enjoyed a revival, mainly in Russia, where it has catapulted to three million adherents today.[i] This is extraordinary because both the “I AM” and CUT groups have splintered and faltered despite a mild revival, with members running only in the thousands. And what of Helena Roerich reincarnated as Tatiana? Erin writes, “Tatiana rejects all church teaching and ritual, and thinks it would have been better if Mom had done something more constructive with her life—nothing good came out of the church” (p. 270).

My final personal item regards Erin’s choice of scholars of religion in sociology and a related attitude toward the so-called anti-cult movement and deprogrammers. Erin mentions two cases of failed “forced” deprogramming by families of CUT members. One young woman, “Tara,” was quite wealthy, with a large inheritance already targeted by Mother and her staff. Erin reports that Tara was “kidnapped and deprogrammed in 1987” (p. 160), but Tara ran away and called police. Apparently, no charges were filed. This sounds suspiciously like one case in 1987 that included me. I will not go into the drama, but no one was kidnapped or held against her will in my case (believe me, I know the difference between being merely pressured and illegally forced), even though the cult member’s mother tricked her into coming to a remote cabin. That “Tara” could have walked away at any time, and she did take walks alone at times (there were occupied cabins within half a mile). For some inexplicable reason, she thought she had to run away. All involved spoke with the police afterward to clear up the confusion. Erin reports that CUT targeted $1 million, but I recall the inheritance was more like $5 million, most of which might have gone to CUT projects.

The other deprogramming case mentioned on pages 201–202 involved Erin’s sister Moira. I was not on that case, but two colleagues of mine were. Months later, one of them showed me some video footage of Moira talking with the CUT member at the family’s home. As Erin tells it, Moira was disenfranchised and very critical of the group at the time. “She was adding her voice to those of the ex-members and anti-cult experts who had been interviewed [regarding the arrests of CUT’s security chief and Elizabeth’s fourth husband for illegal weapons purchase and transport in 1989].” Again, Erin writes that “one of our members was kidnapped and held against her will. The deprogramming didn’t even work … but Moira accepted $2000 in payment.” I double-checked with the woman who handled that entire intervention. She insists there was no kidnapping because Moira would not have been there under illegal circumstances. One has to be careful here because just as ex-members will sometimes exaggerate what happened to them in a cult, so the “heroes” who return from a failed deprogramming might recall or report things quite differently than what actually occurred.

Erin goes on to say, “Deprogramming was, in my opinion, an ultimate violation of freedom of religion.” I agree with her to the extent that no law should condone forcible deprogramming. Even noncoercive intervention by surprise is troublesome, although the “new religious movement” member can leave and/or refuse to talk at any time. Ninety percent of my five hundred-plus, noncoercive intervention cases began by a surprise meeting. By far, most of them worked out just fine. But there is a larger issue here that speaks to Erin Prophet’s values regarding why she broke away from her mother’s cult. Her book serves as evidence of what I am about to say.

Erin provides eye-witness information that challenges the belief foundation of both current CUT members and anyone looking to join the movement from this day forward. In effect, in sorting out the truth, she has gone through a self-deprogram or exit-counsel process. In that process, she turned to other sources to find more appropriate plausibility structures for her awakening from CUT and for delusions or misperceptions about Mother. She turned to psychology and sociology for some of that structure (pp. 232-33). She especially found insight from Lorne L. Dawson’s review of thirteen apocalyptic groups. Erin, like so many ex-cult members, had to reapply the overwrought aphorism “know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” That saying from the Gospel of John 8:32, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free,” works to keep as many people in controversial groups as it does to help them out!

After the 1987 failed deprogramming event mentioned by Erin, I went on with my career with more preparation and insight. In the following two years, I conducted interventions that involved more than a dozen groups other than CUT. Through the end of 1989, I encountered at least fourteen more CUT members in mostly surprise interventions arranged by their family members. All fourteen either already had moved to Montana to prepare for doomsday or were about to move there—in other words, members very committed to the cause. I met with all of these folks at the family homes. All fourteen of them left CUT during our talks. Only one of those cases began coercively as a “house arrest,” but even that ended within four hours of my meeting the CUT member. I ended the security and we had an open, productive discussion for the next three days.

Is it possible that these “victims” of intervention freely chose to leave CUT based on new facts, structures, and insights that my colleagues and I provided through deprogramming (a.k.a. exit counseling) sessions? Was that a violation of their freedom of religion? Or was it a way to heal them from a sick, self-sealing plausibility structure that could have “infected” and contained their choices and lives for years to come? In those cases, I took nothing away—what I did was assist the group member to heal from an illness of sorts. All they “lost” was a social straightjacket and a constricted thought process. After a successful intervention, clients have a clearer idea how to avoid the “illness” in the future, no matter what group they join.

Erin’s choice of scholars (she mentions Lorne Dawson, Lowell Streiker, and J. Gordon Melton) who seem (to me) to form her opinions offer their own forms of constriction. When it comes to perceptions of what deprogrammers and the so-called anti-cult network (ACM) does, I see as much stereotyping among that clique of scholars as they accuse the ACM of doing to new religious movements. I have studied the books and been to many conferences where I delivered papers on both sides of this fence. Both sides are guilty of some stereotyping over this hot-button problem. The split as I see it comes as much from academic and territorial jealousy as it does from point of view. One has only to sit in a courtroom to witness this split as “experts” pontificate under oath! The nonmonolithic, highly diversified ACM is primarily driven by a desire to fix a problem and to help victims heal. Most academics in sociology of religions are trained to sustain a liberal, comparative understanding of religious movements and cults by any other name. They prefer to observe the evolution of these groups while avoiding conflict with them—unless, of course, it is the ACM!

I have mined gold and diamonds from both sides to carry on my work with ex-members. Erin has yet to find value in the more expanded and dynamic views of what she calls the ACM. One barrier is language.

As long as one continues to form concepts about a group based on a pejorative notion, new values, thoughts, and ideas can remain blocked from awareness. (As I see it, psychological and social constriction is what people commonly mean by brainwashing). Sociologists of religion who tend to tolerate “new religious movements” have been railing about the pejorative use of “cult” for decades. They are entirely correct; but what some scholars do not always see is how that sharp insight cuts both ways.

From 1986 through 1992 I worked at times with security arranged by families. Some of these cases involved “kidnapping” or coercive detention. Since 1992, I refuse to assist any case that involves coercive detention at any stage.
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Mon Apr 09, 2012 6:17 pm

The Serpent Rising: A Journey of Spiritual Seduction by Mary Garden

First Published in Brisbane, Australia, in 1988 by Brolga Publishing. Revised edition published in Melbourne, Australia, in 2003 by Temple House Pty Ltd, T/A Sid Harta Publishers.

Reviewed by Marybeth Ayella, Ph.D.
Department of Sociology, St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia, PA


This is the revised version of a book published in 1988 as a fictional story. In this revised book the author has “decided that it is time to present this story as the truth that it is and Helena as myself (vii).” The book is based on Garden’s experiences over seven years in the 1970s with a number of gurus/holy men in India. She left India in 1980, settled in Australia, married, and had two children. At present, she spends much of her time writing.

My expectations of what the book would contain were based on the front and back of the book, and thus I was somewhat disappointed. The back cover describes how Garden “abandoned a promising academic career to spend seven years in India at the feet of such gurus as Rajneesh, Sathaya Sai Baba and an enigmatic yogi in the Himalayan jungle – Swami Balyogi Premvarni.” The cover photo also shows a Garden in an “Energy Darshan” with Rajneesh in November of 1979. From cover and back, I had assumed Garden’s account would include a detailed description of her time with Rajneesh, which was apparently about a year. Instead she covers this experience in four pages of the epilogue. This, however, could have been a questionable marketing decision of the publisher, rather than the author’s intention.

Most of the book, chapters 4 through 10 (or 7 of the ten chapters, plus epilogue), is focused on her experiences with Swami Balyogi Premvarni, who headed a small group of three “boys” and two other “girls” at his “International Academy of Yoga” in the Himalayan jungle at the time of Garden’s entry. Garden comments on being called “boys” and “girls” when they are in their late 20s.

This is Garden’s second experience with an Indian guru, the first being a three-month stay at Sathya Sai Baba’s Brindavan Ashram outside of Bangalore. Here about 300 attended Sai Baba’s daily darshans. Garden is not specifically recognized by this guru during her stay. Her belief in Sai Baba is instantly shattered by the comments of an American shop owner (married to an Indian man), who asked if she’d left “that cult.” The woman tells her that Sai Baba is “just a magician,” who “cons rich Americans for their money…not only that, he’s a homosexual. And a hermaphrodite (pp 43-4).” The shop owner also mentions the guru is sleeping with young boy students. Although she had had no direct experience that the accusations were true, Garden instantly believes the woman and immediately leaves the group.

In contrast to the large size and Garden’s anonymity in Sai Baba’s group, Swami Premvarni’s group remains small over Garden’s time, although the members change, as people come and go. Each afternoon, visitors, mostly Westerners, come during the 2-5 visiting hours to seek entry; most are refused. Sometimes servants are hired, but most leave after a short stay. In this small group, the leader, Swamiji, seems to have a hierarchy of followers: the women seem to fare better than the male followers, and servants are treated worst of all.

Life is strictly regimented, beginning at 4:30 am, and proceeding through various activities: chanting, meditating, reading passages, listening to Swamiji, doing “kriyas” to purify oneself (which sounds difficult, especially the one where she swallows a bandage-like cloth, to regurgitate it), doing chores, doing the type of yoga Swamiji preferred, keeping out of sight of the afternoon visitors, participating in evening activities. Food is also highly regimented, and food preparation is closely monitored by Swamiji. The ashram does not have electricity at first, and there is little connection with the outside world (no phone, radio or television) at Garden’s entry. In this group “working and serving the guru” is said by Swamiji to purify the ego more than the other branches of yoga do.

Although this is a group where the leader preaches celibacy as necessary to “maintain a strict yogic way of life,” within three weeks, Garden is summoned to Swamiji’s bedroom where he has sex with her. As birth control is not practiced, the inevitable consequence, pregnancy, eventually occurs. This is when Garden learns that the other remaining women also had a pregnancy by the guru and an abortion.

How does Garden eventually leave Swami Balyogi Premvarni? This is a very long process. She leaves and returns several times over her years there.

At the end of five months at the ashram, Garden leaves to get money wired to her and to test her new transformation. During her time away, she loses faith in Swamiji, and decides to return to get her things. She again leaves and wanders around Delhi for several weeks, finally encountering a former member, who asks her to go back. She does. Shortly after returning, on the third of March, 1974, Swamiji tells her he is giving her all the answers she has been looking for, to resolve her confusion. During this experience, Garden has many different physical sensations and experiences a sense of ecstasy. She feels that she has “Awakened, I felt that I myself was god-like, a divine being (p 182).” She realizes that “My intellect with its doubting and questioning had been my greatest barrier (pp. 185-6). Afterwards, Swamiji explains that “I just plugged you into the centre of the Cosmos, into your own divine creation. I took the risk of doing this to prevent you from running away again and playing into worldliness (p. 188).” Eventually Garden concludes that Swamiji “had (through his yogic powers) connected me directly to the Cosmos, which is exactly what he said he had done (p. 194).”

After this extraordinary experience, Garden writes to her parents and tells them what happened, and that she will be spending the rest of her life at Swamiji’s ashram. This powerful experience binds Garden to Swamiji, reminding her over the following months that “Swamiji was not a madman when I watched him in one of his fits of rage, his Rudra dance of destruction. I now believed that he was in a permanent state of high consciousness and always blissful and that his body and mind were instruments only, to be used for the purpose of waking us up. People losing faith or running away no longer disturbed me. I was convinced that I had finally come home, that I had reached the end of the journey and there would never be any need to leave the ashram again (p. 189).”

In the following months, Garden took over much of the day-to-day running of the ashram. The other woman follower, Saraswati, planned to return to the ashram at the end of the year and Garden says “I was not looking forward to her coming back as I had become used to being the chief disciple. I enjoyed taking over the running of the ashram whenever Swamiji shut himself away in his bedroom or whenever he had to leave the ashram to give lectures and talks in Hindi at other ashrams in the district. When Saraswatii returned, she would no doubt try to usurp my new position. Neither was I keen on the idea of Swamiji sharing his bed with anyone else (pp. 199-200).” Exactly what Garden feared came true when Saraswati returned. To alleviate conflicts between the two women, Swamiji assigns the women different daily chores, became “more discreet about our bedroom liaisons” (p. 201), and tells Garden he is no longer sleeping with Saraswati.

Shortly after the two women settle into an amicable relationship, Garden discovers she is pregnant. By the time she sees a doctor, she is beyond the early stages of pregnancy. She is excited initially, but the reactions of Swamiji and Saraswati unsettle her, as Swamiji tells her “It’s just your bad karma catching up with you. An ashram is not the place for a screaming baby (p. 204)” and Saraswati tells her to have an abortion. Garden eventually decides to have an abortion, and during the procedure she felt that “if I didn’t hold tightly onto my faith in Swamiji mainly based on what happened on the Third of March, then there was the possibility of my losing my mind altogether (p. 209).” Returning to the ashram, Garden thinks life will return to usual, and that Swamiji will be even fonder of her, but he is not and life is not the same. Instead, Garden experiences intense feelings of anger and hate, which culminate in her telling him publicly that “You’re a murderer, Swamiji. You killed my baby. You’re a sex maniac (p. 217).”

Two years after the Third of March and about a year after the abortion, Swamiji calls her to his room “to give me another cosmic experience like the Third of March.” But when she goes to his bedroom that night, he yells at her to leave and, assisted by a female devotee, proceeds to beat her when she refuses. He stops only to cry for help from this devotee, because Garden is “trying to destroy me.”

Garden “creeps out of the room,” and the next morning on her way to the gate passes Swamiji, who is instructing the “boys. “He tells them that Garden had fallen down the steps of the veranda. She waits several hours for the gates to be opened, and leaves for some nearby caves she knows of. She spends several days there, all the while accepting the justification of the beating she has received for her “betrayals” of Swamiji.

Given that she has accepted Swamiji’s definition of the situation, Garden returns to the ashram several days later. At her return, Swamiji was in a terrible mood that lasted for weeks. He is mad at everyone, even the one devotee he allowed to serve him. This was the same woman to whom he had called for help while beating Garden. One day, this woman runs away, after stealing his key to unlock his safe, where her passport and money were stored. Swamiji appears unconcerned at the departure of this most faithful devotee, telling his other Western disciples that he wished they would leave, that his teaching time is coming to an end.

Over the next few months, Garden vacillates between the desire to leave (as she loses faith in Swamiji) and a feeling of being trapped. Above all it seems she desires to regain his attention as a central love interest. She finally leaves when he “takes another consort,” an American woman—this is about one year after Garden’s abortion. The next morning, Garden departs, hoping that Swamiji will care enough to send someone after her. He does not.

Garden then visits the Hare Krishna ashram in Vrindaban, where she stays about two weeks, leaving after she hears a partner for marriage has been selected for her. She next revisits Vipassana for two more courses in Buddhist meditation, where she supposedly releases “mental blockages” from her unconscious mind from this life and past lives. Eventually deciding that Vipassana lacks something, she again leaves, and over the next year visits numerous swamis and yogis:

Alas, Vipassana was not able to cure me of my need or addiction to gurus. During the next year I traveled thousands of miles across India’s endless plains and up and down Himalayan mountains and valleys to visit numerous swamis and yogis in their temples, ashrams or caves. Away from Swamiji, it was easier to love him and blame myself for not being worthy of him. I was determined to change myself so I could be Archana in Swamiji’s divine creation (p. 229).

Garden says of most ashrams: “they were masquerades for harems. Gurus high in the Himalayas and down on the plains preached but did not practice celibacy and restraint of the senses (p. 230).” She tells us how she resisted their advances—not because she recognized that these were common and hypocritical actions of gurus, but “because Swamiji had said he would curse me if I slept with another man (p. 230).” Thus, we see that she remained attached to Guruji, in spite of what she has learned about the common abuses of guru authority.

Moreover, despite what she had heard about holy men seducing female disciples Western “girls” having abortions in Indian hospitals, Garden does not give up her attachment to Guruji and idealized view of India’s “god-men.” She feels some ambivalence toward the gurus, but, as is common in cultic groups, other seekers (many of whom may have had their own doubts) encouraged her to suppress the ambivalence.

[Gurus were] compassionate ego-less beings who merely wanted to raise the kundalini of world-weary females in order to erase some of their bad karma. When I was in a negative state of mind, however, I wondered whether they were hypocrites and obsessed with sex after being repressed for so long. Whenever I shared my doubts to other Western devotees I was quickly reassured by them that I was not in a position to judge. The level these gurus were operating at was at the level of Truth where there was no morality and one transcends good and evil. (p. 231).

During this year-long journey to various gurus, she writes occasional letters to Swamiji and receives letters in return (apparently written by the new consort, Padma) urging her to return to her “true” home. She finally does return, and “it was the same story,” with mostly new disciples, although Padma remains. She learns that Padma had an abortion five months earlier. Swamiji had become more materialistic during her absence, receiving many items requested from returning disciples.

Garden’s long absence does not seem to have really altered her strong attachment to Swamiji, as she bursts into his room at night after a few days there “to catch them at it (p.232).” Swamiji tells her to return to the West, that her “cycle” had finished. After she flings a criticism at him for his sexual performance, which enrages him, he tells her to leave in the morning. And she does. It is as if she has received permission from Swamiji to leave. Yet, as she is leaving she says that “it was I who felt triumphant.” She vows that

never again would I be dependent on anyone else’s energy field, whether guru or teacher. I would wean myself from the drug of Eastern mysticism and the power of those who say they have arrived. I would learn to live without the ecstasy, the bliss and the peace that can be found in temples and ashrams and at the feet of those who call themselves avatars, Bhagwans, yogis. (pp.233-234).

The ecstasy, bliss, and peace that she says she will have to learn to live without do not translate well to someone who has not experienced them, because my reading of the book is that such moments were scarce in Garden’s Indian experience. Much of the experience sounds very far from blissful, and it is difficult for me to see the attraction of many of the experiences. In particular, it is very hard to understand why any of the “boys” stayed with Swamiji, as their experience seems predominantly abusive. Unlike the “girls,” who all seem to have developed sexual relationships with Swamiji, the boys are celibate, they are yelled at and beaten regularly by Swamiji, they always seem hungry and eager to sneak food when they leave the ashram on errands (for which they get yelled at and beaten, as Swamiji inspects all bundles). I presume that the psychological dynamics must bear some similarity to those found in spouse or child abuse, but Garden does not offer satisfying explanations. As with other personal accounts from former group members, she mainly tells us what happened, not why it happened—certainly useful and interesting, but not fulfilling to the reader.

As Garden finally prepares for departure to her New Zealand home, she is a physical wreck. She is plagued with intestinal parasites resistant to Flagyl and has large abscesses breaking out all over her body. One in particular delays her departure, as she waits to recover from the lancing of a very large abscess on her buttock (which lancing apparently gave her hepatitis).

Once finally home, she takes the time to physically recover from her experience, although psychologically she is between social worlds, and she felt “like an alien from another planet, and indeed was treated as such as I was still wafting around in white robes, mala beads and a spaced-out look in my eyes (p. 239).”

For those readers hoping this is the end of Garden’s Indian spiritual journeys (as I was), it is not. She became involved with Rajneesh devotees in Auckland. Eventually she goes to Rajneesh’s ashram in Poona, India, where she is initiated as Ma Prem Sagara, and where she lives for a year. This year is described as her happiest ever in India. She learns to express her feelings, heals from her childhood wounds and from her abortion. She attributes the psychotherapy that was a part of this group to changing her life for the better, to “help me overcome my need for gurus, including Rajneesh himself (p. 240).”

She returns to Swamiji, at Rajneesh’s urging, to discover that she has indeed lost her attachment to him as guru. Returning to Poona, she stays there, on the periphery of the Rajneesh group, until she says that things became bizarre—suicides, murders, rapes, and armed guards posted at the gates.

Garden finally leaves India for good, after reading an article her mother sent her about the Jonestown mass suicide, which she believed could happen with the Bhagwan and his group. Rather than return to New Zealand, she returns to Brisbane, Australia, where she settles down, and within the next several years she marries and has two children. She says: “Even though motherhood and marriage provided my life with stability, an anchor previously not experienced, it was a long and slow process to wake up and see Swamiji for what he really was and is: a dangerous and violent megalomaniac” (p. 243).

The book was published thirty years after Garden’s first foray into India. At that point, she can hardly recognize herself as the main character. Yet, “this is also the story of thousands of others who have gone searching for something better, some of whom have still not woken up” (p. 244).

In the end, it seems as if Garden “aged out” of her Indian spiritual experiences, as she married and had children within a few years of leaving India for good. It also seems as if it took the instruction/permission of one guru (Rajneesh) to finally leave her long-term relationship with another guru (Swamiji). I am also struck by how alone Garden seemed to be during all her Indian experiences—which may have contributed to her being so enmeshed for so long with Swamiji. She does not seem to have developed a single close and enduring friendship. The relationship with Swamiji is what is most important to her, and this is a lover relationship, rather than simply a guru/follower relationship. A close friendship over time (rather than a semi-close transitory friendship, which is what she developed at various points) might have allowed her to gain more perspective on the relationship with Swamiji.

Though she knows that “it was a long and slow process to wake up and see Swamiji for what he really was and is,” (p. 243) I was disappointed by the lack of explanation about what helped her to come to this realization? Other than to say she attributes a part of her actual separating from the yogi to Rajneesh, she does not explain. I think telling more about how she came to this realization would have added to Garden’s story, perhaps to act as some cautionary hints to other spiritual seekers to avoid the “seduction” she experienced. Garden concludes that:

The guru-disciple relationship is probably the most authoritarian in its demand for total surrender and obedience and hence potentially the most destructive of all relationships. And so, far from achieving the freedom and “enlightenment” that many of us wannabe spiritual pioneers of the 70’s went looking for (and indeed were promised), we experienced mental imprisonment and confusion….We were seduced by yogis and swamis telling us what we wanted to hear: that we were special and that they were God-incarnate. Our need was our downfall. In the final analysis the authority of the guru is bestowed on him by the disciple! (pp. 243-4).

How to avoid or escape such destructive authority as Garden experienced is thus not answered to my satisfaction. Nevertheless, this is a well written account of someone who really seems to fit the category of “seeker” over a period of years. Throughout the book, we also see how gurus’ definitions of the situation reshape the reality of participants, as they come to accept the new definition, and let go of previous interpretations of reality and self. We don’t learn a great deal, however, about why followers put up with gurus’ abusive authority.
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Fri May 25, 2012 3:03 am

MailOnline - UK

The cult that stole my childhood: She grew up in an outwardly normal suburban home. But behind closed doors, Laura's life was ruled by a tyrannical guru who banned all trappings of modern life

By Kathryn Knight

23 May 2012


When Laura Wilson conjures up memories of her teenage years, one clear image stands out. She is dressed in a heavy floor-length skirt, her hair scraped back in an unflattering bun, as she scrubs coal dust from around the fireplace of a grand country house.

It sounds like a snapshot from Victorian times, not Seventies London, the decade which formed the backdrop to Laura’s adolescence. But then hers was no ordinary childhood — for Laura’s parents were committed members of the School Of Economic Science, an organisation critics describe as a cult, with strict rules, whose devotees were taken, by and large, from the genteel middle classes.

But while the group’s members may have been well-heeled, the organisation demanded its members lead a spartan existence, isolating themselves from the modern world. It was an upbringing which left Laura, now in her early 50s, with terrible emotional scars — despite the fact she turned her back on the organisation nearly 30 years ago.

Freedom: Laura managed to leave the cult after attending university

Growing up, she was told the outside world was a terrifying, aggressive place, full of people who had not ‘seen the light’. Her access to television, music that post-dated Mozart and even cooked food was restricted.

It was a surreal existence that, even as a child, created enormous angst.

‘I knew that I was unhappy for a long time, but had nowhere to turn,’ she says now. ‘The organisation believed they had the answers, and told you endlessly that the outside world was a threat.

‘That was very hard to process, because I was still mixing with the world outside and knew that other people were living differently.’

Founded in 1937 by barrister Leon MacLaren — known as ‘the leader’ to his followers — the School Of Economic Science started as an eclectic ‘think tank’ focused on economic reform. But over time — partly as a result of MacLaren’s meetings with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, known as ‘guru’ to the Beatles — it became a self-styled philosophical organisation.

'The organisation believed they had the answers, and told you endlessly that the outside world was a threat'

It claims to have modernised in recent years, and still boasts 2,500 members, but in the Sixties, when Laura was born, its members followed a strict code of practice which effectively segregated them from the modern world.

Her parents, George and June, were converts who met at a group in the late Fifties while in their late 20s and married shortly afterwards. A mechanical engineer and doctor respectively, Laura believes that they had been left disillusioned by the materialism of the consumer age.

‘They never really talked about why they had joined, but I think, like many, they had asked themselves: “What is it all about?” And for them, the group provided the answers.’

And so, while from the outside, their terrace home in a North London suburb looked perfectly ordinary, inside it was a different story. Mystical writings permitted by ‘the leader’ lined the walls, while day-to-day life was dictated by the organisation’s draconian rules.

The family spent a minimum of 30 minutes meditating twice a day, were banned from watching television or listening to music written after the 18th century, and followed a series of bizarre rules about food.
Born into a controlled life: Laura aged 18 months with her cult member mother

Born into a controlled life: Laura aged 18 months with her cult member mother

‘When I was about four it was decreed that nobody should have any cooked food or meat, or any breakfast. I remember coming down the stairs one morning asking where all the food had gone. From then on it was raw fruit and vegetables and cheese,’ she recalls. ‘The reason was never explained — you were just told and had to accept it.’

While members, who paid the organisation a modest monthly fee, were permitted to work, their leisure time was almost entirely spoken for. There were meetings and countless extra-curricular activities and duties, from learning the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit to tending the organisation’s huge property portfolio.

‘It had a huge number of properties, some donated by members, and followers were responsible for looking after them,’ Laura recalls. ‘They had to clean each one every week, without any modern appliances, so it would take hours doing it all by hand.

‘The idea was that you focused your mind entirely on the task in hand, and that this was somehow purifying. I spent hours as a teenager scrubbing floors and sweeping carpets with a dustpan and brush.’

'There was zero tolerance of homosexuality, and an underlying feeling that disabled or disadvantaged people had done something to deserve their plight'

Initially, like most very young children, Laura didn’t question her upbringing.

‘I didn’t have anything to compare it to — this was my normality,’ she says, ‘But when I got to primary school it was a different story, as I would go to my friends’ houses for tea.

'They had television, they ate meat . . . it all seemed impossible, exotic and alien. From early on I was developing a sense of two very different worlds.’

By the age of seven Laura was expected to attend group meetings — 20 or 30-strong gatherings at houses owned by the organisation, at which the self-styled leaders would read from texts of Eastern philosophy and chant in Sanskrit.

‘In a way it was like pyramid selling — you got to move up through the hierarchy of the organisation the more committed you were, and the ideal was to become a “tutor”. There was a lot of talk about obtaining spiritual nirvana by letting go of the personality.

‘They believed in reincarnation of the soul, although the ultimate goal was to stop being reincarnated and to be liberated to a high consciousness altogether. But there were also a lot of unfortunate messages tied in with it.

‘There was zero tolerance of homosexuality, and an underlying feeling that disabled or disadvantaged people had done something to deserve their plight. If you asked too many questions they would get very angry.

'Sometimes Leon MacLaren himself would take the groups and he could be savage. I remember him absolutely bellowing at me if I asked questions he didn’t like.’

Then there were the endless weekend ‘retreats’, as well as bi-annual week-long gatherings, which took place at large country houses.

‘I grew to dread them, because what I remember is a lot of cleaning. And I was always so tired, because there were strict orders about how much sleep you ought to have — they felt too much sleep dulled the mind. You had to go to bed around midnight, and were woken at 4.30am to start your duties.’
Primitive: Laura didn't become aware that her childhood wasn't normal until she started primary school and started going to her friends' houses

Primitive: Laura didn't become aware that her childhood wasn't normal until she started primary school and started going to her friends' houses

It was, Laura says, pointless trying to discuss her unhappiness with her parents. ‘They meant well and loved me very much, but they were absolutely committed to the organisation,’ she says ‘They had the zeal of the convert.’

The result, as she entered adolescence, was a growing sense of confusion. Her sense of isolation was compounded when, at 13, she was transferred from her mainstream comprehensive to one of the new, independent day schools established by the organisation in the early Seventies.

‘They did cover a core basic curriculum but there was also a philosophy group once a week, there was a lot of Sanskrit chanting, meditation and singing of songs composed by the leader,’ she recalls. ‘Initially, there were no modern languages taught — just Sanskrit and ancient Greek. Moreover, at 16, the age at which the organisation believed that a woman’s sexuality emerged, she was ordered to wear a floor-length skirt and tie her hair back in a bun.

‘The overriding message that was constantly reiterated was that women’s sexuality had to be repressed, that it was a dangerous thing. And this was one way of doing it. I hated it,’ she says.

'They felt too much sleep dulled the mind. You had to go to bed around midnight, and were woken at 4.30am to start your duties'

‘I remember around the age of 17 going to school on the Tube in this terrible outfit, feeling horribly self-conscious among all the other teenagers. I had this terrible realisation of what was happening to me. I could feel the trap closing.

‘Everything was bound up together: this was the life my parents had chosen and I loved them very much. At the same time, I knew it was making me unhappy.’

Her escape route was university: higher education was encouraged by the group, albeit with restrictions. After discussions with her group leader, Laura was permitted to apply for a place at Somerville, an Oxford college which at the time was women-only. ‘That was deemed acceptable. The prevailing sense though was that it was an orgy out there and it was their duty to protect me from it.’

Her arrival at university in 1982 was revelatory. ‘Given the world I’d been living in I might as well have been arriving from 1900. I felt like I was discovering the world for the first time. Having the freedom to do as I pleased, just being normal, it was exhilarating.’

Not that she was entirely free: Laura was still expected to travel back to London once a week for meetings, as well as attending weekend retreats. ‘I remember I’d board the train to London in my jeans and T-shirt, then dash down the basement steps at home to get changed into my long skirt. Of course, as time went on I became less inclined to attend anything.’

Laura was also plagued by an overwhelming sense that she was being watched — a conviction which was confirmed by one of the ‘tutors’.

‘He would say he had seen me out late, with a mixed group, wearing jeans, and ask me what I was doing. It was horribly unsettling,’ she says.

Moved on: Today she is happily married and has overcome her troubled past

When, in her final year at university, Laura started a romantic relationship with a fellow student, it led to furious clashes, with the organisation’s leaders and her parents.

‘There were lots of shouting matches, but I was the angry one really, they were more resigned. They knew they couldn’t keep you ‘in’ as it were. But they didn’t want me to leave. They didn’t understand it. They believed they were right, so there was bafflement about why everyone else couldn’t see the light.’

So she continued to be a formal member, but maintained her parallel life outside at the same time. When she was 22 and she had moved back to London to set up home with her boyfriend, events came to a head, sparked by two tragic incidents. A female contemporary from the group attempted suicide, while another tragically succeeded. Her death haunts Laura to this day.

‘It happened when I was in my third year at university, when she was around 20. I believe she had a nervous breakdown. She walked in to a tunnel and was hit by a Tube train. It was incredibly upsetting, but for something so monumental it was talked about very little.

‘I remember one adult in the group telling me how people were bound to “fall by the wayside’’. I was hugely affected by it.’

WHO KNEW?

There are currently more than 500 cults in the UK, according to the Cult Information Centre

Laura believes that, like her, they felt terribly confused and constrained by the group’s bizarre rituals and punishing regimes. That, and her growing scepticism about the group’s teachings, led her to finally break away.

‘It wasn’t easy — and meant setting myself against my parents. But at the same time I knew I couldn’t go on. It caused lots of anguish.’

Finally, she plucked up the courage to express her views openly. ‘I remember meeting with one of the senior tutors and saying: “I can’t accept any of this, it’s not for me.” He said something like: “Then you have no leader, you have no teacher,” and I said: “No, I don’t, thank you and good night.” I felt the most enormous sense of relief.’

As she had feared, however, her decision meant she became estranged from her parents. Her father was a member of the group until his death in 2010, while her mother, who left conventional medicine to study homeopathy, remains a member to this day.

‘It wasn’t easy for them. The organisation did not encourage fraternisation with people who had left, but at the same time I was their daughter.

'Meanwhile, I was nursing a lot of anger. I had a period of not seeing them very much.’

For a time she saw them only a couple of times a year, and it took a decade for them to be fully reconciled.

‘We had to agree to differ for a long time, but by the time I reached my mid-30s things were much easier, and I am glad we made our peace.’

Today, Laura is happily married and insists she has overcome the issues caused by her troubled past, though she admits memories of that time still make her feel vulnerable.

‘A few years ago I came across an internet forum in which ex-members shared their experiences,’ she says. ‘‘I felt this huge sense of relief, partly because I’d buried a lot of the past, then here were other people saying how terrible it was, too, and you think: “It wasn’t just me.”

‘More than anything now it just seems absolutely surreal.’

Laura’s latest novel, A Willing Victim, which centres on a murder in a cult in East Anglia, is available now (£18.99, Quercus).
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Sun Oct 07, 2012 12:47 am

This is a website about Andrew Cohen, an independent guru on the spiritual scene whose main schtick is about evolutionary enlightenment. Andrew is close to Ken Wilber and a network of other independent gurus.

http://whatenlightenment.blogspot.com/

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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Sun Oct 07, 2012 12:55 am

The Yoga Cult - How a Korean guru has created a fanatical following on college campuses that is part Moonies, part New Age boot camp and pure profit - Rolling Stone/February 18, 2010 - By Sabrina Rubin Erdely

If you looked at it from a certain perspective, the exercises Amy Shipley did in Dahn Yoga were perfectly normal. Take what she was doing right now. It was near midnight. Amy and seven other devotees of Dahn Yoga - nearly all in their 20s, clad in blue tracksuits and barely functioning on three hours of sleep - were standing in a waist-deep fountain in the desert of Sedona, Arizona. On command from their Korean trainer, all eight would plunge their heads underwater and hold their breath until their lungs strained, finally rocketing to the surface gasping and shouting a devotional song to their Grand Master - a middle-aged Korean man called Ilchi Lee - and weeping to prove their sincerity. Then they'd be ordered to do it again, and properly this time. In this way, Amy and the others were saving their souls and rescuing the world from annihilation.

See? Totally normal.

Amy loved tests. She'd always been Type-A like that, an overachiever, first in line for any challenge. And Dahn Yoga gave her endless tests to pass, especially here at its isolated Arizona retreat where, round the clock, members performed all kinds of mysterious rituals. Certain exercises had taken some getting used to, of course. Like the one where they'd turn off the lights and everyone would dance and scream for hours, until they collapsed in a sobbing heap. Or just earlier today, when Amy had been ordered to mash her face in the dirt as a lesson in humility. A 24-year-old blond Midwesterner who had been a homecoming princess of her Indiana high school, Amy was now a pro at such practices: At a previous workshop that lasted for 10 days, she and a dozen others had begun each morning by punching themselves in the stomach while hollering things like "I am stupid!" For that privilege, Amy had paid $8,500.

Two years earlier, Amy and her boyfriend, Ricardo Barba, had been ordinary juniors at the University of Illinois when they visited a campus fitness club that taught a meld of yoga and tai chi. Now, by spring 2008, they were sleep-deprived, celibate soul warriors who considered Ilchi Lee their "spiritual father." In pursuit of the enlightenment Lee promised, they and thousands of other young American disciples dedicated 80-hour workweeks and astonishing amounts of money to Dahn Yoga. Amy was $47,000 in debt for her training, having maxed out credit cards and student loans at the urging of her masters. Again, totally normal: Many who progressed in Dahn had mountains of debt, especially those lucky older members with homes to mortgage - an asset that came in handy when paying for Dahn's holiest seminar, which cost $100,000.

Amy broke through the water's surface again and launched into song, careful to keep a smile on her face as tears rolled down her cheeks. Suddenly, she was struck with a rare moment of clarity. She didn't understand how this exercise was promoting world peace. She felt ridiculous. She was exhausted. She missed Ricardo, who was back in Chicago cleaning yoga-studio toilets and doing penance for his inability to "create" money. What the hell am I doing? Amy wondered. But no sooner did the thought enter her mind than she squelched it the way her masters had taught her: When in doubt, commit yourself even harder. She slammed her face into the chilly water until her reservations dissipated. At the end of this week's training, Amy herself would be crowned a Dahn master and awarded her heavenly assignment: to recruit 20 new members and raise $20,000 for Dahn Yoga each month.

"I was a good little cult member," Amy says today. "I would have drank Kool-Aid laced with cyanide if they told me to. I would have chopped off my right arm. I would have done anything."

Given the devotion many Americans feel for yoga, it was just a matter of time before someone hatched the idea for a yoga cult. But at Dahn Yoga, a 25-year-old Korean organization, there are no downward-dog poses, no sun salutations. At the group's 127 fitness centers nationwide, practitioners train in martial arts, engage in a head-shaking meditation known as "brain wave vibration" that is best performed while holding palm-size rubber vibrating brains ($80 per pair) and, after class, discuss their feelings in a "sharing circle." In fact, Dahn's calling itself "yoga" is just a marketing ploy to enhance its appeal to Americans, who make up some 10,000 of the 500,000 members the group claims worldwide. Many are supermotivated kids, like Amy Shipley and Ricardo Barba, who are recruited from college campuses, along with a healthy dose of older rich folks whom the group privately calls "VIPs." Last year, Dahn Yoga pulled in an estimated $30 million in the United States alone - and that's only a fraction of its 1,000 franchises across nine countries.

But critics say this lucrative fitness craze has a dark side. "Dahn is a destructive mind-control cult, very similar to the Moonies," says Steven Hassan, author of Combatting Cult Mind Control, who has counseled many ex-Dahn members. A federal lawsuit filed last year by 27 former members, including Shipley and Barba, goes a step further, claiming that Dahn is not only a cult, but that the profits generated by its brainwashed masses fund the rock-star lifestyle of Seung Heun "Ilchi" Lee, a paunchy, white-haired 57-year-old who travels the globe via private jet and is orbited by a worshipful entourage of personal assistants. Lee's disciples, meanwhile, live in communal housing, go deep into debt to meet financial quotas and say they are driven to exercise to an extreme degree. (In 2008, Dahn settled a lawsuit for an undisclosed sum when a college professor named Julia Siverls died of dehydration while hiking a Sedona mountain, allegedly lugging 25 pounds of rocks in her backpack.) The current lawsuit also accuses Lee of breaking wage and immigration laws, evading taxes and sexually abusing female disciples, who are assured they're being singled out for a sacred honor.

Dahn Yoga denies the lawsuit's allegations. "It's ridiculous, all of it," says Dahn spokesman Joseph Alexander. "This lawsuit came as a shock to us. We're not just a corporation - these are our close friends." Through his lawyer, Ilchi Lee has also denied any wrongdoing, and Lee has pointed out that he is no longer part of Dahn's corporate structure but serves only as a "consultant" - which is technically true. But ex-members say that obscuring Lee's leadership of the group is just part of the pattern of deception, much like the pricey, "energy-cleansing," gold-painted jewelry that Dahn sells.

The deceit can begin at the front door, since the Dahn brand name (Korean for "energy") is notably absent from some of its storefronts. Dahn's studio in New York calls itself Tao Yoga, and its affiliated retreat centers in Sedona, the Catskill Mountains and British Columbia bill themselves as holistic wellness spas. The 22 "Body and Brain Clubs" that Dahn disciples run on college campuses are initially quiet about their relationship to the group, even though their founder claims that the whole point is to funnel kids into Dahn. "College students are the perfect recruits," says Lucie Vogel, who started the first Body and Brain Club in 2001 while a student at MIT. "The goal was to get them to become Dahn masters and devote their lives to Dahn." In 2007, after Vogel tried to make her local Dahn center "less like a cult" - shortening workdays, allowing employees to date - Ilchi Lee ordered her to go to Sedona to "recover my mind." Vogel, who left the group and became a plaintiff in the lawsuit, found herself $140,000 in debt.

The lawsuit, still in its early stages, has plunged Dahn into damage-control mode to protect its carefully crafted image. Taking a page from Scientology's playbook, Dahn has positioned itself not as a gooey spiritual movement but as cutting-edge science it calls "brain education," with the power to sharpen memory, prevent cancer and even give practitioners extrasensory powers. As a result of such claims, two universities have awarded Lee honorary doctorates, 15 American cities have declared "Ilchi Lee days," and the Dahn Foundation, whose sole mission is to spread the practice of Dahn Yoga, enjoys tax-exempt status from the IRS. Lee lectures at international brain seminars - hosted by the Korea Institute of Brain Science, of which Lee is founder and president - and in August, he held a "Brain Art Festival" at Radio City Music Hall. The hype has helped pave the way for a new product line: "brain education" programs for children. Clients often have no clue who they're dealing with, as when New York paid $400,000 to PowerBrain Education, another Dahn-affiliated operation, to teach "brain wave vibration" workshops in 44 public schools. One elementary school, PS 65 in the Bronx, even got a lesson from Ilchi Lee himself.

"These are people with no boundaries," says Vogel. "Anything is justifiable as long as it brings in a buck."

Amy Shipley wasn't looking for enlightenment when, in the fall of 2006, she walked into the Body and Brain Club at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She just wanted to lose five pounds. "That's my issue," she says. "I'm always five pounds overweight." Her boyfriend, fellow junior Ricardo Barba, had taken a class at the student-run club and called Amy afterward: "Babygirl, I could feel this energy - it was craaazy!" he gushed. Amy headed to the Rec Center to catch the next Body and Brain session. She was disappointed by the workout, a slow-moving tai chi lesson led by a Chinese physics nerd. But Ricardo was jazzed about it, and the classes were free, so Amy kept going. Then one day, the instructor invited her to a Halloween party.

"Here's this dorky kid inviting me to a party," Amy thought. "How funny!" The night of the party, she slipped into a white, low-cut Marilyn Monroe dress and headed to the off-campus address she'd been given. It was a Dahn Yoga center. The crowd of twentysomethings all danced to techno for an hour, then sat on the padded floor of the bright yellow studio for a deep-breathing exercise. Amy, still panting, felt herself sink into a blissful state of relaxation. "Feel your heart," the instructor intoned, and in a cathartic moment, Amy did - she could feel its shape, its bigness. "It was incredible!" she later told Ricardo. Together they started attending classes at the Dahn center.

While Amy and Ricardo never considered themselves cult fodder, they now realize otherwise: "It's like we were wearing 'Recruit Me' signs on our backs," Ricardo says. The pair had met two years earlier at the library. Ricardo, dark-haired, lean and kinetic, was a first-generation Mexican-American still living at home in Chicago's West Town neighborhood, where he graduated valedictorian of his Jesuit high school. Now at UIC, Ricardo was intent on entering politics to serve the city's Hispanic community. Despite their divergent backgrounds, he found a kindred spirit in Amy, who grew up in a white-bread Indiana town and had come to Chicago to major in education, work as an inner-city tutor and take on the "civil rights movement of our generation" - closing the education gap for people of color. She and Ricardo were idealistic, brimming with energy and, like many kids their age, on a quest for identity and purpose. Attending classes at Dahn, Ricardo was amazed at the unexpected ways they helped him peel back his own layers. Like how in one exercise, his instructor turned to Ricardo and commanded, "Sing a song!"

"Uh," Ricardo hesitated.

"That's how you live your life," the instructor snapped. "Too much thinking, not enough acting!" Ricardo was floored. When their Dahn instructors suggested Ricardo and Amy sign up for a two-day "Shim Sung workshop" to uncover their "true selves," they readily agreed. The $200 fee didn't include the price of the uniform, a white martial-arts outfit with balloon-legged pants that made them both snicker. But once they were standing among the two dozen excited participants, the clothes didn't seem so bad. The workshop consisted of hours of loud and fast exercise, trust-building games and lots of personal confessions, all performed to rousing music. Attitude was everything. Asked to hold a pose, they held it for as long as 30 minutes, while their instructors yelled, "This is what it feels like to give 100 percent!"

Amy and Ricardo did everything asked of them at Shim Sung - including, when they each returned home on Saturday night, promising not to break the spell of self-discovery by talking. They stayed up late writing the autobiographical essays they'd been assigned. Amy wrote about how her father had flitted in and out of her childhood and the hole that had left in her life. Ricardo, whose parents emigrated to Chicago from Mexico, wrote about being the first in his family to go to college and how badly he wanted to make his parents proud.

The next morning, their Dahn instructors collected the essays - soon to be shared with all the Chicago masters. What Ricardo and Amy didn't realize was that the true purpose of the Shim Sung exercise was to help Dahn's leaders identify recruits who might become big revenue producers. "If you thought someone had potential for money, you'd try to get them to go to the Shim Sung workshop," recalls Benjamin Greene, who became a master in L.A. before "escaping" in 2008. "When I was at Shim Sung, I was keeping track of my members and how much they opened up. If they didn't open up, they didn't have as much potential. But if they opened up, the sky's the limit." Instructors, he adds, were taught to capitalize on that potential as fast as possible: "When they're suggestible like that, you try to sell them on something else. Ideally, you've signed them up for the next workshop before they even go home."

Amy and Ricardo emerged from Shim Sung exhausted but exhilarated. Their Dahn instructors had heaps of suggestions about how to build on their progress: more classes, more workshops, more one-on-one "healing sessions," all of which the couple readily signed on for. Amy and Ricardo even agreed to help clean the Dahn center, spending their evenings mopping the floor while a candle burned in front of a framed photograph of some white-haired Korean dude. Their instructors told them he was Dahn's founder. Perhaps one day they'd be lucky enough to meet him.

Ilchi Lee's visage appears in every Dahn Yoga center. He is usually shown dressed in a dark business suit with no tie, his round, unlined face beaming tranquility. Dahn instructors are initially vague when discussing his identity with new members. That's on purpose, say ex-masters: Instructors are taught to "make it fit their brains" - that is, to tell members only as much as their minds can handle. At first, Lee is referred to as Dahn's founder. Next, he's the author of a book recommended to you. Then he's revealed as the calm voice speaking in Korean on the CD playing during your workout. If you're truly fortunate, he might be the man making a rare personal appearance, arriving amid great fanfare as all the masters reverently scurry around, careful never to step on his shadow. It can take a couple of years, ex-members say, before they're informed of Lee's true identity as the font of universal energy upon which we all draw.

"We believed he was like God," says former member Jade Harrelson. Lee himself is more modest; in a 2005 training manual, he compared himself merely to Buddha.

Like most cult leaders, Lee's story follows the classic line of the charismatic con man. As a child in South Korea, Lee's grades were a disappointment to his father, a schoolteacher; the boy's mind was so scattered, he could scarcely pay attention to his lessons. But Lee gradually found that moving his body helped him to focus. He threw himself into martial arts and excelled. He made it through school, married and took a job as a lab technician. But by age 28, Lee felt unfulfilled. In his own retelling, he hiked to the top of Moak Mountain in 1980 and meditated for 21 days, neither eating nor sleeping, until he was hit with the revelation that he was composed of cosmic energy, energy with no beginning and no end. This was his moment of enlightenment. Lee descended the mount to spread the good word.

He changed his name to Ilchi, or one who is "pointing the way," and taught mind-body exercises in a park, gradually developing a following. In 1985, he opened his first Dahn center in Seoul. From there, Lee moved at a relentless pace, touring Korea and opening centers across the country. Left behind were his wife and two young sons. Lee wasn't worried, he told followers, since he had asked the heavens to look after them: "From that moment onward, I forgot my family and focused solely on 'vision.'" His single-mindedness was astonishing. Once, as Lee was leaving for Korea's Jeju Island - a tropical vacation spot - he received word that his younger son had been in a car crash. "If he was meant to live, he will, and if he was meant to die, he will," Lee said. Then he hung up and got on the plane. (The boy, apparently, was meant to live.) Lee expected the same level of commitment from his members; former followers say that as part of the standard ceremony to be elevated to Dahn masters, they were required to recite a pledge vowing to die for Ilchi Lee if necessary.

The actual theology that members were required to spread was a little shaky. For a while, Lee promised followers that once they had harnessed enough energy through something called "brain respiration," they would fly to an "enlightenment star" aboard a spaceship shaped like a golden turtle. (He ran a brisk business selling $4,000 golden turtle statues meant to harness cosmic energy.) Later on, he spoke of the need to recruit 100 million "new humans," at which point this critical mass of Dahn followers would somehow create world peace. After that, he began preaching the healing powers of "brain wave vibration" and of smiling the "HSP (health, smile, peace) smile." But in the end, theology didn't matter; what mattered was that everyone felt united for a greater purpose - and that they were kept too busy to think it through. In that regard, Lee reportedly had help from Hwa Young Moon, a Korean woman who joined Dahn in the late 1980s and whipped it into shape; she knew a good deal about the enlightenment trade, having grown up in the "Moonies," the Unification Church.

Like any success story, Dahn had its growing pains. In 1993, a Korean court convicted Lee of violating real estate laws, distributing medical supplies without a license and falsely billing Dahn as a college; he was sentenced to two and a half years in jail, of which he served 70 days. In 1999, the celebrated Korean poet Jiha Kim, a onetime Dahn member, held a press conference and claimed that at least 200 women had been fondled by Lee under the guise of spiritual training. (Lee has denied all claims of sexual misconduct.) Kim went on to call Dahn a "criminal enterprise," likening it to a Stalinist regime.

Lee was undeterred. He already had a plan under way to spread Dahn beyond Korea to the rest of the world. Lee established a nonprofit, Tao Fellowship, which in turn bought a huge parcel of land in Sedona, Arizona, an area famous for its spectacular "red rocks" and their supposed mystical powers; Lee called his swath of juniper-studded desert Mago ("Mother Earth") Garden and designated it the epicenter of his American empire. Lee and his affiliates also bought a nearby RV park for Mago Garden's future residents, several Arizona residences, an expansive headquarters for the "Ilchi Center for Brain Research" and a glass-walled mountaintop house with a breathtaking 360-degree view, for which, Lee bragged, he had outbid Nicolas Cage, who wanted it for his bride, Lisa Marie Presley.

Next, Lee dispatched devoted Dahn masters to the new corporate nerve center in Sedona. It took a while for the Korean crew to figure out the mind-set of its new American market. The big problem was that Americans bristled at being told what to do - Korean Dahn involved a lot of barked orders. So Dahn instructed its American masters to adopt a softer approach. In an even bigger breakthrough, it added "Yoga" to its name, repackaging its central goal from seeking enlightenment to pursuing "personal growth." A master in L.A. even arranged screenings of The Matrix, telling members that, like Neo, they were living in an artificial reality - but that with her help, Dahn Yoga would open their eyes. "I am Morpheus," she would solemnly tell them, then press "Play."

By the time Amy and Ricardo joined, Lee's enterprise had grown into a mini-empire. Visitors to Sedona, after being bused down 11 miles of bumpy, barren road, would crest a hill and be awed by a majestic, mountain-ringed oasis dotted with man-made ponds, cabins and a modern exercise facility. Across this strange and beautiful panorama hurried antlike Dahn students - most of them young, white and good-looking - in matching martial-arts uniforms and beatific HSP smiles, clutching Ilchi Lee's books as they busily dashed to their next activity.

My attachment to becoming a teacher is not me, it's just my information. By acknowledging it, I am letting go of it.

Amy, cross-legged on the floor, read in a monotone from a sheet of paper, her voice almost swallowed by the buzz of the crowded studio. Ricardo watched her from across the room. They'd been Dahn members for more than a year now. Today they were taking a workshop called Power Brain Method, learning that their minds were cluttered with meaningless "information" sponged up throughout their lives. But thanks to the wonders of neuroplasticity - the weekend's buzzword - their brains could be reprogrammed. First, however, they needed to clean their mental closets by dismissing their attachments out loud. Amy was going at it with her usual gusto:

My attachment to Ricardo is not me, it's just my information. By acknowledging it, I am letting go of it.

Ricardo looked at his own page, where he'd written family but not Amy. He was losing her to Dahn. He had realized she was outpacing him after their very first Sedona workshop. It had been an emotional weekend; one exercise involved pretending you were staring at your own dead body - really, your partner draped in black cloth - and considering the question What do you want to say to your body? Are you happy with the life you lived?

"I'm so sorry!" Amy had wailed to her dead self. Ricardo had been moved too, but part of him had held back. He was committed to Dahn's mission - creating energy that would heal the world - but he was starting to have his doubts. First of all, his instructors were pressuring him to quit school. And he was worried about money - as his masters kept reminding him, devoting money to Dahn was a crucial sign of spiritual progress. Then there was the problem of his family. Dahn members were expected to separate from nonbelievers, but Ricardo didn't want to push his family away. Not only was he still living at home, but he still wanted to make them proud.

"They don't understand - this is the way you're going to make them proud," Ricardo's masters reasoned with him. "Your parents are just your flesh parents. Ilchi Lee is your spiritual father."

Amy was a model pupil, a star recruiter who spent hours handing out pamphlets in the Chicago streets while wearing a pair of feathery wings and flirting with passersby. When a master told her she needed to hand over $13,000 as part of her "money training," Amy didn't question it. She took out loans, including one co-signed by a Dahn instructor - a routine practice, say ex-masters. Amy also obliged when her master instructed her to spend less time with Ricardo. Relationships and sex were Dahn no-nos, and Amy began keeping to her own side of the bed. When Ricardo tried to talk to her about the way their relationship no longer seemed a priority, she brushed him off. "That's just your negative thinking," she responded in Dahn-speak.

She loved Ricardo, but she had more important things to think about, especially now that she was ready to graduate college. She informed her mother that she was no longer interested in teaching inner-city children - she had learned through Dahn that her previous goals had been petty and small. Instead, Amy sat through her convocation thinking of nothing but her reverence for Ilchi Lee. She was ready, at last, to become a Dahn master.

"Becoming a Dahn master means dedicating your life to Ilchi Lee," Amy says. "Everything I had would be for him. I would no longer be a regular person - I would become one of Ilchi's people."

The Sedona training program for masters varied each year, but one constant remained: Candidates had to prove how much they were willing to endure for Dahn. In the past, its climax had been a grueling seven-mile mountain hike with up to 40 pounds of rocks in your backpack. But after Julia Siverls collapsed on the trek in 2003 - her teammates reportedly praying over her body as she died - Dahn tried other means of testing its candidates: making them drink toilet water, licking each other's feet, falling backward into a pool while screaming in Korean, "Ilchi Lee, I love you!" In one brutal session, two dozen candidates were presented with a single white washcloth and told that it represented their soul. "They'd worked us into a frenzy," recalls Harrelson, the former member. "It became primal. People were scratching and fighting each other to get this thing."

Having survived their training, newly minted masters were encouraged to move into communal apartments and were given their sacred task, or "vision." Nothing in Dahn is more important than vision, as a training manual makes clear: "The first value of life is vision. The second value of life is vision. The third value of life is vision." Vision, former members say, is simply the amount of money that masters are expected to bring into Dahn each month, as well as the number of members they recruit. In a recorded lecture he gave to New York masters last April, Lee himself reinforced the primacy of vision. "You have to go crazy about two things," he instructed. "One is, you have to go crazy for your members. And second, you have to be crazy about money." This "vision," Lee emphasized, must be "more precious than your life."

Failing to achieve one's vision was considered a grave spiritual lapse - and masters obsessively checked Dahn's online database, which tallied every dollar brought in. "The pressure was intense," says Greene, the former master, whose California center took in $30,000 a month. "Literally all you could think about was how much money you had yet to raise." Masters scrambled to sell everything they could: $10,000 Sedona workshops, $1,500 annual memberships, $1,000 weekend retreats, $200 private healing sessions, plus books, CDs, even Ilchi Lee's own happy-face calligraphy. But no matter how well they did in any given month, the calendar turned over, and their totals dropped to zero again. It was a never-ending treadmill.

Having achieved the title of Dahn master, Amy pushed herself to the limit. Each morning she woke at 4 a.m. to meditate, shaking her head back and forth to connect with Ilchi Lee's energy, as she had been taught, and praying to make her monthly quota of $20,000 and 20 members. Then she would begin her packed day of teaching classes, conducting "healing sessions," coaxing people into memberships and attending staff meetings before heading home at 11 p.m. There was no time to sleep, barely time to eat. One day Amy fainted while distributing flyers in Lincoln Park; her superiors approvingly told her she'd been releasing her guilt and shame. A month into her life as a master, Amy was worn out. One morning in July 2008, when she and Ricardo climbed into his beat-up Astro minivan to buy fruit for a workshop, she was glad to just sit and let him drive, the motion soothing her into a half-sleep.

"I don't want to do this anymore," she said suddenly.

Ricardo looked at her. He'd never seen her so tired. "Say the word, and we'll go," he answered.

Amy thought, then shook her head. She'd come too far to give up. Besides, she was about to be awarded her very own ticket to heaven - her "soul name" - personally bestowed upon her by Ilchi Lee. She was about to come face to face with her god.

Ilchi Lee was living a life quite different from that of his disciples. He had a private jet, horse ranches, houses in New Jersey and Arizona, an apartment in Seoul, live-in housekeepers at his primary residence in Sedona and personal chefs to prepare his favorite meals. One disciple who dined with Lee was trained to discreetly remove any food that fell into his lap. Ex-members say that Lee also loved to gamble in Vegas. Not the typical behavior of a guru, but Lee's assistants already knew that their leader hardly resembled the placid image he projected to the rest of Dahn; he was a fearsomely impatient and arrogant businessman, intolerant of dissent and obsessed with money.

Lee had officially stepped down from Dahn in 1997, announcing that he would instead serve as a consultant and "patron of Dahnworld" through a company called BR Consulting. According to a former accountant for a Dahn affiliate, Lee's consulting fee was 30 percent of Dahn's total income. But whatever his official title, Hun Kim, a former regional director, claims that the founder continues to be the driving force behind Dahn. "Ilchi Lee makes the decisions," Kim says. "Everything comes from him." According to the lawsuit, Lee also rakes in money through a number of supposedly independent offshoots that retain ties to Dahn. A New Jersey-based company called CGI Inc., for example, owns a chain of Dahn Yoga studios, and a subsidiary of BR Consulting owns a corporate resort called Honor's Haven that doubles as a Dahn retreat center. The general manager of Honor's Haven is none other than Ilchi Lee's youngest son, Chung Won "Julian" Lee, and the resort is run by Ilchi Lee's wife, Journg Souk "Jane" Lee.

For her part, Mrs. Lee is settled into a $2 million home in Alpine, New Jersey - America's priciest ZIP code. "She wanted to be like royalty," says Chun Hwa Ha, who worked for the Lee family for years before joining the lawsuit against Dahn in 2009. Lee, who lives in Arizona and sees his wife only a few times a year, allegedly takes full advantage of his freedom. Ha, who served as Lee's live-in housekeeper, says she repeatedly witnessed Lee ushering disciples into his bedroom for private consultations; upon emerging, the women sometimes acted emotionally. In 2002, when Dahn settled a lawsuit brought by a California master who claimed that Lee had pressured her into sex, Dahn worked to spin the story to members. According to ex-master Marge Gargosh, Dahn superiors downplayed the accusations, saying that Lee's actions were misunderstood. Gargosh recalls being told, "'He was first-chakra training,'" - that is, training her perineum.

In 2004, after lecturing on the MIT campus, Lee's eye fell upon Jade Harrelson, then a 21-year-old student at the University of Massachusetts. A Dahn neophyte who had gotten involved less than a year earlier through her campus Body and Brain Club, Harrelson was flabbergasted when Lee singled her out after his lecture and invited her to come to Seoul. "I said to myself, 'He must see some potential in me,'" she recalls. "It's not just because I'm young and pretty and blond." Harrelson eventually dropped out of school to take a job in Korea with BR English, a Dahn-oriented language program for children. Lee lavished her with gifts and renamed her Dahn Soon ("Simple") Lee; whenever he was in town, Harrelson was expected to drop everything when he summoned her, whether it was to watch a World Cup match on TV or sit in a sauna holding hands. One night in October 2006, she was called to Lee's top-floor apartment in a gated Seoul community, where his housekeeper instructed Harrelson to shower. Then Lee, clad in a tracksuit, invited her into his bedroom. She says he told her to lie down.

"I'd been trained so well to think of him as enlightened, and not to question him," Harrelson says. "I thought, 'Don't be stupid, he would never do anything to harm you.'" According to Harrelson, Lee pushed down his pants and coerced her into having sex. When he finished, he caressed her locks. "I like gold hair," he told her.

The next morning, Harrelson told her superiors what Lee had done to her and that she was resigning from Dahn. Then she hid out in her apartment, crying, barely eating and cutting herself with razor blades. She says she was repeatedly visited by two senior Dahn masters, who yelled at her that she didn't understand the spiritual dimension of Lee's sexuality. "They told me I should apologize to him for questioning his integrity," says Harrelson, who claims that Dahn offered her a six-figure sum to drop out of the lawsuit. "They said that this was an honor and I should be grateful."

In the hotel ballroom at Honor's Haven, Amy Shipley ran to her yoga mat, quaking with anticipation. All around her, some 65 soul-name recipients were anxiously awaiting Ilchi Lee's arrival. The masters running the ceremony had set up a thronelike chair, filled vases with fresh flowers and straightened the mats in neat rows. In a few moments, Ilchi Lee would arrive to look at each one of them - his gaze reaching into their souls - and ascribe to each the Korean character that described what he saw. Receiving one's soul name was an honor few masters had attained. Amy felt lucky to be here, grateful that her two years in Dahn had led her to this transcendent moment.

Ilchi Lee arrived with a swarm of assistants. Amy and the other masters leapt to their feet in applause, bowing in unison and shouting well-rehearsed greetings in Korean. Lee, dressed in traditional loose-fitting Korean clothes, strode emperorlike into the room, his eyes sweeping the assembled followers, lingering on individual faces. Mounting his makeshift throne and gesturing for his disciples to sit, Lee surveyed the room in silence. Amy focused on her Grand Master's face, smiled her HSP smile and radiated positivity, knowing that Ilchi Lee could read her thoughts.

Lee addressed the crowd in Korean, his voice low and calm. His female assistant translated into rapid-fire English: None of you are sincere enough in your dedication to Dahn. All are unworthy of receiving your soul names. The room erupted into sobs and thank-yous as Lee got up and left as abruptly as he had arrived.

Amy was devastated. "I knew he'd seen through all my layers," she says. "He could see my desires, my ego, my insincerities, all my faults." She immediately tried to dedicate herself anew to Dahn, but something inside her had collapsed. Ten days later Amy found herself getting into her blue Mazda 626 and driving home to Indiana.

Ricardo, meanwhile, was on his way back from Mexico, knowing he was in trouble. He'd been dispatched by his masters to ask his grandmother for $45,000 for his training - told that if he couldn't come up with the money, he would die, and his ailing grandparents might be [banned term] for eternity. But during his three weeks in Mexico, Ricardo hadn't been able to bring himself to ask for the cash: He was returning to Chicago empty-handed. He went straight to the Dahn center to report his failure. His master, a Korean woman who called herself Joy, met him at the door.

"Ricardo, Amy's gone," Joy told him. "She doesn't love you."

"What?" Ricardo was stunned.

"Ricardo, it's time for you to take care of your spiritual growth. How much money can you put down?" Joy continued, informing him that he needed to fly to Sedona immediately to "focus on yourself." "If you don't buy that ticket today, don't come back here again," she warned him.

Ricardo went home in a state of shock. Amy had left him; his soul was dying; he had no idea what to do. For once, he asked his father for advice. "Don't buy that ticket," his father told him gently. "Don't go back." Ricardo spent the next two months holed up at his parents' house, working in their garden and picking nectarines from their tree, just thinking. Without Dahn, he was depressed, confused and terribly adrift.

Former members say it can be nearly impossible to leave the group - not only because Dahn teaches that leaving means spiritual death, but because its members often harass those who try to quit. Kim Morse, a Boston member who left in 2006, says she received nearly 50 phone messages from her masters in two days, threatening that if she didn't come back, she would get sick and die. A man active in the ex-Dahn "underground railroad" says he has received death threats. Hun Kim, the high-ranking Dahn master who was one of Lee's most trusted disciples before he broke with the sect last year, found himself questioned by police in Clarkstown, New York, after a Dahn affiliate alleged that he had embezzled company funds. (No charges were ever filed.) Kim's defection is seen as particularly harmful to the group; Dahn reportedly held a recent ceremony in which members were told to draw pictures of Kim, then tore their pictures to shreds while shouting, "Die! Die! Die!"

For now, though, Lee seems to remain very much in control - and his empire remains extremely profitable. At Sedona, former members estimate, some 30 clients sign up each year for Dahn's holiest course, which costs $100,000; Mago Garden now boasts luxury suites with marble floors and Jacuzzis to accommodate such VIPs. During a two-hour-long lecture recorded with his New York masters last April, Lee reprimanded those who failed to achieve that month's vision of money and members. "It sounds like you're in kindergarten," he scolded one disciple. "I'm surprised that there's anybody that likes you." While listening to progress reports from each master, some of whom burst into tears, Lee expressed his displeasure. "I want to hear the results," he said. "I don't want to hear the process!" He chastised the assembled masters for not selling enough copies of his newest book, Brain Wave Vibration, which he referred to as "holy scripture." "You should start to feel nervous if you are apart from the Brain Wave Vibration book for even one minute," he told them. "When you go to the bathroom, I want you to take that book with you!" Above all, he reminded them of the crucial nature of money: "We are an organization that needs a lot of money. Do you know why? In order to change the Earth's environment and help the human environment, we need to have a successful business and make a lot of money. . . . You have to have the power to attract it to you like a magnet."

Throughout the lecture, Lee never failed to remind followers of his own supremacy. After one young woman's report went beyond the stipulated one-minute mark, Lee told her, "You've taken a lot of my very precious time, so you need to pay me a huge consulting fee." She chuckled nervously as he continued, "Let me tell you that one minute of consulting from me is worth $10,000. So right now you're getting a very high-priced consulting." He then instructed her to wash and massage the feet of her superior for the next 21 days. The woman thanked him profusely for his wisdom.

For weeks after leaving Dahn, Amy scarcely left her childhood bedroom in Indiana. The pressure of having to face the innumerable decisions of a typical day - what to wear, what to eat, what to do - were too overwhelming. "I hadn't thought for myself in so long, I'd forgotten how," she says. She couldn't concentrate, had nightmares about her masters and Ilchi Lee, and was racked with anxiety - symptoms that would eventually be diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder. "I didn't know who I was or what to do," she recalls. Her family paid for therapy and intensive "deprogramming," which helped Amy cope. Today, a year and a half after leaving Dahn, Amy is starting to get her act together, working as a teacher at a charter school in New Orleans.

Ricardo has not been faring quite as well. When he's not working as a busboy, he spends most of his time hiding out. Unlike Amy, he hasn't gotten any therapy since leaving Dahn. Although he was less indoctrinated into the cult than Amy, he has found himself struggling. "It's something I haven't gotten over," he acknowledges. "Dahn flipped some switches in my head, and I don't think I'll ever be able to shut them off." In January, Ricardo and Amy reached the painful decision, after seven years as a couple, to break up. "Amy and I came down to New Orleans to heal together, but we realized we've become a crutch for each other," says Ricardo. "I just feel that Dahn has done so much damage to us that we have to separate in order to heal."

Both are still grappling with how to make sense of their experience and the shame of how they could have let it happen to them. But what's hardest to endure isn't the misery they suffered in Dahn - it's the memories of how the group awakened them to their own sense of potential. During their two years in Dahn, Amy and Ricardo proved themselves more hardy, capable and determined than either had ever imagined. For Ricardo, discovering that capacity was the sweetest satisfaction he has ever known - a contentment, he suspects, that most people will never know. He's desperate to tap into that feeling again. If only he knew how.

"I feel like I've lost my sense of purpose," he says. "There's a part of me that wants to be challenged. But I feel like there are no jobs that challenge me, nothing to the point where I was challenged in Dahn." Maybe that's why, despite everything he now knows, and against all common sense, Ricardo secretly fears that what he really wants is to go back
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Mon Nov 12, 2012 12:49 pm

Passionate Journeys: Why Successful Women Joined a Cult by Marion Goldman

Publication Date: December 14, 2001

Passionate Journeys explores the fascinating stories behind the Bhagwan Rajneesh phenomenon of the 1970s and 1980s, focusing on women who left families, careers, and identities to join the community of Rajneeshpuram. Rajneesh was a spiritual leader for thousands of young Americans, and in rural Oregon his devotees established a thriving community. Marion S. Goldman's extensive interviews with women who participated at Rajneeshpuram provide a fascinating picture of the cultural and social climate that motivated successful, established women to join such a movement.

Passionate Journeys will appeal to specialists in feminist theory and women's studies, sociology, religious studies, American studies, and the history of the Northwest.

Marion S. Goldman is Professor of Sociology, University of Oregon. She is also the author of Gold Diggers and Silver Miners: Prostitution and Social Life on the Comstock Lode.

From Library Journal:

From the Tokyo subway bombing and the siege at Waco to the mass suicide of Jim Jones's followers in Guyana, evidence of cult activity has surged in recent decades. Abgrall, a practicing psychiatrist and professional criminologist, has spent 15 years researching cult phenomena and presents here a thorough analysis of their psychodynamics and the mysteries that surround cult life. He delves into recruitment, physical and psychic conditioning methods, the mental predisposition of gurus and followers, and the treatment of former cult members. Well organized and readable, his work complements James R. Lewis's Cults in America: A Reference Handbook (LJ 2/1/99) and David V. Barrett's Sects, Cults and Alternative Religions: A World Survey and Sourcebook (Sterling, 1996). Useful for high school students doing research and for adults interested in mysticism and sects, this book is recommended for public and academic libraries. Passionate Journeys is more specific in nature. Goldman (sociology, Univ. of Oregon; Gold Diggers and Silver Miners) studied the female boomers who left their families, careers, and identities to join the Rajneeshpuram spiritual community in Oregon in the 1970s and 1980s. Goldman conducted extensive interviews with former sannyasins and presents here composite pictures detailing the psychological make-up, hopes, and beliefs of women who joined the community. Her thesis is that, though extreme, the cult members' experiences illuminate the struggles of women in general; their joining was an attempt to balance love, work, and spirituality. A compilation of case studies, this book was written for the college-educated reader; recommended for academic libraries serving feminist or religious studies programs.- -Deborah Bigelow, Leonia P.L., NJ

REVIEWS:

A fascinating look at one of the least studied phenomenoms about religious movements and cults - why do they often draw women from privileged backgrounds. Is it guilt? Is there something about the priveliged lifestyle that makes these women crave something spiritual? Goldman shows that the answers aren't the ones that automatically come to mind, affected by early family experiences, vulnerability and a lack of solid identity - and even such subtle factors as where they live. I read this one in a single day, as I found it that compelling and helped me to understand why people I knew had joined cults.

4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting examination of the seductiveness of cults April 1, 2002
By Ted Weimann

Interesting, a great read for anyone interested in feminist psychology and/or how women are attracted to cults. I respect the author's careful discussion of her methods and her openess. Highly recommended.

4.0 out of 5 stars Surprising discovery January 17, 2000 - By PamStacey

Marion Goldman's Passionate Journeys is a great surprise! A friend gave it to me raving and I started reading it as a favor. It is a knockout! It captures an era and a phenomenon that has been a mystery to many of us and described a dynamic that could happen to many women tomorrow. It's a totally involving read and left me wondering if I was susceptible to joining a cult, even one which took a dramatic and bizarre and utterly fascinating turn as did the Rajneeshi cult. Don't miss this one.
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Tue Nov 13, 2012 11:19 am

The only book here that I read was the Great Naropa Poetry Wars.
Someone gave it to me when it first came out.
I found it to be a horrible book and the pussyfooting around with explanations it stupid.
I was was told stories then about the wild Phillipino in a lumberjack shirt who could drink copious amounts of gin and had insatiable desire for sex, his attendants were actually bodyguards and aparantly carried side arms as so people were after him.
It is a great book if you want to read about sick people and sick behavior personally I don't
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Tue Nov 13, 2012 12:00 pm

The reason I am sharing these books is what I have found is that many people do find it very helpful to read about other groups / organizations /situations. By talking to former members of other kinds of spiritual groups and reading accounts, they see that much of what happened with their guru / master and their group was actually an expression of human behavior, group dynamics, authoritarian leadership, and so on. It can be useful for some. Chisan, it sounds like you don't find it helpful.

In terms of the Great Naropa Poetry Wars, I found that book - at the time - fascinating and very helpful. No one had written a book like that before. I think that was the very first time people shared their shadow stories about what had happened in a Tibetan Buddhist group. the book was a mixed bag of revelations and rationalizations, but it proved that we weren't in old Lhasa or Kyoto anymore. Silence was no longer golden. People were beginning to share their doubts, feelings, reactions and criticisms, and personal stories - and when there was no experience doing that -- it did come out all over the place.

But the bottom line, of course, is that I share all these books and articles merely as potential resources that can be accessed or ignored. No reading assignments and no book reports are required.
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Tue Nov 13, 2012 1:37 pm

Please dont misunderstand me the book certainly has its place,it was the first or one of the first in spilling the beans,I personally found Trumpa and the story as told quite horrible.
Interesting enough the books that Jan wrote about Daitokuji and later Walter Nowick the last book about the collapse of the centre I also found repulsive, yet I believe Jan still held back on gory details.
So do I find it helpful,I do because without them we may be on our own,it may well give more strength to people. Put in our context we were not allowed to be critical,Mark was ostracised the English Sanga were not told really what the reasons were for Mark leaving,I can not remember how long it was before I made contact with Mark after he left,But it was mainly because none of it seemed right and Jisho who was in England was not forthcoming with answers unless I pressed I do not think anyone knew the real reasons why Mark left until this forum was opened up.
So vital stories are allowed to be told because it is easy to forget what happened when Eko left what JK was really like,I see the OBC now includes Soto Zen after serene reflection society I did not think they had called themselves that they were the reformed etc, so what we write and talk about is vital for balance of truth and facts..
However I still find both book mentioned horrible to read
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Tue Nov 13, 2012 3:05 pm

In the news today..nowhere to hide

A retired Church of England bishop is among two clergymen arrested over historic allegations of child sex abuse.











Peter Ball, 80, was held at his home near Langport, Somerset, on
suspicion of eight sex offences against eight boys and young men aged
from 12 to their early 20s, sources said.






The alleged abuse is said to have happened within the scandal-hit
Diocese of Chichester in East Sussex and elsewhere in the late 1980s and
1990s.






A second man, an unnamed 67-year-old retired priest, was also detained
at his home this morning near Haywards Heath, West Sussex, on suspicion
of separate sex offences against two teenage boys in East Sussex between
1981 and 1983, Sussex Police said.
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Thu Nov 15, 2012 1:27 pm

INTEGRAL ABUSE - Andrew Cohen and the Culture of Evolutionary Enlightenment

BE SCOFIELD


Andrew Cohen is a Rude Boy. He is not here to offer comfort;
he is here to tear you into approximately a thousand pieces.
- Ken Wilber

Luna Tarlo spent over three years living with her guru Andrew Cohen (founder of What is Enlightenment? magazine now called EnlightenNext) in India and the United States. After she experienced extreme forms of public condemnation and humiliation she broke from him and wrote a book depicting Cohen as an “arrogant, power-hungry, dangerous figure who practices mind control over adherents.” She is, however, different than the hundreds of other disciples who followed him. Luna Tarlo is Andrew Cohen’s mother. In an interview with the Boston Globe in 1998 she stated, Cohen “requires total surrender to him. You have to obey everything he says and trust him 100 percent, and anybody who disagrees is subject to derision and verbal abuse.” In tragic fashion she ended what had previously been a healthy and loving relationship, “I know my life with him is over, and it’s very sad. I love him a lot.”

Twelve years after Tarlo’s “The Mother of God” (1997) was published, William Yenner a follower of Cohen’s for over 13 years and insider of his Foxhollow ashram has released a scathing book which chronicles the abuse that Cohen’s mother spoke of. “American Guru: A Story of Love, Betrayal and Healing – former students of Andrew Cohen speak out” (2009) is an insider’s look at how this self-proclaimed “rude boy” manipulated, abused, pressured and controlled his followers. The accounts given (an excerpt from the book is below) are very disturbing. After reading them I feel saddened, shocked and angry. And as I note below Cohen’s contemporaries have an ethical responsibility to speak out. Yenner was certainly in a position to know about these abuses as he was a central player in Cohen’s operation. He explains his role, “I was a member of the “inner circle” of Cohen’s students; in fact, I lived in his personal residence for several years, was a member of the EnlightenNext Board of Directors, and was the real estate scout who located and helped arrange the purchase of the 220 acre, nearly three-million-dollar, EnlightenNext “World Headquarters” at Foxhollow, as well as the EnlightenNext Centre in London.” And like many others in the group Yenner had “donated” a very large amount of money ($80,000) to Cohen. These large sums of money were part of Cohen’s plan. Yenner writes,

Andrew let it be understood that his good favor could also be had for a price, establishing a practice that was morally reprehensible, legally questionable and indicative of a degree of corruption that had warped his ideals and would eventually stain the fabric of his entire organization. It is a testament to the faith that so many of us had in Andrew that, despite the questionable nature of these new financial arrangements, we complied – some of us taking on enormous and ill-advised debt. Though it may be difficult for outsiders to comprehend, our desire to please our guru was so great that we were prepared to mortgage our futures in order to do so.

Survivors of Jonestown speak similarly about how once they gave their money, assets and signed over their homes to Jim Jones and the “church” it was the final step in the loss of their identities. I don't mean to suggest that Cohen is comparable to Jim Jones or that his followers are about to commit mass suicide. But rather I am merely highlighting the similarity in these actions to illustrate how the giving over of yourself includes money, property and belongings. And furthermore this loss of property is directly linked to the increasing loss of the ability to remain an autonomous agent within the group.

For years after his departure in 2001 Yenner remained silent. Like the others he was pressured under “extreme psychological distress and in an emotionally crushed state of mind” into giving his $80,000 and a few years after he finally broke with Cohen he wanted it back. Cohen agreed but made Yenner sign a five-year non-judicial but binding gag order to not speak about his experiences at Foxhollow or with Cohen. This enforced silence was, Yenner states, but yet another reminder to him that Cohen wasn’t ready to let him go. But the gag order expired in 2008 and now Yenner’s book is published.

Luna Tarlo and William Yenner’s books are not the only criticisms of Cohen to surface. Prior to the release of Yenner’s book some of Cohen’s former followers had set up a website, What Enlightenment?, in 2004 that chronicled his abusive and controlling methods with advice on cult recovery. Yenner’s book also contains the passages from other former Foxhollow members. In 2003 former What Is Enlightenment? editor Andre van der Braak published “Enlightenment Blues: My Years with an American Guru”. An eleven year disciple of Cohen’s, van der Braak chronicled the abuse and manipulation he witnessed and experienced as part of the Foxhollow community. He reports that one of the more mild but still disturbing elements of daily life in the community consisted of 600 daily prostrations while repeating the required mantra, “To know nothing, to have nothing, to be no one.” And Geoffry Falk in his Stripping the Guru’s: Sex, Violence, Abuse and Enlightenment dedicates an entire chapter ‘Sometimes I feel Like God’ to Cohen. It places Cohen in context of his guru Poonjaji and provides a short history of his life. (This is an excellent and important book with startling revelations about everyone from Krishnamurti and Osho to Trungpa, Sai Baba and Yogi Amrit Desai just to name a few. My endorsement of this book is not about its level of scholarship as I must humbly admit I am in no position to evaluate this. Rather I appreciate the book because it draws attention to the phenomenon of cults, gurus and spiritual abuse. The whole book is available free online. Here is a link to the chapter on Cohen).

What did Cohen do? This is an excerpt from American Guru.

Some years ago at Foxhollow, a student named Jeff, a very good writer, was having a great deal of trouble with a writing project he had been assigned to do. He was supposed to write an introduction to a book Andrew was publishing, but he was having no success. Feeling terrible guilt about this, he wrote in a desperate letter to Andrew, “If I don’t come through, I will cut my finger off.” Andrew seemed to like this idea. When Jeff still did not succeed at his writing, Andrew called for Mikaela, [who was a] physician, to come see him…. Andrew told Mikaela to go to see Jeff, and to bring her medical kit. She was instructed to tell Jeff that Andrew was taking him up on his offer to sacrifice a finger. She should take out her scalpel, her mask, her gloves, a sponge – everything she would need for such an operation – and lay them all out. She was told to carry through the charade up to the very last minute, and then stop. When Mikaela visited Jeff, he had barely slept in about a week. He was in a desperate state…. Mikaela [later] confirmed…that she had followed Andrew’s instructions precisely. Jeff was severely and obviously shaken by the incident. He left Andrew and Foxhollow a few weeks later.

****
Face slapping and name-calling, while they were uncalled for and may have been damaging, were mild in comparison to other questionable manifestations of “crazy wisdom” that occurred at Foxhollow. One such incident involved a student (Mikaela) who was responsible for the marketing of Andrew’s publications and who had fallen out of favor by reminding him that something he had criticized her for doing had been his idea in the first place. He decried her as evil and ordered that the walls, floor and ceiling of her office (which had been relocated to an unfinished basement room) be painted red to signify the spilled blood of her guru. She was ordered to spend hours there contemplating the implications of her transgression, with the additional aid of a large cartoon on the wall depicting her as a vampire and the word “traitor” written in large letters next to it.

Andrew often employed red paint in this fashion to create environments designed to induce shame and guilt in students that he felt had questioned his judgment or disobeyed him. Another female student who had displeased Andrew and, after leaving the community, had returned to help out on a weekend painting project, was summoned to another basement room. There she was met by four female students who, having guided her onto a plastic sheet on the floor, each poured a bucket of paint over her head as a “message of gratitude” from Andrew. She left the property traumatized and fell ill in subsequent days (during which she was harassed by phone calls from another student who, at Cohen’s instigation, repeatedly called her a “coward”) and never again returned to Foxhollow. “Crazy wisdom” is the most charitable possible explanation for these often traumatic and disturbing incidents, many of which have already been related on the whatenlightenment.net blog. Several of these student accounts of Andrew Cohen’s “acts of outrageous integrity,” employed to dubious or damaging effect, are reproduced below.

Read more disturbing details from American Guru.

In 2006 Cohen finally "responded" to his critics with a "Declaration of Integrity." While you can read for yourself, his 11-page response is more of a treatise on how he is an amazingly revolutionary and groundbreaking teacher than any refutation of charges. And the website Guru Talk was established by other followers who support him to respond to those students of Cohen's who set up WhatEnlightenment? in 2004 which contains more examples of his abusive behavior. But I must ask, if Cohen's tactics are so revolutionary and "crazy wisdom" is needed to become enlightened, why haven't any of his students become enlightened? And why are these tactics so necessary when neither Cohen or Wilber attribute their awakenings to these sorts of experiences?

ANDREW COHEN'S SUPPORTERS

Despite years of allegations, two books and numerous followers who have broken from him to tell their stories Andrew Cohen still has his supporters. These people, many of them well known psychologists, therapists and spiritual teachers have an ethical responsibility to speak out against the abuse that Cohen was responsible for. His longtime friends, supporters and anyone who shares a stage with him or interviews him has a duty to confront him on these abuses if they know about them. Otherwise they simply provide legitimacy for him and support the culture of denial that surrounds these kinds of personality cults.

Craig Hamilton, now a Berkeley based “evolutionary spiritual teacher” was in a similar position to Yenner. For fifteen years he was a close disciple of Cohen’s and for eight of those he worked as senior editor of EnlightenNext magazine. Now Hamilton runs Integral Enlightenment. Hamilton here is speaking about how much he loved being in the community with Cohen, “And the inner life of everybody there was elevated to a profound level of well-being – I mean, in this environment everybody was living in a non-ordinary state of consciousness most of the time; there was a sort of enlightened Buddha-field…that permeated the place…” And from his website:

But the most profound influence on the teachings and practices of Integral Enlightenment is without a doubt the Evolutionary Enlightenment teaching of contemporary spiritual trailblazer Andrew Cohen. IE founder Craig Hamilton spent 13 years at the heart of Cohen’s living “laboratory of evolution” now known as EnlightenNext. As part of the core leadership team guiding this international movement, and editor of its communication arm, What Is Enlightenment? magazine, Hamilton was nourished by, and played a formative role in the development of this powerful force for spiritual and cultural evolution.
Yenner questions Hamilton for his silence on Cohen’s abuses and his continued praise of “rude boy.”

Interestingly, however, in the same period during which Andrew Cohen’s reputation has been so stoutly defended by guru-talk.com’s cadre of “fallen” or “unsuccessful” students, the integral community has also seen the emergence of another of Cohen’s former disciples, Craig Hamilton, as a self-proclaimed “teacher” in his own right. As I implied in a footnote of American Guru, no one who knows Andrew Cohen is likely to believe he was pleased by Hamilton’s surreptitious departure from Foxhollow, much less by Hamilton’s own subsequent (and well-planned?) ascent to integral guruhood – but if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Cohen ought to be feeling swell. As a “successful” former student, Hamilton has outdone his fellow alumni not only in his wholesale assimilation of Cohen’s “teaching model” but in his astute – some might say opportunistic – emulation of his teacher’s tried-and-true PR strategy of using public dialogues with famous “luminaries” as a means of enhancing his own reputation. That Hamilton was able to cultivate such relationships while selflessly “serving” as his guru’s senior editor and ambassador to high-level interfaith conferences is yet another manifestation of that “something other than enlightenment” that seems to be Cohen’s less than inspiring human legacy.

At such moments, it is worth remembering that the list of spiritual leaders who have “fallen on their faces” – often with catastrophic results for their followers – is a long one indeed. In his foreword to American Guru, Stephen Batchelor suggests that things might have turned out far differently if, at the time of Andrew Cohen’s “emergence” as a teacher, those who felt they had reason to question his motivations or qualifications had spoken out more forcefully. This is all the more reason to scrutinize Hamilton’s account of his many years “working side by side” with Andrew Cohen; yet despite his acknowledged involvement in “trying to guide and work with [Cohen's] global body of students,” Hamilton remains curiously silent on the issue of the abuses that took place under his nose (and mine) at Cohen’s Foxhollow ashram. As Daniel Shaw has observed, “It would be wonderful to see…honesty and courage demonstrated by…leaders of the New Age movement. Instead of rationalizing and minimizing the extent of [Cohen's] abuses, instead of ignoring and dismissing the experiences of former followers, wouldn’t it be wonderful if people like Ken Wilber, Genpo Roshi, Rupert Sheldrake, Deepak Chopra, Bernie Glassman, etc., could have the courage and the integrity to pay attention, to take up the cause of Cohen’s former members, and confront Cohen publicly?” As an up-and-coming “spiritual luminary” – not to mention one who was actually there! – Craig Hamilton certainly deserves to have his name added to that list. The dangers of a “free pass” based on charisma and inspiring intentions having been borne out by history, I feel it ought to be perceived as reasonable, rather than gratuitously destructive, to raise questions about anyone representing himself as a “pioneer” of a cutting-edge spiritual discipline.

While Hamilton evaluates himself rather differently than most of his fellow former students – insinuating references to his own “awakening” into his “free preview,” to a virtual audience of nearly 700 spiritual seekers, of a 9-week “teleseminar” for which he is charging each participant $285 – he shares with guru-talk.com’s contributors the same abiding nostalgia for a community very different from the one I remember (a community in which abuses such as those documented in American Guru took place over a period of two decades) as well as their retrospectively rose-colored notions about the significance of what happened there.

It isn’t surprising that Andrew Cohen’s best friend Ken Wilber continues to be a supporter as well. There is probably no more of a featured figure than Wilber in Cohen’s EnlightenNext (formerly What is Enlightenment?) magazine. Wilber, the leading figure in the integral movement is another subject entirely but his support for Cohen his uncompromising. This isn’t surprising because Wilber believes in the same sort of authoritarian teaching style as Cohen (and employs it himself in many ways). Here is what Wilber has to say about Cohen:

[Rude Boys] live as Compassion – real compassion, not [banned term] compassion – and real compassion uses a sword more often than a sweet. They deeply offend the ego (and the greater the offense, the bigger the ego)….

Andrew Cohen is a Rude Boy. He is not here to offer comfort; he is here to tear you into approximately a thousand pieces … so that Infinity can reassemble you….

Every deeply enlightened teacher I have known has been a Rude Boy or Nasty Girl. The original Rude Boys were, of course, the great Zen masters, who, when faced with yet another ego claiming to want Enlightenment, would get a huge stick and whack the aspirant right between the eyes…. Rude Boys are on your case in the worst way, they breathe fire, eat hot coals, will roast your [banned term] in a screaming second and fry your ego before you knew what hit it….

I have often heard it said that Andrew is difficult, offending, edgy, and I think, “Thank God.” In fact, virtually every criticism I have ever heard of Andrew is a variation on, “He’s very rude, don’t you think?”
Wilber has received attention for the abusive way he treats critics and the insular nature of his Integral project. One book written about Wilber is called “Norman Einstein: The Disintegration of Ken Wilber.” This is a link to a chapter called "Bald Narcissim." And this is a great summary of Wilber's ordeals from Frank Visser's Integral World called The Wild West Wilber Report:

In June 2006 Ken Wilber embarrassed himself in front of the world by abusing and insulting those of his critics who did not “understand” his work, and invited those who “did” to come to his integral “sanctuary…” Obviously, this alerted some cult-watchers to reflect on what on earth is currently going on in the integral scene. Here’s a listing of most of the relevant blog postings and articles, including my three personal replies to Ken Wilber. Compiled for future historians, Wilberologists – and psychiatrists!

Craig Hamilton works closely with Terry Patten another Bay Area Integral teacher who is also a senior trainer in Wilber’s Integral Institute seminars and contributor to Cohen’s EnlightenNext magazine. Patten and Wilber share another common theme: they were both students of the controversial spiritual teacher Adi Da also known as Adi Da, Da Free John and Bubba Free John (birth name Franklin Jones). The followers of Adi Da believed he was “an ‘adept,’ a person who came into this world already enlightened with eternal truth. The sect’s publications also call Jesus an “adept,” but make it clear that Jones is considered more important.” In 1974 Da claimed to be “Divine Lord in Human Form.” Da also had nine common law wives. For more see the section on Rick Ross’s cult watch site and the chapter on Adi Da from Stripping the Gurus from which this is taken:

"Also in 1974, during his “Garbage and the Goddess” period, Bubba apparently started his “sexual theater,” involving the switching of partners, sexual orgies, the making of pornographic movies and intensified sexual practices (Feuerstein, 1996).The Mill Valley Record (Colin, et al., 1985) further reported:

[James] Steinberg [head of the Hermitage Service Order] says the destruction [of the pornographic films] took place a few months after they were made. Steinberg also says that the church’s dildo collection was either sold or destroyed, he isn’t sure which."
Wilber has made many statements in support of Adi Da. Wilber wrote in the intro to one of Da’s books:

[M]y opinion is that we have, in the person of Da Free John, a Spiritual Master and religious genius of the ultimate degree. I assure you I do not mean that lightly. I am not tossing out high-powered phrases to “hype” the works of Da Free John. I am simply offering to you my own considered opinion: Da Free John’s teaching is, I believe, unsurpassed by that of any other spiritual Hero, of any period, of any place, of any time, of any persuasion.

Terry Patten’s biography claims that he was “a longtime student of the late American spiritual teacher, Adi Da Samraj.” And not surprisingly Patten is also a supporter of Andrew Cohen. The “Great [Integral] Awakening Online Teleseminar” which Patten was involved in with Hamilton features Wilber and Cohen front and center.

And then there is Marc Gafni, founder of iEvolve and (he is also featured in the above Global Awakening teleseminar) another controversial spiritual teacher who is part of the Integral inner circle, supported and defended by Wilber, Cohen, Patten and Craig Hamilton, Sally Kempton and Diane Musho Hamilton among many of the other figureheads of the movement. Gafni also works closely with Wilber at the Integral Institute. Gafni fled his position as head of the Bayit Chadash in Israel after several members of his community accused him of sexual misconduct. These were only the latest in a string of sexual accusations that has plagued Gafni. He was also stripped of his ordination as a Rabbi. While he apologized for his relationships with these women at Bayit Chadash he claims they were “loving and mutual,” (a claim which they strongly dispute). But if it gives any perspective he also says that his relationship with a 13 year old girl when he was 19 and 20 was “loving and mutual.” This is the testimony of the young girl who he claims he was in a mutual and loving relationship with.

The abuse went on through the year I was in 9th grade. The school year was almost over, I remember it was warm out. He called me on the phone one day to tell me that he would no longer be coming over. He realized that what he really needed was to get married soon, and he explained that this would give him a proper outlet for his sexuality. Its hard to describe how I felt at that moment, because it is complex. My molester finally decided to stop abusing me, to leave me alone, to move on. You would imagine I would feel great relief, but actually the full weight of the abuse I had endured in silence came crashing down on me.

Here I was, left with this horrible experience, still with no one to talk to about it, and no language for it
anyway. And he wasn't retreating because I had some how managed to make him stop, but because he decided it just wasn't worth the risk any more. He was terrified that he would do more and make me pregnant- then there would be no way to keep his secret. Until then, his abuse included exposing my body against my will, forcibly touching my breast, grabbing my hand and forcing me to touch his penis, and forced digital vaginal penetration. All were the most horrifying, degrading and painful experiences for me. All this only a year or so after my bat mitzvah...

Unfortunately, I knew Mordechai very well. He told me a lot about himself, and I knew him as a sexually compulsive, sexually violent man. After talking with counselors, lawyers, and professionals who advise and counsel sexual perpetrators, I learned that in 99% of cases, people who compulsively sexually abuse girls or women, especially those who were abused themselves as children, don't stop. These are dangerous people.

The more we are silent about them, the more they have the freedom to act out their sexual compulsions. Further first hand accounts show that Mordechai continued to molest young women after he was married. Unfortunately, marriage did not solve his problems. There is no reason for me to assume he is not still victimizing girls and women. Back when I knew him, he was a refined manipulator, "groomer", "brain-washer", and he used those skills in order to victimize girls and young women. I have no doubt that, years later, he has honed his skills as a predator.

His defenders repeatedly claim that “he as done nothing illegal,” and ask us to believe that Ganfi is the victim of a widespread attack up on him. All of the women (over ten) exaggerated, distorted and lied about what really happened. Gafni also claims to have passed a polygraph test that proves that the relationships with the women were loving and mutual. You can read it for yourself but I would question the nature of the questions he was asked as well as the polygraph itself. You don't have to be an Einstein to know that they are not admissible in most courts of law and are widely thought to be based on junk science. In other words they aren't reliable or accurate. You can read more about them here. And here is a "WikiHow" on how to cheat a polygraph test. Here is a link to a Marc Gafni's website where he responds to the controversy.

There are many places to read about Gafni. "Rabbi Mordechai Gafni accused of sexually exploiting women" from the Haaretz, "Rabbi Gafni accused of sexual assault" from YNet News and The Re-Invented Rabbi from the Jewish Week. This is an article from the Jewish Daily Forward, Rabbi Fired Over Sex Claims Defenders Offer Mea Culpa,

At least five female students and staff members have come forward to accuse Rabbi Mordechai Gafni of luring them into sexual relationships through intimidation, psychological manipulation and deception. Late last week, Gafni, an Orthodox-trained rabbi who has become a star of the New Age-style Jewish Renewal movement, was dismissed from his position as the head of Bayit Chadash, a center on the Sea of Galilee that he co-founded six years ago.

Gafni subsequently issued a public apology for having “hurt people I love,” and said that he would seek in-patient treatment for what he called “a sickness.”

…He was originally ordained as an Orthodox rabbi and moved to Israel more than a decade ago, after leaving posts in New York and in Boca Raton, Fla., amid rumors of sexual misconduct. He assumed an Israeli name and transitioned into the world of Jewish Renewal….

Rosenblatt said he had interviewed about 50 supporters and critics, including two prominent Orthodox leaders – Rabbi Yosef Blau, spiritual mentor at Yeshiva University, and Shlomo Riskin, chief rabbi of the West Bank settlement of Efrat – who had known Gafni since the 1980s. Blau and Riskin, who both criticized Gafni, told Rosenblatt that over the years they had spoken with a number of women who had complaints about the rabbi.

Rosenblatt interviewed several alleged victims. One was a woman named Judy, who first accused Gafni of molesting her in 1986, when she was a 16-year-old member of a youth group he directed. Shortly thereafter, Gafni left New York for a pulpit job in Florida. Another woman, Susan, who was an adviser for the group at the time, said that Gafni had threatened her when she tried to intervene on the girl’s behalf.

When asked about the allegations, Gafni told Rosenblatt that Judy was a troubled, unstable teenager who fabricated the story after he rebuffed her advances. But he admitted to having had a sexual relationship with another girl, when she was 13 and 14 and he was 19 and 20, studying to become a rabbi.

“I was a stupid kid and we were in love,” Gafni was quoted as saying in The Jewish Week. “She was 14 going on 35, and I never forced her.”

The woman told Rosenblatt that Gafni had “repeatedly sexually assaulted her” when he stayed at her house for the Sabbath. The rabbi also told her that she would be “shamed in the community” if she told anyone.

CONCLUSION

The ultimate irony is of course that these spiritual teachers are supposedly on the forefront of instructing us on how to confront the shadow.

As Frank Visser says, “Integral confirms integral confirms integral.” I have heard people defend Marc Gafni by stating that Andrew Cohen and Ken Wilber support him. But it actually is a silly game they all play because they all defend and support each other. It goes something like this. Patten, Hamilton, Gafni and Wilber support Cohen. Cohen, Wilber, Hamilton and Patten support Gafni. Cohen, Gafni, Hamilton and Patten support Wilber. Wilber and Cohen support Patten and Hamilton. Wilber and Patten support Adi Da….etc. And they all appear on each others integral programs, websites, conferences, book chapters, magazines and platforms. Among the various offerings is Integral Life Practice, Integral Naked, Integral Institute, Integral Spiritual Center, Integral Enlightenment, EnlightenNext magazine…etc. And as Yenner notes above, they seem to employ the same tactic: surrounding themselves with other luminaries, celebrities, and public faces who agree with them and provide much needed support. If all of these amazing people support Cohen he must be ok, right? Nowadays it seems all you have to do is add the word integral in front of something to boost its credibility. Add the word integral and you have a sexy and attractive product ready to be sold to eager spiritual seekers who are hungry for idealism and more purpose in life. The whole thing equates to a very large money making machine.

I want to be clear that this article is not an attack on integral theory or the nature of the teachings that many of the people here offer. I am a fan of integral theory in general—not of the Wilber sort, but the principle behind it. One can recognize that many of these teachers have said wise things while simultaneously being aware of their shortcomings.

Is it wrong to call out Cohen’s enablers? Is it wrong to expect them to break the silence on Cohen’s legacy of abuse, manipulation and cultish behaviors? In the face of the sadistic acts of Cohen isn’t it problematic when Wilber says “Cohen is here to tear you into a thousand pieces?” What about accountability? Responsibility? Ethics?

I would never appear on a program with Cohen, Wilber or Gafni let alone work with them. And if I was in a position of power as Cohen’s friends and supporters Ken Wilber, Craig Hamilton, Terry Patten, Marc Gafni, Genpo Roshi, Diane Hamilton are I would speak out against him. Do they deny the multiple, disturbing claims made by former disciples of Cohen? Or do they merely brush it aside as “Crazy Wisdom?” How can someone like Craig Hamilton continue to praise Cohen given the overwhelming evidence against him? After spending fifteen years with Cohen I suspect that Hamilton is still in Cohen’s cult trance. Can Cohen’s supporters be deemed legitimate if they are unable to call out his abusive, manipulative and sadistic behavior? There is really no excuse for the silence because it only enables Cohen further. In a post-Jonestown and present day Catholic Church scandal era we simply cannot afford their silence. I doubt any accountability will be had because this particular integral community is a family of “evolutionary thinkers,” who has discovered a revolutionary truth and will defend it to the end. They simply employ a form of group think that rationalizes, justifies and spins the truth to meet their agreed upon conclusions about each other.

The ultimate irony is of course that these spiritual teachers are supposedly on the forefront of instructing us on how to confront the shadow. However, I won’t take their advice until they confront the very large shadow of Andrew Cohen.

Be Scofield is the founder of www.mettaversity.com, an online school featuring courses about religion, culture and social justice. He is a contributing writer for the Huffington Post, the most read blogger for Tikkun Magazine and a writer for Alternet. Be has written extensively on New Atheism, progressive religion and he is also a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. scholar. He is currently finishing a Masters of Divinity at Starr King School for the Ministry, a member school of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. In the Fall of 2011 he taught a graduate course called "Dr. King and Empire: How Martin Luther King Jr. Resisted War, Capitalism and Christian Fundamentalism." You can follow him at: www.twitter.com/bescofield
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Thu Nov 15, 2012 1:54 pm

Interview will be published in the Jan/Feb 2013 issue of Connection, which will be devoted to Ken Wilber.
IDEOLOGY AND INFLATION
The Shadow of the Integral

MAXIM KORMAN and FRANK VISSER


Integral institutions are very good at bragging about their own excellence – I call this integral inflation.

Dear Frank, you have observed Ken Wilber and the Integral world for many years. What was (is?) it that fascinates you so much about this man and the movement he represents?

When I discovered Ken Wilber's work in 1982 he had not yet created a movement. He was a solitary scholar who lived high up in the Rocky Mountains writing magnificient books. He was difficult to contact, if at all. Since I liked his books, and every year he was publishing another one, this triggered my interest in getting to meet him in person.It was only in 1995 that I managed to get hold of his fax number, during a visit to the Theosophical Publishing House near Chicago, which had published his early books (The Spectrum of Consciousness, The Atman Project and Up from Eden). When I faxed the questions I had collected over the years about his work he almost instantly replied by fax. This started an intense period of communications about Wilber's ideas and the perennial philosophy, which was back then largely his background philosophy. He even called his approach "perennial psychology" when he started writing.

What fascinated me was the intellectual grasp he seemed to have of the various psychological disciplines he touched, and the way he integrated them with spirituality. In the eighties I was studying the psychology of culture and religion, with an emphasis on mysticism. So Wilber was my second education all through my university years. And of course, for a student eager to learn about how science could makes sense of spiritual experience, Wilber was a perfect role model. He also seemed to master departments of knowledge that are even daunting to the specialist, such as postmodern philosophy.

What was your first impression of him when you first met him?

Ken Wilber is a strongly built, muscular guy, sun tanned and cheerful. He also has a fast moving and fluent mind. He was very generous with his time, for after a one night stay at his home in Boulder to get to know each other I returned that same year for a 5-day stay, during which I interviewed him about all his works. Since I had deeply studied his works it was a delight to talk with him about his ideas. My approach was fairly uncritical in those days, I was still a huge fan of Wilber.

What was your reason to write a book about Ken Wilber?

Back home I wrote an article about my first brief visit to Wilber for a Dutch New Age magazine. When it came out, I was invited by Lemniscaat, a Dutch publisher of Jungian books, to write an introduction to his works, an assignement I happily accepted. This resulted in the book Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion, which has been published in 7 countries by now. Around that time, I had created a website related to the work of Ken Wilber, which started out with five pages but has now grown to over 1.000 webpages. This was a direct result of writing my book on Wilber. At the end of the book I state that Wilber's work deserves to be discussed by mainstream science, and for this a summary of his work would be a good starting point. On the website, now called Integral World, I posted from 2000 onwards critical essays on and reviews of Wilber's works.

Around that time, Wilber founded Integral Institute, which seemed an understandable step following on his many years of reclusiveness. But it turned out the beginning of a movement, that became less and less interested in rational reflection, and more and more in infotainment and even the selling and marketing of life style products. The original plan behind Integral Institute was, among other things, to publish textbooks in the various fields of science, that would introduce integral ideas in a way academic science would accept. Instead, years were spent socializing with celebrities. No believable advice to US politicians came out of this think tank, even though integral politics was high on its list of priorities.

It was even tried to start an Integral University, but this project imploded under the weight of its own self-importance. I knew it was a deep wish of Wilber to start a cultural movement such as existentialism, which would apply his ideas to ordinary life and the problems of society at large, as he told me in an interview I had with him in 1995 ("Bodhisattvas are going to have to become politicians"). But popularity is not the same as influence or impact, let alone academic respectability. Over the years, the chances of getting Wilber's ideas validated by specialists in the various fields of science looked slim indeed.

Was there a turning point in your attitude toward Wilber's work?

In 2003 the author Jeff Meyerhoff submitted a synopsis of his book Bald Ambition: A Critique of Ken Wilber's Integral Theory to Integral World. In this monograph, which I subsequently serialized on that site, he covered many fields of science and philosophy – holon theory, postmodernism, history, mysticism, developmental psychology, methodology, and even psychoanalysis -- to assess the value and validity of Wilber's writings, concentrating mostly on Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, Wilber's magnum opus. (The book was released in hard cover in 2010). This opened my eyes to shortcomings in Wilber's works which I, as a former big fan of him, had overlooked. The book met with a complete radio silence from integral quarters, and Meyerhoff was soon branded as a “bad critic”, who had misunderstood Wilber's ideas since he lacked the required level of development. Obviously, this is not how the game of science and philosophy should be played. It was typical of the attitude towards online critics Wilber would display over the years and was an obvious attempt to avoid deeper questions about his work.

This was aggravated by Wilber's attempt, in 2006, to silence his online critics in his now infamous Wyatt Earp blog posting, in which he pictured himself and his critics as a sheriff who was chasing cattle thieves and robbers (the blog was called "What We Are, That We See"). Instead of finally taking the time to address the points raised by these critics -- who posted their ideas mainly on Integral World and were often great admirers of Wilber, even if they had different opinions about various details -- he insulted and humiliated them in a long tirade, of which the upshot was, that they lacked the intelligence or developmental status needed to understand his works. The most colorful statement he made was "simply suck my [banned term]". The fact that some days later it turned out that this tirade was done on purpose, to check who of his followers really understood integral philosophy, and who didn't, made things only worse. Since this whole affair was implicitly directed at me, for hosting these critics on my website, that's were Ken Wilber lost most of his credit for me -- and believe me, he had a lot. Wilber chose to see lyers and cheaters in these online critics, who misrepresented his work -- most of these critics accused Wilber of misrepresenting the works of other thinkers. Indeed: What We Are, That We See...

Do you have an explanation for the rise and fall of Ken Wilber?

When Wilber decided to start Integral Institute, he lost much of his integrity.

Looking back, that's where things went really out of hand: When Wilber decided to start Integral Institute, he lost much of his integrity. Instead of offering his ideas to the larger forum of specialists in the field of philosophy and science, he became a politician, who defends his ideas against opposing views and tries to influence his audience with rethoric and slogans ("the integral approach can solve the problems of the world, and everything else makes them only worse"). But in all the years where the integral approach was tauted as "historical" and "ground breaking", no substantial contributions were written, not even when 9/11 struck, and every single intellectual on the planet gave his opinion about it. Wilber preferred to package his ideas about world politics in the format of a novel populated with adolescents (as he did in his book Boomeritis), and his long announced trilogy about terrorism (The Many Faces of Terrorism) is supposedly written in the same style. If these volumes will ever get printed, the world will definitely not lend an eager ear to these immature musings.

You must be disappointed about this whole story...?

Yes, all this became a kind of triple disappointment for me.

First, Wilber's understanding of the various fields of science did not turn out to be that deep. For example, when I decided to specialize in the field of evolutionary theory to see if Wilber's statements about evolution throughout his oeuvre were solid, the results were no less than shocking, especially to me. The first creationist would make more work of building a solid case for spiritual evolution, but not so Ken Wilber. In a few paragraphs he has tried to put neo-Darwinism in the corner and suggest that it can't explain the natural processes of evolution ("Neo-Darwinian theory can't explain [banned term]. Deal with it."), contrary to the wide majority of science writers. So much for orienting generalizations -- Wilber's claim that he has only gathered together the "already accepted" truths of the various knowledge departments.

Second, when confronted with this by various online critics, Wilber was unwilling to listen to them, let alone respond, and revise his groteque statements, while at the same time claiming “to know the subject inside out...".

And third, the integral community which has formed around him over the years could not care less about these intellectual problems. Nobody stood up to be counted – integral ideology had finally set in.

Now that the label "integral" for Wilber's ideas is increasingly replaced by "evolutionary" (see Carter Phipp's recent book Evolutionaries), it would seem to me some solid understanding of this field of evolutionary science is hardly a luxury.

A few years later attempts were made to get a foothold in the academic world by starting an integral Journal and giving integral courses at JFK University and organizing integral conferences. Each respectable field of science has its own scientific journal, so integral philosophy needs one of its own. But this is not the same as opening up integral philosophy to the wider academic world to ask for feedback on its major tenets. Meyerhoff's book Bald Ambition has done more to raise deep questions about the validity of Wilber's ideas. His book was practically ignored by Wilber and his followers. At the Integral Theory Conference in 2010 which I attended, Meyerhoff, who was present to give a talk, was tolerated but not engaged with. Nor did I notice any real interest among the integral students in the issues with evolutionary theory I had presented in my paper (“The 'Spirit of Evolution' Reconsidered”).

Now that this integral programme has ended at JFK, a new organization called Meta-Integral has been set up to organize future integral conferences. Again, this organization shows the typical inflation in which everything it does is perceived as unique and historical. Texts are offered about “100 ways to apply the four quadrants”, or “130 ways of being an embodied practicioner" of integral theory, but it has a decidely hyper-abstract flavour, so typical of Wilber himself. Integral institutions are very good at bragging about their own excellence – I call this integral inflation.

So the original fascination of seeing in Ken Wilber an independent scholar who could really revolutionize science and philosophy evaporated when he turned out to be deaf to criticism and feedback, even about such innocent things as his repetitive or overly simplistic writing style. Still, his ideas are worthy of further analysis and I hope independent critics will continue to do this necessary work, for which Integral World offers a forum.

Wilber calls Habermas the greatest living philosopher. Was there any exchange between both?

I remember that I had tried to arrange a meeting between the two philosophers, but none of them thought it would be useful. Habermas is supposed to have said “I am too old for this”, and Wilber, when I asked him about it said “I know exactly what Habermas thinks, so what's the point of meeting?”. It's a strange, almost solipsistic way of looking at things, especially for a thinker who says he values dialogue—even if this often means being in dialogue with him, not the other way around.

There were many intelligent and refreshing people who ended up as their own parody, often they were, first-row-monkeys': Very famous, very loud, and kind of narcissistic. Some of these men were political revolutionaries, but I am also thinking about people such as Osho and Wilber. Do you think there is an archetypal development of such movements?

It is interesting that you mention Osho in this context, for I was a sannyasin back in 1980, and stayed connected to this movement for about three years. Osho, or Bhagwan as he was called, really struck a chord in me by the lightness and insightfulness of his sermons on the mystical literature of the world (published in hundreds of books). Looking back, I still think his books were unparalleled by any contemporary teacher. However, things ran out of hand when he moved over to Oregon, he made a full U-turn by changing from permissive and unconcerned about the future to restrictive and slightly paranoid (he thought AIDS would destroy two thirds of humanity). He also failed to take responsibility for the degeneration of the community that had formed around him, and that showed a highly narcissistic behavior towards the local community. And then, he was expelled from the United States and travelled from country to country, giving lectures that paled compared to the quality of his earlier talks.

With Wilber a similar pattern is visible. While never being a very accessible person, in his early years he could still respond to different views about his work in a respectful way. After he had founded his own organizations, he became more interested in defending and promoting his own views against a hostile outside world. And the Wyatt Earp episode I consider to be an all-time low in integral communication.

But perhaps these developments are unavoidable. When everybody in your surroundings thinks you are enlightened or you are the “Einstein of consciousness research”, as in the case of Wilber, you start believing it yourself. More and more these persons live in a Hall of Mirrors, in which their views are confirmed by the people they engage with, but any criticism that could upset their philosophy is ignored or dismissed, except for occasional over-the-top derisions thinly disguised as intellectual rebuttals.

Frank Visser founded IntegralWorld.net in 1997 (back then under the name of "The World of Ken Wilber"). He is the author of the first monograph on Ken Wilber and his work: "Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion" (SUNY Press, 2003), which has been translated into 7 languages, and of many essays on this website. He currently is Service Desk Manager at the Dutch divison of the global online marketing agency LBi.

Max Korman is a 20-year old student of psychology and journalist for the German magazine Connection and a former German regional chess champion. He wanted to check with Frank Visser how he sees the current integral culture. This interview will be published in the Jan/Feb 2013 issue of Connection, which will be devoted to Ken Wilbe
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Wed Jan 02, 2013 10:18 pm

January 2, 2013 - NYT
A Careful Writer Stalks the Truth About Scientology
By CHARLES McGRATH


AUSTIN, Tex. — The writer Lawrence Wright doesn’t seem at all the sort of person you’d find in public wearing a black cowboy shirt emblazoned with big white buffalos. He’s shy, soft-spoken, a little professorial. But as if he didn’t have enough to do, besides working on three plays simultaneously and getting ready to publish a new book in two weeks, Mr. Wright has been taking piano lessons with Floyd Domino, the two-time Grammy winner, and on a recent Saturday, in his buffalo shirt, he played in a concert at the Victory Grill here with the band WhoDo. Mr. Wright was at the keyboard, and sang solo on “Sixty-Minute Man” and the Count Basie tune “She’s Funny That Way.” Not bad for a bookworm.

“I decided a while ago that I would only do things that are really important or really fun,” Mr. Wright said. “This is really fun.”

More fun, probably, than dealing with lawyers. His new book, “Going Clear: Scientology, Celebrity, and the Prison of Belief” (Knopf) is about the famously litigious Church of Scientology, and he said he has received innumerable threatening letters from lawyers representing the church or some of the celebrities who belong to it. (Transworld, Mr. Wright’s British publisher, recently canceled its plans to publish “Going Clear,” though a spokeswoman insisted that the decision was not made in response to threats from the church.)

The book, which recounts the history of Scientology through the interwoven stories of key figures like L. Ron Hubbard, the religion’s founder, and celebrity Scientologists like John Travolta and Tom Cruise, claims among other things that the church has virtually imprisoned some of its members, threatening blackmail if they try to leave, and that its current leader, David Miscavige, has physically abused some of his underlings. The book won’t do anything to enhance the image of Scientology, already diminished by Janet Reitman’s 2011 book, “Inside Scientology: The History of the World’s Most Secretive Religion.”

In a statement, Karin Pouw, a Scientology spokeswoman, said Mr. Wright and his publisher refused to provide a copy of the book in advance and “showed little interest in receiving input” from the church. “The portions you cite from the book are preposterous lies,” she said, adding that “the allegation about Mr. Miscavige is false and defamatory.”

But Mr. Wright insists that he did not set out to write an exposé. “Why would I bother to do that?” he said. “Scientology is probably the most stigmatized religion in America already. But I’m fascinated by it and by what drives people to Scientology, especially given its image.”

He added: “There are many countries where you can only believe more or you can believe less. But in the United States we have this incredible smorgasbord, and it really interests me why people are drawn to one faith rather than another, especially to a system of belief that to an outsider seems absurd or dangerous.”

Mr. Wright, whose previous book, “The Looming Tower:” Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11,” won the Pulitzer Prize in 2007, is no stranger to writing about secretive organizations. In the case of Scientology, he said, he had been looking for what he calls a “donkey” — a character strong and sympathetic enough to carry a complicated story. “I don’t mean it in a disparaging way,” he explained. “A donkey is a very useful beast of burden.” In 2010 he finally found one in Paul Haggis, the winner of back-to-back Oscars for “Million Dollar Baby,” which he wrote, and “Crash,” which he wrote and directed, who defected from Scientology in 2009, after 34 years in the church, during which he rose to one of its highest ranks.

In 2011 Mr. Wright published a profile of Mr. Haggis in The New Yorker, and in the course of the fact-checking process Tommy Davis, the international spokesman for Scientology, did Mr. Wright an unwitting favor. He showed up in The New Yorker offices with four lawyers and 47 white binders full of material about the church.

“I suppose the idea was to drown me in information,” Mr. Wright recalled, “but it was like trying to pour water on a fish. I looked on those binders with a feeling of absolute joy.”

Among his peers Mr. Wright is known for his thoroughness and for his legal pads and his filing-card system, which in the computer age is as complicated and as antique as the historian Robert Caro’s. Lauren Wolf, a recent graduate of the journalism school at the University of Texas, who worked for Mr. Wright as a fact checker and researcher on “Going Clear,” said, “I think the reason Larry hired me was that in the interview I said, ‘I think one of my faults is that I don’t know when to stop researching.’ He looked at me and said, ‘I don’t think that’s a fault.’ ”

She added: “He’s incredibly thorough. He does an immense amount of reading and researching and talking to sources.”

In all Mr. Wright spoke to some 200 current and former Scientologists, only a few of whom insisted on anonymity. He started with Mr. Haggis, he said, and one name led to another. It helped that, starting in 2009, a number of high-ranking officials had broken from the church and began talking to The St. Petersburg Times. (The spiritual headquarters of Scientology is in nearby Clearwater, Fla.)

“The church for decades has been mopping up as much information as they can,” Mr. Wright said. “That’s why there are so few photographs in the book. They’ve also silenced people through nondisclosure agreements and through intimidation. But this has not been a perfect job on the part of the church.

“There are a lot of people out there who were very high up in the church and know a lot about it who have become outspoken. I’m very lucky to come along at a time when a lot of these people are ready to talk.”

One of his sources, Amy Scobee, said of meeting Mr. Wright: “I had already taken the plunge and decided to speak out. But I’ve been approached by a lot of people who just want a quick sound bite. He wasn’t a Johnny come lately. I felt he had real integrity.”

Another ex-Scientologist, Tom De Vocht, a construction manager for the church who left after 28 years, said: “I could tell that Larry wasn’t just out to get the church — which would have been fine with me, actually. He really had dug into this, which made it easier to talk to him.” He added: “I couldn’t not say anything. I feel I’ve got to make the truth known.”

A color-coded outline for “Going Clear” is still on a wall-size whiteboard in Mr. Wright’s office in his house here. Next to it is an equally large whiteboard outlining a play Mr. Wright has written about the Camp David accords, which is expected to have its premiere at Arena Stage in Washington next season. In February he is going to London for a reading of a play he has written about the making of the movie “Cleopatra.” And in March a play he has written about the journalist Oriana Fallaci will open at Berkeley Rep in California.

Fallaci, he explained, was someone he admired and in some ways loathed. “She was a very formative figure for me,” Mr. Wright said, “though I’m not sure what I think about some of her techniques now. She went a little crazy at the end and after 9/11 her anti-Muslim rhetoric was so provocative and inflammatory. But I’m still very interested in the tension between Islam and the West, and so Oriana Fallaci became for me a great vehicle, another donkey.”

Mr. Wright, who despite his shyness has also appeared in two one-man shows based on his own journalism, said that he didn’t see much disconnection between his books and his theatrical writing.

“They’re all kin,” he said. “I did interviews and have note cards for Oriana.” He also interviewed people who had worked on “Cleopatra.” “I like the serendipitous surprises of reality,” he said. “I get more pleasure from discovering it than from inventing it.”

Excusing himself because he had to go practice the piano, he added, “I get very antsy when I’m not occupied.”
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Wed May 15, 2013 3:51 pm

A radio / podcast interview about Carlos Castaneda - from Robert Marshall who is writing a book on Castaneda:

http://ttbook.org/book/robert-marshall-carlos-castaneda
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Sat Jun 01, 2013 2:01 am

On Leaving ISKCON
by Steven J. Gelberg, 1991

ISKCON is the Hare Krishna movement. This was posted on a site for ex-ISKCON members.

Since most devotees do eventually leave ISKCON (AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada correctly predicted that the great majority of his disciples would ultimately abandon the movement), the leaving experience itself (and its aftermath) is certainly one of the core experiences in the life of most devotees, and therefore worthy of reflection and discussion.

It's hard to imagine an experience more wrenching, more potentially disorienting, than leaving a spiritual community or tradition to which one has devoted years of one's life. To lose faith in a comprehensive system of ideas that have shaped one's consciousness and guided one's actions, to leave a community that has constituted one's social world and defined one's social identity, to renounce a way of life that is an entire mode of being, is an experience of momentous implications.

Especially when the community/tradition one is leaving defines itself as the repository and bastion of all goodness, all meaning, all truth, all decency, all meaningful human attainment, it may require a major psychological effort to reorient both to one's own self and to the wider world. Internally, one must work to rediscover and reclaim one's own unique, personal sources of meaning and to live authentically from those inner depths. Externally, one must learn how to deal with the outer world, the vast territory laying beyond the gates of the spiritual enclave—that place that has for so long been viewed as a dark and evil abode unfit for human habitation. Very often devotees no longer content living in ISKCON prolong their stay simply out of fear of the demonized world.

This re-orientation to self and re-entry into the world is no small task, and it's more easily finessed when one has the support of others who've travelled a similar path. Though I've had little to do with ISKCON for nearly fourteen years now, I still feel a certain kinship with devotees, both past and present. How could I not? I devoted fully seventeen years of my life (ages eighteen to thirty-five—my youth) to a life of Krishna consciousness in the association of similarly committed devotees. Virtually all my friends and acquaintances were devotees. I absorbed Prabhupada's teachings into the depths of my being and preached them with an enthusiasm born of serene confidence in their absolute truth and efficacy. I dedicated myself both to encouraging a deeper immersion in Vaishnava spirituality on the part of my fellow devotees (through editing such books as The Spiritual Master and the Disciple and Namamrta: The Nectar of the Holy Name), and to cultivating respect and appreciation for ISKCON among intellectuals and scholars such as with my volume of interviews, "Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna: Five Distinguished Scholars on the Krishna Movement in the West" (Grove Press, 1983).

Though my way of thinking and mode of being have changed considerably since leaving the movement, I cannot forget all my brothers and sisters who have shared the Krishna consciousness experience. I, like them, entered the movement driven by a need to know and experience truth, enlightenment, peace, bliss. I, like most devotees, felt an inexplicable attraction to the supernaturally beautiful, blue-skinned boy Krishna, to the strangely beautiful music of the Hare Krishna "mahamantra" to the promise of transcendence. I cannot help, therefore, but feel a special kinship with them.

Most devotees experience doubts, now and then, about the truth of Krishna consciousness, or about its relation to their personal spiritual and psychological growth. In my last few years in the movement I certainly did. And I know that, in spite of claims to the contrary, there are powerful disincentives to openly expressing one's doubts in the company of devotees.

Doubts, however, may be the voice of one's own inner self, the self that doesn't always exactly reflect the exterior "system" of Krishna consciousness, the self that protests being shaped and molded into something it is not. Notwithstanding one's outer loyalty to ISKCON and its parent tradition, if the inner self is not being addressed, respected, honored, allowed to grow, provided means of expression, that authentic self is, sooner or later, going to raise a protest. When that little inner voice first begins to speak, it can be quieted with regimental thinking, louder chanting, extroverted activity, or simple denial. But sometime down the road it is bound to return, a little louder, a little more insistent, and at some point one is left no choice than to acknowledge it.

I would like, now, to address that inner voice and answer it with my own. I have, by the way, no malicious intent in doing so. I'm no anti-cultist or any other species of crusading ideologue. I've nothing to gain personally from this exercise except the pleasure of speaking words that I think need to be spoken to old friends and friends yet unknown.

Allow me to relate some of the reasons why I left ISKCON after so many years of committed service. I've organized my reflections into several sections, which follow:

Where are the Pure Devotees?

As I think back, it seems to me that the factor that initially set in motion my gradual disillusionment with ISKCON was my growing awareness that, judging by its own criteria for success, ISKCON had, quite simply, failed as a spiritual movement. It became increasingly and inescapably obvious that the movement was simply not fulfilling its own stated primary goal: to create "pure devotees"—to skillfully and successfully guide serious practitioners to those sublime states of spiritual consciousness elaborately described in the scriptures and endlessly reiterated in the movement's teaching forums.

One does, of course, encounter devotees who seem peaceful, content, full of sincere purpose and conviction, high-spirited, enthusiastic, and so on. And it is true that most devotees have experienced, at one time or another, uplifting feelings from chanting, seeing the deity, etc. But what of the more developed and sustained spiritual states described by such terms as "bhava" and "prema"? What of the love of Krishna that flows from the depths of one's being, overwhelms the mind and heart, and utterly transforms one into a holy person whose very presence inspires sanctity in others? Is ISKCON actually producing such manifestly Krishna conscious persons? Need I ask?

To account for this embarrassing lack of pure devotees in ISKCON, one is forced to enact a version of "The Emperor's New Clothes": do the best one can to convince oneself and others that certain high-profile devotees are, indeed, pure devotees, and proclaim that those who don't acknowledge their status are either not yet advanced enoughfor such discernment or are "envious fools." Or, alternatively, redefine the term "pure devotee" in such a broad, generous manner as to include the greatest number of devotees possible (e.g., all those aspiring to be pure devotees, all those following their initiation vows, etc.)

Some few, highly self-motivated, highly disciplined devotees do apply themselves to the principles of bhakti-yoga and taste the fruits of their efforts. But for the overwhelming majority of devotees, spiritual life in ISKCON is little more than a perpetual struggle against the base material instincts. One goes on, year after year, hoping against hope that, "One day, yes, one day, a day far off in the future, one magic and wonderful day, I shall become a pure devotee."

After many years in the movement I came to the conclusion that whatever other success the movement may enjoy—whatever the proliferation of shaved heads and saris, numbers of temples opened, books distributed, celebrity endorsements procured—in the absence of the creation of highly evolved Krishna conscious persons, it's all an empty show.

Ethical Failure and Intellectual Dishonesty


Over the course of my years in ISKCON I became alarmed at the extent to which people who joined the movement in part as a reaction against the pervasive dishonesty in interpersonal dealings in mundane society, permitted themselves to become clever, sneaky and two-faced in the name of promulgating Truth. However much it may be hard to admit, The-Ends-Justifies-the-Means has long been a defining and controlling ethic in the movement. Based on the presumption that tricking, deceiving and cajoling illusioned souls to financially subsidize, and otherwise support ISKCON represents a "higher" morality, devotees are taught to say and do almost anything if it can be justified in the name of "preaching." From the new devotee in the street extracting money from non-devotees through blatant dissimulation, to the most intellectually and socially sophisticated devotee skillfully packaging ISKCON in such a way as to most effectively win friends and undermine enemies, the ethic of pulling the wool over the benighted eyes of non-devotees in order to save their souls is the same.

Though this attitude may appear justified from the point of view of a certain self-serving, contrived "spiritual" ethic, in practice it encourages a fundamental disrespect and superior attitude toward those for whom it claims feelings of compassion, and a manipulative, controlling attitude towards those it claims to liberate. Though some of the grosser manifestations of that cheating ethic have been tempered in recent years, the basic attitude, as far as I can see, hasn't changed, because it is rooted in ISKCON's presumption of moral superiority.

Another kind of dishonesty fundamental to the movement is an intellectual one: a learned orientation by which one's chief philosophical project ceases to be the sincere and disciplined effort to open oneself to Truth, but instead to study, memorize, internalize, preach and defend an already defined, pre-digested, pre-packaged "Truth." Instead of a genuinely open-minded, open-hearted quest for knowledge, one simply waves the banner of received "truth" come what may, however much that "truth" may or may not address the reality or facts at hand.

This tenacious defense of received "truth" in the face of potentially disconfirming realities represents, I suggest, not an act of courage but of cowardice: an ultimately futile attempt to defend a fragile existential security masquerading as enlightened certainty. I am continually amazed, and in retrospect somewhat embarrassed, by my own and other ISKCON intellectuals' easy willingness to sacrifice intellectual honesty in order to fortify our own and others' imperfect faith—to wave our tattered little banner of Truth in the face of the wealth of ideas and multi-textured realities surrounding us.

Hard Hearts

I can recall, throughout my years in ISKCON, often being disappointed with the behavior of leaders, who seemed to care little for the personhood of the devotees under their command. There's a certain hardness of heart that comes from subordinating people to principles, to defining the institution itself as pre-eminent and its members as merely its "humble servants".

This rhetoric of submission has, of course, a certain ring of loftiness to it: the idea of devotees striving together, pooling their energies and skills, sacrificing personal independence and comforts in order to serve the Glorious Mission. The trouble is, in effect it creates a social/interpersonal environment in which the particular needs of individuals are devalued, downplayed, and postponed indefinitely—leaving the individual devotee sooner or later feeling used and abused. Through my years in ISKCON I became increasingly aware, painfully and sadly aware, of the ways in which, in the name of "engaging devotees in Krishna's service," leaders and administrators at all levels deal with the devotees "under" them in a patronizing, condescending, heavy-handed and authoritarian manner—viewing and dealing with their subordinates not as unique individuals possessing rich and complex inner lives, but as units of human energy to be matched to the necessary tasks at hand. I recall leaders criticizing, even ridiculing the very notion that special attention should be paid to the individual psyches and needs of devotees—who dismissed such concerns as mere sentimentality, unnecessary coddling, a lack of tough-mindedness, and opposed to the sacred principles of humility and surrender.

This hard-nosed, hard-hearted attitude, this insensitive disregard for the individual, this almost cynical exalting of the principles of humility and surrender to ensure that the floors get swept and the bills paid, leaves many devotees, especially those low on the institutional totem-pole, feeling betrayed. Many of these devotees, when the frustration, anxiety and disappointment reach a high enough level, simply leave—many becoming (understandably) bitter and vindictive.

Sexy Celibacy

Most devotees will acknowledge that ISKCON's prohibition against "illicit sex" (any sex other than to conceive children in marriage) is the hardest of ISKCON's ascetical prohibitions to observe, the cause of the greatest difficulty among devotees, and (with the possible exception of disillusionment with ISKCON per se) the most common cause of "fall-down" from Krishna consciousness.

Without debating the merits of celibacy in the spiritual life, it's fair to say that the typical devotee, over time, is going to violate the celibacy rule one or more times. Desire for sex appears in every devotee's life sooner or later, to one degree or another, in one form or another. From the guru lecturing from his throne down to the new recruit cleaning the bathroom, devotees think about sex, fanaticize about it, or indulge in it (with other willing devotees, old lovers, outside contacts, whomever) if they think they can get away with it. This rather obvious fact isn't openly acknowledged in ISKCON because it's a source of significant embarrassment to devotees, who view indulgence in sex as disgusting, disgraceful, and a sign of personal failure—and, further, because they're forever boasting to non-devotees that their enjoyment of a "higher taste" is evidenced most conclusively by their disinterest in mundane sense gratification.

To be frank, there is something very sad, tragic even, in the spectacle of sincere spiritual aspirants endlessly struggling against and denying sexual feelings, continually berating themselves for their lack of heroic detachment from the body, seeking dark corners in which to masturbate or, finding themselves "attached to" another devotee, planning and scheming "illicit" encounters. All this cheating and hypocrisy, guilt and shame, denial and cover-up, make a pathetic sham of ISKCON's ascetical conceit.

After many years in ISKCON, the whole celibacy fetish began to appear to me a bit suspect. Why the abysmal failure of most devotees to be uncompromisingly celibate? Why the pervasive inability to perform an act of renunciation that ISKCON defines as a precondition not only of serious spiritual practice but of civilized human life? Why this fundamental failure?

Some devotees feel it's due to some innate deficit in the consciousness of Westerners (we're too lusty); others blame it on devotees' chronically flawed performance of bhakti-yoga (offensive chanting, etc.); a few contend that Prabhupada passed on Gaudiya Vaishnava practice imperfectly (by omitting certain necessary mystical elements in the initiatory process); some say it's a natural consequence of co-ed ashrams (and periodically suggest that the temples be rid of women). Whatever the cause, the fact remains that most devotees fall far short of serene celibacy, finding themselves deeply rooted in a physical body which, by its very nature, desires to touch and be touched, to feel the warmth of another human being.

So strong is the natural human desire for physical touch, that in order to avoid it, to repress the desire for it, one must paint the most exaggeratedly negative picture of it possible: one that envisions sex as a purely wild, disgusting animal act. But consider: is love-making really just bestial humping and grunting? Does it have no connection at all to feelings of love, caring, appreciation, affection? Certainly, like any other human activity, sex can be beautiful or ugly. It can be an act of gross, selfish, piggish abandon, or it can be an expression of affection, a gentle act of mutual pleasuring, even a catalyst for feelings of emotional and spiritual oneness. It is only through a deliberate denial of past personal experience, or of intuition, that one can obliterate such memories, or pre-empt such capacity for imagining.

My purpose here is not to advertise the glories of sex, but to note the problems associated with outlawing it—and also to make the radical suggestion that perhaps it is possible to be a spiritual person, a person of goodness, compassion, wisdom, sensitivity, awareness—under whatever spiritual banner—without denying and repressing one's implicit sensuality.

Disrespect for Women

If ISKCON had truly been the glorious spiritual movement it advertises itself to be, with its only defect being its offensive attitudes and discriminatory policies toward women, my then wife Sitarani and I still would have felt fully justified in abandoning the organization to which we'd devoted our lives. It became increasingly difficult for us to tolerate (and to defend among the scholars and students it was our service to "cultivate") the raw, unreflective, juvenile, boys-club mentality of the movement—the official, insulting view of women as childlike, irrational, irresponsible, emotional, and wild-unless-controlled-by-a-man.

It's not at all surprising that ISKCON would be a woman-fearing, woman-hating, woman-exploiting institution. A male-centered religion that defines sex as the enemy of spirituality naturally is going to define the objects of men's sexual desire as the Enemy Personified: Woman as chief antagonist in the holy drama of Man Transcending. Women, thus stigmatized, are, at best, to be tolerated—allowed to exist on the fringe in an officially reduced status, their wanton energies mercifully channelled into the service of men—and, at worst, to be officially and systematically denigrated, shunned and, not infrequently, abused emotionally and sexually.

A movement that can allow a brand new male recruit to feel superior—by the sheer fact that he's got a penis—to a seasoned woman devotee who's been refining her consciousness for decades; a movement that can encourage a husband to feel at ease bossing his wife as if he were a Maharaja and she a coolie, as if she were placed on earth simply to serve and satisfy him—as if Krishna must be pleased by such a display of proper hierarchical dealings between the sexes—is going to invite the ridicule of outsiders, as well as incite pangs of conscience in its own thoughtful members. It's a wonder that any self-respecting women tolerates such attitudes and treatment, and it's to her credit (I suppose) that she tolerates such abuse so as to remain connected to a spiritual tradition that she feels, or hopes, is wiser and grander than that.

For a time, Sitarani and I felt content with being "liberal" on the issue—with lending our weight, for example, to efforts to allow the occasional woman to give a lecture, lead a kirtan, or have a vote on the temple board. But we grew tired of struggling to put the best possible spin on the issue when questioned by discerning college students and others—with having to employ our intelligence and savvy in the noble quest of covering up for an organization unabashedly sexist.

When we finally left the movement we felt greatly relieved to have removed ourselves from a social and political environment that so determinedly denigrated women and positive feminine principles. ISKCON is, after all, such a positively male institution: all that obsession over power, control, order, hierarchy, protocol, and competition, not to mention all the chest-pounding martial rhetoric: "conquering the senses, destroying illusion, defeating enemies, smashing demons."

What of the beautiful "feminine" qualities of Sri Chaitanya and his followers? What of gentleness, humility, empathy, love, compassion, spiritual protection and nurturance, delicacy of emotion and of interpersonal dealings? While devotees pay occasional lip-service to these acknowledged Vaishnava qualities, in practice it's the cherished male qualities of tough-mindedness, aggressiveness and the power to dominate and manipulate others that the ISKCON establishment promotes and rewards.

Spiritual Depersonalization

A final factor in my accumulative decision to leave ISKCON was a philosophical one: a growing awareness that however much wisdom and beauty may be found in a particular religious tradition, no one tradition, no one system, can speak fully for any one individual. Whatever the possible transcendent origins of a spiritual path, it is passed down through human persons: wise, insightful, saintly persons perhaps, but distinct, individual persons nonetheless—having their own distinctive life histories, experiences, temperaments, ways of thinking, feeling and communicating. Though there was much in Krishna consciousness that I found deeply meaningful and appealing, I began to realize (subtly, slowly, over a long period of time) that, short of simply obliterating my own thoughts and feelings, I could not blindly, automatically accept every word of the scriptures (e.g., women are inferior to men, thunder and lightening come from Lord Indra, the sun is closer to the earth than the moon, etc.)

More important than difficulties with particular passages of scripture, however, was my growing sense that there was something unnatural, something artificial and forced, about the very idea of my having to completely supplant my own thoughts, reflections, insights, and intuitions about myself, the world, and my own experience, with a pre-packaged, pre-approved system of ideas and doctrines which, whatever its origins, has evolved through countless hands and been refracted through many minds and sensibilities through the centuries. I began to feel (though it took a long time to admit it to myself) that this is an unrealistic and unfair demand to be made upon any of us, however "imperfect" we may be, because it dishonors the integrity and particularity of who we, in our essential individuality, are.

I came to feel that there is something ultimately impersonal about the notion that we are something utterly different from what we presently feel ourselves to be, that our manifest personality is simply the product of an unnatural, illusioned state, and that to "transcend" this felt, immediate sense of self we must submit ourselves to the authority of certain authorized persons for radical re-education—cutting ourselves off, more or less, from any ideas, influences or persons that might possibly remind us of the selves we mistakenly felt ourselves to be.

Now, whatever the beauties of the spiritual path, there is something slightly ominous about a spiritual system that so utterly and uncompromisingly devalues me as I directly know and experience myself, that would make me doubt and question my every perception, my very sense of reality, a system that would have me submit, body and mind, to certain "authorities" about whom I've seen no conclusive evidence of perfection--whose spiritual status is tenuous at best (in light of the periodic scandals involving those advertised in ISKCON as "pure" and "perfect").

Must spiritual life really depend upon such an extreme act of self-abnegation, such an uncompromising rejection of personal experience? Are Truth and Wisdom to be so radically abstracted from my own consciousness, the depth of my own being? Is such turning of a blind eye and deaf ear to my inner vision and voice really in my best interest? Is this self-denial really "humility"—a rational recognition of personal limitations—or is it ultimately little more than a form of self-shaming and self-negation?

I began to sense that true spirituality cannot be reduced to a corporate, conformist, authoritarian structure. On the contrary, it honors and trusts the individual spirit enough to allow it to seek its own path, make its own mistakes, find its own way, by listening to its own intuitions and acknowledging the various sources of wisdom that present themselves throughout one's journey through life. I realized, ultimately, that for all ISKCON's talk of freedom, liberation, escaping conditioned modes of being, the prevailing mentality in ISKCON is, in fact, characterized by a distinct fear of freedom: an anxiety about personal quest, a fear of trusting the moment, of opening to the unexpected, of allowing the mind and heart to remain receptive, curious, vulnerable, adventurous.

Is There Life After ISKCON?

That such a question might even occur to a devotee is itself a telling comment on the ISKCON mind-set. In seventeen years of Krishna consciousness I sat through literally thousands of Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam classes (a great many of them my own!) in which I was regaled with nightmarish images of the world looming outside the walls of ISKCON—warned repeatedly of the miseries to come should I foolishly wander outside our fortifications. In a place where higher spiritual experience is in short supply it is necessary, indeed, to create powerful disincentives to leaving—even if they must be based on exaggeration and fear.

But the world, as it turns out, is not the unrelieved chamber of horrors described in Bhagavatam classes. It's a mixed bag, just like ISKCON. Yes, there are all manner of terrible things in this world: war, poverty, disease, sexual abuse, racism, and many more. One cannot help but affirm that the world is a place pervaded by suffering and cruelty. But in the midst of all that darkness and craziness there is good as well. To begin with, there are many good-hearted people who come to the aid of those who are disadvantaged, persecuted, misunderstood, mistreated, who try to relieve others of suffering in myriad ways.

Out here in the wider world there are also many who seek truth, meaning and beauty through artistic self-expression. At their best, all of the arts— painting, music, dance, literature, and so on— support a quest for truth, beauty and sublimity. One has only to open oneself to the works of master creators—wander a fine arts museum, hear a great symphony, witness a ballet, lose oneself in a great novel or poem—to experience the depths and heights of the human spirit. There are infinite riches to be seen, heard, experienced and absorbed in these works. One has only to open oneself, to allow oneself to feel and experience.

Speaking personally, over the past several years I've immersed myself in fine art photography—both as a working artist and as a student of the history and aesthetics of the medium—and derive profound satisfactions therein. Through creative photography I've discovered in myself new capacities for seeing, intuiting, feeling, creating, communicating. I'm currently working on a book which explores the spiritual dimensions of the medium.

Besides artistic expression, which is my own path, there are other venues for living a meaningful life: through intellectual pursuits, through works of compassion (both within and outside of formal institutional and career contexts), through teaching, and through a thousand other forms of honest, meaningful activity. And there are, of course, a world of spiritual paths and practices to explore. Leaving ISKCON, one is pleasantly surprised to discover that there are many who devote themselves to the spiritual path—who seek, through various means, to become more aware, more sensitive, more compassionate, and who work to integrate spiritual truths into their daily lives. And there are, of course, many former ISKCONites who continue on the Vaishnava path, but in ways they feel retain an integrity and humanism largely missing in ISKCON itself.

Once one steps outside the gates of ISKCON one discovers that it's the quality of ones own consciousness and heart that determines what sort of person you're going to be and what sort of life you're going to live. When you leave the temple you do not suddenly and automatically fall into wanton debauchery, become a demon, or go mad. Nor will you need assume an attitude of uncritical acceptance of the world. It's quite possible to remain acutely aware of the limitations and imperfections of the world and maintain a creatively ambivalent relationship with it, while constructing a safe, sane, and meaningful space for yourself within it. It's a project, to be sure, but quite do-able.

Out here in the wider world one will find, if one simply looks, people who are good and decent, who share one's values, and whose friendship will nourish and deepen one. People who've left ISKCON also often find profound satisfaction in developing the kinds of deep, intimate, loving relationships that they missed as celibate "brahmacaris" and "brahmacarinis", or as married persons caught in unsatisfying, hierarchical, sexless (or sexually abusive) relationships.

Epilogue

Though I've canceled my subscription to ISKCON's view of reality, I am deeply and sincerely interested in Truth/truth, and feel confident that I have common ground with people in ISKCON who's love of truth supersedes any automatic allegiance to doctrines and lines of authority. Whatever the sorry state of ISKCON, whatever dimness with which it reflects its potential glory, there are many good and decent people in the movement who seek answers to life's most profound questions and who are serious about discovering and fulfilling their highest purpose in life. To all of them, I offer my respects and my friendship.

If any of what I've written here has meaning for you, makes sense to you, touches you in some way, then I hope you'll feel free to write to me. I'd love to hear from you, to hear your thoughts, and I promise I'll do my best to respond. You can reach me at the following address: Steve Gelberg. I look forward to hearing from you.
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Thu Nov 21, 2013 2:53 am



Street Brawl in the Twilight Zone 

Frederick Lenz controlled scores of software companies and hundreds of groupies through his coercive teachings. More than a year after his death, the fight for his multimillion-dollar estate rages on.

By David Diamond


Frederick Lenz III claimed to have lived as a meditation teacher on the lost continent of Atlantis and as the master of a Zen order in 17th-century Japan. But this time around he was a wealthy software entrepreneur on Long Island. And not too happy. On the night of April 11, 1998, the lanky 48-year-old swallowed 150 tabs of Valium and staggered out of his waterfront home onto a narrow metal dock. With him was Brynn Lacey, a former model and meditation student; she had taken 50 Valiums. In a suicide pact, the couple had agreed to shed their physical bodies and transport themselves to what Lacey called "the off world."

Lenz and Lacey sat on the pier while Lenz, who for years was widely accused of heading a manipulative New Age spiritual group, bemoaned his life. The students who called him Rama and considered him one of the world's few truly enlightened beings were, frankly, getting on his nerves. By the end of his 20-year reign they'd been paying him up to $5,000 a month for spiritual leadership. In exchange for minimal investments by Lenz, they had handed over shares and proceeds from the software companies he encouraged them to start - including successful outfits like AutoSystems Corporation, which produced a useful scheduling system for Unix networks and was sold in 1995 for more than $14 million. And Client/Server Connection Inc., which sells popular project-management tools.

The money supported a lavish lifestyle of multiple residences, jets, designer drugs, and sexual adventures with female followers. But Lenz told Lacey he was sure his flock was now out to kill him. All that on top of his health problems: Lenz had been depressed for weeks after undergoing surgery to correct an impairment in his right eye.

So Lenz, wearing Versace finery, a $30,000 watch, and his favorite dog's collar around his neck, pitched forward into the dark water and began to float away into a cozy inlet called Conscience Bay. No matter what awaited him in the "off world," he was never coming back to this one.

Even in death, though, Lenz remains a presence. One and a half years after his suicide, a fight is under way over both his physical estate and his spiritual legacy. The unlikely combatants include his attorney and accountant, the National Audubon Society, a mystery widow from Austin, Texas (a former flight attendant who showed up well after his death, clutching a marriage certificate from 1980), and a Colorado Springs, Colorado, woman who claims she married Lenz on a cruise ship more than 10 years ago and lived with him off and on until his death. Also in the mix are various wannabe gurus competing for the hearts and minds of his followers.

At stake is not only the value of Lenz's $18 million estate but also the profits flowing from the still-existing companies he controlled, as well as the loyalties of many software developers who continue to believe in what he taught. Precise figures are impossible to obtain, but the best estimate is that around 350 people still follow the Lenz path to enlightenment, the majority of them residing in New York State and Southern California. As before, many are secretive about it all. Even now, few Lenzies will talk about their experience.

Lenz's death and the tawdry details of his life apparently haven't dampened their enthusiasm much. Lenzies continue to study his teachings on Web sites like www.ramalila.com and www.electronictribe.com, meet in meditation groups, and shun outsiders. In a two-week period earlier this year, they raised well over $50,000 online for a New York subway-ad campaign to promote Lenz's novels Surfing the Himalayas and Snowboarding to Nirvana.

Believers still gather for rave parties, like a summer-solstice celebration held in June at Studio Ze Gallery in Soho. For the people assembled at that event, Lenz seemed to be just as meaningful dead as alive.

"I want to eventually be like Rama," declared Roger Cantu, a 36-year-old database analyst and Lenz follower who teaches meditation in Arlington, Texas. "That's my goal."


The only child of a divorced couple, Lenz was a gangly, pimply-faced teenager who showed an early interest in Eastern mysticism and entrepreneurship. The 1967 yearbook of Rippowam High School in Stamford, Connecticut, says he displayed "a streak of the unusual - chasing the beautiful, hiding from the known."

After high school, Lenz joined the tide of young people washing into Haight-Ashbury. He got busted for selling marijuana, and during a short stint in a California work camp he was exposed to literature about Sri Chinmoy, the New York-based guru who pushes an eclectic blend of Hinduism, meditation, and obsessive physical conditioning. Lenz became a Chinmoy follower after moving back east to get on with his life. He studied at the University of Connecticut, got married and divorced, and earned a PhD in English literature at the State University of New York, Stony Brook.

In 1979, Chinmoy sent Lenz to San Diego to open a laundromat. Not content to be a mere follower, he later launched his own group, which he incorporated in 1981 as Lakshmi. He moved to Malibu and soon styled himself as Rama - a name denoting the last earthly incarnation of a Hindu deity. According to Mark Laxer, a lapsed follower who lived with Lenz at the time, Lenz taught his own version of Buddhist practices - as opposed to Chinmoy's Hindu tradition - and added "money-making elements" to his spiritual mix. Lenz asked students for $4 a month, then $7; within a decade the monthly tuition fees would reach into the thousands.

Lenz's small band of believers searched for recruits on college campuses throughout the nation. One campaign involved 100 disciples distributing 4,000 posters and 100,000 promotional newsletters in California alone. Newcomers were invited to meditation sessions where, in an upper-octave monotone, Lenz promised to take them into the "light."

Lenz didn't accept just anyone. He was interested only in bright, diligent, presentable followers, so he required people to fill out lengthy applications - with photos attached. (Typical question: "Do you hear voices, or do you communicate with nonphysical beings?") Those who made the cut were taught what Lenz called American Buddhism, which included "what matters: making money."

Lenz had the foresight to recognize that computer programming for mainstream institutions, including Wall Street banks, held far more potential than, say, street-corner flower sales. He urged his flock to learn the basics of programming at Computer Learning Centers. Lenz said computer training was integral to practicing Buddhism; he insisted that writing code is like doing yoga, that it "puts you in a very high place."

"It was quite a radical thing to take people who were used to eating granola and send them down to Wall Street," recalls William Arntz, who was a Lenz student for 12 years, until 1994. "He said it was a warrior's task to go down there. He said the good thing about programming was that you can see how clear you are by how good your code works."

"In a lot of ways," says a current follower who, like several others, declined to be identified, "your computer career became a vehicle for studying Buddhism."

Lenz was certainly right about one thing: the shortage of skilled programmers in the early '80s. Coders like Arntz who were proficient in SQL or Fortran made $50 an hour, a rate that more than doubled by decade's end. From their earnings, followers would eventually pay Lenz a monthly tuition ranging from $125 for college students to $5,000 for the highest earners. Some would fork over as much as $1,000 to have dinner with the man who clued them in on everything from what to wear (Armani evoked authority, he said, while Calvin Klein was for wimps) to where to live (he endorsed certain "power" centers, like Westchester County in suburban New York).

    Some disgruntled members charged Lenz with being a drug-ingesting charlatan.

Invoking a theme from Carlos Castaneda, Lenz told followers that their paths would be smoother if they made themselves "inaccessible" to outsiders who might drain their energy. That meant creating an elaborate shield to conceal their physical whereabouts: relying on post-office boxes, hiding behind email. Buying into the Lenz trip often meant moving every six months or so - whenever he requested it - and acquiring no more material goods than you could stuff in a car. It appeared that he mistrusted not only outsiders but his own students as well.

"This was a man who made you sign an eight-page form if you went out with him on a date," says a lapsed follower now living in the New York area. Lenz warned students that the backlash for leaving the group included personal tragedies like cancer and fatal car crashes.

And many smart people - smart grasping-at-spiritual-straws people - bought it. Typical Lenzies were (and are) educated, intelligent, ambitious. Lenz helped them fill a spiritual void while advancing their careers. So what if he sometimes berated them or peremptorily kicked them out - particularly when they couldn't afford the monthly tuition?

"It was almost like being a junkie," recalls a businessman who grudgingly admits that his own addiction to Lenz lasted 14 years. "You got hooked on him."


Word of Lenz's ways started leaking out in 1987, when he was living on and off in a house in Stony Brook - not far from the site of his eventual suicide. A few disgruntled members, like Mark Laxer, a former money collector for his operation, were taking their tales of life with Rama to the press, charging the so-called Yuppie Guru with being a drug-ingesting charlatan. A group of parents formed Lenz-Watch, and former female members reported stories of sexual coercion.

Lenz would lay low after each round of bad press, but he didn't abandon his lavish lifestyle. With hundreds of thousands of dollars a month flowing in by the early '90s, he flew in a jet between homes he occupied in the exclusive communities of Old Field, New York, and Tesuque, New Mexico. He organized elaborate dinners for his followers and "power trips" to the California desert, Europe, and the Caribbean. He led regular meditation sessions in hotel meeting rooms, backed by the music of Zazen, the group's favored band. Keyboardist Steve Kaplan, now a lapsed believer, doubled as a cash courier. "I would fly to New York and come back and deliver the money to Marcus," he says. "Like $400,000 in checks and money orders."

Kaplan is referring to Norman Marcus, who was - and still is, along with Norman Oberstein - the older, clearheaded power behind the Lenz enterprise. (Both declined to be interviewed for this article.) Marcus was a Los Angeles-based Ernst & Young partner when he became Lenz's accountant in 1993. Four years later he retired from the Big Five firm to work full-time for Lenz, taking charge of the group's financial operations, which had become increasingly complex as Lenz's wealth expanded.

Oberstein, a Los Angeles attorney, generated many of the numerous contracts Lenz supporters were asked to sign. Followers didn't object to contracts that restricted them from talking about the Lenz group, and they could afford to keep up with the fees because they were gaining ground in the world of computer programming. They were landing contracting gigs in the information-technology units of Wall Street companies like Salomon Brothers.

The Lenzies often did respectable work, but not always. "I was one of the first people to give computer training, and I had only one year of data processing," recalls former member Mark Lurtsema. "Let's put it this way: Those courses were not college level." In the Consultants' and Contractors' Newsletter, whose readership includes managers who hire computer programmers in and around New York City, editor Wendy Vandame frequently reported on the impact of unseasoned Lenz followers at places like Nynex and Deutsche Bank. She estimates that, from about 1987 to 1994, Lenz's people caused millions of dollars in business losses in the New York metropolitan area, the result of missed project deadlines and spending on services that were inadequate or misrepresented. Still, the Lenzies proliferated, in part because their technical training was backed with seminars about aggressive job hunting. One training document goes so far as to suggest, "Have a friend using a pseudonym act as your reference person."

Lenz's growing fame continued to attract scrutiny and controversy. In 1994, Wired published "The Code Cult of the CPU Guru," which reported on the suicide note left by 23-year-old UCLA student Donald Cole ("Bye Rama, see you next time") and the morphine-overdose death of 40-year-old Jack Kukulan, who had recently given Lenz roughly $100,000.

The article drew a $40 million libel suit, and though it was later dropped, a feeling persists among Lenz's fans that he was always treated unfairly in the mainstream media. "I've had two teachers, and both of them have been crucified," says Tony Chester, a former minister with the Church of Religious Science - an entity not affiliated with Lenz - and a teacher who now caters to onetime Rama students.

"One of them was crucified on a cross," he adds, "and the other was crucified in the press."


As Lenz got richer, he dished out cash to turn himself into a high-profile celebrity. In 1995 he bought billboard space and full-page ads in Rolling Stone and The New York Times to promote Surfing the Himalayas, a fictionalized account of his "internal and external" experiences in Nepal. Lenz spent close to $1.5 million to promote his book and its sequel, Snowboarding to Nirvana.

    Lenz encouraged recruits to start software companies, and more than 100 of them did.

Lenz also enjoyed a host of new business opportunities. He encouraged followers to launch software businesses, and more than 100 of them did. "To start a company became the major focus of things," recalls Arntz.

A handful of these companies became prominent in their fields. Under the direction of Arntz, AutoSystems, based in Boulder, Colorado, created AutoSys scheduling software, which became something of a Unix-industry standard. TeamAlliance, cofounded by Lenz follower Richard Harmon and a colleague, Mordy Levine, was a high tech industry-recruitment operation that grew to include 30 regional offices by 1995. While such Lenz-inspired companies as Retail Forecasting Systems and SportsCaster ended up in the ether, some of the products invented by Lenz's disciples in his name were quite good. Unisys, for instance, relies on a Client/Server Connection networking tool - whose patent lists Lenz as an inventor - to develop architectural road maps for its customers.

What many of these enterprises had in common, of course, was that the founders had agreed to turn over as much as 50 percent of gross revenues to privately held companies owned by Lenz. A typical Lenz software operation might consist of two separate entities: a "Ltd." company owned by the entrepreneur and an "Inc." affiliate owned by Lenz, which in some cases retained the intellectual property.

The entities were set up to keep Lenz awash in money. An entrepreneur whose business software is widely used - and who declines to be identified - gave Lenz 49.9 percent of his company in exchange for a nominal investment. He also passed along 50 percent of his revenues to a Lenz-owned consulting company he claims provided no services. TeamAlliance cofounders Levine and Harmon had to pass along 50 percent of their net to Lenz, who provided some investment capital and agreed to sign a bank letter of credit for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

"He didn't own half of my company," says Arntz, but Lenz did ask him to turn over up to 50 percent of his revenues. In a few instances Lenz provided seed capital. That was the case with Client/Server Connection and with Vayu Web, a Web-building-tool company named after Lenz's favorite Scottish terrier.

Lenz also placed his students in unpaid or minimum-wage internships. A programmer who is still involved in the group recalls moonlighting as a poorly paid intern for a Lenz company, even though he was able to command high rates in the open market.

"Rama had the whole student body selling or in some way participating in the organization," he says. Although he was earning more than $60 an hour at a non-Lenz company, he was recruited to work for a nominal wage.

Students sometimes signed agreements that denied them rights to intellectual property they developed. The understanding was that Rama was giving them the energy to be successful. Even after his death, the dividends of that policy are rolling in: On September 29, 1998, the US Patent and Trademark Office issued a patent for a project estimator involving a rule-based expert system, listing Lenz as one of the two inventors.

And Lenz was hardly a passive, name-only investor. For smart, motivated entrepreneurs, he was a pest. If a founder fell out of favor with the guru, Lenz would simply pull resources, including the cheap student labor he otherwise provided. "For Lenz it was like, 'If Icrash and burn the company because I don't like it, Istill get 50 percent of the software used by other companies,'" says a former student whose company is partly owned by the Lenz estate.

For the most part, too, the ownership arrangements ensured that when the companies were sold, Rama reaped the rewards. In 1996, when TeamAlliance was sold for roughly $9 million to Hall Kinion, a Cupertino, California-based recruiter, cofounders Levine and Harmon made good on a contract to give about half to Lenz - in cash. AutoSystems founder Arntz says he gave Rama one-third of the more than $14 million he received from selling his company - not because of any contractual obligation but because they had a handshake agreement.

As word of the group made its way into the business community, a link to Lenz could cause negative reverberations. Bill Slater, a nonfollower, observed that Lenz "had taught them very meticulously to deny him." But the Lenz outfits also staved off potential challenges by slavishly promoting one another. "It was like a [banned term] pyramid scheme, the way he got people to cover for each other and pump each other's companies," recalls Slater.

In December 1996, Vayu Web announced its Web-building tool, Vayu Web 500, at Internet World in New York. Lenz's prolific PR woman, Lisa Lewinson, sent out a torrent of press releases that saturated the wires, proclaiming "Vayu Web 500 Launch Stuns Net Community." And much of the praise came from other Lenz students. "It's like the difference between giving someone the keys to a Model T or a Ferrari," gushed Vantage Point president Lawrence Borok in a Vayu Web press release. Lenz follower Marc Myers, columnist for Network World, went further: "They've reinvented the Internet."


By the mid-1990s, the guru was looking a little ragged. Members of his flock were concerned about their leader's health; some had seen him drinking heavily. Vayu Web's product was going nowhere. Barnes & Noble - tipped off by a Lenz watcher - canceled its inclusion of Lenz in a barnesandnoble.com promotion whose participants could win trips to literary destinations like Dickens' London, Steinbeck's California, and Lenz's Nepal. When 300 disciples attended what turned out to be a final mass lecture by Lenz in Westchester County in late 1997, Rama looked skinny and ill.

"Everybody could tell he was near the end," says one follower.

One month before he died, Lenz phoned Brynn Lacey. Over dinner in Manhattan, he produced travel brochures from high-end resorts around the world. They talked about a vacation of scuba diving, mountain climbing, or golfing. The couple cocooned in Lenz's estate, carefully planning a tour of the South Pacific.

But just before their trip, Lenz told Lacey he didn't want to go. Instead, he showed her the Valium and phenobarbital he had for the trip to the "off world." She agreed to go with him.

Lacey survived her Valium overdose, and even tried to save Lenz's life, diving into 49-degree water to fish him out. But she kept washing up against rocks as Lenz's body floated away. Exhausted from the struggle, she made her way up to the house and took upwards of 35 tabs of phenobarbital, washed down with Appleton rum. Following Lenz's wishes, she put some of the drug into food for each of their two Scottish terriers, who survived the dosage. [banned term] and bruised from the attempted rescue, she stumbled into a bedroom, knocking down furniture and breaking glass.

    Since the suicide, Lenzies have seemed to be trapped in a state of suspended animation.

"I wanted to kill myself to join the doctor," she would later tell police from a hospital bed.

Lenz was found two days later, after Old Field constable Robert Bell discovered Lacey semiconscious in a downstairs bedroom. Bell phoned estate caretaker Malcolm Wade and the two began a search, but Lacey blurted out something about "the doctor" being in the water. According to Wade's subsequent statement to police, he first phoned not 911 but Norman Marcus, Lenz's accountant, and Norman Oberstein, his attorney, both of whom live in California. They told Wade and Bell to call a doctor for the doped-up woman. Police and an ambulance arrived, followed by a diving team that searched the bay. The divers retrieved the 6' 2", 184-pound body of Fred Lenz, his dirty-blond curls matted down on his androgynous face. They also retrieved a bottle of Absolut vodka, one black shoe, and a tiny statue of the Buddha, which they found below the dock.

It wasn't long before something else would surface: the will Lenz had signed in California on October 25, 1994. Norman Marcus was named as executor.

When he wrote out his will, Lenz had made it clear he was unmarried and that he wanted to leave his estate neither to his father - whom he was helping support in San Luis Obispo, California - nor a half sister. He'd told Gerald Lunn, his estate attorney, that he wanted his $18 million estate used to establish a nonprofit trust "to make Buddhist teachings more generally available and/or for the defense of American Buddhists who were being persecuted." But the will stipulated that in the event Lenz hadn't gotten around to taking "significant steps" to establish such a foundation, all the money would go to the National Audubon Society.

Why Audubon?

"Lenz loved birds," recalls Mark Laxer. "He told me that when he died he wanted the money to go there and to Amnesty International."

Two and a half months after the suicide, Marcus formed and registered the Frederick P. Lenz Foundation for American Buddhism, naming two officers, himself and Oberstein, and placing Lenz's father on the board. Marcus stood to benefit greatly from Rama's will. As executor of the estate (which includes $6.3 million in closely held companies and $5.9 million in T-bills), his compensation is at least 2 percent of its assets. He also assumes the role of president of at least two of Lenz's companies (Software Visions and Infinity Plus Consulting, according to an affidavit submitted by the National Audubon Society). Because those organizations are privately held, he isn't required to report how much, if anything, he is earning as their new president.

Since his client's suicide, Marcus has been hard at work keeping Lenz's business infrastructure intact, according to one source at a software company partly owned by the Lenz estate. The individual says Marcus pressured the company to continue to pay a share of its revenues to Lenz's company Infinity Plus Consulting, even after Rama's death. Marcus also started receiving an annual salary of $60,000 as director of the Frederick P. Lenz Foundation for American Buddhism.

But at a critical point along the way, Marcus crossed paths with a group of bird-watchers who wanted to know whether Lenz himself had done anything to establish the Buddhism foundation. Susan Bloom, an attorney representing the Audubon Society, would later argue that for six months the foundation's attorneys had failed to produce the evidence she requested. So Audubon started proceedings in court, prompting Marcus to provide evidence that Lenz had taken measures to start the foundation. Among the items Marcus submitted in January of this year: records indicating that he had researched trademarkable names for the foundation, letters of inquiry to Lenz's alma maters about endowments, and an affidavit from Lunn explaining that the guru was too distracted with his eye problems, too anxious and depressed, to work on the foundation.

Marcus' strategy was to get a summary judgment from Judge Albert J. Emanuelli of the Westchester County Surrogate's Court, thus avoiding a trial. For its part, Audubon tried a tricky legal maneuver: In addition to asserting that Lenz never directed his counselors to establish a foundation and that Marcus and Oberstein were acting in their own self-interest, it also submitted a collection of articles and testimony supporting the assertion that Lenz was a fraud and that in his final years his interest in American Buddhism had been waning.

On May 6, Emanuelli ruled against Marcus, denying his request for a summary judgment. Audubon and Marcus then embarked on the lengthy discovery process that may eventually lead to a trial.

Meanwhile, other claimants entered the fray. A few weeks earlier, Larchmont, New York, attorney Rita Gilbert took a telephone call from a woman in Texas who claimed to be Lenz's widow. "She just called me. I assumed she was referred to me by someone," says Gilbert. "I asked her to give me proof of what she was telling me." Until that moment, the attorney had never heard of Fred Lenz.

What Gilbert soon received was a California marriage certificate from 1980 indicating that Lenz and Diana Jean Reynolds had been married by a minister of the Universal Life Church in San Diego. One of the two witnesses was Mark Laxer. "They may have been married, but I don't know," says Laxer, who now writes software for the US Customs Agency. "Nor do I remember being witness to a marriage." (Laxer was also named as a defendant in the libel suit against Wired regarding its 1994 Lenz story; the magazine paid for his defense.)

"She's a very private person," says Gilbert of her client. "This was hard for her to do." (Reynolds declined to discuss the case.) Before meeting the alleged wife in person, Gilbert agreed to try to help her claim one-third of the Lenz estate. She adds that Reynolds is on disability, but won't indicate what for. Gilbert also admits that Reynolds, a former Lenz student, may not have ever lived with the guru. "They stopped seeing each other in the 1980s," reports the attorney. In Take Me for a Ride, his book about his years in Rama's inner circle, Laxer refers to Reynolds without naming her. She is described as an extremely attractive former dancer and flight attendant with long brown hair. No longer a member of the Lenz group, according to Gilbert, she now lives quietly and sees few people. Of course, claiming her share of Lenz's millions will likely mean drawing plenty of attention in a three-way contest in a White Plains, New York, courtroom.

On May 27 she encountered additional competition: another woman claiming to be married to Rama - only this one shared his name. A woman calling herself Deborah Lenz had phoned White Plains attorney Anthony DeTommasi on the last possible day for applying to New York State for the one-third share she could be entitled to as a surviving spouse. She claimed to have had an 11-year marriage to Rama, whom she asserted would visit her periodically in her Colorado condominium. In 1989, during a time she claimed to be deprogramming Lenz followers, she was quoted in an Aspen Daily News article (where she used the name Deborah Haines), describing Lenz as dangerous and saying "he'll do anything he can to stop me and shut me up."

    The market for Lenz wannabes has opened up. But no one is getting rich.

Like Diana Reynolds, Deborah Lenz will have to prove she was Rama's spouse. The attorneys representing Marcus hired a private investigator, who found that no marriage certificate was filed in San Diego. Reynolds' attorney claimed the certificate could have been legally filed elsewhere in California, and she promised to produce other evidence of the union at a future hearing.

"It appears he may have had relations with many women during the course of his life," says DeTommasi. "To some of these women he may have extended promises of marriage. Deborah Lenz is contending that, in her case, the promise of marriage came to fruition."


With Lenz long gone, his followers seem to be trapped in a state of suspended animation. Many of them are still inaccessible, still gathering privately in small groups, and slaving to keep Lenz alive - in cyberspace. Despite the splintering effect, every day still is greeted with new postings on www.ramalila.com - lengthy elegies, endless memories of moments with Rama, screensavers, poems. There's even a collection of his favorite jokes.

Hundreds of former Lenz followers are bereft of their spiritual leader, but fewer than a dozen have stepped forward to offer classes in meditation and career advancement. And it's clear that none of them has the charisma - not to mention salesmanship - to fill Rama's shoes. Fifty-two-year-old Tony Chester, based in Los Angeles, is one of eight teachers promoting themselves to Lenz's students on www.ramalila.com. David Ash, a Lenz student with a PhD in computer sciences from Stanford, has led meditation sessions at New York's Millennium Broadway Hotel. Ash runs the Rae-Chorze Fwaz Mystery School (named for a school of enlightenment mentioned in Surfing the Himalayas) and plans to take students on skydiving adventures. Roger Cantu also holds classes, which he says are attended by former Rama students, among others, in a conference room in the back of the Half-Price Bookstore in Arlington, Texas. He plans to spread his influence by teaching regularly in Houston, Los Angeles, and New York. "It's interesting. David is in the East. Tony's in the West. And I'm in the middle," he says, adding, "I've got more students than Tony."

A few other former students have jumped into the fray. Ken Frazee, who has led meditation sessions in Boise, maintains a page on www.ramalila.com that says he has studied with Chester for the past seven years and that "about four years ago, Tony gave to Ken an empowerment to teach." Meanwhile, a stream of followers is now drifting off to other spiritual leaders. Some have flocked to Adi Da (formerly Franklin Jones), the Fiji-based guru who, like Lenz, has faced accusations of sexual abuse by former followers. Some have headed to India to sit at the feet of Sathya Sai Baba, a guru known for sharing what money he collects with the people of his neighborhood.

But a year and a half after the market for Rama wannabes opened up, none of the candidates is getting rich. In California, Tony Chester, with all the trappings of a budding spiritual leader, appears to hold the center. He sells audiotapes and calls his business Expanded Awareness Seminars. He imported a teacher from New York to run a career workshop. He hosts desert retreats. A former schoolteacher who became a minister with the Church of Religious Science, Chester came under Rama's spell in 1981 and later took up computer programming. He was a formal student of Rama's on and off until about 1994. But unlike Lenz, Chester downplays the influence he may exert on his pupils. "Any spiritual teacher worth his salt," he declaims, "needs his students to have an open heart in order to make this work."

A Harley-Davidson enthusiast, Chester is becoming something of a fixture on the Southern California meditation circuit. Clinging to his framed photograph of the leather-jacketed Lenz, Chester keeps the Rama business alive in a grueling meditation schedule that brings him before different groups of meditators throughout the week. One night he's at Westwood's Body Mind Institute, another at San Diego's Dharma Center, located in a second-story room in the funky, surfer-trash Ocean Beach neighborhood.

Dharma Center cofounder Jenna Walsh, another meditation teacher, has met with Chester during some of his sessions in San Diego. She says he "does a great meditation." But she makes it sound like a spiritual consolation prize. "Rama was just such a full-rounded teacher," she explains. "He had it all down. He could talk to us about business, about résumé writing, about advanced meditative practice. I've gone and seen several Tibetan lamas, and none of them could pull all of that off."

"With Rama leaving the body," she says, "it's forced us to look at each other and learn from each other instead of just relying on him for the answers."


In a recent meditation session in Los Angeles, Chester sounded a similar theme, acknowledging that he cannot carry the mantle alone.

"Jesus couldn't cure a headache in Nazareth," said the Rama follower-[banned term]-teacher. "He had cured lepers, but when he got to Nazareth their hearts were closed, so nothing could happen."

On this night, Chester was renting space for his meditation classes from the Body Mind Institute in Los Angeles, a single, dimly lit room above a furniture store off Santa Monica Boulevard. Chester, a bald man with a perfect Buddha body, sat on a chair in front of a dozen meditators - most of whom, like the leader himself, were former students of Rama. The New Age music of Zazen, emanating from a CD player on a marble-topped Asian table, set a mystical mood. To Chester's left stood an altar containing a vase of flowers, a candle, and a framed photograph of Lenz, with his golden curls and leather jacket.

As the meditation continued, Chester aimed his eyes at those of a Brazilian high schooler in the group, one of the few non-Lenzies, telling the young man to focus on the area of Chester's pale green silk shirt where his chest meets his protruding stomach. Then he slowly instructed the youngster to look at his face.

Soon Chester started talking about how we don't need to concern ourselves with anger. "Don't be angry about what's happening in Washington," he intoned. "It will only drain your energy. Emotions are draining. Anger is draining. So is frustration. So is being a victim. So is love."

At the end of the two-hour session, he hugged the framed picture of Lenz, tears dripping down his cheeks. Then he plucked flowers from the vase to his left and ceremoniously handed them out, one to each student in the group.
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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Thu Nov 21, 2013 2:59 am

Diving to Conscience Bay

By John Gallagher, published on November 01, 1998


When New Age guru Rama was fished out ofthe waters off Long Island, he was wearing a suit and tie and his pet dog's collar around neck.

The mansion at 183 Old Field Road sits beside a quiet country that runs along New York's Long Island shore. The house is hidden from the road and neighbors by a red wood fence; the mailbox bears no name. A camera perched at the beginning of the driveway surveys passersby

Police patrolling the shore road early on the morning of April 13 noticed something strange: the outdoor lights were all ablaze. Even more odd, entering the usually barricaded estate was easy. As they crossed the vast manicured lawn to the huge house with its copper mansards and three-windowed cupolas, they saw that the the daffodils were abloom.

When the officers reached the front door, they discovered it was open. Inside, they found an immaculate living room punctuated by floor rugs, and a wall of glass overlooking the sleepy bay. Nothing seemed out of place; nothing seemed missing. The only thing unusual was that no one was around.

Upstairs, the master bedroom was empty and all of the motion detectors that guarded the room had been turned off. Then, m one of the guest bedrooms, police spied a fully dressed woman lying on a bed, unconscious. Police tried to rouse her, but she was incoherent. By her side was a picture of a man and another of a dog. In another room were two dogs, stiff but breathing.

Searching the grounds, one officer followed a narrow path down to a pier on the water. Thin metal rails guided walkers on the path; one of them was bent and broken. Police called in divers who, 10 hours later, pulled a man's body from the water. He was dressed in a suit and tie. Around his neck was a dog collar with a dangling rabies vaccination tag.

The man was Frederick Lenz III, better known to the world as the New Age guru Zen Master Rama; the woman, Brinn Lacey, one of his devoted followers. Two nights before, in a suicide pact, the pair had drugged the dogs with phenobarbital, downed fistfuls of Valium (at least 150 pills by Lenz alone) and stepped off the pier. By some miracle, Lacey and the dogs survived; Lenz did not. Lacey wrote in a note the police found by her side: "We all tried police go too the other woorld last night, anti only Rama made it..."

Lenz's death at age 48 brought to a close a lilt marked by spectacular accomplishment and enormous controversy. He won hundreds of followers to his self-invented brand of inaterial Buddhism. earning a fortune in the process. A Ph.D. in American literature, he published two books. Suiting thc HimalaYas and Snowboarding to Nirvana, describing his experiences with a Himalayan monk named Master Fwap. A visionary, he anticipated the computer age, branching into programming before it emerged as the culture's second language. To his followers. Lenz was a brilliant teacher who brought them to new levels of spiritual awareness and an entrepreneur who guided them to lucrative careers. Newsweek dubbed him the "Yuppie Guru."

To his critics, however, Lenz was a charlatan who lied without compunction, fleeced his students and sexually exploited women. "For someone who theoretically lived his life to help others, he spent a great deal of his time looking out for his own interests," wrote Steve Kaplan, an ex-follower, in a letter printed in New York magazine after the guru's death. "Lenz was a walking contradiction."

Lenz cultivated followers, not friends; surrounded by disciples, he apparently felt closest to his dogs. He proclaimed himself "one of the 12 truly enlightened beings on the planet," but seemed beset by private demons. And in what may be the supreme irony, Lenz, who never evinced a twinge of guilt, chose to die in a body of water known as Conscience Bay.

In many ways, Lenz's life was the baby-boomer experience writ large, covering everything from hippiedom to Reagan-era materialism (in this life, at least; on some resumes Lenz listed several past incarnations, including a 17th-century Zen master in Kyoto, Japan). Lenz was born to Dorothy and Frederick Lenz Jr. on February 9, 1950, in San Diego. He was to be the only child of the union. The couple's marriage ended when their son was,just five years old. Frederick Jr.. a publishing executive, remarried about six years later and did not seem closely involved in his young son's life.

For Frederick III, the center of his universe was his mother, a woman who dabbled in astrology and was addicted to alcohol. "No One loved me like my mother," Lenz was to tell one of his numerous girlfriends. Dor0thy died when her son was just 14 years old. and Lenz moved in with his father and his new family, but he did not much care for the arrangement.

As an adult. Lenz kept his family ties to a minimum. He distanced himself. rarely phoning or visiting relatives. "He really didn't like his father and didn't want anything to do with him," says a former family friend. Nevertheless, after he grew rich, Lenz paid for an apartment for his father and bought him a Jaguar.

They may not have been close, but in an eerie way, the father's life presaged the son's. Lenz Jr. had charisma; he drew followers to his 1974 political campaign to become mayor of his hometown of Stamford, Connecticut, and enough voters to win the election.

He also acknowledged a contradictory attraction to the life of the spirit and the flesh. "I wanted to be a Holy Ghost priest...but then I found out that to belong to the order you had to take an oath of poverty, chastity and obedience," Lenz Jr. revealed in an interview shortly after he was sworn in as mayor. "I didn't want to do that."

Young Frederick showed a bent for the spiritual as a teenager. At Rippowam High School, where he was apparently well-liked, fellow students dubbed him "Crazy Fred" and jokingly described him in their yearbook as a "cut-rate philosopher."

After graduation. Lenz headed for the heart of the then-lowering hippie movement, San Francisco. He spent a year in thc Haight-Ashbury district. where he later recalled using plants... based on thc Tibetan Book of the Dead, to experience Enlightenment

Law enforcement authorities took a dimmer view of such "power plants." Lenz was busied for selling marijuana and sentenced to a year al it work camp. (The arrest was later expunged, allowing Lenz to claim he had no criminal record.) The light sentence was attributed to Lenz's father's influence. " The story in the family," recalls an observer "is that the old man bailed him out and then beat the hell out of him for it."

Back in Connecticut, matriculating bat the University of Connecticut in Storrs. Lenz followed up an interest, first cultivated in San Francisco, in the teachings of Sri Chinmoy, a popular Hindu guru who combined traditional Buddhist practice with physical fitness. In Chinmoy, who ran an ashram in nearby Norwalk, Lenz found a focus he had never had before. Soon he was recruiting followers to Chimney's teachings of humility, obedience and fidelity.

During the Storrs years, Lenz married, but the union lasted just two years. Reportedly, Lenz wanted the marriage to be celibate while he indulged himself out of wedlock. Physically, he seemed ill-suited to the role of womanizer. Thin and tall (six feet three inches), Lenz had an androgynous face topped by a kind of white man's Afro of blond curls, and a voice that the Washington Post described as resembling that of fitness missionary Richard Simmons. "He was a nerdy guys," says the editor of his books, Jim Fitzgerald.

Some nerds, like Lenz, seem to have a peculiar allure. "He was able to use that nerdiness to endear himself to women and those around him," says Joe Szimhart, a cult specialist who has deprogrammed dozens of Lenz's followers. "He presented this confident edge that had all this occult power, but at the same time people around him could feel comfortable because he was a little clutzy. You felt a little sorry for him. Those two things would disarm people and intrigue them."

Accepted to graduate school at the Stony Brook campus of the State University of New York, Lenz worked to earn a doctorate in literature. His dissertation was on the American poet Theodore Roethke, whose lyrical works often celebrate the glories of nature. Thereafter, Lenz insisted on referring to himself as "Dr." in virtually every forum.

All during this time, Lenz was recruiting for Chinmoy, but eventually he began to chafe at the guru's strict rules. According to Mark Laxer, a former follower of Lenz who turned into his harshest critic, Chinmoy became fed up with Lenz's womanizing. in 1979, Chinmoy apparently decided to teach Lenz a lesson in humility and obedience by sending him to San Diego to open a Laudromat.

San Diego, the place of Lenz's birth, became the place of his reinvention, the first of several. The geographical distance further weakened Lenz' allegiance to Chinmoy. Lenz, who by then was calling himself by the Hindu name Atmananda, began to hint of his own divinity. The final break with Chinmoy came one night when, as Laxer recounts it, Lenz, summoned his closest followers to the oceanside house and Laxer were then sharing with three women and announced that "Something heavy has been going down in the inner worlds. Can anyone see what it is?"

The turmoil, as it turned out, was that Chinmoy has "fallen." In the ensuing uproar, Lenz lost most of his following, but soon he was recruiting throughout California--this time to his own teachings. Lenz's philosophy, which he expounded under his newly adopted name of Zen Master Rama, taken after an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, fit perfectly into the blossoming have-it-all era of Reaganomics. Instead of Buddhism's traditional devotion to asceticism and removal from the vagaries of the world, Rama advocated a Buddhist-flavored materialism. The package included meditation and other Buddhist trappings, but also money.

Indeed, Rama used financial success as a marker of spiritual growth. Lenz would have none of what he called the "begging bowl" mentality of traditional Buddhist. "He said that he had set up his program inwardly and outwardly so that our incomes would be a reflection of our spiritual progress," says Charles Rubin, who studied with Lenz from 1986 to 1991. "So not making enough money was a sign that we weren't doing well with the program and should go off and do something else."

This materialism showed up in Len's own life. His base of operations in 1982 was the rented Malibu home of Goldie Hawn. Over the years, he acquired expensive homes in Santa Fe and Bedford, New York. He owned Porsches, Mercedes and Range Rovers. He dressed in Versace.

Not surprisingly, Buddhist teachers had little respect for Lenz "I've never seen a serious reference to this man in all of my reading of Buddhist literature and discussion," says Melvin McLeod, editor in chief of the Shambhala Sun, an international Buddhist magazine. "He's not someone American Buddhism in any way recognizes, to my knowledge."

What little credibility Lenz might have had was obliterated with his suicide. "If he was a teacher of Buddhism, he never would have done that," says McLeod. "Suicide pacts, encouraging people to kill themselves, trying to kill dogs. None of that has anything to do with Buddhism."

Rama promoted his new philosophy by promoting himself. He had posters with his image plastered in Times Square. His photo appeared in ads he took out in Vanity Fair, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. The ads urged readers to "gain the competitive edge" through Rama's seminars. The campaigns did not come cheaply; in one blitz in 1987, Lenz spent $500,000.

Spiritual seekers who went to his meetings in the 1980s found him spellbinding. "There was soothing music, a couch up on the stage surrounded by flowers supposedly sent by followers," says one attendee. "He would talk about life and how to have a good career. People also claimed they saw light coming out of his fingers, or an aura around him."

"I had moments of clarity, of ecstasy, of superconscious awareness in his presence that I couldn't begin to describe," confesses Rubin. "He was a master at inducing these states in other people. You may try to describe it as hypnosis. That just seems like a way to belittle it to me. He was an amazing teacher in spite of his flaws."

In Rubin's opinion, Rama "got carried away with the money." Yet he attributes his own current financial success to lessons he learned while studying with Lenz.

The seminars served not only to recruit followers, but also lovers. Though Lenz preached that women needed to "detach" themselves from men in general, he separated himself from the rest of his gender. He freely admitted that he viewed the convocations as a dating pool. "It's like meeting somebody at church and you go out," he told the Washington Post in 1996. "I think it's called being a healthy American male." Lenz had numerous sexual encounters with female students, which he insisted were consensual explorations of "tantric sex," though his tactics were clearly manipulative.

"He considered his sperm to be liquid enlightenment and we should be very honored to have it in our bodies," says Nancy (not her real name). "I'm embarrassed to admit that I fell tot that. I sure thought highly of myself until I began meeting all of the other women whom he had sex with." Nancy, who says the sex was "not very good," recalls one time when Lenz summoned three of his girlfriends together late one night. "He told us that we had psychically approached him with an interesting proposition, although none of us could successfully guess what it was. He told us that we all wanted to have sex with him together, but he wanted to do it one at a time. So two of us would clean his house while one of us would `do' him. We all took turns."

"Lenz was very good to you when he was having sex with you," Nancy notes, "but if he decided to move on in his harem, then he would completely ignore you. We always assumed that it was because we were mentally bad or possessed."

Lenz led a sweet life for a considerable time, raking in millions of dollars annually. Students were charged fees which escalated quickly and steeply. Rubin says that he started by paying Lenz $40 a month, which rapidly rose to $400. By the time Rubin was ousted from Rama's circle for being unable to keep up with payments, he was being charged $3,500 a month "basically to see Rama one night, albeit a long night."

Another group of followers was forking over $5,000 a month to see Lenz for two nights. Rama preferred to be paid in cash with crisp high-denomination bills, (preferably $100s); lower denominations, like $10s and $20s were "low vibed." Lenz also used to throw away all of his change, except for quarters, which he used to pay tolls. The coins, he declared, had "bad energy."

By the mid 1980s, Lenz had arrived at the conclusion that computers would reshape the economy. He founded a software development firm and instructed his students to train as computer programmers. It was yet another personal reinvention; now he was Rama the computer entrepreneur. "He was on the cutting edge of all these things," says Fitzgerald. "He had the terms down, although how involved he was, I don't know."

It was a curious enterprise. While some of the trainees turned out to be whizzes at programming, others plying their skills in Silicon Valley were dismal failures. A trade magazine dubbed Lenz's flubs "the California raisins." The raisins' resumes were inflated, admit former followers, who say that Rama ordered them to "learn as they earn."

Even as Rama's wealth and influence was expanding, his inner strength seemed to be eroding. Throughout the 1980s, Lenz was using LSD and having his inner circle use it as well. He started to develop a belief in "negative spiritual forces" that only he could see anti that could wreak physical and psychological havoc. Lenz became increasingly distrustful, even abusive. "I suspect Rama was deeply affected by all the hallucinogens he took," says Rubin. "They probably contributed to his mental fantasies about himself and to his paranoia."

Nancy recalls one incident when she commented on how appealing she found a seagull that was eating nearby. "Lenz said that it wasn't cute, that it might not even really be a bird, but might be something else," she notes. "He really had me getting paranoid, too."

Lenz began to believe that people wanted him dead and that even his followers were out to get him. "They were always trying to psychically kill him, he claimed," says Nancy. In response, the preacher of inner peace resorted to some decidedly non-pacific action. Says Nancy, "He proudly told me of a time when he put out a low grade kill energy' to anyone that wanted to mess with him, because he was tired of it. One of the men that was working on his house keeled over and died of a heart attack. Rama was very proud of the fact that he `killed' him." (Lenz also had an un-Hindu-like affection for Stephen King and Clyde Barker novels and violent films.)

Around the time the stock market crashed in 1987, so did Lenz's highflying life. Some of his students came forward with tales of outlandish behavior. "I got calls from people complaining about him," says Szimhart. "It was basically stuff he's been accused of all along sexually manipulating women and taking a lot of money from an inner core of members."

Mercedes Hughes, who was deprogrammed by Szimhart, claimed that Lenz convinced her that one of her responsibilities was to perk him up alter his seminars "and sex was one of the ways." Anny Eastwood charged that Lenz had threatened her with a pistol and forced her to have sex with him. But the heaviest blow came when Donald Cole, a UCLA student who studied under Rama, committed suicide by stabbing himself to death. In the note he left behind, Cole apologized for falling short of Lenz's standards. "Bye, Rama," the note read. "See you next time."

Though he denied all the charges, Lenz's image was badly tarnished. To most outsiders, Rama was now a cult leader, not a Zen. master. The torrent of bad publicity affected Lenz deeply. "He almost went completely bald because of depression when the allegations came out," says one person who knew him. "tie had these huge periods of depression because everyone was alter him."

Lenz went after the media. "It seems to pry into and often grossly distort aspects of one's personal and professional life," he said in an interview published on his Web site. (Months after his suicide, the site had yet to note Rama's demise.) Lenz also attacked his accusers. He insisted that the charges were the work of a handful of disgruntled former followers, whose "motivation ranges from what you might expect--from the seeking of money and publicity, to those who genuinely suffer from chronic personal problems and have fixated on me as the cause of their frustrations and failures."

Lenz adopted a lower profile. He kept plugging away at his computer business but stopped making public appearances and moved back east to an estate on Long Island. Bought for $950,000 a decade ago (and now worth $2 million), it features a beautiful house of wood, mirrors and glass. But Lenz seemed to live in terror inside.

"He thought all of his students had terrible energy and that we contaminated anything we touched," says Nancy, who lived with him for a time (unlike most cult leaders, Lenz did not live with his band of disciples). Afraid of being poisoned--he claimed to have been poisoned to death in a past life by one of his students--Rama would not permit Nancy to cook for him. They ate most of their meals out, and when the multimillionaire guru did dine at home, he used plastic dishes and flatware.

Spiders terrified him. "They reminded him of `entities,' "says Nancy "When one crossed the floor he yelled at me to kill it. I covered it with a glass intending to take it outside, but he told me to kill it, because it might not really be a spider." Security was fanatically tight around the Long Island estate. Nancy remembers that she couldn't leave Rama's bedroom at night because she might set off alarms, Lenz slept with a rifle tucked under his side of the king-size bed.

By the early 1990s, Lenz's glory days seemed behind him. He was still a wealthy man. "I estimate that he had a hundred core followers that could send him at least $2,000 a month," says Szimhart. His remaining students still adored him, giving him a Bentley in gratitude one year.

But Lenz' knack for emerging in successful new guises seemed to be exhausted. "He was reinventing himself, but it was not working very well," says Szimhart. Still, Lenz had one more transformation left. After spending a few years in relative quiet, he burst back on the scene in 1995 as a novelist with Surfing the Himalayas: A Spiritual Adventure. The book is a detailed account of Lenz's putative encounter with a Tibetan monk named Master Fwap who reveals to him the keys to snowboarding down mountains. (Lenz had styled himself as a master of extreme athletics by this time.)

It was pure Carlos Castenada--with snow. Lenz often quoted the reclusive mystical writer, who is a favorite of New Age seekers. The book received scathing reviews. The Denver Post slammed it as "poorly researched crud" while the Santa Fe Sun derided it as "terrifically dull and stupefying." Still, heavily promoted by St. Martin's, its publisher, and $1 million of Lenz's own money that he used to publicize the book, it sold about 100,000 copies, making it onto the best-seller lists.

The book's success won Lenz some new followers, but it also led to publicity detailing the accusations against him. Unfazed, Lenz produced a sequel, Snowboarding to Nirvana. Published in 1997, the book added massive amounts of sex to the spiritual equation. The narrator's accounts of interludes, with a woman named Nadia in particular, combined cosmic consciousness and heavy breathing. ("As she opened her legs a little wider," goes one passage, "I thrust more deeply into her. We kissed, and then everything went white. I don't remember much of what happened after that, except for the two of us passing through countless cascading dimensions of color and ecstasy.")

The book was a failure, largely, in Fitzgeralds view, because Lenz bailed out of doing a tour or any promotional interviews. The reason: Lenz was devastated by the death of Vayu--his beloved dog.

By all accounts, Lenz's closest attachments were to his pet Scotties. They were his family--his "only family," claims one observer--and he took them everywhere. "He was wacky about them," says Fitzgerald. "He'd call me up at night and talk to me about his dogs. When he'd come up to see me in Manhattan, this great big limo would be out front with the dogs sitting in it, and I'd have to go down and see them."

Lenz's clear favorite was Vayu. He named the computer business after the dog and dedicated Snowboarding to the canine. An ardent environmentalist on his Web site, he ordered his groundskeeper to use the strongest pesticide available on the lawn just to keep fleas away from the dog. Lenz counted Vayu among the planet's 12 "enlightened beings." "When the dog would go out and bark at night, Rama claimed that he was barking at bad energy being thrown at the house," says Nancy.

It was Vayu's death, most agree, that pushed Lenz over the edge, into a deep depression that led ultimately to his suicide. He so couldn't bear to part with his pet that he reportedly watched the dog's body decompose on a couch for two days. "When the dog died, in a strange way, he died," says Fitzgerald. "It was a real alter ego with him."

"Rama taught us all how to deal with the physical world and how to deal with the spiritual world," maintains Rubin, "but he completely ignored the emotional world. He simply couldn't connect to other people as equals." When divers pulled Lenz's body from Conscience Bay, Vayu's tags were around his neck.
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Thu Nov 21, 2013 3:08 am

January 11, 1996, Thursday, Final Edition

HEADLINE: THE GURU'S LATEST INCARNATION; Fred Lenz the Novelist Is a Hit.
Fred Lenz the Master Has Some Enemies.

BYLINE: Richard Leiby


Frederick Lenz wants you to know certain things about him. Author, music producer, computer entrepreneur, spiritual mentor, snowboarder -- Lenz will tell you that he is a great success at all of these. Perhaps you've seen his face lately in prominent advertising spreads in the New York Times, USA Today, Rolling Stone and Sports Illustrated. Perhaps you've heard the radio spots inviting you to read his new book, so that you can "find something to believe in," take charge of your life and -- who knows -- maybe even become a great success like Fred Lenz.

The massive ad campaign promotes Lenz's first novel, "Surfing the Himalayas," which has sold more than 100,000 hardcover copies in two months, and which its publisher hopes will become a new age phenomenon like "The Celestine Prophecy." Though ignored by nearly all major reviewers, Lenz's book has been endorsed by corporate heads, eminent sports figures and various pop culture shamans: "A fun read," says Phil Jackson, head coach of the Chicago Bulls; "a wild ride through the basics of Buddhism," says performance artist Laurie Anderson.

Yet there are other things Frederick Lenz prefers you do not know about him, or bids you to ignore. Namely the accounts by former devotees who say that Lenz is a cult leader, a spiritual con man who preys mainly on young people. Over the years, several have claimed that Lenz encourages his followers to sever family ties, convinces them that he has godlike powers -- including the ability to protect them from cancer -- and then financially or sexually exploits them.

Not surprisingly, some of these ex-acolytes say they cannot bring themselves to read Lenz's new book. "I can't even touch it," says a woman who joined Lenz's fold in her early twenties and became one of his many sex partners. "I would throw up. I get physically ill when I see it in the stores."

The ads touting "Surfing the Himalayas" don't mention Lenz's 15-year career as an obscure guru who first called himself Atmananda and later Zen Master Rama, who built a nomadic commune of more than 300 people, instructing them in occultism, meditation and computer programming. His publicists don't mention the 1983 book he wrote as Rama, titled "The Last Incarnation." It depicts him as a Hindu deity capable of turning invisible and walking on water. In Southern California, Lenz once distributed posters of himself emblazoned with the slogan "This man can turn a room GOLD in 60 seconds. Imagine what he can do to you."

He also used to list past lives on his resume -- for example, "1602-1671, Head of Zen Order, Kyoto, Japan" and "1912-1945, Tibetan Lama" -- and some students of his computer courses say they were taught to be equally creative when preparing resumes. Training materials provided by former followers contain instructions to "have a friend using a pseudonym act as your reference person."

Lenz says he has never told his students to lie, and claims those pages are forgeries. He says he has taught meditation to "probably half a million people" and only a handful have ever voiced dissatisfaction. He tells interviewers that if any of the allegations against him were valid, he would be in jail or the subject of lawsuits. He insists that his past includes no criminal record, and this is true (after Lenz spent a year in a California work camp, his 1969 conviction for possession of marijuana was expunged).

Lenz could be seen as just another new age flake with a book contract, but he's also been linked -- by press accounts, alarmed parents and former devotees -- to the suicide of one of his students and the mental breakdowns and disappearances of two others. A self-published book by one of Lenz's former confidants includes allegations of the guru dosing his followers with LSD, choking a puppy and waving a gun to reinforce his hold over their psyches.

"Recycled junk," Lenz terms these accounts. "The press has been duped. . . . I call it crucifixion by media."

In a lengthy telephone interview, he characterized his foes as part of a cabal of money-hungry anti-cult "deprogrammers" bent on destroying his new literary career. His lawyer also provided written testimonials from several parents whose children have followed Atmananda/Rama/Lenz, and statements from others impugning the mental stability of the guru's detractors.

"I am a Buddhist," says Frederick P. Lenz III. "I have never physically or psychologically abused a person in my life. I am a Buddhist."

The 'Short Path'

    Once you are enlightened you can do whatever you want without fear or sorrow. You can choose to have a career or live in a monastery; you can go snowboarding, get married, stay single, be rich and famous, or live unknown. . . . -- Master Fwap in "Surfing the Himalayas"

The Buddha taught that all evil stems from the craving of material things and sensual pleasures. But Lenz, 45, eschews the ascetic lifestyle of many traditional Buddhists -- what he calls a "begging bowl" mentality. He often dates his young disciples, drives a Mercedes 600 and paid nearly $ 1 million apiece for his homes in New York and New Mexico. He embraces what he calls the "short path" to spiritual enlightenment, which involves learning meditation with an "enlightened master."

All the big publishing houses were eager to bid on Lenz's novel, which incorporates lectures he's been giving for years. The story was weird but trendy: A young American snowboarder in Nepal meets a Buddhist monk named Fwap, who reveals to him the secrets of Atlantis and meditation.

Much of the novel is repetitive cant about auras and chakras, but one key point emerges: the importance of not becoming too close to people who are "negative," especially family members and friends. Master Fwap warns the wide-eyed snowboarder that people can absorb "toxic" energies from other human beings and from physical places. These psychic toxins can cause many illnesses, including cancer, Fwap warns.

Lenz ended up getting a $ 250,000 advance from Warner Books for "Surfing the Himalayas," prompting complaints from Rama's foes. Soon after, Warner canceled the contract, citing "marketing differences with the author." Lenz got to keep about $ 80,000, though, and the book was quickly picked up by St. Martin's Press, which slotted it for intensive pre-Christmas exposure, including promos in 1,700 movie theaters nationwide.

The ad campaign paid off. "Surfing the Himalayas" reached No. 11 on the bestseller lists in mid-December and is now headed for its fourth printing. When Lenz signed books in New York and Boston, hundreds of his students turned out. In Boston, they waved signs that said "Master Fwap Lives."

In a pleasant, somewhat effeminate voice that recalls fitness guru Richard Simmons, Lenz describes his book as "faction" -- a blend of fact and fiction. He says he is not Fwap, an enlightened master who glows golden when meditating and is capable of such tricks as levitation.

"I am enlightened in the classic sense," Lenz says, but insists, "It's not a big deal. This is not having godlike qualities. . . . I'm a perpetual student of enlightenment. . . . I'm not hung up on myself at all."

He says he no longer teaches meditation and has no interest in recruiting spiritual followers. His primary business is software development, he says; his computer science seminars are so valued that advanced students pay him $ 3,500 a month, and he is obligated to appear at only one session. Students say they also pay up to $ 10,000 (airfare and hotel expenses not included) to accompany Lenz on soul-searching journeys into the desert or on scuba-diving trips.

Lenz says he wrote his book as a public service:

"I'm in the computer business, and I deal with a lot of programmers who are what you might call part of Generation X. A lot them are just very, very down on life -- they're very depressed. . . . I was trying to inspire these Generation X kids . . . to just get out there and do something with your life. . . ."

"I like college kids," Lenz adds. "I get a rush out of that age group. . . . There's just an energy -- I think it's sympathetic to mine."

Age of Enlightenment

    You cannot avoid becoming enlightened. It will come to you when you are twenty-nine. -- Master Fwap in "Surfing the Himalayas"

The son of a former mayor of Stamford, Conn., Lenz holds a PhD in literature, which he earned at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. But instead of entering academe, he became a recruiter for the Indian guru Sri Chinmoy. At the age of 29, Lenz split with Chinmoy and relocated in San Diego.

He first proclaimed himself a holy man in 1980, when he incorporated himself as "Dr. Frederick P. Lenz, High Priest, the First Diocese of California of the Church of Atlantis," according to state records. Later he established a group named Lakshmi (after the Hindu goddess of beauty and prosperity) and hung out his shingle as a "self-realized spiritual teacher."

"The cosmic seducer," "yuppie guru" and "compu-cult leader" are among the labels the media have pinned on Lenz, who's been the subject of various exposes since 1987. The rap against Rama started when three Los Angeles women went public with allegations of the guru's abuse. Mercedes Hughes told the San Francisco Chronicle and L.A. Weekly that Lenz fed her LSD. Anny Eastwood told reporters that Rama emerged from his bathroom nude except for a towel, demanding sex and carrying a handgun. Nancy Knupfer said her five-month involvement with Rama led her to disconnect from friends and family and cost her more than $30,000.

Then, as now, Lenz called these accounts lies, and said the women entered relationships with him consensually and grew vindictive after he spurned them.

After the bad ink in California, Rama moved his core group to Reston, Va., where students rented apartments in groups of four or five, and attended classes at Computer Learning Center or obtained jobs as programmers or consultants. Between 250 and 300 of them lived in the Washington area from January through September 1988, before moving on to New York.

During that time, Patty Hammond -- a follower in her late twenties who friends say was under stress from working two jobs to pay Rama's fees -- suffered a breakdown and disappeared, leaving her car behind at her Reston apartment.

Another Lenz follower, Brenda Kerber, disappeared in October 1989 from White Plains, N.Y. Police detectives said they discovered a diary in which Kerber expressed frustration about her inability to perform well as a computer programmer.

"Rama is my true love. He makes me feel like an [banned term]," wrote Kerber, who was 41 and separated from her second husband. "This is the end of the fairy tale. Good night." She left behind two children.

Kerber's father, Jim Barratt, believes his daughter committed suicide, and blames Lenz. "He's a son of a [banned term], any way you look at it," Barratt says.

In Malibu, Calif., in 1984, a troubled UCLA student named Donald Kohl, who had attended Lenz's lectures for three years, killed himself at the age of 23. He left a note saying, "I didn't do well enough. . . . Bye, Rama, see you next time."

Lenz says he had no personal relationship with any of these students. He observes that statistically, the rate of suicide among his students is "one-tenth" that of an average university's. His lawyer, Norman Oberstein, adds: "Dr. Lenz grieves for the deaths of those who would take their own lives or drop out of sight -- but he is in no way responsible for such actions."

Visions of Gold

    I looked at my body and I was nothing but light. I wasn't solid anymore. Eternity has named me Rama. Rama most clearly reflects that strand of luminosity of which I am part. -- Rama, in "The Last Incarnation"

In recent interviews with The Washington Post, six former Lenz followers -- three women and three men -- told basically the same story of their introduction to the group. Their experiences ranged from the Lakshmi period in the early '80s to the computer seminars of the early '90s.

All are smart and motivated, but some were emotionally vulnerable at the time. All were seeking answers and eager to follow someone. All grew to love Rama and the group above all else; all took his advice to enter the computer field and paid him monthly fees. Four say they lied to get jobs, at the urging of Rama or other group members.

Two of the women said they consented to sex with the guru because Rama told them it would advance them spiritually -- that this guaranteed they would be reincarnated in the next lifetime as more enlightened beings.

All of these former students now believe that they were subjected to a form of hypnotic mind control; some are in therapy. Yet their demonization of Rama can also be seen as a way of excusing their own bad choices.

Rama and his disciples lined up new recruits by advertising free or low-cost meditation sessions on college campuses. At these initial meetings, former students say, the suggestion was planted that Rama was fully enlightened and capable of turning a room golden. Eventually, the recruits got to attend a meeting with Rama himself. There, with the help of trancelike music and altered consciousness brought on by hours of lecturing and meditation, the spell would take hold.

Jim Picariello of Boston, now 24, attended a dinner meeting with Rama in October 1992, with his then-fiancee. He was a philosophy major at the University of Massachusetts. "Everyone [at the dinner] was a computer programmer, making between $ 80,000 and $ 200,000 a year. Everyone was happy and successful," he recalls.

After an evening of lectures and meditation, "Rama had a wrap-up after dessert. His voice got quiet and controlled. I don't remember what he was talking about -- neither does my fiancee -- but everything in that room turned into solid gold, as if inlaid with gold leaf. She felt a rush of euphoria. We looked at each other and thought, 'Holy [expletive], that was phenomenal.' We thought he was the real McCoy."

Students were taught that meditating up to three hours a day was the path to achieving success and power in the computer field; and it was Rama who would empower them. If they meditated well, they would make more money. Naturally, some of this money should go to Rama, who charged little for beginners, but accelerated the fees as the students secured lucrative computing contracts. Over time, the dropouts say, Rama would equate one's spiritual progress with one's earnings.

He also used demonstrations of his "powers" -- followers swear he changed shape, altered the patterns of stars, shot beams of light -- as a way to instill awe and to control them. Ex-students say he even dictated what shampoos they should use; Nexxus and Paul Mitchell were best, "high-energy." They say they learned the doctrine of "inaccessibility" -- using answering services and mail drops to avoid contact with relatives and friends.

"It was an insidious, slow shift," says Charlie Rubin, 30, a software consultant in Upstate New York who estimates that he paid Rama $ 40,000 over three years. (He says he was among a group of students who chipped in to buy the guru a new Bentley.) "Rama is kind of like a drug dealer," says Rubin. "He has the ability to alter consciousness, but he doles it out like heroin."

"If people had a good job, they thanked him for it," recalls Frances, who followed Rama for six years, now lives in Southern California and asked that her last name not be published because she fears repercussions in the job market. "But if anything negative happened, it was your fault. If he was sick, it was because you were sending him bad energy. If you got sick, it was your fault -- you were communing with lower entities and demons.

"He told us, 'In your dreams you all go to Hell and make deals for power. What if you didn't have me to give you the cleaning energies? If you leave me, you could die of cancer or in an accident.' That was the hold he had on everybody: fear. People were terrified. They slept with the lights on."

Teri Koressel, a Rama disciple from 1984 to 1989, says she was among the women he selected for a private "spiritual" session at his Long Island mansion. It soon became clear what the guru wanted when he invited her into his bedroom, she says, then reappeared in his underwear, holding a tube of lubricant.

It wasn't rape, she says, because Lenz didn't force her into sex. "I felt very uncomfortable with him initiating that, but I ended up wanting to be with him. I felt honored, special. What do you call that?" Koressel, now 37, wonders in a phone interview from her home near White Plains, N.Y. "I was with him maybe 12 times, but the last five times he really treated me like a hooker: 'Go take a shower, put on a robe, jump in bed, I'll meet you there -- I know what you want.'

"He'd say, 'You look at this like we're having sex, but we're not. It's an exchange of energy. You think I get a charge out of this? I'm doing this for you!' I'd end up thanking him at the end: 'Thank you for lifting my awareness to new heights.' "

Today Lenz says his "dating" is in line with the traditions of Tantric Buddhism, which includes a sexual dimension in some of its rituals and symbols. "This is a perfectly acceptable habit," he says of having sex with his students. Thousands of women have attended his seminars, and "it's like meeting somebody at church and you go out. . . . I think it's called being a healthy American male."

Yet, in his lectures, Rama derided male students for making advances on female classmates. "As a man who's working toward [spiritual] liberation, you can aid women mainly by leaving them alone and not projecting sexual energy toward them," Lenz said in one course that was tape-recorded in the 1980s. "For most men, sexuality is filled with violence," he contended.

He cautioned women: "In this age, in this time cycle of this universe, the destructive vibrations are very powerful. . . . So, as a woman, if you are interested in enlightenment, then it is necessary to detach yourself from men till you become much stronger." It was advisable for a woman to be around only one kind of man during these dangerous times, Rama suggested. "[I]f she's around an enlightened spiritual teacher, has spiritual friends .. . . her growth will be tremendously fast."

David and Goliath When you attain my level of enlightenment, you transcend good and evil. -- Lenz, as quoted in "Take Me for a Ride" For much of the past year, Mark Laxer rolled around the country in a 1973 VW bus with a quarter-million miles on its odometer, accompanied by his aging Siberian husky. Often they slept in the back of the van, which was filled with copies of a book Laxer spent six years writing but no publisher would touch.

Laxer, a computer programmer, spent $ 8,000 to print the paperback, which he titled "Take Me for a Ride." It is a harrowing account of his life with Zen Master Rama. Laxer spent seven years with the guru, including two years as his housemate.

Trying to sell the book, the frumpishly dressed Laxer hung around mainly on college campuses. "Meet famous Husky and her faithful author," he scrawled on a sign. It worked well enough to prompt students to talk to him. But not many wanted to pay the $ 14 asking price for his book, so Laxer offered discounts, accepted items in barter (once, a Hacky Sack) or simply gave copies away.

Laxer told the college students he wasn't against cults. Cults are all-American, he says; the nation was founded and peopled by weird sects, dating to when the Pilgrims landed. They are not necessarily a bad thing. "They give you a sense of belonging, of community, support. And when kids fly the nest, away from their parents, they should experiment.

"Cults are not the problem," Laxer says. "Cults that turn destructive are the problem." Today, Laxer still has thousands of unsold copies of "Take Me for a Ride." He is back in Washington working as a programmer on contract with the U.S. Customs Service. He lives alone in an unheated basement apartment. He is 35 years old. He commutes to work on a dilapidated 12-speed bicycle.

He wishes he had a steady girlfriend. "I want to get on with my life," he says.

Laxer left Lenz 10 years ago, but he has remained in the guru's shadow. "It's a David versus Goliath story," Laxer says. And it is also a Cain and Abel story. As a high-schooler in New York, Laxer was intrigued by the mystical writings of Carlos Castaneda. After graduating, he wanted to hitchhike to Mexico to meet a brujo, a sorcerer. But he never did: Mark's older brother, David, a physics student at SUNY Stony Brook, took him to a lecture by a Sri Chinmoy recruiter who called himself Atmananda and told stories about the lost city of Atlantis. Both Laxer boys were raised Jewish, but their rabbi could supply none of the spiritual thrills offered by Chinmoy and Atmananda.

In 1979, Mark Laxer followed Atmananda and other devotees to San Diego. He became Fred Lenz's faithful assistant, distributing posters and collecting the money. About a year later, his brother left college and moved west to join the group.

Laxer came to seriously doubt the teachings of Atmananda/Rama/Lenz in 1984, in part because of Donald Kohl's suicide. In his book, he recounts a conversation with the dead student's father: "I know what you're thinking, but Donald was not involved in a cult," Laxer told him. Then, in July 1985, Laxer writes, he was invited to an LSD party at Rama's house.

"I thought in terms of computers," he says in the book. " 'He's formatting us like floppy disks!' I thought." Laxer left the group a few weeks later. His older brother stayed. Today, David Laxer is 37 and describes himself as a wealthy man, an expert in software and computing. He won't provide the name of his company because he doesn't believe that a reporter will be fair to him in print. He says he hasn't seen Lenz in more than a year.

He indicates that he has paid Lenz more than $ 100,000 in fees in recent years, but says the money was well worth it: "Suppose you want to run in the Olympics, but you need a coach. That is my relationship with Dr. Lenz. I studied with someone who helped me bring out the best."

Furthermore: "Dr. Lenz can transmit a religious experience. . . . I know where it came from, this success -- and it didn't come from my parents."

David Laxer hasn't seen his parents since 1981. He believes they have been contacted by deprogrammers and are part of a campaign against Lenz that includes "media assassination" and "blacklisting" and "blackmail."

"I have no relationship with my parents by my own choice," he says, the contempt in his voice barely muted. "The amount of damage they have done to my life and my peers is incalculable."

And his brother Mark? He's a vindictive liar who's only out for money: "He's doing this for power, for fame. It gives him an identity -- he's got nothing else going on. My life is very challenging. . . . He's got time to defame someone. That's his career."

Mark Laxer responds: "I love my brother. That's on the record." But he won't say anything else. The last time he talked publicly about a Lenz follower, he was sued for libel. That suit recently was dropped, but Laxer says he's afraid his brother would file another.

The Spiritual Marketplace

    There is no past . . . -- Master Fwap, in "Surfing the Himalayas"

Sometimes, the enemies of Rama wonder whether he hasn't won the game, pulled in all the golden karma. He's a rich man -- making about $ 6 million a year from his students, according to Lenz-Watch, a group of parents that has monitored the guru. And now people are buying his book. Many will think that its author is a good and moral Buddhist.

"Buddhist teachers don't talk about hell worlds and threaten their students' lives and give them LSD!" Mark Laxer fumes. "And teaching them to cheat and lie on their resumes is not Buddhist!"

"Mark Laxer was a very, very, very, very dear friend of mine," the guru says. He sounds almost wistful. Then he bitterly dismisses his former confidant's autobiography as "disgusting," a "little travesty of a book," the product of an unstable mind. "Obviously, he couldn't get it published by a commercial publisher -- so much for literary merit."

Actually, Laxer's book has gotten far better reviews than Lenz's. "Well written," the Library Journal said of "Take Me for a Ride," adding: "His portrait of a charismatic leader's descent into madness is gripping." The Santa Fe Reporter said Laxer's portrait of himself as a young spiritual seeker "comes across brilliantly."

The Denver Post panned Lenz's book as "poorly researched crud." "Terrifically dull and stupefying," agreed longtime reviewer Hart Williams, whose column in Santa Fe Sun magazine said: "Aside from failing on every level, there is nothing remarkable about this novel, except that it was published."

Having achieved a measure of mainstream credibility with a best-selling book, Lenz seems to fully expect further persecution. He admits he is "not a saint," but says all these allegations are the work of a conspiracy against religious freedom.

And in America, every man is entitled to invent his own religion, to see a market need and sell his spiritual product accordingly. Lenz's brand of Buddhism seems right for the times: "Remember, Buddhists don't believe in sin and guilt," he says.

Lenz prefers to talk about success, about how his book was selected by the Book-of-the-Month Club and the Quality Paperback Book Club, and how rights to his book were sold to 10 foreign publishers. And, yes, he's doing great in the music business too, having just produced two new CDs with his new age group, Zazen. "Have you checked out my new ad in Rolling Stone?" he asks. "It's gorgeous."

The Gwid In 1981, Lenz was based in San Diego, with a core following of about 50 students, including Mark Laxer. As Atmananda, Lenz was busy promising to turn rooms golden, and also publishing a newspaper called WOOF!

In the paper he created a cult leader named Gwid, presumably for purposes of parody. "Admirers of the Gwid have firmly rooted themselves in Rancho Bernardo," a front-page story reported in March 1981. The Gwid was quoted as saying:

"I do not wish to own your sons and daughters, merely to use them as a tax break. It is not the acquiring of wealth that interests me, but rather the actual possession of it. All else is useless to me unless it involves adventure, limber bodies, cunning and chocolate. . . . I stand for freedom . . . the dignity to live a free and happy life under my close supervision, and not getting caught."
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Thu Nov 21, 2013 11:40 am

Traumatic Abuse in Cults: A Psychoanalytic Perspective by Daniel Shaw, CSW
http://www.danielshawlcsw.com/traumabusecults.pdf
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Thu Nov 21, 2013 11:55 am


Traumatic Narcissism
Relational Systems of Subjugation
By Daniel Shaw
Routledge – 2014 – 172 pages 978-0-415-51025-7 -September 17th 2013
In this volume, Traumatic Narcissism: Relational Systems of Subjugation, Daniel Shaw presents a way of understanding the traumatic impact of narcissism as it is engendered developmentally, and as it is enacted relationally. Focusing on the dynamics of narcissism in interpersonal relations, Shaw describes the relational system of what he terms the 'traumatizing narcissist' as a system of subjugation – the objectification of one person in a relationship as the means of enforcing the dominance of the subjectivity of the other
.
Daniel Shaw illustrates the workings of this relational system of subjugation in a variety of contexts: theorizing traumatic narcissism as an intergenerationally transmitted relational/developmental trauma; and exploring the clinician's experience working with the adult children of traumatizing narcissists. He explores the relationship of cult leaders and their followers, and examines how traumatic narcissism has lingered vestigially in some aspects of the psychoanalytic profession.

Bringing together theories of trauma and attachment, intersubjectivity and complementarity, and the rich clinical sensibility of the Relational Psychoanalysis tradition, Shaw demonstrates how narcissism can best be understood not merely as character, but as the result of the specific trauma of subjugation, in which one person is required to become the object for a significant other who demands hegemonic subjectivity. Traumatic Narcissism presents therapeutic clinical opportunities not only for psychoanalysts of different schools, but for all mental health professionals working with a wide variety of modalities. Although primarily intended for the professional psychoanalyst and psychotherapist, this is also a book that therapy patients and lay readers will find highly readable and illuminating.

"Readers will be compelled by Daniel Shaw's differentiated and lucid account of relational trauma and non-recognition in the shaping of what has been called narcissism. The book's intelligent and compassionate portrayal of clinical dilemmas involved in working with those who have suffered in abusive subjugating relationships is ideal for students and advanced practitioners. Traumatic Narcissism offers an original and captivating analysis of the relational configurations and painful emotions that lead to and so often prevent emergence from submission. While his thinking is informed by a broad theoretical knowledge, equally impressive is Shaw's exemplary dedication to exploring how we can use our own experience and personal honesty in order to transcend shame and confront the pitfalls of being an analyst while still maintaining our focus on recognizing the patient." - Jessica Benjamin, author of Shadow of the Other

"Daniel Shaw has written a fascinating book that places his personal psychological journey in the well-researched context of his larger compelling theory of traumatic narcissism. Inspired by his own experience in a cult with a guru whom he eventually came to see as a traumatizing narcissist, and enlivened with numerous clinical case examples, this absorbing and far-ranging book traces the history of traumatic narcissism from ancient times to the vagaries of the current political scene." - Sheldon Bach, PhD, Adjunct Clinical Professor of Psychology, NYU Post Doctorial Program in Psychoanalysis

"This book is a must-read for any of us who have worked with victims of traumatizing narcissists or been their victims ourselves. Whether drawing on his personal experience in the clinic and in cults, or analyzing literary productions and the inner worlds of their creators, Dan Shaw brings vividly to life the relational world of those bent on subjugating others -- and of those who have been subjugated by them. Not since Benjamin’s The Bonds of Love has there been such a powerful analysis of the psychic life of domination and submission, complemented by a moving account of the effect of analytic love. Perhaps only someone like Shaw, who has known firsthand the psychic effects and needs fulfilled by living in a world of traumatizing narcissists, could have provided such a compassionate and helpful guide for clinicians engaged in the painful work of helping those who have been drawn into the traumatizing narcissist’s relational system." - Lynne Layton, Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts Institute for Psychoanalysis

"Daniel Shaw has written an astute, dramatic portrayal of the traumatizing narcissist’s subjugation and destruction of another’s subjectivity as it emerges in families, cult-like groups and even in the psychoanalytic profession itself. He boldly offers "analytic love" as the avenue of restoration of subjectivity. Professionals of all levels will be riveted as they expand their understanding of these phenomena." - James L. Fosshage, Ph.D., Clinical Professor of Psychology, New York University Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis


"Dan Shaw's fine study of what he calls "traumatic narcissism" explores the toxic forms of self-involvement in areas as diverse as the life of Eugene O'Neill, a number of his patients, and in his own experience with a guru. Shaw is at his best, however, exploring some of the dark corners of the cultic world of psychoanalysis itself. He holds a mirror up to those who claim the authority of self-understanding. Not all reflect well. Wisely, for all the anger and despair in this book, Shaw ends in hope that is cautious but authentic." - Charles B. Strozier, an historian at the City University of New York and a practicing psychoanalyst

About the Author


Daniel Shaw, LCSW is a psychoanalytically oriented psychotherapist in private practice in New York City, and in Nyack, New York. He is a training analyst, teacher and supervisor of analytic candidates at the National Institute for the Psychotherapies in New York City.
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Sat Nov 23, 2013 10:10 am

The Landmark Forum: 42 Hours, $500, 65 Breakdowns
Hanging with the trademark happy, bathroom-break hating, slightly spooky inheritors of est.

By Laura McClure | Mon Aug. 17, 2009 3:21 PM PDT - from MOTHER JONES

AFTER NEARLY 40 HOURS inside the basement of Landmark Education [1]'s world headquarters, I have not Transformed. Nor have I "popped" like microwave popcorn, as the Forum Leader striding back and forth at the front of the windowless gray room has promised. In fact, by the time he starts yelling and stabbing the board with a piece of chalk around hour 36, it's become clear that I'll be the hard kernel left at the bottom of this three-and-a-half-day Landmark Forum. I have, however, Invented the Possibility of a Future in which I get a big, fat raise, a Future I'll Choose to Powerfully Enroll my bosses in, now that I am open to Miracles Around Money.

My reluctance to achieve Breakthrough Results is clearly not shared by many of my fellow Forum attendees. Even on day one, most seem positively elated to have plunked down 500 bucks for a more efficient, passionate, powerful life. "Hey, it's cheaper than therapy [2]," a therapist-turned-real estate agent tells me. He ponders how to persuade one of his employees to pony up for the Forum. She's going through a rough patch, he explains—the recession [3], her marriage [4].

Not that being broke or brokenhearted would make her a minority in this room; several attendees talk about being between jobs, and one woman says she's on welfare. In the scribbled shorthand of my furtive notes, PW stands for "incidents of public weeping." I lose track after the PW count hits 65.

Landmark Education, a for-profit "employee-owned" private company, took in $89 million last year offering leadership and development seminars (and cruises, and dating services, and courses for kids and teens). It claims that more than 1 million seekers have sat through its basic training, which is offered in seven languages in 20 countries. Its consulting firm, the Vanto Group, has coached employees from Apple [5], ExxonMobil [6], JPMorgan Chase, and the Pentagon.

Though it's hardly a secret, Landmark does not advertise that it is the buttoned-down reincarnation of the ultimate '70s self-actualization philosophy, est [7]. Erhard Seminars Training [7] was founded by Werner Erhard, a former used car salesman who'd changed his name from Jack Rosenberg, moved to Northern California, and dabbled in Dale Carnegie, Zen, and Scientology before seizing upon the idea that you, and only you, are responsible for your own happiness or unhappiness, success or failure. Est's marathon Transformation sessions were legendary for their confrontational tactics (Erhard calling his students "assholes"), inscrutable platitudes ("What is, is, and what ain't, ain't"), and the pressure put on participants to bring in new recruits for the next cycle of seminars.

In 1985, Erhard changed est's name to the innocuous-sounding The Forum. Amid controversy over his convoluted tax records, he left the country in 1991 and slid into obscurity. But before he did, he sold the company's "technology" to his former employees, who used it to create The Landmark Forum. Erhard's brother, Harry Rosenberg, is Landmark's CEO.

Like a successful grad of its own program, Landmark has shed its past hang-ups and realized Breakthrough Results. "We are on the list of offerings in the human-resources departments in hundreds of companies and organizations around the world," boasts PR director Deborah Beroset. The company's language of personal productivity, confidence, and communication (much of it trademarked) has become white noise in corporate America—and possibly in your personal circle, too. "Authentic life," anyone?

Landmark's corporate clients bring not just respectability but more warm bodies bearing checks. (Landmark relies entirely on word-of-mouth advertising.) The yoga [8] apparel chain Lululemon pays for its employees to enroll in Landmark. Other firms have been sued by employees claiming they were pressured to attend the Forum: In 2007, a Virginia man accused his former employer of firing him for his "refusal to embrace Landmark religious beliefs." Not that Landmark itself condones such arm twisting. At the start of my session, we were asked to affirm that we were attending of our own free will. A couple of people who confessed otherwise were asked to leave. Still, I talked with several who'd been sent by their employers.

The profitable field Landmark helped pioneer is now crowded with life coaches, time-management gurus, and productivity bloggers. Like David Allen's Getting Things Done or Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Landmark is just one of dozens of quasi-philosophies that promise to empty your inbox and fulfill your personal goals. And maybe survive the recession. Since the Great Depression, when Dale Carnegie's seminars on how to win friends and influence people became popular, the personal development industry has bloomed under darkening economic skies. Forget work/life balance [9]; that's so 2008. How to do more in less time is today's hot productivity trend. (Landmark's website touts a survey in which one-third of Forum grads reported that their incomes rose at least 25 percent after participating; 94 percent of those attributed it to the program.) Yet if Landmark is just another outpost in lifehacking country, why does it seem so insidious?

Part of it is the in-your-face, hard-sell ethos embedded in the corporate DNA it inherited from est. Forum grads are urged to stay involved and "invite" friends and family. After finishing the Forum, I received calls asking me to volunteer at the Landmark call center and come in for one-on-one coaching. The company also vigorously guards its reputation from critics. After I told Beroset I'd be writing an article on my mixed feelings about the Forum, she called several times and sent me an email that might be described as threatening—but in the most benign, centered kind of way.

I first heard about Landmark while working as a Peace Corps recruiter. Every now and again I'd see it listed at the end of someone's resume, occupying the same spot as, say, a Kiwanis leadership award, or a pastime like water polo. Applicants described it as a professional development seminar—most had been signed up by employers—and gave glowing reports. "You should try it," they invariably added. I forgot about the whole thing until a generally sane, well-meaning friend called me one weekend with a frog in his throat. He was at some time-management seminar, he'd really gotten a lot out of this thing, and would I want to come by and learn more next Tuesday night? It was hard to say no. But then I googled Landmark.

Eventually, as part of an ongoing attempt to hack my own overscheduled life, I did sign up for the Landmark Forum. I vowed to go in with an open mind and to follow the rules, no matter how restrictive. That meant taking just one meal break per 13-hour session, no Advil or other over-the-counter drugs, no speaking out unless called to the microphone by the Leader, and wearing my name tag at all times. I signed a six-page disclaimer in which I declared that I understood that after attending the Forum, people with no history of mental or emotional problems had experienced "brief, temporary episodes of emotional upset ranging from heightened activity...to mild psychotic-like behavior."

At 9 a.m. on a Friday I find myself sardined into a basement room with 129 other people, listening to David Cunningham, a boomer in a dark suit and bright purple shirt, whose first language seems to be Tent-Revival Baptist Preacher. (I later learn that he was raised a fundamentalist in Florida.) He informs us that he has personally led more than 50,000 people to Transformation. He's here to tell us that "anything you want for yourself and your life is available from being here this weekend." He starts by taking a few questions from the floor. A querulous man observes that the phrases carefully ruler-lined on the chalkboard seem like poor English. ("In The Landmark Forum you will bring forth the presence of a New Realm of Possibility for yourself and your life.") David agrees. "It's very poor English. You know why? Because the usual confines of language would not allow your Transformation this weekend."

Another man is called to the mic. He wants to know how Landmark is different from est. David sighs. "If I had to sum it up, here's what I'd say: They're both about Transformation, but est was very experiential. It was the '70s, okay? Your access was an experience. Your access this weekend is going to be just through conversation. We realized we could do it just through conversation." And that's the last we hear of that.

A slight, blond woman sitting next to me confides that she's here only because her boyfriend paid her way—with the subtext that this was an offer she couldn't refuse. She shows me a packet of notes tied with a bow. They're from a friend who attended a Forum and thought it was brainwashing. In the corner of the top sheet is written, "To be opened on 'breaks.'" Why "breaks" in quotes, I wonder?

I soon find out. "Break" is a misleading term at an all-day workshop that offers no snacks, no drinks other than Dixie cups of water, a single mealtime, and only loosely scheduled pauses to use the bathroom. Also, every break has a corresponding assignment. The first one: Call someone who'd like to hear from you and tell them where you are. I call my brother. "So, it's like the Hare Krishnas of time management," he says slowly. On the next break, I hide in a bathroom stall and read a Landmark flyer seemingly translated from Martian: "What would it be like if the San Francisco center was your center of being, and reflected in this, you were being your center?...What if your way of being in the center gives the center its being and you are given your being from the space created in the center?"

By ten o'clock Friday night, 13 hours in, David is curing headaches with visualization techniques (an old Erhard trick) and redefining basic math. "How many items am I holding up?" he asks, holding up a Kleenex box and a chalkboard eraser. "Two," we say in unison. He puts the eraser down. "Now how many am I holding up?" he asks. One? "Two," he says. "The box and everything else." We repeat this until it makes sense—kind of. David promises that tomorrow, people will start to pop.

Indeed, some attendees have popped even before they return to the basement at nine the next morning. Others pop while tearfully offering "shares" about being molested or abandoned, about illnesses and divorces, their suicidal parents. There is applause for stories of calling loved ones and offering forgiveness, and David gently prods the storytellers to invite their family members to attend a Forum—or even pay for them to attend. A woman re-creates a beautiful conversation she had with her mother this morning and ends by singing "Wind Beneath My Wings."

Next, David calls up a woman—I'll call her Rose—who is estranged from her siblings. She reports that when she called her sister this morning, it did not go well. "I'm going to get a little intense now," David warns us with a smile, which he drops as soon as he turns to Rose. "You know the mood of celebration after the last share?" She nods. "What's in the room now?" David shakes his head ruefully. "You were 'screamed at' by your sister? There's no such thing as screaming." People start fidgeting and making for the door; there hasn't been a bathroom break in three hours. "You see, people are leaving," David says. "This is why people don't want to be around you, why your siblings don't want to be around you. You're too dead to feel," he says.

By now, tears are streaming down Rose's face. She asks to sit down; he says nothing. Finally, she thanks David, and he gives her a long hug before she takes a seat. Later, I walk over to tell her that I didn't like how David treated her. To my surprise, she disagrees. After being publicly humiliated, she phoned her sister again, and this time her sister listened. "I guess this is what I needed to hear," Rose tells me, smiling.

By Sunday, I'm in open rebellion. I come bearing contraband—a newspaper [10], coffee, snacks, and Advil. "How are you?" I ask the minder at the door as I slap on my name tag. "I'm truthful," he says, giving me the stink-eye. I Invent the Possibility of staying far away from Landmark seminars in the future.

We get Monday off. When I take a hard seat in the basement for Tuesday's final Special Evening, I'm surprised to find I almost—almost—start crying. It's like seeing a room of beloved camp friends after a year apart. The air is festive and buzzing with chatter about our day and a half away from each other. I think, This is great! No wonder people have brought along dozens of friends to sign up.

David quiets the crowd and sends the friends away with a group of minders. Turning to the rest of us, he says, "You know how I wished you big Problems on Sunday? Well, now I wish you big Breakdowns. Because a Breakdown is nothing more than the gap between your life now and the life you're committed to living. Your job is to step into that gap." He smiles. "When you came in here Friday morning, you were so certain about who you were, weren't you? You walked in certain, and tonight you're walking out uncertain. It could take years to become certain about who you are again. That's what the rest of the Landmark Curriculum for Living is for: to help you resolve that uncertainty."

Suddenly, I want him to love me as his student, to make him smile, to hear him tell me I'm doing a good job in my life. There are more "shares"; David tears up for the third time in two hours. "I love you forever," he tells us. "If you ever wonder if someone loves you, the answer is yes. David loves you."

And then, without warning, he launches into the hard, hard sell [11]. "I am committed to having every one of you register for the Advanced Course tonight," he says. He's no longer smiling. We can demonstrate our commitment to ourselves, to David, to Landmark—all for $650, a $200 discount—but only if we act now.

Before I get up and leave for good, I spot Rose. She's sitting in the front row, gazing expectantly at David, ready to take the next step toward Transformation, Possibility, and Enrollment™.
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Sat Nov 23, 2013 10:26 am

This cultic organization is based near Albany, New York, and the local paper there has done an exhaustive expose of the organization

http://www.timesunion.com/nxivm/

This group is a good example of a personality-based cult with a messianic / charismatic leader, micro-meglomania.  The Times Union series is worth reading if you have an interest in understanding these kinds of organizations, group think, blind obedience, and grandiosity.  Some of these groups thrive because the leader attracts some wealthy followers, often heirs of major fortunes who bankroll the enterprise, donating millions of dollars.  By the way, any numbers the group shares - like the number of followers or the number of people that taken their programs are not to be taken seriously.  Exaggeration is part of their pathology and these numbers can be inflated 5 to 10 times.

0/13/2003 @ 12:00AM - FORBES
Cult of Personality

Keith Raniere’s devoted followers say he is one of the smartest and most ethical people alive. They describe him as a soft-spoken, humble genius who can diagnose societal ills with remarkable clarity. They say his teachings as an inspirational executive coach can empower some of the most successful people in the world to attain ever higher levels of status and money. Why, his program can even cure ailments like diabetes and scoliosis.

Some 3,700 people have flocked to Raniere, 43, and Executive Success Programs, the business he created in 1998. Prompted by a potent word-of-mouth network, they include Sheila Johnson, cofounder of Black Entertainment Television; Antonia C. Novello, a former U.S. surgeon general; Stephen Cooper, acting chief executive of Enron; the Seagram fortune’s Edgar Bronfman Sr. and two of his daughters; and Ana Cristina Fox, daughter of the Mexican president. Raniere’s disciples say his methods sharpen their focus and give them keener insight into the motivations of others. “It’s like a practical M.B.A.,” says one follower, Emiliano Salinas, son of a former president of Mexico.

Raniere, who has no M.B.A., has shrewdly cashed in on the high-profit fad of executive coaching, a booming multibillion-dollar market. It includes established firms and renowned individuals who promise–for a fee–to help people become better executives, improve productivity and navigate office politics. Well-known trainers like Marshall Goldsmith, professor Vijay Govindarajan of Dartmouth and Richard Leider charge from $25,000 a day to $100,000 for a half dozen sessions spread over 18 months. They teach executives how to change their “negative behaviors,” to find what drives them and to divine the right goals (see box below).
Win Friends and Influence People
In selling himself as an executive coach, Keith Raniere has tapped into a mother lode of demand. Here are some of the most respected players in this multibillion-dollar industry.
 
DAVID ALLEN
Helps execs manage time, minimize stress.
Clients: Merck, General Mills.
Fee: $10,000 for two in-person meetings and two follow-up calls.
MARSHALL GOLDSMITH
Helps leaders achieve a “positive change in behavior, for themselves, their people and their teams.”
Clients: 3M, UBS, Philips.
Fee: More than $100,000 for an 18-month assignment, or $17,000 a day.
VIJAY GOVINDARAJAN
Dartmouth professor helps executives “prepare for tomorrow’s business realities.”
Clients: Standard & Poor’s, Pitney Bowes.
Fee: $20,000 to $35,000 a day.
RICHARD LEIDER
“We help people put purpose to work in their personal and professional lives.” Book: Whistle While You Work.
Clients: Helps executives at places like American Express as they move into new positions.
Fee: $75,000 to $100,000 for 6 to 12 months.
GARY RANKER
Helps executives understand “corporate culture” and navigate office politics.
Clients: New York City accounting and >Wall Street firms.
Fee: $100,000+ for a 6-month to 1-year program.
-M.F.

But some people see a darker and more manipulative side to Keith Raniere. Detractors say he runs a cult-like program aimed at breaking down his subjects psychologically, separating them from their families and inducting them into a bizarre world of messianic pretensions, idiosyncratic language and ritualistic practices. “I think it’s a cult,” says Bronfman. Though he once took a course and endorsed the program, he hasn’t talked to his daughters in months and has grown troubled over the long hours and emotional and financial investment they have been devoting to Raniere’s group. One daughter, Clare, 24, has lent the program $2 million, at 2.5% interest, the senior Bronfman says (she denies this).

Raniere says there’s nothing in his operation that makes it a cult, and indeed, many enrollees see Executive Success as a good coaching program and nothing more. Enron’s Stephen Cooper puts himself in this category. Yet Raniere is an unlikely mentor to the wealthy and well-connected. A decade ago he ran an alleged pyramid scheme that collapsed after signing up at least 250,000 customers and bringing in more than $33 million in a year. In January a federal judge ruled in favor of an ex-girlfriend who was in a bitter legal fight with Raniere, citing “a jilted fellow’s attempt at revenge” and finding that Raniere had harassed her, disrupted her business and manipulated her into giving up her 10-year-old son to the boy’s father. The woman, Toni F. Natalie, tells Forbes that she believes Raniere brainwashed her, telling her she was put on Earth to carry his baby–the baby who would alter the course of history. Raniere calls this claim “ridiculous and not rational.”

These days Raniere prefers to be called “Vanguard” by his followers. (His business partner, Nancy Salzman, 49, a former nurse and therapist and the public face of Executive Success, calls herself “Prefect.”) Raniere’s long, brown hair and beard make him look a little like Jesus, and his thoughtful demeanor could let him pass for a philosophy professor–or maybe a slacker poet. He has no driver’s license, relying on friends for rides and walking up to 12 miles a day. He says he has no bank account and that he forgoes any salary from the $4 million-a-year coaching program he created: “I consider everything payment for what I’ve done.” Though he co-owns a small house near Albany, N.Y. with a female friend, he spends most nights at one or another of three friends’ homes. He claims not to own a bed. “I live,” he says with a disarmingly warm smile, “a somewhat church-mouse-type existence.”

His teachings are mysterious, filled with self-serving and impenetrable jargon about ethics and values, and defined by a blind-ambition ethos akin to that of the driven characters in an Ayn Rand novel. His shtick: Make your own self-interest paramount, don’t be motivated by what other people want and avoid “parasites” (his label for people who need help); only by doing this can you be true to yourself and truly “ethical.” The flip side, of course, is that this worldview discredits virtues like charity, teamwork and compassion–but maybe we just don’t get it.

Executive Success resembles motivational groups such as the Landmark Forum, the Sterling Institute of Relationship and Lifespring. It also is reminiscent of the “human potential” training of the 1970s, with a few Scientology-like elements and parallels to EST, the much-criticized groupthink program founded by Werner Erhard. Unlike EST, which famously discouraged students from using the bathroom during sessions, Executive Success offers plenty of breaks. Students pay up to $10,000 for five days of lectures and intense emotional probing in daily 13-hour cram sessions. They remove their shoes for class, learn obscure handshakes and wear patented colored sashes in dozens of different variations that signify rank in the organization. When a higher-ranking student enters the room they must stand to show respect. They are taught to bow to one another and to “Vanguard.” When he makes a rare appearance, Elvis-like, students rush up to him. Some ex-clients say they have seen him greet each woman with a kiss on the mouth, although Raniere denies this.

Once a day the attendees recite a 12-point mission statement written by Raniere. (Sample: “There are no ultimate victims; therefore, I will not choose to be a victim.”) It is apocalyptic in tone, with the occasional grammatical error–his genius notwithstanding. The world is full of people who try to “destroy each other, steal from each other, down each other or rejoice at another’s demise.” Thus, he writes, “it is essential for the survival of humankind” that the world’s wealth and resources be controlled by “successful, ethical people”–i.e., those trained at Executive Success.

It is quite a sales job, one that comes naturally to this corporate Svengali. Born in Brooklyn and bred in the suburbs, Raniere has a flair for promotion, like his adman father. An old bio labels Keith “one of the top three problem solvers in the world.” His current Web site quotes Albert Schweitzer, Margaret Mead–and himself. “Humans can be noble. The question is: Will we put forth what is necessary?” he writes, concluding that his program “represents the change humanity needs in order to alter the course of history.”

Raniere claims he spoke in full sentences when he was a 1-year-old, taught himself high school math in 19 hours when he was 12 and, by 13, had learned three years of college math and several computer languages. As a boy he read an Isaac Asimov sci-fi novel about a brilliant scientist who knew his galaxy was in irremediable decline and had reduced all human behavior to elegant mathematical equations. It inspired Raniere later to try to do the same. After graduating from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. in 1982, with majors in physics, math and biology, he went to work in computer programming and consulting.

On the job he began to nurture his notion of unalloyed self-interest as the path to ethical behavior. He felt employees too often took jobs they didn’t like and made decisions they didn’t believe in. A more ethical world, he reasoned, would consist of people who understood their goals and pursued them. Raniere says he found inspiration in Rand’s books. The protagonists in Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead are über-individualists, aggressive and ruthless.

In 1990 Raniere decided to apply his theory to his new business, Consumers’ Buyline, a multilevel marketing program near Albany that promised lucrative commissions to old customers for recruiting new ones. He barnstormed the nation promoting discounts on groceries, dishwashers and even hotel stays, stoking crowds of a thousand pumped-up and profit-hungry people. “He was like a mythological figure–the guy with the 240 IQ was coming to town,” says Robert Bremner, a former distributor for the outfit.

Raniere says by the end of 1993 he had sold $1 billion in goods and services, employed 80 people and had a quarter-million believers paying him $19 a month to hawk his goods. He claims he was worth $50 million. Yet he appeared to carry no money, says Bremner, adding that Raniere seemed to sleep all day, rolled into his office around 10 p.m. and sometimes held meetings at 1 a.m. Business flagged, debt ballooned and customers complained. Regulators in 20 states began to investigate. In 1993 the New York attorney general filed a civil suit alleging Consumers’ Buyline was a pyramid scheme. Without admitting wrongdoing, Raniere settled for $40,000, of which he has paid only $9,000. He says he can’t pay the rest, though he also says his ample finances let him live on savings.

A year later Raniere created another multilevel outfit, National Health Network, which sold vitamins. He and his then-girlfriend, Toni Natalie, set up a health food shop in Clifton Park, N.Y. One day in 1997 Raniere met the woman who would become his business partner, Nancy Salzman. She is a nurse and therapist who has studied hypnosis and neurolinguistic programming, by which therapists examine and mimic a person’s language and speech patterns to alter behavior. (Raniere has studied this, too.)

Salzman had just gone through a tough time. She found Raniere to be riveting. He became her spiritual guide, and she became his most ardent follower. “There is probably no discovery since writing as important for humankind as Mr. Raniere’s technology,” she once wrote in a brochure. She ended up treating Raniere’s girlfriend, Toni Natalie, with therapy and lending her $50,000 for the health food business. When it flopped in 1999, a bitter battle ensued in U.S. bankruptcy court in Albany. Raniere sided with Salzman. Natalie moved away. Court records show Raniere sent Natalie verses from Paradise Lost, annotated (“Commits to evil for protection–stupid/weak.”). He drew a diagram that plotted her life and said she was in danger of careening down a “pride barrier” to a “dream death line.”

Raniere and Salzman don’t directly deny the assertions, but they say Natalie may have altered court documents–a charge Natalie says is outrageous. In January a U.S. judge said he found it “disturbing” to hear testimony that Raniere had had police sent to Natalie’s mother’s house and had made repeated threats to her and her family. Raniere has appealed several times, driving Natalie to the brink of a breakdown. “I can’t think. I can’t work. I can’t pay my bills,” she says.

In 1998 Salzman incorporated in Delaware the company that launched Executive Success Programs and applied for patents on Raniere’s behavior-modification “technology.” She and “Vanguard” agreed that he would get a share of the profits at some point. The company is now also known as Nxivm. Classes now are offered in Albany, Manhattan, Seattle, Boston and several cities in Mexico, with plans to expand. In August, in a squat, brown office complex near the Albany airport, 50 entrepreneurs and bankers sat on overstuffed couches, earnestly discussing words like “value” and “ethics.” Days begin at 8 a.m. with the “ESP handclap,” akin to using a gavel to open a court hearing. Students then go through sessions on “Money,” “Face of the Universe,” “Control, Freedom & Surrender” and more. They learn baffling and solipsistic jargon: “Parasites” are people who suffer, creating problems where none exist and craving attention. “Suppressives” see good but want to destroy it. Thus, a person who criticizes Executive Success is showing suppressive behavior.

In “Money,” students are taught that every dollar spent represents a portion of effort, and that “Vanguard identified the concept of giving and taking with integrity.” Coaches urge students to take each session several times at a cost of several thousand dollars–and to think of each dollar spent as a worthwhile representation of that effort. In a core piece of the program, known as “exploration of meaning,” teachers plumb students’ beliefs and backgrounds, looking for emotional buttons. People are encouraged to reveal a negative habit, describe how it benefits survival and pledge to replace it with a new one.

Confidentiality is sacrosanct. Students must sign a nondisclosure agreement and vow never to talk about what they learn. If they violate it, they are “compromising inner honesty and integrity.” In August Raniere sued a woman for, the suit claimed, divulging information. When a Forbes reporter asked to audit a session, the group’s lawyer presented a three-page confidentiality agreement forbidding the magazine to write about virtually anything seen or heard at the event. The reporter declined (and later was allowed to make a brief visit to the Albany site).

It is all too intense for some. After sleepless nights and 17-hour days of workshops, a 28-year-old woman from a prominent Mexican family says she began to have hallucinations and had a mental breakdown at her hotel near Albany. She went to a hospital and required psychiatric treatment. Her psychiatrist, Carlos Rueda, says in the last three years he has treated two others who have taken the class; one had a psychotic episode.

Stephanie Franco, a New Jersey social worker, spent $2,160 plus expenses for a five-day class in Albany at the suggestion of her half-brother, an executive at a family apparel company (Lollytogs and other brands). Other relatives joined, but Franco became concerned about the group’s rituals and its emphasis on recruitment. The family hired Rick A. Ross, a Jersey City, N.J. specialist in cults, to intervene, to no avail. He put information about the organization on his Web site–and promptly got sued by Raniere and Salzman, who accuse him of copyright violations. In September an Albany federal judge denied the organization’s initial request that Ross remove the information.

The family also hired John Hochman, a forensic psychiatrist who teaches at UCLA, who pored over the Executive Success manual and describes it thusly: “It is a kingdom of sorts, ruled by a Vanguard, who writes his own dictionary of the English language, has his own moral code and the ability to generate taxes on subjects by having them participate in his seminars. It is a kingdom with no physical borders, but with psychological borders–influencing how his subjects spend their time, socialize, and think.” In the lawsuit Raniere and Salzman made similar claims regarding alleged copyright violations against Hochman, as well as against Stephanie Franco.

Raniere and Salzman say they are careful to avoid accepting troubled students. In their world, those who question Raniere’s views simply don’t get it. He speaks slowly and methodically, with digression upon digression, using words he has defined for himself and then pausing to explain each term. You might think it pure genius. Or maybe horse manure.

Still, many disciples swear by Vanguard. Several students have achieved a high enough rank to qualify for a 20% commission on their new recruits. But most students are in it for the coaching. Sara Bronfman, Edgar Sr.’s 26-year-old daughter, says she started taking classes at the end of 2002 after her marriage fell apart. She was living in Belgium and heard about the class from a family friend. She marveled at how much Raniere was able to teach her. Sara has since been promoted to the rank of coach; she now works full time for Executive Success.

Sara and other devotees are talking about erecting centers in Australia and elsewhere. Raniere has lined up private investors to pay for a $15 million, 75,000-square-foot building near Albany. As originally designed, the building was to emerge from a stone foundation under a six-sided, glass roof. It is meant to be a tribute to civilization–another step in the mission to spread Vanguard’s gospel around the world. “I don’t know how much you know about my family,” Sara Bronfman says, admiring the silky cloth around her chest, “but, coming from a family where I’ve never had to earn anything before in my life, [it] was a very, very moving experience for me to be awarded this yellow sash. It was the first thing that I had earned on just my merits.”
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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Tue Dec 10, 2013 11:45 pm

Inserting here a piece from DOUBLE MIRROR, Stephen Butterfield's book on his experiences with Trungpa.  A key part of his story is not in this selection.  I recommend reading or at least skimming this book.  The most important part of the story is when Trungpa's heir / regent contracts AIDS, knowingly infects at least one young man, and then rationalizes is.  It is a bizarre example of inflated mind and spiritual grandiosity.  This part of the story begins on page 183 in the book.  I will try to see if it's posted on line, but it may not be.  The author makes some very good points and clearly has started to question the main narratives of this scene. 

How crazy can wisdom get? Stephen Butterfield questions the Double Mirror of his Vajrayana lineage.
From the Book:  DOUBLE MIRROR by Stephen Butterfield


Ordinary mind," said Osel Tendzin, the guru's American dharma heir, as we sat together in an airport bar watching a television talk show about AIDS. "Ordinary mind, that's what it feels like." "Ordinary mind" is the English translation of a Tibetan Buddhist term thamal gye shepa, literally, "mind without ego." The end of practice is to bring about this state, which can also be induced by the presence or death of a great teacher.

Osel Tendzin was the preceptor who had given me my Buddhist vows. Before he met Trungpa in the early 1970s, he was the yoga student Narayana, formerly Thomas Rich, an Italian from New Jersey. In 1976, Trungpa empowered Tendzin as his successor to the "crazy wisdom" tradition of Buddhist tantra. His title was "The Regent," and within Vajradhatu, Trungpa's church, he had his own staff, limousine, headquarters, itinerary, power base, personal attendants, and personal mystique. During the cremation, Tendzin had sat on the V.I.P. platform with the high lamas of Tibet, joining in their complex chants and gestures, accepted by them as a fellow dharma king. Our meeting in this airport bar was pure auspicious coincidence: I was flying to Europe and he was flying somewhere; we were waiting for different planes.

A guest on the talk show was arguing that dolls should be manufactured with genital organs so that children can learn about sex and how to take precautions against AIDS. Then a commercial came on the screen. A haggard young woman said she had gotten AIDS from her bisexual husband, who was having affairs with men. "I never knew about any of them," she said. "This program is trivial," Osel Tendzin said. "It's cheap."

I would have thought that warning people about AIDS fulfilled the Buddhist idea of compassionate activity. I had the urge to ask, "Why do you think so?" but pretended instead to agree with him. He was the Regent and I was the disciple. If somebody had missed something, it was probably me. I wanted to be important, like he was, and to understand the world as he understood it.

In the guru-disciple relationship, this self-conscious longing for acceptance, regarded as a form of devotion, operates to intimidate the student into deference. Here was a priceless, fragile, short-lived opportunity, filled with uncontrived symbolism. If I had asked the right questions at the moment, I would have learned a great deal about the causes of the tragedy that was about to unfold around him and around the presentation of Buddhist tantra in America. But I was paralyzed. Although I knew that I had as much power as Tendzin, I could not act from it. The meeting communicated anyway, on a level much deeper than my questions, and still does.

Perhaps he meant that AIDS is another form of cremation, one in which the self gets reduced to ash and ordinary mind is liberated. "The sad skeleton turns," wrote Rosemary Klein. "Black rags dance the universe.../ To what song/ Do we owe this dance. Where does the light go/ When the light goes out." Alongside vision like that, the talk show was indeed cheap; it was drowning the subject in the jargon of "concern," and treating it as a Controversial Topic, always a boost for ratings.

Another commercial came on. A young woman held up a hypodermic needle and said, "I got AIDS from using this."

I said, "In the next commercial we'll see a guy holding up a dildo: 'And I got AIDS from using this.'"

Tendzin laughed. My question did not surface. I had glossed it over with a frivolous joke. He smiled and left, waving good-bye.

I later had one more opportunity to question his whole act by putting myself at risk of being a fool in front of a hundred people, but of course I didn't take it. During a program he was giving for advanced students of tantra, he said that if you keep your commitment to the guru, "you cannot make a mistake." I thought, You are going to get into trouble believing that, my friend; that's hubris. All the people in the written history of the world who believed they could not make a mistake sooner or later got into trouble. Yet I kept silent, intent only on uttering sentiments that would please him.

Then I dreamed that I met Tendzin in a spaceport. I had always liked his face—it was kind but ravaged, the nose a little too thick, probably from drinking. Both he and Trungpa were alcoholics. In the dream I was waiting for a rocket to another galaxy, and so was he. I knew neither of us would ever come back, and I wanted to get out. When I woke up, I feared the dream was a warning that I would die in a plane crash, and I said protective mantras and made a will.

A year later, I learned with the rest of the world that Tendzin had had AIDS, kept it secret, and infected one of his many unknowing student lovers. He knew he had AIDS while we were sitting in the bar. The subject had surrounded us like the jaws of a crocodile, and we had sat on its teeth and laughed. Unlike him, I had not known we were sitting on real teeth.

A lot was said after this about Osel Tendzin as a Buddhist example of the cult guru who seduces his students into self-destruction. Trungpa's entire organization was splitting apart over the issue. Almost overnight, devotion to gurus became politically incorrect. The one thing missing in all the Controversy, the one thing I thought I could contribute, was how this, or any disaster, could be used as a vehicle for teaching dharma. This was the theme I had failed to explore with Tendzin in the bar. Whatever his sins, if the dharma is valid, then it should be applicable when the excrement hits the fan, even, and especially, when the fan happens to be the teacher. I wanted to honor what Tendzin had given me by applying it to him. I also wanted to detach myself from his bad example, to avoid being drawn into a vortex of meaningless recrimination and blame.

he system of practices I had entered led me inexorably toward Vajrayana, the most intense and controversial vehicle in Buddhism. From a Vajrayana point of view, passion, aggression, and ignorance—the sources of human suffering—are also the wellsprings of enlightenment. Afflictions like AIDS are not merely disasters but accelerations toward wisdom and opportunities to wake up. They can be transformed into Buddha mind. Trungpa was a Vajra master who had empowered Tendzin to guide students on this path. Since Tendzin had been my preceptor in the two previous initiations, I had always assumed he would be the one to give me abhisheka, the gateway into the Vajrayana, which includes a ritual of blessings, empowerments, and further teachings. But he was too sick to perform the ceremony, and Trungpa's Tibetan teacher, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, instructed Tendzin, in any case, to go into retreat. So I was initiated by Jamgon Kongtrul, a Tibetan.

The abhisheka took place in a huge outdoor tent. The initiates lined up like passengers entering a spaceship. On the night of the ceremony, Tendzin lay dying in a hospital thousands of miles away. When the ceremony was finished, so was he. Kalu Rinpoche and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, senior masters of Tibetan Buddhism, died around the same time. Two of the last living representatives of Tibet's ancient culture had passed away. My sense of loss was compounded. I was bereft of my guides. Both had given initiations, Vajrayana transmissions, and empowerments that I had attended, and both were also my teachers, though I had no direct personal contact with them.

Jamgon Kongtrul died soon afterward as well, in a bizarre automobile accident. The official story said his chauffeur had slipped on a wet road while swerving to avoid a flock of birds. The unofficial gossip, which I picked up from sources outside the Vajradhatu network, said that Kongtrul's death was not an accident, but was connected to a power struggle going on around the installation of the Seventeenth Karmapa.

The Karmapas represent an unbroken line of oral Tibetan Buddhist transmission going back to tenth-century India. Within that tradition, they were thought to be continuously reincarnated, each one leaving instructions to selected disciples at the time of his death as to where and when he would take his next rebirth. The Sixteenth Karmapa, Trungpa's teacher, had died of cancer in America in 1981. His principal disciples, Kongtrul among them, were responsible for finding and installing the young Tibetan child who became his successor.

The Indian press reported on a conflict between two groups within the Sixteenth Karmapa's line of succession. One group accepted the Tibetan child, Ugyen Thinley, as the authentic rebirth of the Karmapa, and the other rejected him. A rivalry existed between Tai Situ and the Shamarpa, two of his regents, and Kongtrul had tried to mediate between them. Tai Situ produced a second letter fairly late in the controversy, much more specific than the first, which he claimed had originated with the Karmapa and which supported Ugyen Thinley, Situ's candidate. The Shamarpa did not accept the authenticity of the second letter. On one occasion, matters almost came to blows. The stakes included control of the Karmapa's multi-million-dollar estate.

The story was covered by various publications, but the fundamental questions remained: To what extent had the quarrel been fueled by competition for control of the estate and the power and privilege of belonging to the Karmapa's court? Did even masters of the dharma contend for such prizes? If so, what did this indicate about the effects of Buddhist training on behavior? What exactly had happened to Jamgon Kongtrul? If his accident had been somehow arranged, and if even Buddhist masters were capable of foul play in power struggles, then why serve and fund them and practice what they taught? How were they any different from the Catholic Church, the Mafia, or the Chinese Communist Party?

I no longer knew how to reconcile my inner experience of the dharma, which had been nothing less than life-giving, with my distrust of its outer organizational forms. "I don't matter," said Osel Tendzin at one of his talks. "What matters is the message." This was good advice on the level at which he gave it, but in Vajrayana, the teacher, the message, and the organizational form are held to be one and the same.

I stopped practicing.

Then all my questions came back—the ones I had ignored, the ones without answers, the ones I had stepped over carefully so they would not block my forward movement, and the same questions that had inspired the journey by refusing to die. Many were so elementary you never asked them of any teacher for fear it would seem as if you had made no progress at all and still did not know what you were doing. Some revealed pride and resistance. Why was I doing these practices, anyway? Why should I continue doing them, and what did they have to do with enlightenment? Is Buddhism a vehicle, or a crutch? Or perhaps a shell, useful only until you hatch from it? Does it even exist, apart from the activity of minds using its frame of reference? Would I be happier if I quit?

The robed and suited people on thrones to whom I had bowed and prostrated, those I had helped to support year after year—were they any more enlightened than anyone else, or were they just skillful at putting on a good show? And if they were not enlightened, then who was?

I wanted to write about my whole relationship with this path, to take stock of what it had done for me, and to me. But a strange, creeping guilt froze my intention repeatedly before it could flower. As Vajrayana students, we had always been discouraged from trying to evaluate our personal journey. This was looked on as a form of egotism, an attempt to make a big deal out of our practice, to use the teachings as a cosmetic for the self.

"Your journey is not important," said a senior advisor who reviewed one of my manuscripts. "You should write about Trungpa's journey, not yours." Trungpa, in one of his homely metaphors, told us that we needed to boil in the pot of practice like vegetables, until we looked like any other vegetable and could no longer stick our heads up and say, "I'm a carrot, see how orange I am?" The master's job was to say, "Too orange—keep boiling," and push you back down into the pot. Trungpa's sense of humor always made me want to stay there and boil, because suddenly the whole world seemed to be a stupid, repetitive circus of arrogant carrots, bumping and shoving and trampling and backstabbing one another to proclaim their colors. And we all have the same colors: passion, aggression, ignorance, envy, and pride.

In the Vajrayana, our choices were narrowed to two: accept the path as given, or fry in hell. Entering the Vajrayana is like a snake crawling into a bamboo tube, said the lamas: there is only one way out—straight ahead. If you don't go through the tube, you suffocate. We were admonished as well not to talk about our practice. "May I shrivel up instantly and rot," we vowed, "if I ever discuss these teachings with anyone who has not been initiated into them by a qualified master." As if this were not enough, Trungpa told us that if we ever tried to leave the Vajrayana, we would suffer unbearable, subtle, continuous anguish, and disasters would pursue us like furies. Heresy had real meaning in this religion, and real consequences. Doubting the dharma or the guru and associating with heretics were causes for downfall. In Tibetan literature, breaking faith with the guru must be atoned by such drastic measures as cutting off your arm and offering it at the door of his cave in hopes that he might take you back.

If this was the consequence of merely leaving the organization, what supernal wrath might be visited upon me for publicly questioning or discussing my experience in it? Yet I needed to see the path again from the outside, so that I could ask and think through the unthinkable kinds of questions I had felt too intimidated to raise with Tendzin, or Trungpa, or any high lama, the questions that senior discussion leaders and officials ignored or politely squelched.

It was possible that I had been programmed by a powerful and highly sophisticated cult, one which is no less a cult for being sanctioned by revered tradition and great antiquity. If my questions were coming back as a result of not practicing, then maybe practice had simply repressed them. Can one make a Buddhist journey and yet stand outside the experience and study it? Who is studying, who is commenting, and why? The object of the journey is to achieve ego death. "Oh, really?" says the ego. "Ego death? Apotheosis? Let's go for it; I'm getting bored anyway—this will give me something new to put in my diary. I always wanted to attend my own funeral." Examining the journey may thus become a way of defeating its purpose. But this does not ultimately matter. The journey cannot even occur unless we examine it, and the purpose is already accomplished from the beginning. Otherwise, Buddhist meditation itself would be impossible. The speaker is always Buddha mind, broadcasting with degrees of clarity according to how well the equipment is tuned. The ego is not there anyway; it is just static in a jumble of signals. You can attend your own funeral, and join the festivities, like Finnegan at his wake.

Stephen Butterfield was a student of Tibetan Buddhism under Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Osel Tendzin, Kalu Rinpoche, and others. He is currently a Professor of English at Castleton State College in Vermont. This essay was adapted for Tricycle from The Double Mirror: A Skeptical Journey into Buddhist Tantra, from North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, California, 1994. Photographs by the author.
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Tue Dec 10, 2013 11:50 pm

Additional piece from Wikipedia:

Among the controversial actions of Tendzin was his decline of the recommendation of senior Kagyu lineage holder Tai Situ Rinpoche that Tai Situ take over leadership of Vajradhatu in conjunction with Trungpa's half brother Damchu Tenphel Rinpoche, who resided in Tibet.[8] This was "regarded by members as a serious slight to lineage authorities and was construed as the Regent's attempt to secure his position of control."[8] Also controversial was the fact that he "took further action to buttress his centrality by denying students permission to seek teachings from other Kagyu Tibetan teachers, claiming that only he possessed the special transmission, materials and knowledge unique to the Trungpa lineage. Students were told that if they wanted to practice within the community, they would have to take spiritual instruction from the Regent."[9]

Other behavior was troubling as well. As one scholar who has studied the community noted, Tendzin was "bisexual and known to be very promiscuous" and "enjoyed seducing straight men" but the community "did not find [this behavior] particularly troublesome."[10] Not all his partners were unwilling; one scholar noted "it became a mark of prestige for a man, gay or straight, to have sex with the Regent, just as it had been for a woman to have sex with [Trungpa] Rinpoche."[11] However, at least one student reported that Tendzin had raped him.[12] As a former Vajradhatu member attested, "a chilling story had recently been reported by one of . . .[the] teachers at the Buddhist private school [for the Vajradhatu community]. This straight, married male was pinned face-down across Rich's desk by the guards [the Dorje Kasung] while Rich forcibly raped him."[13]

It was revealed in 1989 that Ösel Tendzin had contracted HIV, and for nearly three years knew it, yet continued to have unprotected sex with his students, without informing them.[14][15] He transmitted HIV to a student who later died of AIDS.[16][17][18] Others close to Tendzin, including the board of directors of Vajradhatu, knew for two years that Tendzin was HIV positive and sexually active, but kept silent.[19] As one student reported at the time,

    I was very distressed that he and his entourage had lied to us for so long, always saying he did not have AIDS. I was even more distressed over the stories of how the Regent used his position as a dharma teacher to induce "straight" students to have unprotected sex with him, while he claimed he had been tested for AIDS but the result was negative.[10]

Stephen Butterfield, a former student, recounted in a memoir:

    Tenzin offered to explain his behavior at a meeting which I attended. Like all of his talks, this was considered a teaching of dharma, and donations were solicited and expected. So I paid him $35.00 to hear his explanation. In response to close questioning by students, he first swore us to secrecy (family secrets again), and then said that Trungpa had requested him to be tested for HIV in the early 1980s and told him to keep quiet about the positive result. Tendzin had asked Trungpa what he should do if students wanted to have sex with him, and Trungpa's reply was that as long as he did his Vajrayana purification practices, it did not matter, because they would not get the disease. Tendzin's answer, in short, was that he had obeyed the guru."[20]

Butterfield noted, "Tendzin's account of his conversations with Trungpa was challenged by other senior disciples, who claimed Trungpa would never have led anyone to believe that the laws of nature could be suspended by practice."[21] Butterfield also wrote, "it was a difficult dilemma: if you chose to believe Tendzin, then Trungpa had simply been wrong in telling him he could not transmit the disease . . but what then became of the axiom that the guru cannot make a mistake? But if you chose to disbelieve Tendzin, then Trungpa may have been wrong in allowing him to remain Regent, or perhaps in choosing him at all...[21] I heard Tendzin's illness explained by his servants in this way: it was not a consequence of any folly or self-indulgence on his part, but the karma of his infected partners, that he had deliberately imbibed for them. In what way they benefitted was never made clear to me, although one could safely assume the benefits did not include physical cure."[22]

According to Diana Mukpo, wife and widow of Trungpa, he ultimately became disillusioned with Tendzin as his heir, and during his final illness he called Tendzin "terrible" and "dreadful", and indicated that he would have gotten rid of Tendzin had he a suitable candidate with which to replace him.[23] Rick Fields, the editor of Vajradhatu's publication the Vajradhatu Sun, wrote that he resigned from his editorial position after Ösel Tendzin and the Board of Directors stopped him from publishing news of the events.[24]
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Wed Dec 18, 2013 7:12 pm

May 24, 2011
A God Is Dead, but It’s Business That May Suffer Most
By JIM YARDLEY


PUTTAPARTHI, India — His face adorns the yellow motorized rickshaws zipping down the streets. Billboards bear his simple motto, “Love All, Serve All.” His portrait hangs in almost every shop: a tiny man with a gravity-defying crown of curly hair regarded by millions of worldwide devotees as a god.

Sri Sathya Sai Baba, who declared himself a “living god” as a teenager and spent decades assembling a spiritual empire, permeates every corner of this small Indian city. He transformed it from a village of mud huts into a faith center with a private airport, a university, two major hospitals, rising condominium towers and a stadium — a legacy now forcing a question upon his followers: What happens when a god dies?

India can sometimes seem overrun with gurus, spiritualists and competing godmen (as they are sometimes called). But when Sai Baba died last month at the age of 84, the nation paused in respect and reverence, if blended with skepticism, too. An estimated 900,000 people, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, paid respects at his ornate wake and funeral, which was televised live across the country. Critics labeled him a fraud and bemoaned the Indian predisposition for religious entrepreneurs.

Now, though, as the shock is starting to wear off here in Puttaparthi, people are grappling with what comes next. Sai Baba was a spiritual leader but also an economic engine. Business owners are wondering whether adherents will keep coming; construction abruptly stopped on several half-built residential towers. Sai Baba’s medical, educational and philanthropic institutions are suddenly without a leader. And for believers, there is the question of when, and in what form, he will be reincarnated.

“We don’t feel he has left us,” said Poonam Khialani, 52, a devotee visiting last week from Singapore. “We just feel his physical form is not here.”

Many of Sai Baba’s advisers and adherents apparently were shocked by his death, even though his health had been steadily weakening. For several days after his death, the trustees overseeing his organization remained silent as the Indian news media speculated on possible infighting over an empire valued in the billions of dollars, or about the possible existence of a secret will.

“The running of these institutions has been well provided for by Baba,” said V. Srinivasan, one of the trustees, in an interview, dismissing the speculation about a secret will or a government takeover. “The trustees’ responsibility is to ensure that these institutions continue to function as they were functioning before. The material resources for that have been provided.”

Last week, people in Puttaparthi still seemed in a daze, if also cautiously optimistic that their city will continue to thrive as a pilgrimage site. In 1940, Sai Baba, then 14, declared himself the reincarnation of an earlier Hindu holy man, the Sai Baba of Shirdi, who died in 1918. He reportedly realized his godliness after surviving the bite of a scorpion. As word began to spread about this diminutive guru with kinky hair, believers began trickling into Puttaparthi, which gradually evolved into a small but bustling city.

Across India, various gurus operate extensive networks of ashrams, but Sai Baba’s organization was unsurpassed in scale, with service groups in every Indian state and major city, along with ashrams in more than 126 countries. His main ashram, Prasanthi Nilayam, or Temple of Peace, operates like a self-contained small city, with offices for “overseas devotees,” blocks of dormitories, bookstalls, cafeterias offering regional and international fare and a central, open-air temple where Sai Baba held audiences with as many as 30,000 people every day.

As with other self-proclaimed godmen, Sai Baba was denounced as a fraud by many skeptics, who disparaged as sleight of hand the “miracles” he performed — producing sacred ash from his fingers or Rolex watches from his hair. Controversy also arose about claims of pedophilia toward teenage boys, accusations denied by his organization. No charges were ever filed.


What separated him from some other gurus was the scale of his philanthropic work. He built major hospitals for the poor, including the ornate pink structure in Puttaparthi that provides free health care, including heart surgery. He oversaw major water projects in response to shortages and drought. To many devotees, his appeal was that he accepted all religions and never asked people to discard their faith, only to practice it better.

“That was why his acceptability was so wide,” said Jatinder Cheema, who leads Sai Baba’s service organization in New Delhi. “He accepted one and all.”

Katharina Poggendorf-Kakar, a scholar who has studied Sai Baba and other Indian godmen, praised the free services provided by Sai Baba’s schools and hospitals but said these institutions also were intended to perpetuate his empire by nurturing future generations of believers. If she discounted his miracles as clever magic tricks, Ms. Poggendorf-Kakar did not discount his potent appeal or his followers’ good intentions.

“He had a lot of charisma,” she said. “There’s no doubt he had something. Otherwise, he would not have been able to attract so many people.”


In his absence, though, the challenge will be maintaining the dedication and support of his followers. His schools, hospitals and ashrams depend on huge numbers of volunteers who come to Puttaparthi to perform free services, and also on a steady stream of donations. His trustees say the annual organizational budget is about $25 million, equally divided between interest from investments and donations.

In Puttaparthi, business owners are already seeing changes. If devotees once came for weeks or months to spend time near Sai Baba, now they are coming for short trips to pay homage at his burial site. Nearly the entire local economy depended on him: about 10,000 laborers from surrounding villages worked on construction sites, and hundreds of other villagers sell fruits and vegetables to visitors.

“The real impact will be known next year,” said Murli Mohan, 37, a rickshaw driver who says his business is down about a third.

Yet most devotees are certain Sai Baba’s appeal will only broaden. Among believers, stories are circulating about “miracles” witnessed around the world since his death: sacred ashes appearing on a photo of Sai Baba in Uganda; ashes coming out of the nose of a Sai Baba statue in Russia; devotees who have seen him materialize before them.

Sai Baba described himself as the second incarnation in a trinity and predicted that the third would be born in the neighboring Indian state of Karnataka. Yet many believe that Sai Baba will be coming back as himself.

“Even in this form, we think he will come back,” said Sai Prakash, a devotee raised in the ashram. “There are signs.”

Hari Kumar contributed reporting.
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Thu Dec 19, 2013 9:02 am

Long documentary / expose on the Indian guru Satya Sai Baba who died a few years ago:

http://youtu.be/YlL_CDqFCLg
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Sat Dec 21, 2013 7:16 pm

Who ya gonna call? Gurubusters!

October 31, 2013 -Amrit Dhillon - from the Australian THE AGE
In the endless fight against superstition and fakery in India, campaigners for rationalism have to use every trick in the book to beat so-called holy men at their own game.


Godmen, gurus, charlatans and soothsayers exploit the gullibility of ordinary Indians. Photo: Getty Images
Standing in front of the schoolchildren at Desu Madra Secondary School in Mohali, in the Indian state of Punjab, Satnam Singh Daun spreads his props out on the table: scarves and money that vanish, cards, powders that burst into flames, some rope, matches, vials, cotton wool. He looks like a magician about to start a show at a child's birthday party.

But the tricks are not for entertaining the children. Daun is using them to expose the godmen, gurus, astrologers, charlatans, soothsayers, palmists, charm sellers, quacks, and humbugs who are so popular in India.

The children, seated on the ground in the bright sunshine and humidity that follows a monsoon downpour, listen intently to Daun as he pours scorn on superstition. He performs the same tricks that are used by holy men to exploit the gullibility of Indians and project themselves as possessing supernatural powers - making money disappear or turning 100 rupee notes into 500 rupee notes, producing ash from nowhere, swallowing fire.



''It's because they are too stupid to become teachers, doctors or scientists that godmen become astrologers to fool people,'' Daun says.

''They want you to use amulets and trust in the stars instead of using your reason. These holy men are holy fools tricking you. Be rational, use your minds,'' says Daun, as a rooster in the school grounds crows on cue as if to say ''hear hear''.

Daun is one of three men in Mohali known as ''gurubusters''. He is talking to the schoolchildren, accompanied by his two colleagues, to teach them to spurn superstition and be rational instead.



Gurubuster Satnam Singh Daun warns Indian school children about the trickery used by so-called gurus. Photo: Getty Images


Daun is short and stocky and works as an Amway agent. His co-gurubuster Harpreet Rora is a slight, fresh-faced young man who works as a journalist. The third is the founder of the Mohali branch of the Indian Rationalist Association, the burly and avuncular Jarnail Singh Kranti, a retired primary school teacher. From a tiny office, using their own funds and their spare time, the endearing threesome, loyally supported by their wives, launch blistering broadsides against India's influential godmen. This is the headquarters of a lonely mission: promoting the supremacy of rationalism.

Superstition is a multimillion-dollar industry in India. From the poorest to the richest, the predisposition to superstition is embedded in the neural pathway of most Indians. Choosing a spouse, fixing a wedding date, getting a job, trying for a baby boy, curing an alcoholic husband, reviving a failing business, curing an illness, ending a factory strike - all these problems require a visit to a holy man, who is paid a fortune for his services.
The propensity to believe that some mystic will solve your problems runs across the social spectrum. Former prime ministers have consulted bead-wearing astrologers on the most ''auspicious''' date for a general election. Bollywood stars offer tributes at the shrines of mystics to ensure a box office hit.



Given their preference for discretion, wealthy Indians prefer to have a guru dedicated to their family; sometimes he lives with them so that he can be available at all times.

''I have total faith in my guru. He can cure cancer. I have seen it. I come away after an audience with him feeling light and blessed,'' says New Delhi garment exporter Rocky Verma, who has just asked his guru to suggest a date for his son's engagement.

Talk to the wives of tycoons and it becomes clear their faith in their family guru is blind. New Delhi art collector and gallery owner Renu Modi is married into the famous Modi business family and she is totally dependent on her guru, Swami Chandra. ''We do not make any major decision without first consulting him,'' she says.

On Delhi's Prithviraj Road, home to many business moguls, Madhushree Birla, the wife of a scion of the Birla dynasty, sits in a living room full of priceless artefacts and talks of how she relies on Patrick, a Christian faith healer from Goa who she says can cure cancer.

''My faith in him stems from the day my brother and sister-in law were involved in a horrific car crash near Nasik. My brother had broken ribs and my sister-in-law suffered serious internal bleeding.

''Two minutes after they crashed, they were still lying there stunned but just beginning to realise what had happened when Patrick called them on the phone. He had seen everything that had happened and he knew what injuries they had suffered even though he was far away in Goa,'' she says.

This is the kind of belief that Daun likes to pour his vitriol on. As the morning sun rises higher in the sky, he ignores the heat and starts getting into his stride, asking the schoolchildren, ''Has any holy man ever invented a medicine or an airplane? Can he stop any of you dying in a road accident? How can he help you do well in exams and get a good job when he himself is nothing but a failure?''

Standing behind Daun is his wife Neeraj. She hands him something. Daun pops a burning ball of fire into his mouth, eliciting gasps from the schoolchildren. Then he shows them that it is only burning camphor, which cannot hurt his mouth. He dips his hand into burning oil, unscathed, showing them later that he had pre-soaked his hand in oil as insulation.

At the end of the talk, the children troop out to join their classes, having promised Daun that they will never again succumb to superstition. When they have finished handing out leaflets, the energetic gurubusting triumvirate pack their props, mount their scooters and head off to another assignment at another school to educate children on the importance of being rational.

The Indian Rationalist Association was founded in 1949, with the good wishes of British philosopher Bertrand Russell. Its first members belonged to the educated elite. It has rarely had more than 100,000 members - mainly teachers, students and professionals - but they have been vigorous in publishing pamphlets and deriding the Indian penchant for superstitious nonsense.

Over the decades, its branches have tried to inculcate Indians with a scientific temperament through debate, talks, ridicule, humour and challenges. Much of their time is spent performing the tricks that self-styled holy men love to perform to convince Indians of their special powers and to garner billions of rupees from their credulity.

''Their press conferences are hilarious because they consume fire, levitate (a trick requiring a blanket and two hockey sticks), walk on coals (the skin doesn't burn if you walk fast enough) and make statues 'weep' (melting a layer of wax covering a small deposit of water),'' says Mumbai journalist Neeraj Gaitonde. ''It's the only way to destroy the blind belief in their special powers.''

Some charlatans are more creative than others. One used to impress the crowds by ''creating'' fire by pouring ghee (clarified butter) onto ash and then ''staring'' at it until the mixture burst into flames. Rationalists-turned-detectives found that the ghee was glycerine and the ash was potassium permanganate and the two spontaneously combust a couple of minutes after they are combined.

India's rationalists love to challenge quacks. When the well-known television guru Pandit Surinder Sharma boasted on television in 2008 that he could kill another man using only his mystical powers, Sanal Edamaruku, president of the Indian Rationalist Association (who is currently in hiding in Finland, but more of that later) took up the challenge and invited the guru to kill him on prime-time television.

The guru agreed and appeared on television performing sundry rituals intended to kill Edamaruku. Millions tuned to the show. The hocus pocus went on for some time. The holy man ruffled the rationalist's hair, pressed his temples and mumbled incantations. Several hours later, Edamaruku was still alive, cheerfully taunting the frustrated killer.

Edamaruku, a former journalist, became a rationalist activist when he was 15 after seeing a local athlete with blood cancer die because her family refused medical treatment, preferring a faith healer. Now he lives in Finland, having fled India after the Catholic Church in Mumbai filed a complaint against him in April 2012 under the country's blasphemy law. If convicted he would face three years in jail.

The case concerned a crucifix dripping water at a Mumbai church. Edamaruku discovered the dripping was caused by a leaky cistern that was causing water to seep through the wall onto the crucifix. He reported his results on television and criticised the Catholic Church for being ''anti-science''. When the church filed a case against him, he fled.

Not so lucky was Dr Narendra Dabholkar, a prominent anti-black magic campaigner in Pune, near Mumbai, who was murdered on August 20. Known for his lifelong campaign against superstition, Dabholkar, 70, was gunned down during his morning walk.

Dabholkar estimated that several hundred women are killed every year after being branded ''witches'' by so-called godmen. He also pointed out many children also were killed as part of ''human sacrifices'' ordered by godmen to resolve their followers' problems.

Indians were shocked at the murder; some were equally surprised to discover that Dabholkar had been lobbying the provincial government of Maharashtra to approve the Superstition Eradication and Anti-Black Magic Bill to make superstitious practices illegal.

Despite receiving several death threats from right-wing Hindu groups, Dabholkar refused police protection. These groups believed he was targeting their religion and not condemning superstition in all religions.

However, the evidence suggests Hindu charlatans predominate (Hinduism in the largest religion in India), partly because there is no organised structure to the religion nor an established hierarchy, making it easy for anyone to set himself up as a guru offering spiritual advice.

Invariably, the majority of the controversial godmen who end up in the news for amassing millions, owning fleets of Mercedes and Audis, for being involved in prostitution rackets or are charged with sexual abuse or rape, are Hindu.

Just last month, a leading godman called Asaram Bapu was arrested on charges of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old. Yet, seeing their godman behind bars has done little to dent the faith of his supporters.

''These godmen are like Jekyll and Hyde. They do a lot of social and community work initially to become popular before they start gratifying themselves,'' says Dr Indira Sharma, president of the Indian Psychiatric Society.

''They help with marriages, school admissions, medical treatment. So when they are charged with an offence, their supporters are not affected because they want to continue getting that help and it's in their interest to protect the godman.''

The Mohali gurubusters, always cheerful and energetic, have so far not received any threats.

''We won't stop, particularly when it comes to educating children,'' says Harpreet Rora. ''We want children to become ambassadors of change. They have to go home and tell their parents to stop their nonsense.''

The cost of superstition in India is high. All over the country, hanging in shops, homes, workshops and vehicles, are small bunches of green chillies and lemons tied together to ward off the evil eye and bring good luck. Fresh bunches are hung every day.

''Do you know that Indians spend 104 million rupees ($2.4 million) every year on buying chillies and lemons?'' says Jarnail Singh Kranti.

''At our local hospital, they have an astrologer on hand to 'help' patients if the medical treatment fails. This must stop. We must start relying on science and logic to move into the modern world.''

It is in the interests of Indian politicians, he adds, to keep Indians mired in superstition so that the poor don't start asking, ''Why are we poor?''

Before closing the shutters on the office, he points to a large poster hanging on the wall. It offers a reward of 2.3 million rupees ($39,000) to any godman who can perform any one of 23 acts, including standing on burning cinders for half a minute without blistering his feet; reading the thoughts of another person; making an amputated limb grow even one inch through prayer, spiritual powers, using holy ash, or giving blessings; walking on water; getting out of a locked room by divine power; or converting water into petrol.

As he reads out the list, Kranti chuckles. ''We don't have 2.3 million rupees. But we're not expecting anyone to win so we're pretty safe,'' he says.

Amrit Dhillon is a Delhi-based writer.
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Sat Dec 21, 2013 7:27 pm

I've Got The Secret
What happened when I followed the best-selling book's advice for two months.
By Emily Yoffe - from Slate.com


Decades before the best seller was published, my father knew the secret of The Secret. He was aware there were people with esoteric knowledge who controlled all the wealth, had all the power, and were specifically excluding him from getting any. He bought the books of his time that promised, like The Secret, to unlock these mysteries. I loved listening to him spin his theories about how things really worked—until either I got too old to believe him anymore, or his spinning took him further and further away from reality. He died with nothing, living under an assumed name.

So, I will acknowledge that I came to The Secret with a negative attitude. When I bought it, I quickly stuffed it into a plastic bag, glancing around Barnes & Noble to make sure I saw no one I knew. The last time I was this embarrassed at a bookstore was when I bought The G Spot, another best seller that provided instructions for achieving bliss. For the Human Guinea Pig column, I usually do things that readers are too embarrassed or too intelligent to do themselves—like entering a beauty pageant or entertaining at a kid's birthday party. I wanted to see if applying the rules of The Secret to my life would bring me the perfect happiness that it promises. But millions of you have already beaten me to this one. There are now 5.3 million copies of the book in print in the United States, and publisher Simon & Schuster says it is selling about 150,000 a week. A separate DVD version has sold at least 1.5 million copies. Groups have formed to discuss how to best live by The Secret's rules. It is a No. 1 best seller in Australia, England, and Ireland, and it is scheduled to be translated into 30 languages.

There's no secret to The Secret. The book and movie simply state that your thoughts control the universe. Through this "law of attraction" you "manifest" your desires. "It is exactly like placing an order from a catalogue. … You must know that what you want is yours the moment you ask." "See yourself living in abundance and you will attract it. It works every time, with every person." The appeal is obvious. Forget education, effort, performance. Everything you want—money, power, comfortable shoes—is yours simply by wanting it enough.

There are certain caveats. Apparently the universe has a language-processing disorder and doesn't comprehend standard English usage of the words don't, not, and no.  So, as the book explains, if you summon the universe by saying, "I don't want to spill something on this outfit," the universe translates this as, "I want to spill something on this outfit."  If only Rhonda Byrne, the television producer who is the author of the book and creator of the DVD, had been there to counsel those negative authors of the Ten Commandments!

Byrne says Shakespeare, Newton, Lincoln, and Einstein all owed their achievements to their understanding of the law of attraction. She asserts that "the discoveries of quantum physics … are in total harmony with the teachings of The Secret." To prove this, she explains, "I never studied science or physics at school, and yet when I read complex books on quantum physics I understood them perfectly because I wanted to understand them." (Pop quiz, Rhonda: What is the energy of a single photon [in eV] from a light source with a wavelength of 400 nm?) The book is dotted with quotations from great men of history that supposedly back up The Secret's assertions. Take this one from Winston Churchill: "You create your own universe as you go along." Something about this struck me as sounding not terribly Churchillian. I looked it up and it turned out Churchill did write it, but it was his mocking characterization of the metaphysical twits of his day.

Given my skepticism, how could I make myself believe in The Secret enough to give it a fair test?  To quote one of The Secret's avatars, Ralph Waldo Emerson, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." Clearly, The Secret is drivel, but why should that stop me from sincerely throwing myself into seeing if it worked? I am already deeply susceptible to superstition and seeing signs—if I find a penny (faceup only), I pick it up knowing something good will happen to me. As self-absorbed as I already am, I loved the permission the book gave to sink deeper into a Jacuzzi of megalomania. As The Secret points out: "You are the master of the Universe. You are the heir to the kingdom. You are the perfection of Life." Just as I'd always suspected!

So, I vowed to follow Byrne's simple rules for abundance and see what happened.  The book encourages one to start big: "It is as easy to manifest one dollar as it is to manifest one million dollars." But I thought starting with the million-dollar manifestation was like saying, "I love you" on a first date; I didn't want to scare the universe into not taking my calls. I came up with three things I thought the universe would find reasonable: a kitchen floor, unclogged sinuses, and a new desk.

At this point I should add that The Secret is not only drivel—it's pernicious drivel. The obvious question that arises from its claim that it's easy to get what you want, is: Why do so many people get what they don't want?  As Byrne writes, "Imperfect thoughts are the cause of all humanity's ills, including disease, poverty, and unhappiness." Yes, according to The Secret, people don't just randomly end up being massacred, for example. They are in the wrong place because of their own lousy thinking. Cancer patients have long been victims of this school of belief. But The Secret takes it to a new and more repulsive level with its advice not just to blame people for their illness, but to shun them, lest you start being infected by their bummer thoughts, too.

But look, I needed a kitchen floor, and if abandoning sick friends and loved ones was what was required—well, who really enjoys those bedside visits, anyway? We recently renovated our house, and everything went great except our kitchen floor. Remember being told in school that the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, Roman, nor an empire? My kitchen floor was supposed to be acid-stained concrete. And while it was a floor, it turned out to be neither acid-stained nor concrete. Instead it was made of some sort of epoxy, with a surface that looked as if my dog had fallen into a mud pit and then come inside and rolled all over it. I spent weeks attempting to find an easy, inexpensive way to resurface it. One concrete guy said if he came it to fix it, I'd have to remove all my appliances and baseboards, let him grind down the existing floor and pour a new surface, and pay him $4,000 to do it. Thankfully, he decided the job was too small and troublesome to be worth it. Covering the floor with cork tiles would also require appliance removal and an outlay of about $3,500. And so it went with every alternative.

So, I followed The Secret's recommendation and notified the universe's call center that I wanted a quick, economical, pleasing, and durable kitchen floor. Once I did that, the next step was to enter such an intense state of visualization that it was as if my new floor already existed. Byrne writes: "A shortcut to manifesting your desires is to see what you want as absolute fact."  Although normally people who see things that aren't there are considered delusional, I went with Byrne's recommendation to "act as if you have it already." One day my husband called from work to check on various house issues, and I said, "I'm so grateful that I finally got a beautiful kitchen floor."

"Are you on something?" he asked.

It turns out I was on a universal high because a few nights later I awoke at 3 a.m. from a dream that had supplied the answer: Paint the floor to look like acid-stained concrete! The next morning I searched the Internet and contacted every faux painter within a 50-mile radius. Only one, Deanne Lenehan Cunningham, agreed to come and take a look. She had never done a floor and was concerned whether her products would adhere to the sealant now on my floor. She said she would talk to the manufacturer, see if was possible, then give us an estimate.  

When a week went by without a callback, my husband suggested I phone her, and that I also explore other alternatives just in case. Normally I tend toward the anxiously obsessive, and I would have already been doing that. Instead I told him it wasn't necessary because we already had a perfect kitchen floor. Secret-speak requires this odd future-present construction, which my husband came to call, "sounding like a moron."

But as Byrne so amply proves, the universe loves people who sound like morons. Deanne finally got back to us, said she could do it, and that she would charge us $912. We now have a gorgeous, glowing floor. And I had to admit just sitting back and letting my desires manifest freed up a lot of time—and was much more relaxing than trying to take care of things myself.

With that success, I moved on to my sinuses. Each spring, pollen causes my nose to resemble a drip irrigation device. I spend months spraying my nostrils and popping antihistamines. Why not put in a Secret request to get rid of my allergies? After all, the fiftysomething Byrne describes how it took her only three days of proper thinking to get rid of her reading glasses and restore her eyesight to that of a twentysomething. So I shelved the drugs, walked my dog, breathed deep, and expressed gratitude for my sensational sinuses.

This worked great for weeks, through one of the most frigid springs on record, and I was starting to think that maybe my father was right, maybe people like Byrne really knew how the world worked. Then the weather warmed up and the air was thick with pollen. My eyes swelled, my nose started pouring, and I ended up with a sinus infection and a bag of medications from the otolaryngologist. Of course, one could say The Secret failed. But look at it this way: When I first started imagining myself drip-free, the universe responded by sending a cold snap! Then because I became so blasé about my sinuses, the universe decided to warm things up again. Surely there is a lesson here for Al Gore.

Finally, the desk. I had spent months dragging myself around to furniture stores and cruising the Internet for the desk, which I can see quite clearly: It's sleek and made of steel, L-shaped, with plenty of work space on top and storage below. Unfortunately, no one who manufactures desks also sees it. Following The Secret's precepts, I stopped wasting my time looking for it and instead expressed my gratitude for its arrival. I've now spent six weeks visualizing this desk to no effect. Perhaps the problem is signal interference from my husband, who keeps suggesting I manifest the word Ikea into my search engine and just order a [banned term] desk.

Or perhaps the problem is that millions of people are now putting in their orders and the universe's servers have crashed. Or maybe it's something else. As one of Byrne's favorites, Albert Einstein, said (in a quote that doesn't make it into The Secret): "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Sat Dec 21, 2013 7:34 pm

A Critic at Large
Power Lines - from the New Yorker
What’s behind Rhonda Byrne’s spiritual empire?
by Kelefa Sanneh September 13, 2010

“You are meant to have an amazing life!” Byrne writes.

On February 8, 2007, Oprah Winfrey greeted her television audience by brandishing a DVD and asking, “Have you heard about it?” The DVD was “The Secret,” a low-budget inspirational documentary that was already a cult favorite; with Winfrey’s endorsement, it went mainstream. “My guests today believe that once you discover the Secret, that you can immediately start creating the life you want, whether it’s getting out of debt, whether it’s finding a more fulfilling job, even falling in love,” Winfrey said. “They say you can have it all, and, in fact, you already hold the power to make that happen.” After Winfrey interviewed the film’s creator, a former television producer from Australia named Rhonda Byrne, she paid “The Secret” her highest compliment. “Watch it with your children,” she said, looking into the camera, narrowing her eyes for emphasis. “I think this would be amazing, to start your children with this kind of thinking—don’t you, Rhonda?”

The film that made Byrne a star—a spiritual leader, even—contains surprisingly little information about her. She appears on a gloomy street, with platinum hair and in a black sundress, lugging a suitcase. “A year ago, my life had collapsed around me,” she says, in voice-over. “I’d worked myself into exhaustion, my father died suddenly, and my relationships were in turmoil.” That started to change when Byrne’s daughter gave her a book about the law of attraction, which decrees that thoughts have physical power, and that thinking about something is the way to get it. If you want to stay poor, keep obsessing about your poverty; if you want to be rich, imagine yourself rich. The film consists mainly of interviews with motivational speakers and teachers—emissaries from the law-of-attraction industry. Joe Vitale, an ecumenical healer, strikes an exultant note. “You are the Michelangelo of your own life,” he says. “The David that you are sculpting is you.” And Esther Hicks, who emerges as the film’s guiding light, delivers a series of mini-sermons that have a strange, hypnotic force, owing partly to her faintly musical voice and untraceable accent. “You are the only one who creates your reality,” she says, nodding reassuringly. “For no one else can think for you. No one else can do it. It is only you.”

“The Secret” was released around the same time as the film version of “The Da Vinci Code,” and it was cleverly packaged as a historical mystery. There are lingering shots of faded cursive script on parchment paper, often accompanied by pounding drums or wordless choirs, and Byrne talks about “tracing the Secret back through history,” revealing all the great thinkers who have harnessed its power. (According to one title card, “The Secret was suppressed,” though we never learn how, or by whom.)

Eight months after the film came out, Byrne published a book, also called “The Secret,” which eventually sold more than nineteen million copies worldwide. It urges readers to rid themselves of illness through “harmonious thoughts,” to attract love by loving themselves, and to express gratitude for what they want before they get it. There are also scientific claims meant to demystify the law of attraction, although they invariably have the opposite effect. (“Thoughts are magnetic, and thoughts have a frequency. As you think, those thoughts are sent out into the Universe, and they magnetically attract all like things that are on the same frequency.”) And there are paeans to the mysterious power of joy. In one passage, Byrne offers seekers a grand bargain: “You can have whatever you want in your life, no limits. But there’s one catch: You have to feel good. And when you think about it, isn’t that all you ever want? The law is indeed perfect.”

The final pages of “The Secret” are given over to biographies of its teachers and inspirational figures, but Esther Hicks is not among them. By the time the book was published, Byrne and Hicks had parted ways, after a financial dispute; Hicks even disappeared from later versions of the DVD. Two months after endorsing “The Secret” on television, Winfrey conducted a sympathetic radio interview with Hicks, who said that she had been ill-treated by Byrne. “It felt to me like we were drawn in, in one way, and utilized, and then sort of discarded,” Hicks said. (She said that Byrne did some of the filming for “The Secret” on a cruise organized by Hicks and her husband, Jerry.) Then another teacher from “The Secret,” James Arthur Ray, made headlines last year after he led a sweat-lodge ceremony in Arizona that caused the deaths of three participants; Ray was arrested and charged with manslaughter. (He has pleaded not guilty.) By then, Winfrey had started distancing herself from the movement. When she returned to the topic for a 2008 show, she sounded a note of skepticism: “It’s been a year since ‘The Secret’ caused a worldwide stir. There were cheers for its focus on positive thinking, and some jeers for its emphasis on getting stuff, on getting cars and money and things.”

In an interview with Larry King, when the frenzy around “The Secret” was at its peak, Vitale, the healer, made a bold prediction. “I’m attracting a sequel,” he said. “So we’re going to have a sequel, one way or another.” The sequel to “The Secret” is called “The Power” (Atria; $23.95), and it has just arrived in bookstores as a No. 1 best-seller. Unfortunately for the likes of Vitale, “The Power” does away with teachers altogether; this time, Byrne is the sole guide, although she includes brief quotes from inspirational figures, most of whom are guaranteed not to sue her or embarrass her, being dead. It is no spoiler to reveal that “the power” Byrne has discovered is love, and that her basic thesis is a restatement of the law of attraction. It begins with a ringing proclamation—“You are meant to have an amazing life!”—and for two hundred and fifty pages the ringing never stops. If “The Secret” explained the law of attraction in slightly clinical terms, as a system, “The Power” explains it in more expressive terms, as a process. “Nothing is impossible for the force of love,” Byrne writes, and her task is to implore you to love more—more strategically, to be sure, and also more intensely. She is partial to list-making, both as a spiritual tool and as an authorial practice. “Make a written list of everything you love,” she writes:

Include the places you love, the cities, the countries, the people you love, colors you love, styles you love, qualities in people you love, companies you love, services you love, sports you love, athletes you love, music you love, animals you love, flowers, plants, and trees you love.

Byrne’s doctrine is ruthlessly simple, and efficient, too: it promises to collapse thousands of years of faith and science into a single thought.

One of the most telling epigraphs in “The Power” underscores the steely resolve that Byrne’s creed requires: “I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.” She attributes these words to Oscar Wilde, but it would be more accurate to attribute them to Wilde’s best-known creation, Dorian Gray. We are in Chapter 9; after Dorian’s cruelty has driven his true love to suicide, he decides to spend a pleasant evening at the opera. A friend is horrified at Dorian’s insensitivity, but Dorian offers no apologies. “If one doesn’t talk about a thing, it has never happened,” he says. “I am a man now. I have new passions, new thoughts, new ideas.”

Some of those new ideas weren’t so new. In 1836, half a century before “The Picture of Dorian Gray” appeared, Ralph Waldo Emerson published “Nature,” which included his famous call to arms: “There are new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and worship.” Emerson’s treatise was a work of philosophy but also, avowedly, of self-help. “Build, therefore, your own world,” he urged. “As fast as you conform your life to the pure idea in your mind, that will unfold its great proportions.” A generation of thinkers and seekers took up Emerson’s challenge, and by the end of the nineteenth century a loosely defined movement had emerged, taking its name from Emerson: New Thought.

One of the progenitors of the movement was a clockmaker from New England named Phineas Quimby, who was a firm believer in the occult powers of mesmerism and clairvoyance and faith healing, until, in the eighteen-fifties, he had a revelation: sick people could be healed solely by the belief that they would be. He taught students to reject faith in anything but faith itself. By the eighteen-eighties, the “mind-cure” movement had spread widely, although Quimby’s best-known patient and disciple, Mary Baker Eddy, the future founder of Christian Science, later insisted on the central importance of Biblical scripture, as well as her own writings. In this, she separated herself from her New Thought rivals, who viewed the existence of religious institutions as a hindrance. As Ralph Waldo Trine, one of the most popular New Thought writers, wrote in 1897, the law of attraction was bound to dissolve creedal squabbling:

Minor differences, narrow prejudices, and all these laughable absurdities will so fall away by virtue of their very insignificance, that a Jew can worship equally as well in a Catholic cathedral, a Catholic in a Jewish synagogue, a Buddhist in a Christian church, a Christian in a Buddhist temple. Or all can worship equally well about their own hearth-stones, or out on the hillside, or while pursuing the avocations of every-day life.

This urge to transcend religious difference is also an urge, thinly veiled, to transcend religion itself. In Trine’s utopia, every house of worship is equally valuable—which is to say, equally superfluous.

It was the creed of the self that would have its say. In “The Conquest of Poverty,” from 1899, a New Thought proponent named Helen Wilmans used language that any regular viewer of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” would recognize: “If search be short or long, I say, discover self! Then, know thyself, and then record a solemn vow and let it be, I can—I will—I dare—I do.” In 1910, Wallace D. Wattles published “The Science of Getting Rich,” which is the book that first got Byrne interested in the law of attraction. Wattles offers his readers some harsh-sounding advice: “Get rich; that is the best way you can help the poor.” By then, the New Thought success manual had become a genre of its own, a genre that concentrated less on what Trine called “the infinite” and more on the finite. Your fortunes were what you made of them: the secret was out.

In “Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America” (Picador; $15), Barbara Ehrenreich subjects the new New Thought of Rhonda Byrne and others to scrutiny. She argues that “positive thinking has made itself useful as an apology for the crueler aspects of the market economy,” and she blames overly optimistic thinking for much of what alarms her about this country: the recent housing bubble, the protracted wars, the failure to take climate change seriously, and even Americans’ mediocre performance on a barrage of international happiness tests. She worries that our single-minded obsession with happiness is, contrary to the law of attraction, making us sad.

She came to the subject honestly, and painfully. After receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer, she was horrified to find herself beset by well-meaning therapists and fellow-patients and marketers, all of them urging her to accept “the gift of cancer” (which is the title of an upbeat book written by a survivor), to festoon herself with garish pink ribbons, and, above all, to stay positive. Her defiance of these directives seems both mischievous and righteous, although equally mischievous readers might recognize the outline of a rather conventional story. Most self-help books start this way, with frustration, and most of them end with the protagonist at peace, or closer to it, having reconciled herself to a more sophisticated form of the thing she started out by rejecting.

Ehrenreich is alert to the hidden demands of Byrne’s seemingly undemanding faith, which asks its followers to monitor their thoughts for evidence of negativity, much the way Calvinists once inspected their souls for signs that they were among the Preterite. She asks, “Why spend so much time working on oneself when there is so much real work to be done?” By “real work,” she means, for example, political activism; her main problem with positive thinking is that it does nothing to advance the project of political reform that she espouses, and might even retard it. (In the Presidency of George W. Bush, she sees the pitfalls of excessive optimism; of course, someone with different political priorities might level the charge at President Obama, whose 2008 campaign demonstrated one way to harness the political power of positive thinking.) She is offended, most of all, by the notion that “poverty is a voluntary condition,” and she accuses Byrne of “depraved smugness,” because of Byrne’s insistence that the law of attraction allows for no accidents and no exceptions, even for victims of a natural disaster, like the 2004 tsunami.

For Ehrenreich, the alternative to the pursuit of happiness is the pursuit of justice—except you don’t have to choose. (This is the happy ending that astute readers knew was coming.) She promises that we can find a deeper, richer form of happiness by “shaking off self-absorption and taking action in the world.” Social progress—and personal fulfillment—begins with casting out New Thought and its pernicious legacy.

In fact, for much of its history, New Thought was viewed as a progressive project—a way to help ordinary citizens seize control of their fate. The historian Beryl Satter has argued that New Thought was, in large part, a women’s movement, and one that reflected a pattern of shifting expectations. “Until the turn of the century, women’s New Thought texts only ambiguously praised desire and wealth,” Satter writes. “They could not be too overt, because late Victorians linked desire and wealth with manliness.” By the early years of the twentieth century, books and magazines had sprung up around the movement, with an increasingly practical bent. When New Thought writings shifted in emphasis from mastering desires to fulfilling them, they were presaging a feminist revolution.

And perhaps a more general one. Byrne’s cherished precursor Wallace Wattles was no apologist for the existing social order. The son of a Midwestern farmer, he was heavily influenced by the “social gospel” preacher George D. Herron, and in the years before he published “The Science of Getting Rich” he twice ran unsuccessfully for public office, in Indiana, as a candidate of the Socialist Party. “The Science of Getting Rich” is a self-help book, but it is also a political manifesto: it urges its readers to acknowledge not only the importance of wealth but also the arbitrary nature of its distribution. “Studying the people who have got rich,” Wattles writes, “we find that they are an average lot in all respects, having no greater talents and abilities than other men.” He portrays the economic élite as a parasitic class, the demise of which is a matter of historical inevitability: “The multi-millionaires are like the monster reptiles of the prehistoric eras; they play a necessary part in the evolutionary process, but the same Power which produced them will dispose of them.” Indeed, “Rockefeller, Carnegie, Morgan, et al. . . . will soon be succeeded by the agents of the multitude, who will organize the machinery of distribution.” In one of the book’s more startling passages, he suggests that the proletariat use the law of attraction to attract a new era of communism:

If the workers of America chose to do so, they could follow the example of their brothers in Belgium and other countries, and establish . . . co-operative industries; they could elect men of their own class to office, and pass laws favoring the development of such co-operative industries; and in a few years they could take peaceable possession of the industrial field.

By such means, he believed, “the working class may become the master class.”

A century later, Byrne betrays little interest in workers’ coöperatives; Wattles’s radical influence appears in “The Secret” only in inverted form. Early in the book, a success coach named Bob Proctor poses a conspiratorial-sounding question: “Why do you think that one per cent of the population earns around ninety-six per cent of all the money that’s being earned?” He doesn’t quite have an answer (“It’s designed that way,” he says, ominously), and neither does Byrne. Where Wattles was convinced that the “plutocrats” were abusing their mental power, Byrne is more likely to conclude that they must be doing something right. Confronted with the injustice of the world, she can only promise, like many religious figures before her, that deliverance is almost at hand:

An epidemic worse than any plague that humankind has ever seen has been raging for centuries. It is the “don’t want” epidemic. People keep this epidemic alive when they predominantly think, speak, act, and focus on what they “don’t want.” But this is the generation that will change history, because we are receiving the knowledge that can free us of this epidemic!

This is the language of faith, not scientific theory or political struggle; it can’t be refuted, only disbelieved. But what makes Byrne’s creed so powerful isn’t simply that she offers revolution purged of politics; it’s that, in the best New Thought tradition, she offers religion purged of religion.

In 2007, during a show about “The Secret,” Winfrey took questions from the audience. “My husband and I, we’re Christians, and our kids are Christians,” one woman said. “I was wondering: Is God anywhere in this?”

One of Winfrey’s guests that day, a “non-aligned, trans-religious progressive” named Michael Beckwith, said, “ ‘The Secret’ doesn’t contradict any religion.” And Winfrey added her personal testimony. “I was raised a Christian, I still am a Christian,” she said. “The No. 1 question that I had was ‘How does all of this metaphysical thinking, this new way of taking responsibility for my life and co-creating my life with the Creator, how does that mesh with everything that I’ve been taught?’ And what I realized is exactly what they’re saying—is that it reinforces. Because, above all else, God gave us free will.”

The woman persisted: she said she believed in the existence of Heaven and Hell, and wondered whether that, too, was compatible with “The Secret.” This time, James Arthur Ray responded. “I totally honor your belief system,” he said. “But just consider that Jesus, the Christ, said the Kingdom of Heaven is within. . . . So is it possible to consider that the Kingdom of Hell is within as well?” This is Trine’s religious doctrine, restated warmly but firmly: all religious tenets are equally valuable, and equally illusory.

Perhaps the discussion might have gone differently if Esther Hicks had been there. In the original, pre-purged DVD of “The Secret,” she was identified with a four-word title: “The Teachings of Abraham.” Viewers weren’t told what that meant: Abraham is what Hicks has described as “a group consciousness from the non-physical dimension,” speaking through her. (Strictly, that musical voice and that untraceable accent are Abraham’s, not Hicks’s.) For Byrne’s purposes, Hicks’s belief system is too demanding, specific, and singular; which is to say, too religious. Winfrey herself seemed a bit spooked when, during one of her radio interviews with Hicks, the consciousnesses took over. “That’s why I thought I would do my virgin run with Abraham on the radio,” Winfrey said. “In case some weird ol’ thing happens.” Hicks—that is, Abraham—was cheerful and unperturbed. “We are not really as strange as all of that,” the group consciousness said.

Even without Hicks, the book version of “The Secret” is enlivened by an exotic spiritual subtext. Some photographs from that time show Byrne wearing a sparkly bindi on her forehead, and in the book she refers in passing to “all the great avatars throughout history,” casually positioning Wattles and the other New Thought pioneers as incarnations of the Hindu divine. Throughout, Byrne portrays herself as an open-minded seeker, illuminating a secret history that readers (and viewers) could discover along with her, and implying that much more remains undiscovered. At its best, “The Secret” is less a treatise than a treasure hunt.

By contrast, “The Power” unfolds as one long pep talk, underscoring Byrne’s increased confidence in her own pronouncements. In one passage, she advises readers to imagine that the front of a dollar bill is the “positive side,” associated with “plenty of money,” and the back is the “negative side,” associated with “a lack of money.” Accordingly, she suggests a ritual: “Each time you handle money, deliberately flip the bills so the front is facing you. Put bills in your wallet with the front facing you. When you hand over money, make sure the front is facing upward.” One can imagine devotees in the distant future holding fast to this practice and repeating this explanation to one another, doing this in remembrance of her. Certainly, she is a grander and more remote presence now than she was three years ago, not least because she has gone into media seclusion. In the weeks before the publication of “The Power,” the publishers announced that Byrne “chooses not to do interviews.” All we have is the scripture.

An alert reader of that scripture might notice some subtle changes in Byrne’s approach. More of the epigraphs come from writers identified as Christians than from writers identified as scientists, or as non-Christian religious figures. The turn-of-the-century New Thought movement, not least Wattles, is well represented, to be sure, but the final epigraph comes from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the maverick Jesuit philosopher and mystic.

Another clue is hidden in the acknowledgments section, in which Byrne reserves her highest accolades for “Angel Martín Velayos, whose spiritual light and faith causes me to lift myself to new levels so that I can fulfill my dream of bringing joy to billions.” Velayos turns out to be the name of the imperator of the Rose Cross Order, a religious group based in the Canary Islands. The order is one of a number of groups aligned with Rosicrucianism, a mystical movement that traces its roots to early seventeenth-century Europe. At times in his writing, Velayos sounds as if he could be a long-lost teacher of “The Secret”—he holds that “when a person is in harmony with the Cosmic the result is balance, health, peace, harmony, etc.”—and Byrne’s interest in Rosicrucianism isn’t new. In the opening scene of “The Secret,” the camera zooms in on the first page of a yellowing treatise, and a blizzard of words fly by. Watch it in slow motion and you’ll see that one of those words is “Rosicrucian.”

There is nothing odd about Byrne’s growing inclination toward Christian mysticism. What is odd is that the doctrine she propounds has no room for it, just as “The Secret” had no room for the story of Hicks-as-Abraham. Byrne must be one of the most influential religious writers in the world, and yet she seems to consider her own evolving religious beliefs to be unmentionable.

The creed promulgated by “The Secret” and “The Power” is finally noteworthy not for its audacity—many religions promise more—but for its modesty, its thinness. In distilling a spiritual message that claims to be compatible with all religious traditions, Byrne has had to bracket all possible points of disagreement, discarding anything that might seem, as Winfrey put it, “weird.” The result is a pair of religious books curiously devoid of ancient lore and esoteric beliefs, history and holiness—curiously devoid of religion itself. Byrne’s hope is that this minimalist creed will be enough for her readers. But surely some of them will notice that it doesn’t seem to be enough for her. ♦
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Sat Dec 21, 2013 7:38 pm

September 24, 2010 - New York Times
Fight ‘The Power’
By CHRISTOPHER F. CHABRIS and DANIEL J. SIMONS


Maybe it’s happened to you too. You’re reminiscing about a friend who moved away years ago, and then she arrives unexpectedly at your door. You can’t stop thinking about getting the phone call with the job offer, and it comes the next week. Or you have a vision of a family member becoming sick, and then you hear that he has been taken to the hospital.

According to Rhonda Byrne, these experiences are much more than mere coincidences. Byrne’s new book, THE POWER (Atria, $23.95), is the sequel to “The Secret,” which has sold more than 19 million copies in more than 40 languages and created an entire industry of spinoff products. Both books offer a self-help philosophy based on the “law of attraction,” which Byrne describes as a fundamental universal law akin to gravity. This was the “secret” of the first volume. In the second book — currently No. 1 on the New York Times how-to and advice best-seller list — it has been supplemented with talk of the “power of love.”

The law of attraction states that whatever you experience in life is a direct result of your thoughts. It really is that simple. If you think about being fat, you will get fatter. If you think about thin people, you will become thin yourself. If you think about your bills, you will get more bills, but if you think about checks instead, your mailbox will overflow with them. According to “The Secret” and “The Power,” your thoughts and feelings have magnetic properties and “frequencies.” They “vibrate” and resonate with the “universe,” somehow attracting events that share those frequencies back to their thinker.

“The Secret” and “The Power” deliver their wisdom in an ex cathedra voice reminiscent of the “Saturday Night Live” segment “Deep Thoughts.” And Byrne offers no scientific evidence for the absurd physics behind the law of attraction. But that doesn’t mean her books don’t take advantage of up-to-the-minute science. The problem is, it’s not the science she thinks it is.

The law of attraction has been around for millenniums; Byrne cites Plato, Galileo, Beethoven, Edison, Carnegie, Einstein and even Jesus himself as adepts. Just in the past century, it has been repeatedly expressed in essentially the same form as Byrne’s version by Wallace Wattles (“The Science of Getting Rich”), Napoleon Hill (“Think and Grow Rich”) and many other writers. Byrne’s idea of “the universe” plays the same role as Wattles’s “intelligent substance” or Hill’s “infinite intelligence” — a godlike agent that provides whatever we desire. Why is this particular pseudoscientific concept so persistent?

The message of “The Power” and “The Secret” might best be understood as an advanced meme — a sort of intellectual virus — whose structure has evolved throughout history to optimally exploit a suite of weaknesses in the design of the human mind. Had Byrne and the other purveyors of “The Secret” (including Oprah Winfrey, who repeatedly plugged it on her show) set out to reap huge profits by manipulating cognitive biases wired into the brain, they could hardly have done a better job. More likely, they caught the virus themselves and are unwittingly spreading it as far as they can.

The first trick they use is what psychologists call “social proof.” People like to do things other people are doing because it seems to prove the value of their own actions. That is why QVC displays a running count of how many viewers have bought each item for sale, and why advice seems more credible if it appears to come from many different people rather than one. “The Secret” is peppered with quotations from a group of about 20 “teachers” or “avatars,” many of whom are themselves popular self-help gurus. In “The Power,” Byrne also quotes sages like Thoreau, Gandhi and St. Augustine. This ploy, an example of a related logical fallacy called the argument from authority, taps our intuitive beliefs so forcefully that we psychology professors spend time training our introductory students to actively resist it.

Byrne also activates what might be called the illusion of potential, our readiness to believe that we have a vast reservoir of untapped abilities just waiting to be released. This illusion helps explain the popularity of products like “Baby Mozart” and video games that “train your brain” and entertain you at the same time. Unfortunately, rigorous empirical studies have repeatedly shown that none of these things bring about any meaningful improvement in intelligence.

“The Power” and “The Secret” are larded with references to magnets, energy and quantum mechanics. This last is a dead giveaway: whenever you hear someone appeal to impenetrable physics to explain the workings of the mind, run away — we already have disciplines called “psychology” and “neuroscience” to deal with those questions. Byrne’s onslaught of pseudoscientific jargon serves mostly to establish an “illusion of knowledge,” as social scientists call our tendency to believe we understand something much better than we really do. In one clever experiment by the psychologist Rebecca Lawson, people who claimed to have a good understanding of how bicycles work (and who ride them every day) proved unable to draw the chain and pedals in the correct location.

But ersatz theoretical physics has only so much persuasive power. Byrne also provides several bits of empirical evidence for her claims. For example, in “The Power,” we hear about an anonymous woman who left a long, abusive relationship and “never talked negatively about her ex-husband but instead gave only positive thoughts and words about a new, perfect, beautiful husband.” Sure enough, we are told, she soon met her “perfect and beautiful” new husband, and they now live happily ever after in Spain — which happens to be in Europe, the very continent the woman had dreamed of visiting!

The intuitive appeal of such stories illustrates the human tendency to see things that happen in sequence — first the positive thinking, then the positive results — as forming a chain of cause and effect. This is even more likely to happen when all the stories we hear fit an expected pattern, a phenomenon psychologists call “illusory correlation.” If we hear only about the crazy coincidences (“I was thinking about getting the job offer, and right then I got the call!”), not the unconnected events (“I thought about getting the offer, but it never came” or “I wasn’t thinking about the offer, then I got it”) or even the nonevents (“I didn’t think I would get the offer, and indeed I didn’t get it”), then we get a distorted picture. Even worse, we can misremember two things as happening in close succession when in fact they happened much farther apart in time, or even in the reverse order. When Byrne tells her readers to “make a connection” between the good things they do and the good things that come to them, she is focusing their attention on positive examples of the law of attraction, thereby reinforcing the illusion that it actually works.

The powerful psychology behind these rhetorical tricks can distract readers from the larger illogic of ­Byrne’s books. What if a thousand people started sincerely visualizing winning the entire $200 million prize in this week’s Lotto? How would the universe sort out that mess? But it’s useless to argue with books like “The Secret” and “The Power.” They demonstrate an exquisite grasp of the reality of human nature. After all, the only other force that could explain how Rhonda Byrne put two books on top of the best-seller list is the law of attraction itself.

Christopher Chabris is a psychology professor at Union College. Daniel Simons is a psychology professor at the University of Illinois. They are the authors of “The Invisible Gorilla, and Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us.”
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Tue Dec 31, 2013 12:04 am

INSIDE PEOPLE'S TEMPLE - from NEW WEST MAGAZINE - written just before the suicides - this article triggered the tragic events as more people left after the article came out and went to the media - August 1, 1977

http://boingboing.net/2008/11/19/jonestown-30-years-l-3.html
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/11/18/AR2008111803694.html
PBS Special Documentary:  http://youtu.be/9NQ5KBzD8w0
MSNBC Preview of their documentary: 
http://video.msnbc.msn.com/documentaries/27187801

“Jim Jones is one the state’s most politically potent leaders. But who is he? And what’s going on behind his church’s locked doors?.”

For Rosalynn Carter, it was the last stop in an early September campaign tour that had taken her over half of California, a state where her husband Jimmy was weak. So Rosalynn gamely encouraged the crowd of 750 that had gathered for the grand opening of the San Francisco Democratic party headquarters in a seedy downtown storefront. She smiled bravely despite the heat.

Mrs. Carter finished her little pep talk to mild applause. Several other Democratic bigwigs got polite receptions, too. Only one speaker aroused the crowd; he was the Reverend Jim Jones, the founding pastor of Peoples Temple, a small community church located in the city’s Fillmore section. Jones spoke briefly and avoided endorsing Carter directly. But his words were met with what seemed like a wall-pounding outpour. A minute and a half later the cheers died down.

“It was embarrassing,” said a rally organizer. “The wife of a guy who was going to the White House was shown up by somebody named Jones.”

If Rosalynn Carter was surprised, she shouldn’t have been. The crowd belonged to Jones. Some 600 of the 750 listeners were delivered in temple buses an hour and a half before the rally. The organizer, who had called Jones for help, remembered how gratified she’d felt when she first saw the Jones followers spilling off the buses. “You should have seen it - old ladies on crutches, whole families, little kids, blacks, whites. Made to order,” said the organizer, who had correctly feared that without Jones Mrs. Carter might have faced a half-empty room.

“Then we noticed things like the bodyguards,” she continued. “Jones had his own security force [with him], and the Secret Service guys were having fits,” she said. “They wanted to know who all these black guys were, standing outside with their arms folded.”

The next morning more than 100 letters arrived. “They were really all the same,” she said. “‘Thanks for the rally, and, say, that Jim Jones was so inspirational.' Look, we never get mail, so we notice one letter, but 100?” She added, “They had to be mailed before the rally to arrive the next day.”

But what surprised that organizer was really not that special. She just got a look at some of the methods Jim Jones has used to make himself one of the most politically potent religious leaders in the history of the state.

Jim Jones counts among his friends several of California’s well-known public officials. San Francisco mayor George Moscone has made several visits to Jones’s San Francisco temple, on Geary Street, as have the city’s district attorney Joe Freitas and sheriff Richard Hongisto. And Governor Jerry Brown has visited at least once. Also, Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley has been a guest at Jones’s Los Angeles temple. Lieutenant Governor Mervyn Dymally went so far as to visit Jones’s 27,000-acre agricultural station in Guyana, South America, and he pronounced himself impressed. What’s more, when Walter Mondale came campaigning for the vice-presidency in San Francisco last fall, Jim Jones was one of the few people invited aboard his chartered jet for a private visit. Last December Jones was appointed to head the city’s Housing Authority Commission.

The source of Jones’s political clout is not very difficult to divine. As one politically astute executive puts it: “He controls votes.” And voters. During San Francisco’s run-off election for mayor in December of 1975, some 150 temple members walked precincts to get out the vote for George Moscone, who won by a slim 4,000 votes. “They’re well-dressed, polite and they’re all registered to vote,” said one Moscone campaign official.

Can you win office in San Francisco without Jones? “In a tight race like the ones that George or Freitas or Hongisto had, forget it without Jones,” said State Assemblyman Willie Brown, who describes himself as an admirer of Jones’s.

Jones, who has several adopted children of differing racial backgrounds, is more than a political force. He and his church are noted for social and medical programs, which are centered in his three-story structure on Geary Street. Temple members support and staff a free diagnostic and outpatient clinic, a physical therapy facility, a drug program that claims to have rehabilitated some 300 addicts and a legal aid program for about 200 people a month. In addition, the temple’s free dining hall is sad to feed more indigents than the city’s venerable St. Anthony’s dining room. And temple spokesmen say that these services to the needy are financed internally, without a cent of government or foundation money.


Jones and his temple are also applauded for their ardent support of a free press. Last September, Jones and his followers participated in a widely publicized demonstration in support of the four Fresno newsmen who went to jail rather than reveal their confidential news sources. The temple also contributed $4,400 to twelve California newspapers – including the San Francisco Chronicle – for use “in the defense of a free press,” and once gave $4,000 to the defense of Los Angeles Times reporter Bill Farr, who also went to jail for refusing to name a news source.

In addition, at Jones’s direction the temple makes regular contributions to several community groups, including the Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Center and Health Clinic, the NAACP, the ACLU and the farmworkers’ union. When a local pet clinic was in trouble, Peoples Temple provided the money needed to keep it open. The temple has also set up a fund for the widows of slain policemen, and the congregation runs an escort service for senior citizens.

To many, the Reverend Jim Jones is the epitome of a selfless Christian.

The reverend was born James Thur­man Jones, and grew up in the Indiana town of Lynn. While attending Butler University in Indianapolis, where he received his degree in education, Jones opened his first temple (in downtown Indianapolis). Although he had no formal training as a minister and was not affiliated with any church, his temple grew. It featured an active social program, including a “free” restaurant for the down-and-out. And the congregation was integrated, a courageous commitment in the years before Martin Luther King became a national figure – particularly in Indianapolis, once the site of the Ku Klux Klan’s national office.

Then at around Christmas of 1961, according to a former associate named Ross Case, Jones had a vision. He saw Indianapolis being consumed in a holocaust, presumably a nuclear explosion. Fortunately for him, Esquire had just run an article on the nine safest spots in the event of nuclear war. Eureka, California, was called the safest location; another safe area was Belo Horizante, Brazil. Jones headed for Belo Horizante, and Case went to Northern California.

Jones eventually returned and visited Case in Ukiah. Jones liked California, and twelve years ago this month, he and his wife Marceline incorporated Peoples Temple in California; Jones and some 100 faithful settled in Redwood Valley, a hamlet outside Ukiah.

Jones’s congregation grew, and he soon became a political force in Mendocino County. In off-year elections, where the total vote was around 2,500, Jones could control 300 to 400 ballots, or nearly 16 percent of the vote. “I could show anybody the tallies by precinct and pick out the Jones vote,” says Al Barbero, county supervisor from Redwood Valley.

Then, in 1970, Jones started holding services in San Francisco; one year later he bought the Geary Street temple. And later that same year, he expanded to Los Angeles by taking over a synagogue on South Alvarado Street.

One success followed another, and his flock grew to an estimated 20,000. Jones’s California mission seemed blessed.

Although Jones’s name is well-known, especially among the politicians and the powerful, he remains surrounded by mystery. For example, his Peoples Temple has two sets of locked doors, guards patrolling the aisles during services and a policy of barring passersby from dropping by unannounced on Sunday morn­ings. His bimonthly newspaper, Peoples Forum, regularly exalts socialism, praises Huey Newton and Angela Davis and forecasts a government takeover by American Nazis. And though Jones is a white fundamentalist minister, his congregation is roughly 80 percent to 90 percent black.

How does Jones manage to appeal to so many kinds of people? Where does he get the money to operate his church’s programs, or maintain his fleet of buses, or support his agricultural outpost in Guyana? Why does he surround himself with bodyguards – as many as fifteen at a time? And above all, what is going on behind the locked and guarded doors of Peoples Temple?

Ten Who Quit the Temple Speak Out


Beginning two months ago, when it became known that New West was researching an article on Peoples Temple, the magazine, its editors and advertisers were subjected to a bizarre letter-and-telephone campaign. At its height, our offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles were each receiving as many as 50 phone calls and 70 letters a day. The great majority of the letters and calls came from temple members and supporters, as well as such prominent Californians as Lieutenant Governor Mervyn Dymally, Delancey Street founder John Maher, San Francisco business­man Cyril Magnin, and savings and loan executive Anthony Frank. The messages were much the same: We hear New West is going to attack Jim Jones in print; don’t do that. He’s a good man who does good works.

The flood of calls and letters attracted wide attention, which, in turn, prompted newsman Bill Barnes to report the campaign in the San Francisco Examiner. The Examiner also reported an unconfirmed break-in one week later at our San Francisco office.

After the Barnes article, we began getting phone calls from former temple members. At first, while insisting on anonymity, the callers volunteered “background” about Jim Jones’s “cruel­ty” to congregation members, in addition to making several other specific charges.

We told the callers that we were not interested in such anonymous whispers. But then a number of them, like Deanna and Elmer Mertle, called back and agreed to meet in person, to be photographed, and to tell their attributed stories for publication.

Based on what these people told us, life inside Peoples Temple was a mixture of Spartan regimentation, fear and self-imposed humiliation. As they told it, the Sunday services to which dignitaries were invited were orchestrated events. Actually, members were expected to attend services two, three, even four nights a week – with some sessions lasting until daybreak. Those members of the temple’s governing council, called the Planning Commission, were often compelled to stay up all night and submit regularly to “catharsis” – an encounter process in which friends, even mates, would criticize the person who was “on the floor.” In the last two years, we were told, these often humiliating sessions had begun to include physical beatings with a large wooden paddle, and boxing matches in which the person on the floor was occasionally knocked out by opponents selected by Jones himself. Also, during regularly scheduled “family meetings,” attended by up to 1,000 of the most devoted followers, as many as 100 people were lined up to be paddled for such seemingly minor infractions as not being attentive enough during Jones’s sermons. Church leaders also instructed certain members to write letters incriminating themselves in illegal and immoral acts that never happened. In addition, temple members were encouraged to turn over their money and property to the church and live communally in temple buildings; those who didn’t ran the risk of being chastised severely during the catharsis sessions.

In all, we interviewed more than a dozen former temple members. Obviously they all had biases. (Grace Stoen, for example, has sued her husband, a temple member, for custody of their five-year-old son John. The child is reportedly in Guyana.) So we checked the verifiable facts of their accounts – the property transfers, the nursing and foster home records, political campaign contributions and other matters of public record. The details of their stories checked out.

One question, in particular, troubled us: Why did some of them remain mem­bers long after they became disenchanted with Jones’s methods and even fearful of him and his bodyguards? Their answers were the same – they feared reprisal, and that their stories would not be believed.

The people we interviewed are real; their names are real. They all agreed to be tape-recorded and photographed while telling their side of the Jim Jones story.

Elmer and Deanna Mertle of Berkeley


They beat his daughter badly: Elmer Mertle.

After Elmer and Deanna Mertle joined the temple in Ukiah in Novem­ber, 1969, he quit his job as a chemical technician for Standard Oil Company, sold the family’s house in Hayward and moved up to Redwood Valley. Eventually five of the Mertle’s children by previous marriages joined them there.

“When we first went up [to Redwood Valley], Jim Jones was a very compassionate person,” says Deanna. “He taught us to be compassionate to old people, to be tender to the children.”

But slowly the loving atmosphere gave way to cruelty and physical punishments. Elmer said, “The first forms of punishment were mental, where they would get up and totally disgrace and humiliate the person in front of the whole congregation. . . . Jim would then come over and put his arms around the person and say, 'I realize that you went through a lot, but it was for the cause. Father loves you and you’re a stronger person now. I can trust you more now that you’ve gone through and accepted this discipline.’”

The physical punishment increased too. Both the Mertles claim they received public spankings as early as 1972 – but they were hit with a belt only “about three times.” Eventually, they said, the belt was replaced by a paddle and then by a large board dubbed “the board of education,” and the number of times adults and finally children were struck increased to 12, 25, 50 and even 100 times in a row. Temple nurses treated the injured.

At first, the Mertles rationalized the beatings. “The [punished] child or adult would always say, ’Thank you, Father,” and then Jim would point out the week how much better they were. In our minds we rationalized ... that Jim must be doing the right thing because these people were testifying that the beatings had caused their life to make a reversal in the right direction.”

Then one night the Mertles’ daughter Linda was called up for discipline because she had hugged and kissed a woman friend she hadn’t seen in a long time. The woman was reputed to be a lesbian. The Mertles stood among the congregation of 600 or 700 while their daughter, who was then sixteen, was hit on her buttocks 75 times. “She was beaten so severely,” said Elmer, “that the kids said her [banned term] looked like hamburger.”

Linda, who is now eighteen, confirms that she was beaten: “I couldn’t sit down for at least a week and a half.”

The Mertles stayed in the church for more than a year after that public beating. “We had nothing on the outside to get started in,” says Elmer. “We had given [the church] all our money. We had given all of our property. We had given up our jobs.”

Today the Mertles live in Berkeley. According to an affidavit they signed last October in the presence of attorney Harriet Thayer, they changed their names legally to Al and Jeanne Mills because, at the church’s instruction, “we had signed blank sheets of paper, which could be used for any imaginable purpose, signed power of attorney papers, and written many unusual and incriminating statements [about themselves], all of which were untrue.”

Birdie Marable of Ukiah
“I never really thought he was God, like he preached, but I thought he was a prophet,” said Birdie Marable, a beautician who was first attracted to Jones in 1968 because her husband had a liver ailment. She had hoped Jones might be the healer to save him.

On one of the trips to services in Redwood Valley, Marable noticed Jones’s aides taking some children aside and asking, “What color house did my friend have, things like that,” she says. “Then during the services, Jim called [one woman] out and told her the answers that the children had given as though no one had told him.”

She became skeptical of Jones after that, and remained skeptical when her husband’s health did not improve; the cancer “cures” Jones was performing seemed phony to her. Yet eventually she moved to Ukiah and ran a rest home for temple members at Jim’s suggestion.

One summer she was talked into taking a three-week temple “vacation” through the South and East. “Everybody paid $200 to go on the trip, but I told them I wasn’t able to do so,” she added.

The temple buses were loaded up in San Francisco, and more members were packed aboard in Los Angeles. “It was terrible. It was overcrowded. There were people sitting on the floor, in the luggage rack, and sometimes people [were] underneath in the compartment where they put the bags,” she said. “I saw some things that really put me wise to everything,” she added. “I saw how they treated the old people.” The bathrooms were frequently stopped up. For food, sometimes a cold can of beans was opened and passed around.

“I decided to leave the church when I got back. I said when I get through telling people about this trip, ain’t nobody going to want to go no more. [But] as soon as we arrived back, Jim said . . . ‘don’t say nothing.” She left the church in silence.

Wayne Pietila of Petaluma and Jim and Terri Cobb of San Francisco
Wayne Pietila and Jim Cobb guarded the cancers. “If anyone tried to touch them, we were supposed to eat the cancers or demolish the guy,” said Cobb, who is six-feet, two-inches tall. Pietila was licensed by the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department to carry a con­cealed weapon; reportedly he was one of several Jones aides with such a permit.

It was during the Redwood Valley healing sessions in 1970, when nervous hope for relief from the pains of age spread among the congregation, that Cobb and Pietila would guard the cancers. Finally Jones would ask for some­one who believed herself to be suffering from cancer. That was the signal for Cobb’s sister, Terri, to slip into a side restroom and shoo out whoever might be there. Then Jones’s wife Marceline and a trembling excited old woman would disappear into the stall for a moment. Marceline would emerge holding a foul-smelling scrap of something cupped in a napkin – a cancer “passed.” Marceline and the old woman would return to the main room to screams, applause, a thunder of music. Jim Jones had healed again.

But one time, Terri got a chance to look into the “cancer bag.” “It was full of napkins and small bits of meat, individually wrapped. They looked like chicken gizzards. I was shocked.”

Wayne Pietila recalled another healing incident. On the eve of a trip to Seattle in 1970 or 1971, as Jones was leaving his house, a shot cracked out and he fell. “There was blood all around and people [were] screaming and crying, just hysterical.” Jones was lifted to his feet and helped to his house. A few minutes later, Jones walked out of the house with a clean shirt on. “He said he’d healed himself,” Pietila said. “He used [the incident] for his preaching during the whole Seattle trip.”

Micki Touchette of San Francisco
The Touchette family followed Jones to California in 1970. They lived in Stockton for a while, then moved up to Redwood Valley, where they bought a house and converted it into a home for emotionally disturbed boys.

During 1972 and 1973 Micki and other temple members were expected to travel to Los Angeles services every other weekend. One of her jobs was to count the money after offerings. Micki, a junior college graduate, had the combination to the temple’s Los Angeles safe. She says. “It was very simple to take in $15,000 in a weekend, and this was [four] years ago. [To encourage larger offerings, Jones] would say, ‘We folks, we’ve only collected $500 or $700,’ and we would have [in reality] several thousand.”

In addition to attending Wednesday night family meetings and weekend services, Micki also was part of letter-writing efforts directed by church officials. “We’d write various politicians throughout the state, throughout the country, in praise of something that they had done. I wrote Nixon, wrote Tunney; I remember writing the chief of the San Francisco Police Department,” she said. Micki, who lived in temple houses apart from her parents, would often be handed a sheet listing the points she would have to include in the letter. “It would tell you how and what to say and you’d word it yourself.” She says she also would regularly use aliases she made up.

When Micki left the church in 1973 along with seven other young people, including Terri and Jim Cobb and Wayne Pietila, none warned their parents or other relatives. “We felt that our parents, our families . would just fight us and try to make us stay.” Furthermore, they were all frightened. “At one point we had been told that any college student who was going to leave the church would be killed . not by Jones, but by some of his followers.” Both Terri and Cobb recall the statement being made – by Jones.

Walter Jones of San Francisco
When Walt Jones, who never believed in the church, followed his wife Carol to Redwood Valley in 1974, Jim Jones asked them to take over a home for emotionally disturbed boys. The home belonged to Charles and Joyce Touchette, Micki Touchette’s parents. Walt says he was told that the Touchettes were in Guyana, and that the people who had replaced them, Rick and Carol Stahl, had done such a poor job that “the care home, at that time, was under surveillance of the authorities because of the poor conditions. Some of the boys had scabies due to the filth.”

In 1974 and early 1975, before Walt and his wife were granted a license to run the home, county checks (of approximately $325 to $350 per month for each child) for the upkeep of the boys were made out to the Touchettes and cashed by a church member who had their power of attorney. “The checks,” said Walt, “were turned over to someone in charge of all the funds [for the church’s care homes] at the time. [The temple] allotted us what they felt were sufficient funds for the home and supplied us with foodstuffs and various articles of clothing.” Jones says the food was mostly canned staples, and the clothes were donations from other temple members. Walt is uncertain how much of the approximate total of $2,000 a month of county funds earmarked for the upkeep of his boys actually ended up in his hands; his wife kept the books. But, he claimed, “it was very inadequate.”

After the Joneses were granted their own license in 1975, the checks from the Alameda County Probation Department (which placed the boys in the home) were made out to him and his wife. “But still the church requested that we turn over what remained of the funds,” says Walt Jones. “Approximately $900 to $ 1,000 [per month] were turned over to the church.” And he added, “I do remember that there were times when all of the checks were signed over to the church.”

Laura Cornelious of Oakland

They took her best watch: Laura Cornelious.

Laura Cornelious was one of the privates in the Peoples Temple’s army. She was in the temple about five years before leaving in 1975 – just one of dozens of elderly black grandmothers who attend each meeting of the San Francisco Housing Authority Commission that Jim Jones chairs.

The first thing that bothered her was the constant requests for money. “After I was in some time,” she says, “it was made known to us that we were supposed to pay 25 percent of our earnings [the usual sum, according to practically all the former members that we interviewed].” It was called “the commitment.” For those who could not meet the commitment, she says, there were alternatives, like baking cakes to sell at Sunday services – or donating their jewelry. “He said that we didn’t need the watches – my best watch,” she recalls sadly. “He said we didn’t need homes – give the homes, furs, all of the best things you own.”

Some blacks gave out of fear – fear that they could end up in concentration camps. The money was needed, she was told, “to build up this other place [Guyana-the ‘promised land’], so we would have someplace to go whenever they [the fascists in this country] were going to destroy us like they did the Jews. [Jones said] that they would put [black people] in concentration camps, and that they would do us like the Jews . in the gas ovens.”

Laura Cornelious was also bothered by the frisking of temple members (but never dignitaries) before each service. “You even were asked to raise up on your toes [to check] your shoes.”

The final straw, she says, came the night Jones brought a snake into the services. “Viola . she was up in age, in her eighties, and she was so afraid of snakes and he held the snake close to her [chest] and she just sat there and screamed. And he still held it there.”

Grace Stoen of San Francisco

They have her five-year-old boy: Grace Stoen.

Grace Stoen was a leader among the temple hierarchy, though she was never a true believer. Her husband Tim was the temple’s top attorney, and one of its first prominent converts. Later, while still a church insider, he became an assistant D.A. of Mendocino County, and then an assistant D.A. under San Francisco D.A. Joe Freitas. Tim resigned to go to Jones’s Guyana retreat in April of this year.

Grace agreed to join the temple when she married Tim in 1970, and gradually she acquired enormous authority. She was head counselor, and at the Wednesday night family meetings, she would pass to Jones the names of the members to be disciplined.

She was also the record keeper for seven temple businesses. She paid out from $30,000 to $50,000 per month for the auto and bus garage bills and also doled out the slim temple wages. And she was one of several church notaries. She kept a notary book, a kind of log of documents that she officially witnessed-pages of entries including power-of-attorney statements, deeds of trust, guardianship papers, and so on, signed by temple members and officials.

She recalled why Jones decided to aim for Los Angeles and San Francisco. “Jim would say, ‘If we stay here in the valley, we’re wasted. We could make it to the big time in San Francisco.”

And expanding to Los Angeles , Jones told his aides, “was worth $15,000 to $25,000 a weekend.”

During the expansion in 1972, members would pile into the buses at 5 P.M. on a Friday night in Redwood Valley, stop at the San Francisco temple for a meeting that might last until midnight and then drive through the night to arrive in Los Angeles Saturday in time for six-hour services. On Sunday, church would start at 11 A.M. and end at 5 P.M. Then, the Redwood Valley members would pile back on the buses for the long trip home; they would arrive by daybreak Monday.

Some of the inner circle, like Grace Stoen, rode on Jim’s own bus, number seven. “The last two seats and the whole back seat were taken out and a door put across it,” she said. “Inside there was a refrigerator, a sink, a bed and a plate of steel in the back so nobody could ever shoot Jim. The money was kept back there in a compartment.” According to attendance slips she collected, the other 43-seat buses sometimes held 70 to 80 riders.

Jones’s goal in San Francisco, Grace said, was to become a political force. His first move was to ingratiate himself with fellow liberal and leftist figures D.A. Freitas, Sheriff Hongisto, Police Chief Charles Gain, Dennis Banks, Angela Davis.

Sometimes Jones nearly tripped up. Once, said Grace, when Freitas and his wife dropped in unexpectedly, temple aides quickly pulled them into a side room and sent word to Jones in the upstairs meeting hall. Just in time. The pastor was wrapped up in one of his “silly little things,” said Grace. “He was having everybody shout ‘Shxx! Shxx! Shxx!’ to teach them not to be so hypocritical.” When Freitas was shown in, everyone just laughed at the puzzle district attorney. (D.A. Freitas confirms making an unexpected visit to the temple, but does not recall anyone using the word shxx.)

Jones became impatient at the pace his success. Eventually Mayor Moscone placed Jones on the Housing Authority Commission, and then intervened to assure him the chairmanship.

Strangely, as Jones’s successes mounted, so did the pressures inside his temple. “We were going to more and more meetings,” said Stoen. “[And] if anyone was getting too much sleep – say, six hours a night – they were in trouble.” On one occasion, she said, a man was vomited and urinated on.

In July of 1976, after a three-week temple bus trip, her morale was ebbing lower, her friends were muttering about her, and there were rumors that Jones was unhappy with a number of members. “I packed my things and left [without telling Tim]. I couldn’t trust him. He’d tell Jim.”

She drove to Lake Tahoe and spent the July Fourth weekend lying on a warm beach. She dug her toes in the sand, stretched her arms and tried to relax. “But every time I turned over, I looked around to see if any of the church members had tracked me down.”

Why Jim Jones Should Be Investigated


It is literally impossible to guess how much money and property people gave Jim Jones in the twelve years since he moved his Peoples Temple to California. Some, like Laura Cornelious, gave small things like watches or rings. Others, like Walt Jones, sold their homes and gave the proceeds to the temple.

According to nearly all the former temple members that we have spoken with, extensive, continuous pressure was put on members to deed their homes to the temple. Many complied. A brief reading of the records on file at the Mendocino County recorder’s office shows that some 30 pieces of property were transferred from individuals to the temple during the years 1968 to 1976. Nearly all these parcels were recorded as gifts.

Interestingly, several of the “gifts” were signed or recorded improperly. The deed to a piece of property signed by Grace and Timothy Stoen was notarized on June 20, 1976. Grace Stoen told New West that on that date, when she was supposed to be in Mendocino signing the deed before a temple notary, she and several hundred temple members were in New York City. Grace Stoen said she signed the deed under pressure from her husband, Tim, months before it was notarized. And similar irregularities appear on a deed the Mertles turned over to the temple. A thorough investigation of the circumstances surrounding the transfers of the properties is clearly required.

In the last few issues of Peoples Forum, the temple newspaper, there are several references to the claim that 130 disturbed or incorrigible youths were being sent to the temple’s Guyana mission. A church spokesman confirmed that these youngsters were released to the temple by “federal courts, state courts, probation departments” and other agencies. An article in the July issue of the temple newspaper on the Guyana mission’s youth program reports that, “In certain cases when a young person is testing the environment . physical discipline has produced the necessary change.” The article goes on to describe a “wrestling match” that sounds all too similar to the “boxing matches” some former temple members described. If there is even the slightest chance of mistreatment of the 130 youths the temple claims to have under its guidance in Guyana, a complete investigation by both state and federal authorities would be required.

An investigation of the “care homes” run by the temple or temple members in Redwood Valley may also be in order. Both Walt Jones and Micki Touchette have stated that anywhere from $800 to $ 1,000 of the monthly funds provided by the state for the care of the six boys in the Touchette home were actually funneled to the temple. If those figures are accurate, as much as $38,000 to $48,000 may have been channeled into the church’s coffers during the four years the Touchette home was open. It is known that at least two other “care homes ”for boys were run by the church or its members. In addition, at least six residential homes licensed by Mendocino County were owned or operated by the temple. They housed from six to fourteen senior citizens each, and the county provided upwards of $325 per month per individual. An investigation should be launched immediately to determine if any of the money paid for the care of the elderly actually went to the temple.

Files at the Mendocino County recorder’s office show that the temple has sold off a number of its properties. The Redwood Valley temple itself is currently for sale for an estimated $225,000. The Los Angeles temple is also for sale. The three Mendocino “care homes” that are still operating are up for sale. Several former temple members believe Jones and a few hundred of his closest followers may be planning to leave for Guyana no later than September of this year. The ex-members we interviewed had the ability to walk away from the temple once they found the courage to do it. Whether the church will permit those who move to Guyana the option of ever leaving is questionable.

Jones has been in Guyana for the last three weeks and was unavailable to us as this magazine article went to press. In a phone interview, two spokesmen for the temple, Mike Prokes and Gene Chaikin, denied all of the allegations made by the former temple members we interviewed. Specifically, they denied any harassment, coercion or physical abuse of temple members. They denied that the church attempted to force members to donate their property or homes. They also denied that Jones faked healings. They confirmed that the temple’s churches and property in Redwood Valley and Los Angeles are for sale, but went on to deny that Jones’s closest followers are planning to relocate Guyana any time soon.

Finally, something must be said about the numerous public officials and political figures who openly courted and befriended Jim Jones. While it appears that none of the public officials from Governor Brown on down knew about the inner world of Peoples Temple, they have left the impression that they used Jones to deliver votes at election time, and never asked any questions. They never asked about the bodyguards. Never asked about the church’s locked doors. Never asked why Jones’s followers were so obsessively protective of him. And apparently, some never asked because they didn’t want to know.

The story of Jim Jones and his Peoples Temple is not over. In fact, it has only begun to be told. If there is any solace to be gained from the tale of exploitation and human foible told by the former temple members in these pages, it is that even such a power as Jim Jones cannot always contain his followers. Those who left had nowhere to go and every reason to fear pursuit. Yet they persevered. If Jones is ever to be stripped of his power, it will not be because of vendetta or persecution, but rather because of the courage of these people who stepped forward and spoke out.

Caption: p. 31
The holy host: At a 1976 temple lunch, Reverend Jones sat between two friends, S.F. mayor Moscone (left) and Lieutenant Governor Dymally.
Callouts:
Page 34
“.Peoples Temple members beat his sixteen-year-old daughter so badly, says Elmer Mertle, that ‘her [banned term] looked like, hamburger’.”
Page 36
“.Jones held a snake close to the terrified old woman. ‘Viola screamed,’ said a member. ‘And he still held that snake there’.”
Page 38
“. . . ‘Jones would say that we could make it in, the big time,’ says Grace Stoen. ‘Expanding to L.A. alone was worth $15,000 a weekend’ .”
San Francisco Chronicle Reporter Mar­shall Kilduff and New West contributing editor Phil Tracy were assisted by freelance newsman George Klineman.


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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Tue Dec 31, 2013 12:23 am

The full documentary about TM / Transcendental Meditation is now viewable free on-line on YouTube.  This is really worth watching.... you have to wade through some stuff about the filmmaker's relationship to his girlfriend, but it ends up really showing the inner workings and shadows of this billion dollar organization.  Highly recommended.  DAVID WANTS TO FLY:

http://youtu.be/V0payvR--nM
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Fri Jan 17, 2014 1:57 pm

Two books noted here:

Inside looks at one of Japan's new religious movement that is a mixture of Imperial worship, energy healing, bizarre biblical mythology, monotheism, and extreme grandiosity.  Many similar groups sprang up after World War II - each with their own messiah - and they all seem to continue in the grand mythology that Japan is the divine center of all creation, the end is coming, their members are the only elite that will survive, etc.  - and many have lots of money which they use to build their huge cathedral / head temple.  This group's healing story is based on the idea that nearly everyone on the planet is possessed by all kinds of evil spirits and they alone have the magical ability to purify people. 

All the Emperor's Men by Gary Greenwood (Kindle only - through amazon.com)
Publication Date: December 27, 2013

An inside view of the Imperial Cult - Mahikari.

What connects Aum Shinrikyo's ranch in Australia, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the 1995 Tokyo subway gassings, huge caches of looted World War II gold, the Star of David, certain high-level Japanese politicians, the Rape of Nanjing and the ongoing Fukushima nuclear catastrophe? MAHIKARI! - the Japanese new religion that proclaimed itself the Chosen People headed by the new Messiah and which is awaiting a coming global Armageddon. A former top sect leader from Canberra, Australia, unravels the dark secrets of this mystery sect. Never has anyone penetrated the veils of mysticism, deception, black magic and secret agendas so deep and returned to tell the story. This is a true story. It is NOT fiction!

DOJO:  Magic and Exorcism in Modern Japan by Winston Davis

"This informative and highly readable book is a study of one of the so-called new religious sects of Japan called Sukyo Mahikari.. The book goes beyond providing information on Japanese religious ideas and acts and relates to religious studies in a wider sense, including the question of the circumstances fostering the survival of occultism."—Edward Norbeck, The American Anthropologist

"Stone by symbolic stone, Davis is able to reconstruct the architecture of hopes and actions that transform a humdrum meeting room into 'a sacred space where revelations and miracles can take place.' Many others have written about Japanese religious pragmatism, Davis is one of the few to demonstrate how it can be convincing."—David W. Plath, Journal of Japanese Studies

"Among the new religions which proliferated in Japan after the war . . . is a singular and hitherto unexamined exorcistic sect called Sukyo Mahikari.... It believes in spirit possession (one's ancestors, grudging samurai, vagrant animal souls) and also in the member's ability to rout these astral interlopers. In addition, these powers may be used to repair automobiles, TV sets, and the like... . Much of the book's fascination lies in the fact that it is all so immediate (the author was there daily, observing and recounting), and that the mass of material he presents is so spectacular, involving as it does possession by malevolent grandmothers, disgruntled samurai ancestors, bad dogs, and worse eats." —Donald Richie, The Japan Times

"Davis's excellent book . . . breaks entirely new ground. Here for the first time we have an in-depth study, based on first-hand experience and participation. ... It is by no means only the sociologist who will find exceptionally interesting material in...

About the Author
Winston Davis is Professor Emeritus at Washington and Lee University.

Review from Amazon - Great Book, Insightful, and Accurate
By Ash on April 24, 2006

As a former member of Sukyo Mahikari, I found this book to be very insightful. I was a Mahikari baby, born and bred in Mahikari...it took me a long time to break the mind control of this cult, and even now I am grappling with the left over damage; this book strongly reinforced what I already knew about Mahikari, but it also pointed out new paralells that I had not yet seen. Very helpful as far as aiding the healing process. I recommend this book to all former members as well as current members...not that current members would read it...that would be an indication of a spirit disturbance. To the above reviewer...this book is accurate and truly does depict the subtle mind control tactics used within this cult. Obviously you are still involved in Mahikari and not yet ready to accept the falacies in their practices and beliefs...it's alright though, it is only a matter of time. You can expect to see a post about your comment on my blog. Check it out:

AND this link which is about ten Japanese cults you've probably never heard of:

http://listverse.com/2013/11/07/10-bizarre-japanese-cults-youve-probably-never-heard-of/
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PostSubject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.   Sat Jan 18, 2014 11:35 pm

another example - now coming back into the news - of one of the more infamous Japanese post-WWII cults - which all had remarkably similar wacky theologies:

Justice looms for Doomsday cult that brought death to Tokyo subway

Victims of the 1995 sarin attack on the capital's subway hope for closure after a long wait as the last member of Aum Shinrikyo cult goes on trial

Kazumasa Takahashi who died in the gas attack is pictured with his family Photo: Androniki Christodoulou

By Julian Ryall, Tokyo

10:40AM GMT 16 Jan 2014

Mitsuru Kono hopes that once the executions begin, the nightmares he has suffered for the last 19 years might start to fade.

The legal hearings Thursday in Tokyo against one of the few remaining members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult could also serve to bring closure to a nation that was traumatised by an attack that was as bizarre as it was terrifying: an apocalyptic religious faction that preached armageddon and sought to overthrow the Japanese government but released nerve gas on the subway when its plans were thwarted.


Shizue Takahashi whose husband Kazumasa was killed in the sarin gas attack is photographed on the Tokyo subway (Androniki Christodoulou)


Thirteen people died in the sarin gas attacks and as many as 6,000 commuters required hospital treatment. But the March 1995 attacks were only the final throes of an organisation that had for more than 20 years been convincing the young and the gullible that its leader, Shoko Asahara, was a reincarnated god.

As his church began to disintegrate, police finally pieced together a picture of Asahara at the centre of an organisation that abducted and murdered its opponenets, required members to undergo "religious training" so severe that it had killed several of them, manufactured weapons, truth serums and nerve gas and forced followers to use halluconogenic drugs. It even had ambitions to build a nuclear weapon.

Mr Kono knows that he will once again be afflicted by what his doctors have termed "memorial syndrome" in the run up to March 20 this year, the anniversary of the sarin attacks, and the state of his health may be even more precarious this year as the Tokyo District Court holds the first hearing of the case against Makoto Hirata.


Mr Kono, a survivor of the sarin gas attack rides the subway (Androniki Christodoulou)

After nearly 17 years on the run, Hirata turned himself into police in Tokyo in January 2012. His mug shot posted in police stations, post offices and train stations across the country, Hirata had been wanted for his alleged involvement in the abduction in February 1995 of a Tokyo notary public looking into the cult's activities.
Kiyoshi Kariya, 68, was taken to the cult's fortress-like compound in the foothills of Mount Fuji, where he was given a home-made truth serum. After apparently dying of an overdose, Kariya's body was incinerated.

Hirata has also been questioned over his role in the sarin gas attack on the subway system two months later and the attempt to assassinate Takaji Kunimatsu, the then-head of the National Police Agency, as the authorities launched their investigation into the cult.

"My health deteriorates every March," Mr Kono told The Telegraph. "My doctors tell me that I need to try to remain calm, to take things very easy and I hope it will not be so bad this year."

But he is not sure that will be possible, given all the media coverage that Hirata's trial will inevitably attract.

Mr Kono, now 72, was was travelling to work in the morning rush hour of March 20 when he was caught up in Japan's worst incident of domestic terrorism. In the third carriage of a train on the Hibiya Line as it came to a halt in Kodenma-cho Station, the first hint that something was amiss was a powerful smell that he describes as being reminiscent of putrefying onions.


Collects of Kazumasa Takahashi who died in the gas attack (Androniki Christodoulou)
"I never saw the attackers or the newspapers that they wrapped around the bags of liquid sarin before piercing them on the train, but the prosecutors showed me photos afterwards and I was only about 15 feet away," he said.

"There was a strong smell and the driver of the train announced that there had been some sort of bomb attack at Tsukiji Station, so I got out onto the platform," he said.

After that, much is a blank.

Mr Kono has hazy memories of getting outside the station, where he passed out. He was in and out of consciousness as he was driven to hospital in a car; the more than 6,000 people affected by coordinated attacks on five trains beneath the city by cult members had overwhelmed the emergency services.

"I was attached to drips and tubes when I came around and I couldn't think," he said. "I could not even remember my own phone number to call my family."
Mr Kono's family eventually tracked him down that evening, but they were unable to see him as he was in an isolation ward.

"They told my wife about my condition. She did not think I was going to survive," he said.

Released after 13 days, Mr Kono is still receiving treatment for internal complications from ingesting the sarin, a nerve agent developed in Germany during the Second World War but classified as a weapon of mass destruction and outlawed by the United Nations.

"Every morning, my feet and my legs and feet are cold and rigid," said Mr Kono, who also has problems with his vision.

But experts say he and the other commuters aboard the trains were fortunate. The sarin had been concocted at short notice in Aum Shinrikyo's laboratories because Asahara, the half-blind founder of the cult, rightly feared the police were planning an investigation of its activities.

If they had been given time to refine the liquid to its most potent, colourless and odourless form, it could have been 70 recent more powerful and effective in a confined space.

The sarin did claim the life of Kazumasa Takahashi, who was a senior member of the staff at Kasumigaseki Station and ingested a lethal amount of the gas as he tried to remove a leaking bag from a train.

His wife, Shizue, has attended 430 hearings involving members of the cult and will be in court for Hirata's apppearance today.


Shoko Asahara (Lt) and Makoto Hirata (Getty Images/AP)

"The bag of sarin that killed my husband was left there by Ikuo Hayashi and in court he said that he did not deserve to live," said Mrs. Takahashi, who heads the Tokyo Subway Sarin Incident Victims' Association. "But I never felt like he made a real apology to us."

Hayashi, a doctor who had graduated from the elite Keio University, avoided the death penalty and is serving a life prison sentence.

"On the anniversary, I will go to my husband's grave and there is a meeting of our group later in the day," she said. "And I will be meeting the media as it is important that this case is never forgotten."

Asahara founded the cult in 1984, melding teachings from Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism with interpretations from yoga and Nostradamus. Declaring himself a reincarnation of Christ, he promised to wash away the sins of his followers and railed against conspiracies against Aum by Jews and the British Royal Family. He also predicted the imminent outbreak of a third World War.

The cult recruited heavily from Japan's top universities, reaching out to young men who were socially inept and seeking to make friends, but who were also experts in engineering and the sciences.

Asahara stood in the general election of 1990 but, after failing dismally at the polls, the cult's activities took a more sinister turn.

Followers of Asahara had already abducted and murdered a lawyer assisting families to free their relatives from the cult, along with his wife and their infant son, before Aum purchased AK47 assault rifles and a Russian helicopter. It was reportedly attempting to obtain the components for a nuclear weapon and its chemists started manufacturing sarin and VX gas in 1993.

Eight people died in a June 1994 attack on a court hearing a case against the cult in Matsumoto and, when the cult realised in the early months of 1995 that a raid on its compound on Mount Fuji was imminent, it went on the offensive.

To date, 189 members have been indicted for crimes ranging from murder to abduction, the production of weapons and creating nerve gas.

Thirteen have been sentenced to death, including Asahara. None of those sentences have been carried out, however, as prosecutors wanted to be able to call convicted cult members as witnesses in the remaining cases.

Hirata and two others will be the last members of the cult to be tried, with prosecutors seeking the death penalty in Hirata's case. Three death row inmates will be testifying during the hearings, which are scheduled to be completed in early March.

And once the final sentences are passed, Mr Kono hopes that the executions are carried out swiftly.

"I lost the life that I used to have because of these people," he said. "Friends ask me why the executions have not been carried out already and it is difficult for me to explain. Almost 20 years have passed already. The executions cannot come soon enough."
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