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PostSubject: Articles, media, video and other news items on spiritual leaders    Articles, media, video and other news items on spiritual leaders  - Page 2 EmptyWed Feb 09, 2011 6:29 pm

First topic message reminder :

Admin note: the following was split from from the "Thoughts on Celibacy" thread as it seemed to warrant a topic in its own right. Josh is listed as the thread's "author" because his post was the first to be split; this is a function of the forum software.

Not sure where to put this, but I will place it here for now.

Genpo Merzel Disrobes

From Tricycle Magazine's Blog: 07 Feb 2011 in

Articles, media, video and other news items on spiritual leaders  - Page 2 Genporoshi

Dennis Genpo Merzel has announced that he will disrobe as a Zen priest and step down as an elder in the White Plum Asangha, an extensive group of Zen communities practicing in the lineage of Maezumi Roshi.

Merzel writes:

I have chosen to disrobe as a Buddhist Priest, and will stop giving Buddhist Precepts or Ordinations, but I will continue teaching Big Mind. I will spend the rest of my life truly integrating the Soto Zen Buddhist Ethics into my life and practice so I can once again regain dignity and respect. My actions have caused a tremendous amount of pain, confusion, and controversy for my wife, family, and Sangha, and for this I am truly sorry and greatly regret. My behavior was not in alignment with the Buddhist Precepts. I feel disrobing is just a small part of an appropriate response.

I am also resigning as an elder of the White Plum Asanga. My actions should not be viewed as a reflection on the moral fabric of any of the White Plum members.

He expresses sorrow for hurting those close to him with his sexual misconduct. Read the complete statement here.

The White Plum Asangha has accepted his resignation, posting a Special Announcement on their site:

The White Plum Asanga Board of Directors has accepted the resignation of Genpo Merzel from White Plum Asanga membership as well as an Elder of the White Plum. This resignation is a result of his recent disclosures regarding sexual misconduct with several of his students. Please see the Big Mind website for their statement. On behalf of the White Plum organization, I extend our support for Genpo's efforts in recovery and treatment and to the teachers and members of the Kanzeon Sangha in their efforts in healing and realigning their communities. --- Roshi Gerry Shishin Wick, President, WPA

We join with the White Plum Asangha in wishing the best for all the members of Genpo Merzel's sangha and personal circle hurt by this announcement and the actions that preceded it.
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PostSubject: Re: Articles, media, video and other news items on spiritual leaders    Articles, media, video and other news items on spiritual leaders  - Page 2 EmptyMon Mar 19, 2012 2:14 am

RE: Jonathan Haidt essay

I respect the analysis about conflicting mythologies, but there are some false equivalencies in his analysis. Without getting into the policy issues, the extreme evangelical and Catholic right wing literally see the present struggle as a religious war between the forces of God and Satan. While some on the far left can have their own brand of extremist narrative, the religious war analogy really is only the property of the right. A case in point, today top tier candidate Rick Santorum was introduced by pastor Dennis Terry as the one to restore America to its roots as a "Christian" country and those who disagree should leave or be expelled from America. Ronald Reagan could not be nominated by the GOP today for being too liberal. Ronald Reagan was someone who embraced religious pluralism and policy compromise, and in no way is representative of the today's right wing. The rabid right, who are fortunately a relatively small minority but in charge of the GOP, see the narrative as a death struggle with the forces of Satan.
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PostSubject: Re: Articles, media, video and other news items on spiritual leaders    Articles, media, video and other news items on spiritual leaders  - Page 2 EmptyMon Mar 19, 2012 9:13 am

Bill -- thanks for sharing this citation from People for the American Way. I totally agree. I have actually been doing some research on this issue - the new extreme evangelical right, especially the "New Apostolic Reformation" that Rick Perry, Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann are associated with. This movement does see everything as spiritual warfare, Satan controls the world and they must do constant battle with demons. NPR has done some very good reporting on this movement while most of the mainstream media has ignored it. You might want to listen to some of their reporting on this. I am doing a project for GLAAD on religion and the media, so needed to look into this area of modern Christianity. Very disturbing. They believe that of course the Roman Catholic Church is demonic, Virgin Mary is a demon, and so on. But some of the leaders of the New Apostolic Reformation may have put that aspect of their thinking aside to support Santorum - since he is close to them on so many issues.
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PostSubject: Re: Articles, media, video and other news items on spiritual leaders    Articles, media, video and other news items on spiritual leaders  - Page 2 EmptyMon Mar 19, 2012 10:13 am

Thanks, Josh. For the moment there seems to be an alliance between the Catholic and Evangelical Right, including the Catholic bishops, themselves heavily influenced with the theology of Opus Dei, who see this as a spiritual warfare with liberal demonic forces. And as we well know there are many progressive Catholics who reject that kind of theology and political ideology and follow a progressive social justice agenda. I follow the polling pretty closely and the Catholic bishops and the majority of lay people are on opposite sides of the fence on most issues.
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PostSubject: Re: Articles, media, video and other news items on spiritual leaders    Articles, media, video and other news items on spiritual leaders  - Page 2 EmptyThu Mar 22, 2012 4:12 am

How Religion's Demand for Obedience Keeps Us in the Dark Ages
By Adam Lee, AlterNet
Posted on March 19, 2012

For the vast majority of human history, the only form of government was the few ruling over the many. As human societies became settled and stratified, tribal chiefs and conquering warlords rose to become kings, pharaohs and emperors, all ruling with absolute power and passing on their thrones to their children. To justify this obvious inequality and explain why they should reign over everyone else, most of these ancient rulers claimed that the gods had chosen them, and priesthoods and holy books obligingly came on the scene to promote and defend the theory of divine right.

It's true that religion has often served to unite people against tyranny, as well as to justify it. But in many cases, when a religious rebellion overcame a tyrant, it was only to install a different tyrant whose beliefs matched those of the revolutionaries. Christians were at first ruthlessly persecuted by the Roman Empire, but when they ascended to power, they in turn banned all the pagan religions that had previously persecuted them. Protestant reformers like John Calvin broke away from the decrees of the Pope, but Calvinists created their own theocratic city-states where their will would reign supreme.

Similarly, when King Henry VIII split England away from the Catholic church, it wasn't so he could create a utopia of religious liberty; it was so he could create a theocracy where his preferred beliefs, rather than the Vatican's, would be the law of the land. And in just the same way, when the Puritans fled England and migrated to the New World, it wasn't to uphold religious tolerance; it was to impose their beliefs, rather than the Church of England's.

It's only within the last few centuries, in the era of the Enlightenment, that a few fearless thinkers argued that the people should govern themselves, that society should be steered by the democratic will rather than the whims of an absolute ruler. The kings and emperors battled ferociously to stamp this idea out, but it took root and spread in spite of them. In historical terms, democracy is a young idea, and human civilization is still reverberating from it -- as we see in autocratic Arab societies convulsed with revolution, or Chinese citizens rising up against the state, or even in America, with protesters marching in the streets against a resurgence of oligarchy.

But while the secular arguments for dictatorship have been greatly weakened, the religious arguments for it have scarcely changed at all. Religion is very much a holdover from the dark ages of the past, and the world's holy books still enshrine the ancient demands for us to bow down and obey the (conveniently unseen and absent) gods, and more importantly, the human beings who claim the right to act as their representatives. It's no surprise, then, that the most fervent advocates of religion in the modern world are also the most deeply inculcated with this mindset of command and obedience.

We saw this vividly in recent weeks with the controversy over birth control. As polls and surveys make clear, the overwhelming majority of American Catholics use contraception and in all other ways live normal, modern lives. They mostly just ignore the archaic bluster of the bishops. But the Pope and the Vatican hierarchy conduct themselves publicly as if nothing had changed since the Middle Ages; as if there were billions of Catholics who'd leap to obey the slightest crook of their finger.

The attitude the Vatican displays toward Catholic laypeople is perfectly summed up in a papal encyclical from 1906, titled "Vehementer Nos":

The Scripture teaches us, and the tradition of the Fathers confirms the teaching, that the Church is the mystical body of Christ, ruled by the Pastors and Doctors -- a society of men containing within its own fold chiefs who have full and perfect powers for ruling, teaching and judging. It follows that the Church is essentially an unequal society, that is, a society comprising two categories of persons, the Pastors and the flock, those who occupy a rank in the different degrees of the hierarchy and the multitude of the faithful. So distinct are these categories that with the pastoral body only rests the necessary right and authority for promoting the end of the society and directing all its members towards that end; the one duty of the multitude is to allow themselves to be led, and, like a docile flock, to follow the Pastors.

An even more breathtakingly arrogant expression of this idea comes from New Advent, the official Catholic theological encyclopedia. Watch how it addresses that whole embarrassing Galileo episode:

[I]n the Catholic system internal assent is sometimes demanded, under pain of grievous sin, to doctrinal decisions that do not profess to be infallible.... [but] the assent to be given in such cases is recognized as being not irrevocable and irreversible, like the assent required in the case of definitive and infallible teaching, but merely provisional...

To take a particular example, if Galileo who happened to be right while the ecclesiastical tribunal which condemned him was wrong, had really possessed convincing scientific evidence in favour of the heliocentric theory, he would have been justified in refusing his internal assent to the opposite theory, provided that in doing so he observed with thorough loyalty all the conditions involved in the duty of external obedience.

To translate the church's legalisms into plain language, what this is saying is that it's OK to doubt something the church teaches, but only if you keep quiet about that doubt and outwardly obey everything the church authorities tell you, acting as if your doubt didn't exist. And if the church teaches that something is an infallible article of faith, even that ineffective option is taken away: you're required to believe it without question or else face eternal [banned term].

Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order, wrote that believers should "always be ready to obey [the church] with mind and heart, setting aside all judgment of one's own." To explain just how absolute he thought this obedience should be, he used a vivid analogy:

That we may be altogether of the same mind and in conformity with the Church herself, if she shall have defined anything to be black which to our eyes appears to be white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it to be black.

Nor is it just from the Catholic side of the aisle where we hear these pronouncements. Even though Protestants don't have one pope to rule them all, they still believe that following your betters is essential. Here's a statement to that effect from the esteemed apologist C.S. Lewis, from his book The Problem of Pain:

But in addition to the content, the mere obeying is also intrinsically good, for, in obeying, a rational creature consciously enacts its creaturely role, reverses the act by which we fell, treads Adam's dance backward, and returns.

According to Lewis, obedience is "intrinsically good." In other words, it's always a good thing to do as you're told, no matter what you're being told to do or who's telling you to do it! It doesn't take much imagination to picture the moral atrocities that could result from putting this idea into practice.

Another influential Christian writer and one of the intellectual fathers of the modern religious right, Francis Schaeffer, put the same thought -- the same demand for mental slavery -- in even blunter terms:

I am false or confused if I sing about Christ's Lordship and contrive to retain areas of my own life that are autonomous. This is true if it is my sexual life that is autonomous, but it is at least equally true if it is my intellectual life that is autonomous -- or even my intellectual life in a highly selective area. Any autonomy is wrong.

Just to prove that none of these are flukes, here's one more quote, this time from Christian evangelical pastor Ray Stedman, excerpted from his sermon titled "Bringing Thoughts Into Captivity":

I have noticed through the years that the intellectual life is often the last part of a Christian to be yielded to the right of Jesus Christ to rule. Somehow we love to retain some area of our intellect, of our thought-life, reserved from the control of Jesus Christ. For instance, we reserve the right to judge Scripture, as to what we will or will not agree with, what we will or will not accept... [Disagreeing with any part of the Bible] represents a struggle with the Lordship of Christ; his right to rule over every area of life, his right to control the thought-life, every thought taken captive to obey him.

Nor is the demand for mindless obedience confined to Christianity. Here's how one Jewish rabbi explained the rationale for the kosher dietary laws, recounted in Richard Dawkins' essay "Viruses of the Mind":

That most of the Kashrut laws are divine ordinances without reason given is 100 percent the point. It is very easy not to murder people. Very easy. It is a little bit harder not to steal because one is tempted occasionally. So that is no great proof that I believe in God or am fulfilling His will. But, if He tells me not to have a cup of coffee with milk in it with my mincemeat and peas at lunchtime, that is a test. The only reason I am doing that is because I have been told to so do. It is something difficult.

In other words, the kosher laws have no reason or justification, and that's a good thing, because they teach people the habit of unquestioning obedience, which should be encouraged. This uncannily resembles a piece of parenting advice from Stephen Colbert, who satirically wrote that "Arbitrary rules teach kids discipline: If every rule made sense, they wouldn't be learning respect for authority, they'd be learning logic." Religious authorities like this rabbi are making the exact same argument in all seriousness! And then, of course, there's Islam, whose very name is Arabic for "submission."

The social scientist Jonathan Haidt has identified what he calls the five foundations of morality: harm/care, fairness/reciprocity, in-group/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity. Surveys from all over the world find that self-identified conservatives put far more emphasis on the last three, two of which are fundamental to a worldview based on obedience and submission. The implied similarity between conservatism and fundamentalist religion is too obvious to ignore, particularly in America, where the conservative political party is dominated by an especially regressive and belligerent strain of evangelical Christianity.

And like political conservatism in general, many religious rules are actively destructive to human liberty and happiness. Christian church leaders claim we should prohibit same-sex marriage and abortion and restrict access to birth control; ultra-Orthodox Jewish zealots want to erase women from public life; Islamic theocracies want to make it illegal to criticize or dissent from their beliefs. If moral commands could only be backed up by appeals to reason or human good, these unfounded and harmful laws would vanish overnight. Instead, the people who make these rules and want us to obey them claim that they're messengers of the will of God, and thus no further justification is needed. It bears emphasizing that this is the exact same argument made by ancient monarchs and tyrants, all of whom used this idea to justify atrocious cruelty.

Those ancient monarchs were toppled because they proved, despite their lofty claims of divine right, that they were no better or wiser or more suited to rule than any other human being. This is a lesson from history that deserves wider attention in the modern world. Like them, religious conservatives claim that they're passing along God's ideas, and thus that we should obey them without critical challenge and questioning. This idea has always had disastrous consequences in the past -- why should we expect anything different this time?

In sharp contrast to the religious and conservative worldview of obedience and submission, the worldview of freethinkers and progressives at its best is one that exalts freedom and liberty -- freedom to make our own choices, freedom of the mind to travel and explore wherever it will. These are our commandments: Think for yourself and don't blindly bow down to the claims of another. Exercise your own best judgment. Ask questions and investigate whether what you've been taught is true. There have been countless wars and devastations because people were too eager to subordinate their will and conscience to the ruling authorities, but as Sam Harris says, no atrocity was ever committed because people were being too reasonable, too skeptical, or too independently minded. If anything, human beings have always been too eager to obey and to subordinate their will to others. The more we throw off that ancient and limiting mindset, the more freedom we have to think, act and speak as we choose, the more humanity as a whole will prosper.

View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/154604/
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PostSubject: Re: Articles, media, video and other news items on spiritual leaders    Articles, media, video and other news items on spiritual leaders  - Page 2 EmptySat Mar 24, 2012 11:33 pm

a moving column on religion from Frank Bruni:

March 24, 2012
Rethinking His Religion

I MOVED into my freshman-year dorm at the University of North Carolina after many of the other men on the hall. One had already begun decorating. I spotted the poster above his desk right away. It showed a loaf of bread and a chalice of red wine, with these words: “Jesus invites you to a banquet in his honor.”

This man attended Catholic services every Sunday in a jacket and tie, feeling that church deserved such respect. I kept a certain distance from him. I’d arrived at college determined to be honest about my sexual orientation and steer clear of people who might make that uncomfortable or worse. I figured him for one of them.

About two years ago, out of nowhere, he found me. His life, he wanted me to know, had taken interesting turns. He’d gone into medicine, just as he’d always planned. He’d married and had kids. But he’d also strayed from his onetime script. As a doctor, he has spent a part of his time providing abortions.

For some readers his journey will be proof positive of Rick Santorum’s assertion last month that college is too often godless and corrupting. For others, it will be a resounding affirmation of education’s purpose.

I’m struck more than anything else by how much searching and asking and reflecting he’s done, this man I’d so quickly discounted, who pledged a fraternity when he was still on my radar and then, when he wasn’t, quit in protest over how it had blackballed a Korean pledge candidate and a gay one.

Because we never really talked after freshman year, I didn’t know that, nor did I know that after graduation he ventured to a desperately poor part of Africa to teach for a year. College, he recently told me, had not only given him a glimpse of how large the world was but also shamed him about how little of it he knew.

In his 30s he read all 11 volumes of “The Story of Civilization,” then tackled Erasmus, whose mention in those books intrigued him. When he told me this I was floored: I knew him freshman year as a gym rat more than a bookworm and extrapolated his personality and future from there.

During our recent correspondence, he said he was sorry for any impression he might have given me in college that he wasn’t open to the candid discussions we have now. I corrected him: I owed the apology — for misjudging him.

He grew up in the South, in a setting so homogenous and a family so untroubled that, he said, he had no cause to question his parents’ religious convictions, which became his. He said that college gave him cause, starting with me. Sometime during freshman year, he figured out that I was gay, and yet I didn’t conform to his prior belief that homosexuals were “deserving of pity for their mental illness.” I seemed to him sane and sound.

He said that we talked about this once — I only half recall it — and that the exchange was partly why he remembered me two decades later.

Questioning his church’s position on homosexuality made him question more. He read the Bible “front to back and took notes of everything I liked and didn’t like,” he said.

“There’s a lot of wisdom there,” he added, “but it’s a real mistake not to think about it critically.”

He also read books on church history and, he said, “was appalled at the behavior of the church while it presumed to teach all of us moral behavior.” How often had it pushed back at important science? Vilified important thinkers?

Even so, he added to his teaching duties in Africa a weekly, extracurricular Bible study for the schoolchildren. But the miseries he witnessed made him second-guess the point of that, partly because they made him second-guess any god who permitted them.

He saw cruelties born of the kind of bigotry that religion and false righteousness sometimes abet. A teenage girl he met was dying of sepsis from a female circumcision performed with a kitchen knife. He asked the male medical worker attending to her why such crude mutilation was condoned, and was told that women otherwise were overly sexual and “prone to prostitution.”

“Isn’t it just possible,” he pushed back, “that women are prone to poverty, and men are prone to prostitution?”

He has thought a lot about how customs, laws and religion do and don’t jibe with women’s actions and autonomy.

“In all centuries, through all history, women have ended pregnancies somehow,” he said. “They feel so strongly about this that they will attempt abortion even when it’s illegal, unsafe and often lethal.”

In decades past, many American women died from botched abortions. But with abortion’s legalization, “those deaths virtually vanished.”

“If doctors and nurses do not step up and provide these services or if so many obstacles and restrictions are put into place that women cannot access the services, then the stream of women seeking abortions tends to flow toward the illegal and dangerous methods,” he said.

He had researched and reflected on much of this by the time he graduated from medical school, and so he decided to devote a bit of each week to helping out in an abortion clinic. Over years to come, in various settings, he continued this work, often braving protesters, sometimes wearing a bulletproof vest.

He knew George Tiller, the Kansas abortion provider shot dead in 2009 by an abortion foe.

THAT happened in a church, he noted. He hasn’t belonged to one since college. “Religion too often demands belief in physical absurdities and anachronistic traditions despite all scientific evidence and moral progress,” he said.

And in too many religious people he sees inconsistencies. They speak of life’s preciousness when railing against abortion but fail to acknowledge how they let other values override that concern when they support war, the death penalty or governments that do nothing for people in perilous need.

He has not raised his young children in any church, or told them that God exists, because he no longer believes that. But he wants them to have the community-minded values and altruism that he indeed credits many religions with fostering. He wants them to be soulful, philosophical.

So he rounded up favorite quotations from Emerson, Thoreau, Confucius, Siddhartha, Gandhi, Marcus Aurelius, Martin Luther King and more. From the New Testament, too. He put each on a strip of paper, then filled a salad bowl with the strips. At dinner he asks his kids to fish one out so they can discuss it.

He takes his kids outside to gaze at stars, which speak to the wonder of creation and the humility he wants them to feel about their place in it.

He’s big on humility, asking, who are we to go to the barricades for human embryos and then treat animals and their habitats with such contempt? Or to make such unforgiving judgments about people who err, including women who get pregnant without meaning to, unequipped for the awesome responsibility of a child?

As a physician, he said, you’re privy to patients’ secrets — to their truths — and understand that few people live up to their own stated ideals. He has treated a philandering pastor, a drug-abusing financier. “I see life as it really is,” he told me, “not how we wish it were.”

He shared a story about one of the loudest abortion foes he ever encountered, a woman who stood year in and year out on a ladder, so that her head would be above other protesters’ as she shouted “murderer” at him and other doctors and “whore” at every woman who walked into the clinic.

One day she was missing. “I thought, ‘I hope she’s O.K.,’ ” he recalled. He walked into an examining room to find her there. She needed an abortion and had come to him because, she explained, he was a familiar face. After the procedure, she assured him she wasn’t like all those other women: loose, unprincipled.

She told him: “I don’t have the money for a baby right now. And my relationship isn’t where it should be.”

“Nothing like life,” he responded, “to teach you a little more.”

A week later, she was back on her ladder.

I invite you to visit my blog, follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/frankbruni and join me on Facebook.
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PostSubject: Re: Articles, media, video and other news items on spiritual leaders    Articles, media, video and other news items on spiritual leaders  - Page 2 EmptyMon Mar 26, 2012 8:36 am

Thanks again Josh.More fascinating engrossing texts to ponder.

We have a far right government in the UK now,but as you know the political culture isn't centred on creed and religion in the same way as in the States.

The above story about the anti abortionist is a robust one.

Keep posting.

A grateful reader.
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PostSubject: Re: Articles, media, video and other news items on spiritual leaders    Articles, media, video and other news items on spiritual leaders  - Page 2 EmptyMon Mar 26, 2012 11:00 pm

another piece and brilliant insights from thinkbuddha.org:

The Myth of Re-enchantment
Wednesday December 15, 2010

A couple of weeks ago I was at a conference down at the university of Essex talking about myth, literature and the unconscious. It was a stimulating and enjoyable few days, and it was a pleasure to take part in so many fascinating conversations. However, as the conference went on, one thing that struck me about the event was that how many of my fellow enthusiasts for myth and story were somewhat – how should I put this – somewhat starry-eyed about what myths and stories are and what they can do.

One of the most common stories – one might even call it a popular myth – in contemporary culture, and one of the stories that I heard repeated a number of times at the conference, is the story that we have lost our stories and our myths, and that if we are to find our way back to a more meaningful existence, we need to rediscover these stories and myths. Science, we are told, disenchants the world; and if we are to solve the problems that face us, we need to re-enchant the world. But I am not so sure that this is the case. Firstly, I am not sure that we are quite so disenchanted as is sometimes made out. And secondly, there are various kinds of stories and various kinds of enchantments, and there is no reason to assume that stories and enchantments are necessarily good, or that a dose of further enchantment is what we need. Indeed, there is an argument to be made for the value – and even the pleasures – of disenchantment. And thirdly, although this is not what I want to talk about here, I’m not entirely sure that the problems that face us can be solved… But to leave this third question on one side for a moment, indeed for the rest of this post, I want to go back to the idea of disenchantment. The Malunkyaputta Sutta, quoted here in Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s translation, is an interesting in this respect. Let me quote a section:

Then, Malunkyaputta, with regard to phenomena to be seen, heard, sensed, or cognized: In reference to the seen, there will be only the seen. In reference to the heard, only the heard. In reference to the sensed, only the sensed. In reference to the cognized, only the cognized. That is how you should train yourself. When for you there will be only the seen in reference to the seen, only the heard in reference to the heard, only the sensed in reference to the sensed, only the cognized in reference to the cognized, then, Malunkyaputta, there is no you in connection with that. When there is no you in connection with that, there is no you there. When there is no you there, you are neither here nor yonder nor between the two. This, just this, is the end of stress.

On first reading, this seems a deeply mysterious text. What on earth, after all, does “you are neither here nor yonder nor between the two” actually mean? But I wonder if it is actually rather simple. The way I read it, at least, is that it is a text about the advantages of disenchantment, as well as about the astonishing extent to which we are, in fact, in the grip of the most curious enchantments. The question the text seems to be asking is this: if we manage to slip through the net of enchantment that our minds weave, then what remains? And the answer seems to be this: that part of this net of enchantment is the very idea of an “I” who is doing the experiencing, or who is the subject of experience. When we manage to put the brakes on the stories that our minds spin around experience, it is not that we are left as bare subjects of experience, but our subjectivity itself tends to subside, if only for a while.

Dan Dennett is perhaps useful here. In Consciousness Explained -Dennett writes that “our tales are spun, but for the most part we don’t spin them; they spin us.” The mind, in other words, is a story-machine. And one of the most persuasive of overarching tales that the mind spins is the tale that there is an enduring and unchanging subject of our experiencing. Yet this subject is itself spun and respun from moment to moment. The Buddhists talk about ahamkara and mamamkara – “I-making” and “mine-making”, and I love the emphasis here on “making” – the self as something that is continually made and re-made.

To return to the Sutta. What the text seems to suggest is that when we cease this telling of tales about experience, the self – an unstable, fluctuating thing that, far from being fixed, appears and reappears as magically as any genie in the Arabian Nights, a thing that is not pre-existent, but that is spun and respun from moment to moment – is, at least temporarily, no longer in evidence. I sometimes think of ahamkara and mamamkara as ways of knitting the self: a continual winding together of narrative skeins into something apparently substantial. But under analysis, or at the very least when we stop knitting for a moment, the threads of selfhood come apart as easily as an old, threadbare jumper.

This is not mysticism. If you are looking for mystical and improbable entities, then I’d suggest that a good candidate is our everyday, folk-psychology sense of what it means to have a self. Because the more you look at this idea of selfhood, the more it seems, well… the more it seems pretty odd… It is not that we are not, in an everyday sense, selves; but we misconstrue what we are, and we miss the feverish activity that maintains this misconstrual or this fiction.

Which brings me to this morning. After a couple of months of travelling, I have been getting back into meditation. So I woke at six thirty and went downstairs to sit on my cushions, the cat recumbent on the beanbag beside me. Every so often he sighed and stretched out a paw. He was having, I think, a pretty good morning. And so was I, once my mind had ceased it’s usual chatter. I sat there and directed my attention to the body and to the processes of the breath. And as I did so, the thought came to me that the body tells no stories. There is discomfort and comfort, there is a coming and going of experience or of experiencing, but there is no story there, no grand unfolding plot with its beginning, middle and end, no heroes and no villains. And with this thought, after a while at least, I managed to settle into this story-free awareness, a state that is probably – and this is just a hunch – somewhat more familiar to the cat than it is to me.

At the end of the meditation, I thought to myself that if this is disenchantment – as I think it is – then I’m happy to have more of it. The loosening of the bonds of the stories by which we confect ourselves and our worlds is, I think, a useful practice. It allows us breathing space, it opens up the possibility of creativity. Creativity, I think, is one of the benefits of disenchantment. And yet, at the same time, I think that there is no reason to think that we can or should become entirely disenchanted. It seems that story-spinning is something that our minds do at a fundamental – and certainly at a pre-conscious or non-conscious – level. It is a part of what it is to have a human mind, and perhaps it is necessary for us to be able to think at all, or at least to think in ways more complex than those open to the cat.

This means, I think, that calls for absolute disenchantment are as doomed, I suspect, as calls for complete re-enchantment. Neither of these are possible. We live in a state of semi-enchantment, surrounded by all kinds of partial myths and partial truths; and in making our way through the world, this is what we have to go on. “No more stories,” the French writer Maurice Blanchot once wrote – whilst fully aware that in writing this he was already telling a story. Given that we have human minds, the spinning of myth and story is a part of what our minds do. And some of these myths and stories, or partial myths and stories, are useful in helping us to get by; but it can be useful to remember that not all stories are good and useful, and that all stories are provisional and open to retelling.

Dreams of futures in which we may find ourselves wholly disenchanted, or in which we have succeed in wholly re-enchanting the world, seem to me to be equally mistaken. Which is why, as I have suggested elsewhere, it may be more a matter of navigating through the various stories and enchantments to which we are subject. Yet it may also pay us to be aware that, although it is not something that can ever be finally accomplished, the work of testing these stories against the world, and the disenchantment that comes from this, may be a task worth undertaking.
Tags: consciousness, disenchantment, myth, stories

#1 · Maxine Linnell

16 September 2010

Hi Will
This is often something that strikes me as a writer and an attempting Buddhist. At one level the story is something that satisfies our need (the body’s need?) for tension and release/relaxation. In a story there’s a main character, some other characters, something goes wrong or changes, it gets tough for a while, and (mostly) all ends well, perhaps for ever. The romantic dream has affected the reality of relationships – there’s the need for a happy ending, for permanent resolution when boy gets girl (or whatever combination is happening), completed by a’ fairy-tale wedding’: disillusionment and a disgruntled sense that we’ve been cheated can follow. Previous generations had a far more pragmatic approach to relationships. So in a way, we might be more in sway to myths and stories than before – we might not know how to differentiate between story and reality, or we might try to impose story onto reality.

‘Abandon hope all ye who enter here’ might be the most positive, liberating message we could take on. But then there’s aspiration – what keeps you going back to the cushion – and there are the mythical archetypes which show us our internal workings, the severality of selves, Little Red Riding Hood, Granny and the wolf creating their own drama inside us until we are aware enough to see the story rather than live out the drama. This is where story might serve our awareness. I think films carry myth now, the big block-busters that somehow win over cynicism to make a space for aspiration, the possibility that we could become better at being human, happier, more loving and more free.
#2 · David Chapman

16 September 2010

David L. McMahon’s excellent The Making of Buddhist Modernism talks about this theme of disenchantment/re-enchantment in contemporary (“modernist”) Buddhism. He traces it back to early 19th Century German Romanticism.

Thanissaro Bikkhu wrote a brilliant essay called “Romancing the Buddha”, published in Tricycle (Winter 2002). He argued that much of what passes for “Buddhism” nowadays is actually recycled German Romantic Idealism, and has zero to do with either Buddhist scripture or Buddhism as traditionally practiced in Asia. In particular, he argues that the theme of “interdependence” is non-Buddhist, or actually anti-Buddhist, inasmuch as the Pali scriptures advocate withdrawal from the world, not rejoicing in being caught up in it. This is less clearly true of Buddhist traditions other than Theravada, but I think he’s clearly right that the main roots of “interdependence” talk in modern Buddhism are Western, not Buddhist.

McMahon picked up this idea and ran with it. He argues that many other major themes in current Buddhism are based in Romanticism (via the Trancendentalists, the New Thought movement, and other routes). “Reenchantment” is one.

I found his analysis majorly eye-opening, partly because I was so unfamiliar with early 19th Century German philosophy. In the year since I’ve read his book, I’ve come to see the influences of that stuff everywhere.

On the whole, I think it’s confused, wrong, and counter-productive. So, I think that making the history explicit is helpful. We shouldn’t reject ideas because they are German, not Asian — those guys had some good ideas too — but we ought to be more cautious.

#3 · Susmita Barua

17 September 2010

My first visit here. Enjoyed reading the reflections on “Malunkyaputta Sutta”. I am interpreting it as Buddha asking us to develop the faculty of pure perception of phenomena or pure seeing, hearing, sensing and cognizing without any judgement, evaluation or identification with subject or object as often we use in statements with ‘I’ or ‘mine’. This may be the way to ‘unbinding’ karma or repetition of habitual pattern through unconscious identification and weaving of story lines.

Without some story making there would not be any basis for life experience or wisdom. It does not need to be violent or sexy soap opera. To wake up from the malevolent soap opera is to recognize we are the author of our lives and we have the power to rewrite a different story individually and collectively. However, it requires a great degree of awareness.

I also feel body may not create story, but stores long term memory in every cell, organ and brain. Cellular memory of trauma can go beyond and prior to this lifetime. Like to check out the article David mentions. I also keep hearing about this interdependence that I never heard in India in my limited study of Pali teachings. Also not sure what is meant by re-enchantment here. Need to look up that one too.

“Myth is the womb of creation from which the world of facts emerge” – Seth Jane Roberts
#4 · Will

18 September 2010

Good to hear from you, Maxine. One thing I wonder is whether we are more in the thrall of stories and myths than before because of a narrowing of our sense of what a story is an what a story can do – your own definition strikes me as almost classically Aristotelian. But sometimes it’s the weird, oddball stories that don’t fit this framework that linger in the mind. And many stories from many parts of the world mess with this Aristotelian sense of story. Perhaps the a narrowing of the kinds of things that are acceptable as stories (for which I blame poor old Aristotle, and Hollywood too, and mainstream publishing houses…) leads to less room to manoeuvre. But this may be going off on a tangent…

The Romantic roots of Western Buddhism are something I’ve been peripherally interested in for some time, David. My old MA supervisor in anthropology, Michael Carrithers, talked about this in passing in one of his books, I think (Forest Monks of Sri Lanka, I think, but I’m not sure). I’ll add McMahon to my list of books to read someday.

Susmita, I agree that human thought is entirely bound up in story-making. Mark Turner’s “The Literary Mind” is brilliant here. I’m not sure what you mean by cellular memory going beyond this life-time (or cellular memory, for that matte), although I’d agree absolutely that memory is embodied. After two months in China I forgot my cash-card pin number. No amount of thinking could get me to remember it. I had to sidle up to a cash machine, distract myself (“oh look! a bird”) and then let my hand just type in the number automatically. Then I went back over what I’d done, and remembered the number…

All the best,

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PostSubject: Re: Articles, media, video and other news items on spiritual leaders    Articles, media, video and other news items on spiritual leaders  - Page 2 EmptyFri Mar 30, 2012 1:41 pm

an article that relates to visions and voices and examples of some of the consequences when we believe them to be "truth" - take them literally --

March 30, 2012
Chaos Under Heaven


China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War

By Stephen R. Platt

Illustrated. 470 pp. Alfred A. Knopf. $30.

By the time Qing imperial forces caught and dismembered Hong Rengan in late 1864, an estimated 20 million to 70 million people had perished in the turmoil of the Taiping rebellion. Hong, once a bookish assistant to European preachers, ended up the “prime minister” of a Chinese movement that almost deposed the Qing dynasty of the Manchus, who had conquered China more than two centuries earlier.

Hong, also known as “the Shield King” to the multitude of Taiping rebels, was the younger cousin of Hong Xiuquan, an unpromising character who had failed imperial exams four times. In 1837, the elder Hong had, over the course of 40 days, been gripped by visions in which he ascended to a “beautiful and luminous place” where he was given a sword to kill demons. Six years later, after reading a tract on Christianity, Hong realized that the place he had visited in his dreams was heaven, that the Bible was explicitly written for him and that he was in fact the younger brother of Jesus Christ.

Soon, he converted his cousin Hong Rengan, established the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom and plunged his country into a war of liberation from foreign rulers. In “Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom,” Stephen R. Platt describes the conflict that began in 1851 as an uprising, a rebellion and “simply a descent into anarchy.” It was, in all probability, the bloodiest civil war in history.

Hong Xiuquan, the unsuccessful exam-taker, was from a Hakka minority community and an unlikely leader, but China in the middle of the 19th century was in ferment. For one thing, the Manchus, once fierce warriors on horseback, had grown too used to the sedentary ways of the Chinese they had conquered. When Hong mounted his challenge, the young emperor, Xianfeng, was living a life of debauchery in the magnificent Summer Palace instead of working with his ministers in the center of the Chinese capital.

And for many Chinese, Xianfeng was also a hated foreigner, so it is not surprising that Hong Xiuquan’s fast-­growing brand of Christianity soon turned political, in other words, anti-Manchu. And destructive as well. For almost 14 years, two ­forces skirmished and battled and laid siege to each other’s fortresses and cities, with most of the fighting along the country’s longest river, the Yangtze, China’s “serpent.” “The glow of the fires illuminates the sky,” exclaimed one Chinese observer near Shanghai in the spring of 1860, “and the cries of the people shake the earth.” As Platt, a historian at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, observes, the conflict ended not by surrender but through annihilation.

After destroying its enemy, the tottering Qing dynasty lasted for almost five decades, until another uprising, again led by Chinese nationalists, would bring an end to two millenniums of imperial rule. In one sense, the earlier challenge to the Manchus never ended. The leader of the 1911 revolution was Sun Yat-sen, a Christian doctor inspired by tales of the Taiping and known to his friends as “Hong Xiuquan.”

Platt’s fine work is not a comprehensive history. Instead, it is, as he writes, an attempt to relay what it was like to live through the tumultuous events. He does this by concentrating on a handful of central figures, especially the Shield King, Hong Rengan, and the commander of the Qing dynasty’s armies, Zeng Guofan, a Confucian scholar turned general. Platt also devotes pages to colorful foreigners who affected the outcome, especially the British Bruce brothers, one of whom led troops that ransacked the Qing Summer Palace while the other helped save the failing dynasty. A wily American soldier of fortune, Frederick Townsend Ward, is another of the book’s major characters.

The emphasis on individuals permits Platt to give us an engaging narrative, which begins with Hong Rengan’s perilous escape to Hong Kong in 1852, but he has written more than just a history of personalities. “Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom” hints at broad themes, putting the Taiping upheaval in the context of events outside the sprawling Qing empire. “Europe had been through its own upheavals just five years earlier with the revolutions of 1848,” Platt writes, “and the events in China seemed a remarkable parallel: the downtrodden people of China, oppressed by their Manchu overlords, had, it seemed, risen up to demand satisfaction.”

This is the beginning of an explanation for why the rebellion spread remarkably fast. Karl Marx, then writing for The New-York Daily Tribune, attributed the rebels’ quick advances to globalization, namely, Britain’s forcing the opening of China to trade after the First Opium War, which ended in 1842. Dissolution of the imperial order, Marx said, “must follow as surely as that of any mummy carefully preserved in a hermetically sealed coffin, whenever it is brought into contact with the open air.”

Platt suggests that Marx was right and that the Taiping rebellion was aided by the links tying China to an international industrial economy. Qing China was not as closed as historians have made it appear, he notes. Globalization was already at work destabilizing the country.

The British and French, for instance, were conducting military campaigns against the Qing to further open the empire to trade, and though they did not intend to support the Taiping, their actions in late 1860 — at the height of the uprising — nonetheless inspired the Chinese rebels. After all, the Europeans were able to force the young Manchu emperor from his capital, Peking, with a relatively small force.

Eventually, however, Britain threw its full support to the Qing, after deciding that the commercial advantage lay with them rather than with the rebel Taiping. In what is perhaps the most suggestive passage in the book, Platt persuasively argues that the civil war was an international affair because both sides were “so intractably balanced that the final outcome was to a large degree determined by the diplomatic and military interventions of outsiders in the early 1860s.”

The tragedy is that the British government probably chose the wrong side. The Taiping were not, as The Times of London wrote in May 1862, “the Thug of China, the desolator of cities, the provider of human carrion to the wild dogs, the pitiless exterminator, the useless butcher.” The rebels were modernizers, and Hong Rengan was perhaps the first in his country to set forth, “in a Chinese context, a vision of the country as a modern industrial power.” As Platt demonstrates, the Taiping were in favor of international commerce, unlike the Manchus, who resisted contact with others.

Of course, we will never know whether Hong Rengan and his cousin would have ruled better than the debauched Qing, but China today is, as in the pre-Taiping era, volatile, plagued by widespread protests, strikes and insurrections (and, as then, the instability follows a period of intense globalization). Unfortunately, the country has not yet broken what one Western commentator in the mid-1850s called “a natural cycle” of rebellion.

Perhaps instability is ingrained in China’s political culture, but a century and a half ago there seemed to be a moment when the Chinese might have changed that pattern. As Platt notes, the Taiping movement came close to overwhelming traditional ways and bringing China into the modern world.

Gordon G. Chang is a columnist at Forbes.com and the author of “The Coming Collapse of China.”
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PostSubject: Re: Articles, media, video and other news items on spiritual leaders    Articles, media, video and other news items on spiritual leaders  - Page 2 EmptyFri Mar 30, 2012 11:07 pm

Do We Need Stories?
Tim Parks

from NY Review of Books

Let’s tackle one of the literary set’s favorite orthodoxies head on: that the world “needs stories.” There is an enormous need,” Jonathan Franzen declares in an interview with Corriere della Sera (there’s no escape these days), “for long, elaborate, complex stories, such as can only be written by an author concentrating alone, free from the deafening chatter of Twitter.”

Of course as a novelist it is convenient to think that by the nature of the job one is on the side of the good, supplying an urgent and general need. I can also imagine readers drawing comfort from the idea that their fiction habit is essential sustenance and not a luxury. But what is the nature of this need? What would happen if it wasn’t met? We might also ask: why does Franzen refer to complex stories? And why is it important not to be interrupted by Twitter and Facebook? Are such interruptions any worse than an old land line phone call, or simply friends and family buzzing around your writing table? Jane Austen, we recall, loved to write in domestic spaces where she was open to constant interruption.

Proponents of “the world needs stories” thesis are legion, but one of the more elaborate statements comes in Salman Rushdie’s novel Haroun and the Sea of Stories (1990). Here, in a text that falls between fable and magical realism, the telling of many stories is aligned with the idea of a natural ecology; in the normal and healthy way of things, we’re told, all the different stories of the world flow together in a great ocean of narrative. But now this harmony is threatened by an evil “cultmaster” who seeks to poison and eventually shut off the flow of stories, imposing universal silence and sterility as part of a bid for omnipotence.

Given Rushdie’s personal plight at the time of writing, it’s hard not to think of the “cultmaster” as a metamorphosis of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Stories are presented as a manifestation of the natural pluralism of the imagination, engaged in a mortal battle against any fundamentalism that would impose its own, univocal version: fiction is on the side of freedom. Of course.

Rushdie’s narrative is charming, but his ocean of stories argument never, to risk a pun, holds water. Far from flowing together in a harmonious ecology, stories tend to be in constant competition with each other. Far from imposing silence, cults, religions, and ideologies of all kinds have their own noisy stories to tell. Christian fundamentalism with its virgin birth, miracles, exorcisms, and angels boasts a rich narrative flora; if we toss into the mix the Catholic saints and their colorful martyrdoms we can hardly complain that the censorship and repression of the Inquisition resulted in story-less silence.

Rather the problem is that preacher and polemicist want us to accept just one, mutually exclusive set of stories, one vision, which we must believe is true. And many people are happy to do this. Once they’ve signed up to a Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, or even liberal pluralist narrative it’s unlikely they’ll go out of their way to research competing accounts of the world. People tend to use stories of whatever kind to bolster their beliefs, not to question them.

But I doubt if this politicized version of the we-need-stories thesis was what a writer like Franzen was thinking of. “This is an excellent novel,” I remember a fellow judge for a literary prize repeatedly telling the rest of the jury every time he encouraged us to vote for a book, “because it offers complex moral situations that help us get a sense of how to live and behave.” The argument here is that the world has become immensely complicated and the complex stories of our novels help us to see our way through it, to shape a trajectory for ourselves in the increasingly fragmented and ill-defined social world we move in.

There’s something to be said for this idea, though of course stories are by no means the exclusive territory of novels; the political, sports, and crime pages of the newspapers are full of fascinating stories, many of them extremely challenging and complex. What the novel offers, however, is a tale mediated by the individual writer who (alone, away from Facebook and Twitter) works hard to shape it and deliver it in a way that he or she feels is especially attractive, compelling, and right.

Here again, though, even if we are not immediately aware of it, and even when the author is celebrated for his or her elusive ambiguity (another lit-crit commonplace), such stories compete for our assent and seek to seduce us toward the author’s point of view. D.H. Lawrence attacked Tolstoy’s novels as evil, immoral, and deeply corrupting. Writing about Thomas Hardy he rather brilliantly questions the motives behind Hardy’s habit of having his more talented and spiritually adventurous characters destroyed by society; Hardy goes “against himself” Lawrence tells us (meaning, against his own specially gifted nature), to “stand with the average against the exception,” and all this “in order to explain his own sense of failure.” To Lawrence’s mind, a tremendously complex story like Jude the Obscure becomes an invitation not to try to realize your full potential but to settle instead for self-preservation. Hardy reinforces the mental habits of the frightened reader. It is pernicious. In this view of things, rather than needing stories we need to learn how to smell out their drift and resist them.

But there’s something deeper going on. Even before we actually tell any stories, the language we use teems with them in embryo form. There are words that simply denote things in nature: a pebble, a tree. There are words that describe objects we make: to know the word “chair” is to understand about moving from standing to sitting and appreciate the match of the human body with certain shapes and materials. But there are also words that come complete with entire narratives, or rather that can’t come without them. The only way we can understand words like God, angel, devil, ghost, is through stories, since these entities do not allow themselves to be known in other ways, or not to the likes of me. Here not only is the word invented—all words are—but the referent is invented too, and a story to suit. God is a one-word creation story.

Arguably the most important word in the invented-referents category is “self.” We would like the self to exist perhaps, but does it really? What is it? The need to surround it with a lexical cluster of reinforcing terms—identity, character, personality, soul—all with equally dubious referents suggests our anxiety. The more words we invent, the more we feel reassured that there really is something there to refer to.

Like God, the self requires a story; it is the account of how each of us accrues and sheds attributes over seventy or eighty years—youth, vigor, job, spouse, success, failure—while remaining, at some deep level, myself, my soul. One of the accomplishments of the novel, which as we know blossomed with the consolidation of Western individualism, has been to reinforce this ingenious invention, to have us believe more and more strongly in this sovereign self whose essential identity remains unchanged by all vicissitudes. Telling the stories of various characters in relation to each other, how something started, how it developed, how it ended, novels are intimately involved with the way we make up ourselves. They reinforce a process we are engaged in every moment of the day, self creation. They sustain the idea of a self projected through time, a self eager to be a real something (even at the cost of great suffering) and not an illusion.

The more complex and historically dense the stories are, the stronger the impression they give of unique and protracted individual identity beneath surface transformations, conversions, dilemmas, aberrations. In this sense, even pessimistic novels—say, J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace—can be encouraging: however hard circumstances may be, you do have a self, a personal story to shape and live. You are a unique something that can fight back against all the confusion around. You have pathos.

This is all perfectly respectable. But do we actually need this intensification of self that novels provide? Do we need it more than ever before?

I suspect not. If we asked the question of, for example, a Buddhist priest, he or she would probably tell us that it is precisely this illusion of selfhood that makes so many in the West unhappy. We are in thrall to the narrative of selves that do not really exist in the way we imagine, a fabrication in which most novel-writing connives. Schopenhauer would have agreed. He spoke of people “deluded into an absolutely false view of life by reading novels,” something that “generally has the most harmful effect on their whole lives.” Like the Buddhist priest, he would have preferred silence or the school of experience, or the kind of myth or fable that did not invite excited identification with an author alter ego.

Personally, I fear I’m too enmired in narrative and self narrative to bail out now. I love an engaging novel, I love a complex novel; but I am quite sure I don’t need it. And my recently discovered ability, as discussed in this space a couple of weeks ago, to set down even some fine novels before reaching the end does give me a glimmer of hope that I may yet make a bid for freedom from the fiction that wonderfully enslaves us.
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PostSubject: Re: Articles, media, video and other news items on spiritual leaders    Articles, media, video and other news items on spiritual leaders  - Page 2 EmptyWed Sep 05, 2012 10:22 am

Here is a video interview with a fellow who was involved in a small cult - many relevant insights about the group experience:


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PostSubject: Re: Articles, media, video and other news items on spiritual leaders    Articles, media, video and other news items on spiritual leaders  - Page 2 EmptySat Sep 22, 2012 6:26 pm

A mother's grief: 'The cult guru who turned my son into a zombie'
By JENNY JOHNSTON, Daily Mail, May 25, 2007

London, UK -- Primary school teacher Rita Van Gordon is going through the sort of anguish any mother does when she loses a child.

<< William's mother says Edo Shonnin exerts a remarkable influence on her son

Her eyes brim with tears as she remembers what a lovely boy her eldest son, William, was. She finds it painful to talk about the potential his life held: four A-levels, a university degree, the £50,000-a-year job he secured at just 23.

What makes Rita, 51, different from other grieving mothers, however, is that her son is not dead.

William, now 28, has simply cut her out of his life - in the most extraordinary of circumstances.

Three years ago, then happily engaged, William was befriended by a man who described himself as a Buddhist monk.

From the start, Edo Shonnin exerted a remarkable influence on the young retail manager, encouraging him to convert to Buddhism and convincing him to think again about every aspect of his life.

Unfortunately, somewhere in this ‘re-thinking’, William changed — and Rita’s life fell apart.
First her son quit his job, then he split up with the woman he had wanted to marry. He shaved his head and donned the robes of a Buddhist monk.

But it wasn’t the external changes that worried his family; it was the ones that seemed to alter his very personality.

He became distant — "odd", says his mother — and often fell into weird trances. He started speaking in a strange accent, a cross between Dutch and South African, even though he was Cheshire born and bred.

Less than two years after he met Edo, he pretty much severed all ties with his parents. The last time they saw him was across a courtroom in April 2007, as he wanted to sell the property he jointly owned with his father.

Today, William lives with Edo in the Welsh countryside, where the pair have set up a Buddhist retreat.

But his mother believes he has been coerced into this life — trapped in some brainwashing cult by a man who is, at best, someone who likes to reinvent his own life; at worst, a dangerous conman with a talent for deception.

The police have been involved in the increasingly acrimonious tug of war between William’s parents and his Buddhist guru - with accusations being hurled on both sides.

Rita and her husband Bill, an engineering consultant, hired a private detective to investigate Edo and discovered he is a twice-married Glaswegian, rather than a holy guru. And they have tracked down people they claim are former "victims" of his methods.

Last year, in desperation, Rita even attempted to have her own son sectioned under the Mental Health Act, claiming brainwashing meant he didn’t know his own mind.

"The truth is I cannot simply walk away and leave William to be destroyed by this man," she says with a heavy heart.

"We know he is a charlatan and my son has been taken in.

"If I could talk to William, I believe I could get him back. But we are never allowed to be alone with him.

"We have seen our son change from a bright, enthusiastic, confident young man, devoted to his family, to a hostile, closed-down, brainwashed zombie.

"Whenever I phone William on his mobile, Edo answers and says: 'He’s busy.' We are not allowed to visit.

"Occasionally I get through to William, but he often says: 'How did you get this number? Don’t call here again.'

"It’s just unbelievable, but we’ve consulted a cult expert and much of it is a recognised form of brainwashing."

In October 2005 - already despairing at the path her son was on, but unable to get through to him in person - Rita wrote to William.

"It was a difficult but I hoped it would bring him some comfort," she says.

"I wrote: 'Always remember I am your mum, and that my love for you is unlimited and unconditional. The bond between us is unbreakable. Nothing is more important to me than your interests and well-being, and nobody will ever put you first as I do. Don’t let yourself be persuaded otherwise.'"

It is a recognised fact that even the brightest, most strong-minded individuals can fall victim to dangerous cults. It’s this thought that Rita Van Gordon holds on to.

The alternative - that her son simply doesn’t want to know his own family - is simply too terrible to contemplate.

The speed and intensity with which William seemed to change certainly supports her theory.

One of four children, William was by all accounts a bright child. "He always tried very hard at whatever he did," his mother recalls.

"He was captain of the school football team. He swam for the local swimming team. He was a soloist in the choir. Academically, he was great. He got four A-levels and a place at Durham University. We were thrilled for him, and so proud."

William’s choice of subject at university - geo-science - seemed to sum up his practical nature. It was there he met his future fiancee Helen, and seemed set on a high-flying life.

After graduating, he got a job with a retail group and was soon commanding a £50,000 salary and company car.

Yet he wasn’t happy - even his mother knew that. The corporate life left him dissatisfied and he started applying for jobs in the charity sector to "do something worthy".

But after several rejections, he decided to go on a Buddhist retreat to France. His parents were more bemused than worried.

"He was going to this place called Plum Village to think about his life. We didn’t think it that unusual as he was always a curious young man who had an appetite to try new things."

In fact, William asked his mother if she would like to go with him. She regrets her answer: that she was unable to take time off work.

"I wonder now if he was just ripe for the picking," she says. "He was brought up Catholic. We weren’t an overly religious family, but he was spiritually curious and I think he was looking for something when he met Edo."

At first his family was happy that William had 'found himself' on the trip. He returned buzzing with excitement about his new friend - a Buddhist monk who was 'inspirational'.

Soon Edo came to stay with William in the house he’d bought with Helen in Manchester. He was welcomed.

"We all felt sorry for Edo because he told us he had cancer," remembers Rita. "He’d had a terrible life. He said, too, that he’d lost his parents, wife and children in a car accident.

"At first he seemed everything you’d expect from a Buddhist monk. He wore long brown robes and constantly stroked beads around his neck."

In time, though, alarm bells started jangling. First there was the food: although he claimed to be a strict vegetarian, Edo tucked into roast dinners during his visit to Manchester.

"He said that he would politely accept whatever food was put in front of him," says Rita.

"But he smoked quite heavily, too, and was very fond of gin, wine and Guinness. This struck me as odd for someone so supposedly spiritual.

"Odder still was that he managed to eat with such gusto when he supposedly had throat cancer.

"Another weird thing was his accent. He spoke with this odd foreign accent, even though he is Scottish. I guess it made him more authentic."

Edo was supposed to stay with William and Helen for a week. After a month passed, Helen became concerned.

William’s reaction wasn’t to ask his friend to leave — but to buy him a caravan to live in. "He got this caravan for a few hundred pounds, but it wasn’t good enough for Edo, so the next thing we knew William was paying for a bedsit for him," Rita recalls.

"We were a bit worried, but William is very generous, so we didn’t make a big deal about it.

"He kept talking about what an amazingly good person Edo was, how money didn’t matter to him, how sound his values were. He claimed he had become 'enlightened' by him, but when I asked what he meant, he couldn’t tell me.

"Once, he even said Edo could make himself disappear. He was already under Edo’s spell."

Once Rita started questioning aspects of Edo’s life story, the whole thing seemed to unravel. "He claimed to be a surgeon and a psychiatrist, and to have worked extensively in war-torn countries for Medicines sans Frontieres, but when I asked him about his time in Iran - where I have been twice - he clearly had never been there.

"He said he had studied at Yale and Cambridge, and had written 32 books. But it didn’t stand up to the mildest scrutiny - he couldn’t tell us what the books were or what college he was at at Cambridge."

Suspicions aroused, Rita turned detective. She contacted monks at the French retreat who told her Edo was not a monk, but had been so keen, as a layman, that they allowed him to wear robes and to do "guided meditations".

Rita is furious that they gave him such responsibility when he was clearly ill-qualified.

William, though, would not hear a word against his friend. "By then we were convinced Edo was just after William’s money, and told him so," Rita says.

"He wouldn’t hear of it. Every time we tried to talk to him, he would just sit down and leave us, or go into some sort of weird trance. It was scary.

"By this time, he had lost loads of weight - about two stone - and he was always too busy to sleep.

"Bill and I started to look on cult awareness websites, and were horrified to find out that food and sleep deprivation are known tactics for recruitment into cults.

"It weakens them and makes them more susceptible to brainwashing. With every day that passed came more evidence that something sinister was going on.

"William started saying things like, 'I’m so enlightened that even the flowers smile at me,'" Rita recalls.

"We wondered if he was on drugs, but I think it’s more likely that he was just hypnotised by this man."

At the end of 2005, William and Helen split up. "Helen had a breakdown. She was devastated. She couldn’t convince him that Edo was anything other than genuine," Rita says.

"The next thing we knew, Edo had moved in with William. From there, it all went downhill."

As well as buying a home with Helen, William had invested in a 'buy to let' property with his father. One day, William announced that he wanted to sell up, to put money into a business venture with Edo.

Bill refused — and the ensuing legal wrangle ended up in court. It ruined what was left of their relationship.

Rita recalls: "The court asked if William had 'capacity issues' - in other words, 'Is he all there?'

"I said: 'No, he has been brainwashed.' I even tried to get him sectioned under the Mental Health Act, but our GP said William would have to agree to be examined, which he wouldn’t."

It was at this time that Rita employed a private detective to find out more about Edo’s past. She discovered that his real name is Edward Penny and that he has been twice married to British women.

"One of his ex-wives said that Penny was evil and that the mere mention of his name made her shudder with fear," Rita says.

"We also spoke to his sister, Suzanne Richardson, who hadn’t seen Edo for more than 20 years. She said her mother was still alive - so the car crash he talked about was clearly a lie."

The situation became murkier. As their son became more deeply involved, whispered doubts turned into full-blown confrontations.

At one point Edo went to the police, claiming that Bill had attacked him - something he vehemently denies, and no charges were ever brought.

He then claimed Bill was keeping radioactive material at home - again prompting a police visit.

"It was rubbish, of course, but it shows what sort of a man we are dealing with," says Rita. "He will do anything to turn our son against us."

In March 2006, William and Edo moved to Wales, setting up the Pine Forest Sangha retreat in a rambling property William bought, using his savings and a mortgage, for £300,000.

Two months before they moved in, his mother tried again to get through to her son. "We went out for lunch. Edo insisted on coming too.

"As the day wore on, I felt William was becoming more like his old self - more chatty, less weird and distracted - but Edo was visibly furious.

"Just as I started to talk to William about his future," Rita recalls, "Edo became 'ill' and asked William to go to the loo with him. When they came back, he was different: blank - like a robot.

"He used to have such a wicked sense of humour but now he is so serious. He looks so unhappy. He has just cut himself off.

"None of his siblings or friends can get through to him either. My daughter missed him terribly at her wedding this year. She broke down at the altar because of it."

Rita recently made contact with a former guest at her son’s retreat. What was said left her devastated. "This woman described William - my clever son - as being lovely, but a bit simple - like someone with learning difficulties.

"She said he shuffled rather than walked, and that she thought there was something seriously wrong with him.

"I worry that Edo keeps him so exhausted with tasks that he can’t even think for himself."

The Mail has learned that this former guest has herself launched a complaint to the Charities Commission about the retreat.

Rita is also concerned that Edo claims he has been visiting schools and colleges across Wales to spread his message. "It beggars belief. We have seen our intelligent young son suspend all reasoning and end up a brainwashed zombie.

"Surely he can’t be given the chance to wreck other young lives too?"

But even if Edo’s reputation is challenged, there is no guarantee that William will "comes to his senses", as she puts it.

Rita clings to the hope that when she does get see her son again, she will be able to get through to him.

"The last time I saw William, before the court case, he tried to hypnotise me. He kept saying: 'Look into my eyes.' I snapped back - as I used to do when he was three, and being naughty: 'Just stop that, William.' And he did.

"That gives me hope. He is still my boy. I can still get through to him on some level. Now I just have to get through on a deeper level, and stop him throwing his life away."

Buddhist Channel Editor's Note: We welcome anyone who wishes to share any information on Edo Shonnin. Please write to us here.
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PostSubject: Re: Articles, media, video and other news items on spiritual leaders    Articles, media, video and other news items on spiritual leaders  - Page 2 EmptySun Sep 23, 2012 11:26 pm

This is a tragic story. I can relate to this family's grief and am grateful my child had the good sense to leave.
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PostSubject: Re: Articles, media, video and other news items on spiritual leaders    Articles, media, video and other news items on spiritual leaders  - Page 2 EmptyTue Sep 25, 2012 12:06 pm

Edo Shonin a.k.a Edward Penney Archive...
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PostSubject: Re: Articles, media, video and other news items on spiritual leaders    Articles, media, video and other news items on spiritual leaders  - Page 2 EmptySun Oct 07, 2012 12:32 am

:: November 01, 2002 ::
California "cult" leader makes "baseless" claims about the Dalai Lama of Tibet
A former truck driver who now runs a "cult" in California has proclaimed himself "Buddha Maitreya" and announced on radio that he and the Dalai Lama of Tibet are working together.

Ronald Lloyd Spencer, known to his followers as "Buddha Maitreya," says that he and the Dalai Lama will soon be "sitting on throne seats next to each other." Spencer runs "therapy and retreat centers" in Mt. Shasta, California and Omaha, Nebraska.

He made these and other bizarre claims on his radio shows, which are broadcast in the Bay area of San Francisco on 1450 KFST FM, KNRY 1240 AM in Santa Cruz and in Omaha on KKAR Talk. His official website the so-called "Tibetan Foundation" contains material about his group and events.

However, it seems that Mr. Spencer is a liar.

A former secretary who served His Holiness the Dalai Lama and is now at Stanford University said the would-be Buddha's claims are "totally untrue and baseless." Secretary Tenzin Geyche Tehton added that what Spencer says concerning the Dalai Lama is "totally nonsense" and simply "rubbish."

But visit the self-proclaimed Buddha's website you may see him being crowned and read grandiose claims about his abilities and authority.

It seems Mr. Spencer collects donations for "lifesaving assistance," which may explain how he managed to arrange various photo ops to show supporters and to post at his website.

However, according to those who know "His Holiness Buddha Maitreya" as just Ron, his sordid past includes theft, sexual abuse, fraud and "brainwashing." One of his victims referred to him as little more than a "con man."

Spencer may say that donations "help in the restoration of [Tibetan] monasteries," but you won't find a detailed and independently audited financial statement on his website, to demonstrate dollar-for-dollar how the money is spent.

One former Spencer confidant observed, "I pity the poor monasteries that cannot possibly have the slightest hint about how he is using them."

Spencer also sells an array of pricey metaphysical contraptions and amulets, some supposedly designed for "etheric healing." He claims, "all profit from sales is donated to Tibetan monastery renovations and sponsorship of exiled Tibetans."

Ron Spencer staffs his "Soul Therapy and Shambhala Retreat Centers," largely with Americans he calls "monks." These devotees manufacture the contraptions he hawks, but often receive little more than room and board.

Of course the "monks" do benefit from the spiritual teachings of their "Buddha," an eclectic mix of "New Age" beliefs that includes everything from the "Archangel Michael" to the "Lost Continent of Atlantis." Spencer even promotes theories about UFOs.

However, these are certainly not doctrines His Holiness the Dalai Lama would recognize.

Moreover, though Spencer's monks may be celibate their "Buddha" is not. He has been divorced, remarried and has children. And this "Buddha Maitreya" also has a history of recreational drug use and is a hemp enthusiast.

Well, it's a free country and as they say, "Whatever floats your boat." But it seems Spencer's sailing shouldn't be subsidized by trading on the respected name of the Dalai Lama of Tibet.
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PostSubject: Re: Articles, media, video and other news items on spiritual leaders    Articles, media, video and other news items on spiritual leaders  - Page 2 EmptySun Oct 07, 2012 12:41 am

No closure with end of Aum trials

Families tormented by Asahara's lack of explanation, remorse for crimes

The Yomiuri Shimbun/November 22, 2011

Sixteen years of trials involving 189 members of the Aum Supreme Truth cult effectively ended Monday with the Supreme Court's rejection of the appeal by a former senior cult member who was sentenced to death for his involvement in crimes including the group's sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995.

Yet there is still no closure for the families of Aum's victims, as cult founder Shoko Asahara has never spoken about why he masterminded the crimes that killed 29 people.

"The appeal is denied."

So said presiding Justice Seishi Kanetsuki as he turned down the appeal filed by Seiichi Endo, 51. This essentially ended the trials involving the cult led by Asahara, 56, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto.

Endo became the 13th and last Aum member sentenced to death for his involvement in a series of crimes, including another sarin gas attack in Nagano Prefecture.

Shizue Takahashi, 64, whose husband Kazumasa died in the subway sarin attack at the age of 50, stared at the judge. She closed her eyes for the about two minutes it took him to read the court's decision.

Speaking at a later press conference with other relatives of Aum victims in Kasumigaseki, Tokyo, Takahashi said it was ironic the 16 years ended with a trial of Endo, who did not show any remorse.

"That's the way Aum trials are," she said.

Kazumasa worked at Kasumigaseki Station and died while trying to wipe up sarin used in the attack. Takahashi said he was always with her when she attended Aum trials, "so I don't have to visit his grave to tell him about the cases."

Takahashi said she can never forget her children calling to their father and sobbing at the hospital where Kazumasa was taken after the attack.

She has attended 436 hearings in Aum-related trials, starting in December 1995 when the cases began in earnest.

The first trial she attended was that of former Aum physician Ikuo Hayashi, 64, who is currently serving a life sentence for releasing sarin at Tokyo Metro's Kasumigaseki Station.

Takahashi said she was confused when she saw Hayashi in court since he "did not look like a bad person." Although she repeatedly attended his hearings, she could not determine what really drove Hayashi to commit the crime.

"I could only imagine that something went insane inside him," she said.

Takahashi cannot forget Hayashi's tearful response, "I shouldn't be alive," when he was asked how he felt about the victims during a hearing in December 1997.

However, Takahashi cannot shake her doubts that he may have said this just to appeal to the judges.

The trials are over, but Takahashi is tormented by the fact that Matsumoto, who ruined many of his followers' lives, has said nothing about his crimes.

"I wanted Matsumoto to admit he used his believers for his own ambition," Takahashi said. "He won't tell the truth, so there's no need to let him live."

Takahashi has traveled the country to appeal for better support systems for victims, giving more than 200 speeches on the subject.

Takahashi has said she wants to reclaim the past 16 years of her life in the years to come, but she will also continue to talk about her experience to prevent the case from being forgotten.

Other bereaved family members also gathered at the Supreme Court to observe the ruling on Monday. Masako Yasumoto, 75, who lost her daughter, Mii, then 29, in the 1994 sarin gas attack in Nagano Prefecture, said tearfully: "My daughter must be watching the ruling with me. I don't understand why Matsumoto has said nothing about why he had to take my daughter's life."

Endo admitted the charges at his first trial in November 1995. However, he dismissed his lawyer Kenji Nozaki shortly after that and has asserted his innocence ever since.

Nozaki said: "I persuaded him to admit to the charges to avoid the death penalty. It's regrettable he chose capital punishment." Nozaki has said Matsumoto's followers, including Endo, should not be executed.

Also present at the ruling was Hiroshi Araki, 43, head of the public relations department of Aleph, a religious group that split from Aum.

"There is nothing we can say to the victims and their bereaved families. We'd like to show our sincerity by continuing to pay compensation to bereaved families," Araki said.
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