By Tom Carroll
Sedona AZ (July 18, 2012) – A friend wrote this week, remarking on a topic that just keeps coming around – Spiritual abuse – or simply, abuse of power in spiritual communities. Her remarks were interesting and coincidental with my own just the day before – as I shared conversation with a friend and teacher on the same subject. The question was;
“At what point is an (1) enlightened person free from the common temptations – sex, money and power?”
Getting right to the point – Supposed enlightened people are still breaking their vows, sleeping with students and lying to cover their tracks. Although enlightenment is supposed to free us from suffering – all too many enlightened persons are apparently still suffering and creating pain for others.
My teacher friend tells the story of speaking with the Dali Lama not long after one of HH’s inner circle guys had been kicked out for doing this very thing. So here’s my friend with a small group of Western spiritual teachers… and as the conversation flowed, “Mr. Lama” was asked how it could be that a deeply enlightened person could fall to such common temptations. The Dali Lama said simply – his fellow monk’s insight was not deep enough.
To this my friend jumps up and shouts… “BULLSHIT! The man in question trained with you for most of his life! How could his insight not be deep enough!” My friend likes to challenge authority and apparently the Big Lama was up for some fun too. His smiling response, once again… “Your insight is not deep enough!”
Wow! What a great example of (2)Dharma Combat! But, to tell the truth – I don’t know what it means – how does it explain selfish, destructive acts committed by highly trained spiritual teachers?
To begin to unpack the original question, the Dalai Lama’s remarks and the questions they raise – let’s start by looking at ourselves not the teacher. This is a good approach if for no other reason than that today’s student should at least be equipped to be tomorrow’s teachers.
Spiritual pioneer and icon of previous decades, (3)Ram Dass admitted at one point late in his “career” that after all the time he had spent in spiritual development he had not shed himself of one single neurosis! (4)Neurosis, whether mild or severe is often the motivator for our spiritual practices. We may say that we want to know God or be enlightened. But at its root this often means simply, that we want to feel at peace with ourselves, our family and fellow human beings.
So back to Ram Dass. Here we have one of the spiritual Olympians of our age confessing that he was still plagued by every one of his original complaints! But this is not the whole story. What “Mr.” Dass said was that his original neurotic impulses were still there – but not with their original intensity. Ram Dass’s work had actually been successful. Now days the voice of a neurotic impulse might speak to him – but more conversationally – making an offer where they were previously allowed to command.
More like; “Here ya go, Ram… This would be a great time to explode with anger – you know how powerful that used to make you feel!” Ram Dass replies, “Ya, I remember! It was great fun for a few moments and then I felt rotten for a week! No… I think I’ll pass.”
Ram Dass’s years spent in pursuit of spiritual excellence did yield the result he was looking for – just not in a flash of mystical illumination. Instead slowly, day by day, he reprogrammed his nervous system and became the master rather than the slave of his impulses. What was his insight? It feels better – it’s way less messy to behave than it is to give in to selfish impulses! Pretty simple stuff – but if it takes a lifetime – it’s time well spent.
But this was Ram Dass – The guy one meditation cushion over may have actually been sitting there longer but has yet to come to the same conclusions!
When then… can we assume that it’s safe to leave “The Kid’s” or ourselves for that matter with the neighborhood priest or meditation instructor? Apparently never! Meaning, we can never assume that a particular spiritual practice will yield the a predictable result.
What we can be clear about is our own motives. Time and again people come to the teacher wanting to be fixed – like a broken appliance. Even in this present relatively open spiritual climate, a person who does not want to do their own work may get what they asked for – fixed – the equivalent of what happens at the local veterinary clinic.
Stepping back again to the concern about spiritual abuse, where does this leave us? In control! No one can abuse us – take control over us, if we do not allow them to! So as concerns our spiritual communities – If you never allow yourself to be a victim you will never be victimized! If that sounds too simplistic – maybe it is. Most often we will be faced with a situation that requires a mixture of compliance and self control – whereby we respect the rules – but recognize that we are making a choice to follow them for the benefit of self and community. Same result – the rules are obeyed. But with a stronger, healthier motivation – choosing to comply rather than being afraid not to!
The question we asked in the beginning was: At what point is an enlightened person free from the common temptations – sex, money and power? According to Ram Dass: Never! But the beauty of this insight is that while one may experience temptation – there’s nothing other than force of habit that could ever make you act on it! Change the habit – change the response!
How about the Dalai Lama’s insight? What does it mean to say that a person does not have sufficient insight to save all concerned from one or more of the seven deadly sins? It may be as simple as Ram Dass’s wise conclusion. “Has the person in question come to the point where they are sick of the pain and confusion caused by acting on their neurotic, narcissistic impulses?”
The fact that enlightenment is not a cure-all comes as something of a surprise – but it’s a fact that the questions we are asking demonstrate to be true. Why this should be – is a question for another time. Truth be told, this is a question I am not prepared to answer. One might say… My insight in not deep enough!
(1) Enlightenment is a word too often used too loosely – such that what is actually a demonstrably objective experience – is reduced to a vague expression lent to serve the needs of the moment. Enlightenment can be said to be an objective experience because it’s attainment produces a common, uncommon understanding. Or, common experiences of the fundamental ground of being – and wildly unorthodox understandings of the nature of what we refer to as self inhabiting the transitory world of form – by which they mean – there isn’t any of either! Un-enlightened persons say things like: Here today… gone to Mali. An enlightened person would more likely say; Here we go again – all things being equal… I’m still glad we didn’t choose to be born in Mali!
(2) Dharma combat is a practice employed in some schools of Buddhism which amounts to a spirited debate. Contestants may be student and teacher, students with other students and sometimes teachers with other teachers. The expressed intention of the contest is to sharpen understanding. In practice, combatants engage each other with the unexpressed intent to simultaneously prove superior intellectual ability and the greater depth of humility.
(3) Ram Dass; formerly Richard Alpert, one time Harvard and UC Berkeley professor with a doctorate in psychology. Co-founder of the SEVA Foundation and author in 1971 of the ground breaking book: Be Here Now. In spite of a severe stroke Ram Dass is reported to be in good spirits and according to recent reports… Still Here Now!
(4) Neurosis is a diagnosable class of mental disorders involving distress – general discomfort with one’s self and perception of themselves relative to others. Neurosis should not be confused with Psychosis – a more serious mental disturbance often indicated by delusional thoughts producing inappropriate affect, in some instances accompanied by hallucinations. Neurosis would be: “I break into an uncontrollable sweet whenever we go to your mother’s house.” Psychosis would be: “I’m not going to be angry any more if you insist that your mother does not have that third eye in the middle of her forehead, But I insist that you make her stop winking it at me all through dinner!”
Good job Tom. I enjoyed your article and gives me a lot to think about. I have found more inner peace since my several visits to Sedona. I guess we all need patience in our quest to better ourselves and the world. Congrats on your new job. How is the book doing? Mine is just about ready to publish. Just needs to be submitted to Lightning Source. Marlene
Marlene, Thank you for the comment! As you know – what we write in solitude is not complete until seen by the public. And when readers enjoy our writing, well… how satisfying! I look forward to an announcement – possibly a review via TB when your book is published. If not that – do send an announcement to your class buddies.
I wish you much success!
Good article…This comes up so often in the world of enlightenment.
Thanks for taking the time to read and leave this positive comment on a something less than positive subject. But as you know – we’re al working our “stuff.” That means there’s gonna be a lotta “stuff” laying around to step in. fall in. and sniff i the air on even the best of days. All the more reason to stay limber, quick footed and to watch where were stepping. And lest we forget – though not the panacea we’d hoped – there are still so many reasons to turn up the enlightenment!
Thank you my comment to one of the Dalia Lama’s tracks a couple years ago was “Of course the Dalia Lama is a child in the living universe and has taken the easy road. Let him get married and have children and see where the real enlightenment occurs in manners of interaction of human dignity embracing the wisdom of our fullness in emotional living.” Now my offering was meant to be humorous in a manner of deepest respect for his holiness.
I was a young Catholic boy who had a Priest attempt sexual molestation at 13 years old and stopped it right now! The unintended consequences of breaking trust as spiritual guide is the Dharma (appreciative inquiry and dialog) is brought into question as being coherent and congruent in realization in living? In my case it was the Roman Catholic tradition.
As the years passed in the hidden invisible secret internal conversation of humiliation, shame and distrust in my communitarian institution. The problem surfaced like a wrenching ball in global conversations. The reflection I came to in the end was taking a stance due to the nightmares of what this “trusted holy man” was doing to other’s (children)? I conveyed my concern to the directly to the Vatican not to ask for compensation or be put under the “question.” Rather, to express directly why I distrust the institution because my stance is there is no excuse for ever abusing any child. Period!
I submit all this psychological bullshit based in “subjective relativism of self importance” is the basic denial in shallow and criminal behaviors in the swept along cultural matrix of modernity. Ram Dass was a proponent of this “drop out and tune in” nonsense in the new age movement. Where real praxis is actually just the opposite and deep U presencing responsibility to do no harm to anything and anyone, presencing compassion yet fierceness in human justice, kindness and not stupidity, and skillful means where perpetrators are shunned and sent away permanently as a human lesson for both the individual learning and community appreciative inquiry’s praxis as a demonstration of living in realization not neurotic, narcissistic impulses! It appears in this moment the inmates in the insane asylum are running the show and the entire cultural matrix is mentally ill and confused regarding the 7 deadly sins?
Good job and look forward to playing together in your new Sedona sandbox.
Thank you for taking time to read and comment.
As your remarks make clear – along the way we will encounter outrageous behavior and inexcusable violations of trust – inexcusable, but most particularly for our own sakes – not unforgivable.
Yes – let’s do continue to meet here – to play as you put it!
Until we all awaken!
The problem with most gurus, would-be-gurus, wanna-be gurus and those who think they are gurus stems from the misunderstanding of the word “enlightment” itself.
You see, this path through time is an eternal journey and one never truly becomes enlightened because enlightment is not a noun but a verb. It is the journey itself, not a destination as some believe for destinations are arrived at the end and of a trip and as we all know, eternity has no end and neither does our trip.
And as far as terminating neurotic behavior, whatever one’s definition of neurosis might be, forget about it.
A question is posed:
“At what point is an enlightened person free from the common temptations – sex, money and power?”
An answer is given:
“When the person stops trying to free themselves from these “common” temptations and can serenely observe them pass when they arise — like watching a tiger walk across their lawn and not do anything about it but observe the ferocious power of the beast and revel in gift one has to safely observe it.”
You are free when these temptations longer have power over you; rather, when you have power over them; when you can watch them come and go and shoo them along their way when the lesson they teach is over.
When observed, understood, respected and forgiven, temptations can’t hurt you or others because you can see them at work in your unconscious or conscious and their power to harm has been neutered by your loving awareness.
The goal of enlightment should not be trying to pull anything out you don’t like about yourself so that one day these temptations can all be tossed into a big bonfire and be rid of forever but to be able to cast light in the darkness where these carnal desires wreak havoc and lead one astray.
Wanting to get laid, wanting to be better than others, wanting power, wanting to be loved, being angry, being fearful, hating, being jealous, being petty and wanting itself are human programs that never stop running, no matter how hard we try to meditate or chant them away.
They are an integral part of the global conscious and unconscious and no matter how deep we go to try to scoop them out we will always find more of what we seek to escape waiting.
Enlightment is an ongoing process, an eternal lesson, a forever and ever journey into the all of oneself and we of us that never ends.
The Dali Lama put it well when he opined his underling was simply not enlightened enough when caught banging students and then said the same of the individual who was outraged by the behavior of the underling.
There are no supposed-to-be achieved levels of enlightment. Like an egg that can never be cooked all the way the process of enlightening is eternal.
The Dali Lama demonstrated his high level of enlightening because he did not condemn his student, rather he noted the student’s place along the path; same as he did of the asker of the question.
This can be said with certainty: the further along one is on enlightment’s path the more understanding and forgiving one becomes of one’s own carnal desires as well as those of others
Light is the root word of enlightment and casting such light into the so called invisible realms of the unconscious and being there to observe what one sees is what this lesson is all about.
Trying to put an end to one’s desire for power, sex and money, etc. is like trying to stop the sun from shining or moon from rising. Understanding, forgiving and wresting the power of these temptations away from the unconscious is the only way to freedom from fear and illusion.
Focus more on understanding the process of need and desire; the motion of thought in ourselves; the anatomy of thought; the relationship between what we think and feel; the difference between action and reaction rather than trying to drag what you fear in yourself out of your being in order to be free.
Once we can see these carnal desires in full bloom within us and enjoy the view rather than criticize ourselves for having them, we step onto the truth path of enlightment.
The knowing of oneself and the ensuing enlightening along this path is a forever endeavor. Kick back, shine the light of awareness in your mind, keep your eyes on the road and enjoy the ride.
Tommy – I think you may have come up with a name for the next reality TV show…. “Who Wants to Be A Guru!”
Yes – as you imply – compassion is a true mark of spiritual maturity.
And that’s a Wrap!