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Enlightenment: The Guru's Trap by Andrew Paterson

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  • mishmisha9
    A long but very interesting article by Andrew Paterson helps to explain the origin and emergence of spirituality and enlightenment studies in western societies
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 18, 2007
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      A long but very interesting article by Andrew Paterson
      helps to explain the origin and emergence of spirituality
      and enlightenment studies in western societies that spun
      into new age concepts and beliefs that seem to be the basis
      of how and why Paul Twitchell created eckankar.

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      If you meet the Buddha along the road, kill him!
      Buddhist saying

      Enlightenment: The Guru's Trap
      Andrew Paterson—09/2002

      Any teacher who declares his or her enlightenment,
      using it to attract a following, is greatly harmful to
      spiritual progress.

      SPIRITUALITY, for many people, has become a quest
      for that elusive state called enlightenment, when the
      confines of the ego are permanently burst, leaving a
      state of everlasting bliss, inner emptiness and unity
      with All That Is. This enlightening process is usually
      believed to be gradual, taking many lifetimes of rebirth
      and effort to complete before the individual is able to
      strip away all the layers of ignorance and illusion to reveal
      the open heart of truth. With its roots in Buddhism and
      Hinduism, this system of spiritual development has gained
      huge popularity in the West (especially in New Age circles)
      because it is so much more sophisticated than the fairy
      stories of heaven and hell after a single lifetime preached
      by the Semitic religions — Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

      As Hinduism is the religion of the caste system in India, it
      mixes the elitism of strict hierarchy and a multitude of gods
      with this gradual awakening of the individual, which is often
      influenced by divine intervention. This can make it quite
      confusing to Westerners, for much of its practice is in ceremonies
      to different deities and the devotion to a particular spiritual
      master or guru. Buddhism, on the other hand, is essentially
      Hinduism stripped of its gods, superstitions and hierarchical
      structure, with the emphasis on the perfection of the individual
      through his or her own actions (under the guidance of a master
      who is not a god or divine, just someone like ourselves who is
      more experienced on this path to liberation). In fact, Buddhism
      is more a system of psychology than a religion, for you don't
      have to believe in this or that god to develop spiritually. This
      is why it is so attractive to the agnostic (and atheistic) Western
      mind.

      Most of us know the story about the Buddha and how he cut
      through the illusions and suffering of this world to find a state
      that was real — the state of enlightenment. If you have ever
      seen the film Little Buddha you will see the wonderful depiction
      of this process: Gautama sits under the Bodhi tree and fearlessly
      faced the armies of Mara — the Lord of Desire and Death — and
      he defeats Mara to become a Buddha — an Awakened One. When
      he reached this state, that was it… he was home; he had reached
      his destination. There was no more spiritual work to do because
      there were no more layers of illusion for him to strip away (although
      this was just the start of his teaching work, showing others this
      path to liberation).

      Many of us love this story because it depicts an ordinary human,
      like you and me, struggling against all odds to heroically reach
      the ultimate goal of unity with All That Is. We can identify with
      the Buddha's suffering on realizing that death and separation will
      be experienced by all of us at some stage, which is why suffering
      is recognized by Buddhism as an integral part of life. But instead
      of avoiding the issue, as many of us do, the Buddha faced it head
      on and found within himself that which was immortal. It wasn't
      his body; it wasn't his mind; it wasn't even his spirit; it was his
      basic consciousness. And by identifying only with that which is
      immortal, he broke the cycle of death and reached a state of
      absolute truth. He became enlightened.

      What the Buddha did to reach this state, and what countless
      masters before and after him have done too, can also be done
      by us. This was the Buddha's message: all of us can awaken
      from this illusion because he awoke, and he was just an ordinary
      human being. However, the delusion is so strong that we usually
      need the guidance of a master in order to work our way to
      realization. (This is similar to the film Matrix, in which Keanu
      Reeves lives in a world of delusion without realizing it until he is
      liberated by those outside the illusion.) Those guides are called
      masters, gurus or simply teachers.

      Throughout history, there have been many fine and upstanding
      gurus who have taught the path to enlightenment and have
      demonstrated a great kindness and love for humanity. Usually
      (but not always), they have been from Eastern cultures which
      has a culture and a mythology which encourages such
      development. These cultures are also deep enough to prevent
      any particular guru from hijacking ancient wisdom and using
      it to his or her own end, although they have, of course, produced
      some charlatans — individuals who have feigned enlightenment
      for individual glory, attention and through expectation. Fortunately,
      the damage of their masquerade is somewhat limited by a system
      that pretty much defines a guru's general behaviour, and offers
      many alternatives teachers.

      Problems arose when gurus started moving out of their original
      cultural context and set up ashrams and spiritual centres in
      Western societies. Suddenly, he found himself (and it usually was
      a he) in a situation far different from that which he was used to,
      one which challenged his "enlightenment" in ways that it had never
      been challenged before. Most coped with the challenge admirably,
      seeding Western spirituality with genuine paths to awakening.
      However, a string of shameful abuses (sex, alcohol, drugs, power
      and general excess) were perpetrated by a few high profile gurus,
      despite their brilliance as teachers. Many of their students, who
      had opened their hearts and minds (and wallets) to these "masters",
      were used and abused. (Tibetan Buddhism — with the exception
      of a few brilliant rogues like Trungpa — tends to be the least
      abusive because the training a monk goes through is institutionalized
      in universities of spiritual learning and involves many different
      teachers. This system is therefore far less open to abuse than one
      operated by a single despotic guru lineage.)

      Discipline plays a prominent role in the training of most Eastern
      spiritual teachers, and so such abuses were and are fortunately
      uncommon. The real problems arose when Westerners, who had
      spent time with Easter gurus and learned to model their enlightened
      behaviour, set themselves up as enlightened masters without having
      done the necessary work. Many have had genuine spiritual
      awakenings, but without the realization that the path to true
      awakening is littered with many minor and major awakenings before
      one could even suggest full enlightenment. So these Westerners
      have publicly proclaimed their enlightenment and collected together
      their own band of disciples on the strength of that proclamation
      (in the East by contrast there is a whole tradition to recognizing
      whether somebody is enlightened… and it is usually third party).

      Lacking genuine wisdom and the understanding of the subtle
      complexity of the inner realms and the way that we are entangled
      in illusion, these teachers tend to be more direct and simplistic,
      presenting their own enlightenment as the solution to others'
      spiritual quest, in the hope that their realization will rub off on
      their students. Of course, techniques of meditation and spiritual
      contemplation are taught, but not usually with much skill or
      experience. The message is primarily one of "worship me and feel
      free". Enlightenment becomes a gift in return for worship. And in
      the material West we just love the idea of spirituality being
      reduced to a thing which can not only be bought in the spiritual
      market place, but one which can never be taken away from us!

      This is not to say that Western masters are all fakes. Most are
      highly developed individuals with the wisdom never to present
      themselves as enlightened masters. But the ones who do present
      themselves in that way set themselves and their students up for
      disaster. And there is little point us reasoning that they must be
      enlightened because we feel enlightened around them because
      we all underestimate the immense power of projection and
      expectation that is innate to human psychology. We pride
      ourselves on our ability to "feel someone out" when in fact we
      are relying on subtle micro-cues that are starting to be identified
      in psychology and which can be mimicked by the less scrupulous
      and conscious.

      Most false teachers are probably not even aware that they are
      not what they think they are. When we try to awake from a dream,
      it is all too easy to dream that we are awake. The illusion is
      insidious. Human beings are masters at deluding themselves and
      others for which there are a myriad of psychological reasons —
      most of them unconscious. Often groups of people will get
      together in a shared deception, like individuals acting in a play
      which seems real. One plays the enlightened master whilst the
      others play his disciples. But illusions can be psychologically and
      spiritually painful when the curtain eventually falls and the actors
      rediscover their unbearably ordinary lives.

      The context in which we meet a guru also determines our reaction
      to them. Unfortunately, we invariably meet a guru or teacher on their
      own turf, where they are king. We find ourselves right in the middle
      of the reverence with which the followers hold the master and in that
      context it is naturally very easy for us to project our concept of an
      enlightened master onto the individual. (If, on the other hand, we
      met them in the street wearing normal clothes, not knowing who
      they are and without seeing their followers, we would be a lot less
      likely to feel that buzz.)

      Deciding whether a person is a realized master is both a leap of
      faith and a waste of time. There is a misconception that only an
      enlightened master is useful to us. If that were the case, there
      wouldn't be many teachers or students! A teacher can be a
      fantastic guide without being enlightened. He or she only has
      to be a little further down the path from us, and to interact with
      us personally for us to receive great benefit. Seeing imperfection
      in that teacher is actually a benefit for in doing so we are less likely
      to put them on a pedestal and give away our own power and
      responsibility. This is the origin of the saying: "If you meet the
      Buddha along the road, kill him!" We must use our spiritual fire to
      find the Buddha within, not to worship him without. (When a
      Buddhist bows in front of a statue of the Buddha or in front of a
      living master, she is not worshiping a god; instead, she is bowing
      to the representation or embodiment of the Buddha inside herself.
      She is honouring her own potential to awaken.)

      Central to the process of awakening is detaching ourselves from
      the illusion that we are a special individual and that we deserve
      or need this or that. As it is our desires that attract us to this illusion
      — the desire to be special, the desire to make money, the desire to
      have sex, the desire to be spiritual — central to spiritual progress
      must be the detachment from desire. This is done through a formal
      process called meditation which is an exercise of sitting still and
      practicing observing what is going on in our heads without being
      pulled into our thoughts, feelings and fantasies.

      Many people mistakenly believe that in meditation we are trying
      to empty our minds. Whilst, with years of practice, this will
      eventually happen, trying to do this in any way is completely
      counterproductive. Meditation is like a mini journey to awakening:
      we learn to see what is in front of us and accept it 100% without
      becoming attached to it; we do not try to control the process
      because control is just another form of attachment (to a certain
      outcome). In the same way, if we hold any attachment or desire
      for enlightenment, it will elude us. That is the paradox of spiritual
      development, and is why true spiritual masters are extremely
      unlikely to announce their state of enlightenment: it is unhelpful
      to both themselves and to their students or followers, and is used
      primarily by unscrupulous characters to attract followers. (The
      Buddha claimed he was awake 2.5 thousand years ago, but that
      was at a time when the concept of enlightenment was in its infancy
      and as yet untainted by expectation.)

      But as in meditation, reaching that state of emptiness in no way
      guarantees that we are there for good. The state of awakeness is
      not an identity, but mindfulness consciously maintained in each
      and every moment. There are many examples of awakened teachers
      who, for one reason or another, slipped back into delusion. As
      Suzuki Roshi said, "…there are no enlightened people, there is only
      enlightened activity." If we hold this in mind, we are far less likely
      to be duped by false teachers trying to hook us with their exalted
      context-dependent identities. It is unfortunately second nature for
      human beings to view others as things (un-divide-uals) and not
      simply a process of consciousness. If we could change our
      perception of what a person is, we would be a lot closer to
      realization ourselves. That can only be done by introspection —
      going inside and seeing the process of consciousness and identity
      in ourselves. We ask, "Who am I?", and we learn for ourselves the
      the ephemeral nature of identity. Only then are we free from being
      manipulated by "who" or "what" somebody claims to "be"; we are
      free from the Guru's trap.
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