Monday, September 19, 2011

The problem of dependency in spiritual communities

Religions work on faith, and faith can easily breed dependency. And dependency feeds on man's infantile needs seeking for the warmth of a protecting mother. And furthermore it is those who need psychological protection will more likely to seek for a guru to depend upon. And it is human weakness to exercise one's power over other humans when an opportunity is very tempting! Jack Cornfield, a writer and a teacher of meditation and spirituality, has the following to say in his book "After the Ecstasy, the Laundry: How the Heart Grows Wise on the Spiritual Path":

"One common area of danger in spiritual communities is the misuse of power. This is most likely to occur when a teacher or master wields all the power in a given community. When the master's wishes are paramount, when students wait on his or her every word, when questioning is discouraged and feedback absent, the teacher can all too easily begin to control students' lives, claiming that it is for their benefit. Gradually an unconscious intoxication with power can replace wisdom, and love becomes a reward, dispensed only as the teacher decrees. Sectarianism and rivalry inevitably grow when power is misused. There are those who are "saved," and those who are lost or punished. There are cliques, ingroups, secrets, and power struggles. At its most painful, the misuse of power creates paranoia, cults, and other horrors.

A second problem area for teachers and communities can be the misuse of money. The grace found in spiritual life evokes great generosity, and as a community becomes successful, money flows in: for God, for the temple, for the holy work of the leader. Because most religious traditions are steeped in simplicity, their teachers are not trained to deal with money. Without a continuing rededication to the core of practice, it is all too easy in our materialistic society for spiritual leaders to become overwhelmed by money, to clutch after security, or to fall from need into greed in the name of the spirit. In the worst cases, abuses of money can lead to secret bank accounts, high living, and fraudulent use of donations, even while other community members are asked to live austerely and work without compensation.

A third common area of harm is misuse of sexuality. The abuse of sexual energy is unfortunately prevalent in our times, and this can easily become a problem in a spiritual community when a teacher is unconscious in this area. The teacher's needs, combined with the ambivalence toward and denial of sexuality that are found in most spiritual teachings, can lead to secret affairs, sex in exchange for access to the teacher, students serving the teacher by sex "in the name of tantra," and other forms of sexual exploitation.

A fourth problem area is the misuse of alcohol and drugs. Modern culture is full of addictions, and these carry over into spiritual communities. Certain spiritual tradition celebrate drunkenness as a metaphor for spiritual transformation. Taken literally, this can be used as an excuse for open and secret addictions. Alcoholic and addicted teachers have led to the downfall of whole communities and major suffering in the lives of the students who become caught in the culture of addiction."

We all should learn, both teachers and students. I have no more to add....

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