Despite the remarkable help I’ve experienced from my Kundalini Yoga practice, I often wonder if I’m stuck in a cult. I was out with some friends having dinner, and one guy remarked that his ex had been a dedicated Kundalini Yoga practitioner. He made an off-hand comment about it being a cult. Is it?
Just where do you draw the line? Even if it IS a cult, can it still be beneficial? There are a number of embittered “ex-3HO” discussion groups, and Rick Ross maintains a group of articles about 3HO claiming the horrible abuses it inflicts. But the stories he relates are indicting for the individuals involved more than the community as a whole.
A woman I know says she did spiritual counseling for women (plural in her story) whom Yogi Bhajan instructed to be celibate within the 3HO community, but he “made them have sex with him.” Apparently they were scarred for life. The questions that immediately came to mind were; was it an ego trip for them? For him? Was their self-esteem so damaged they needed that interaction? Does his wife know? Is there any possible way it could have been beneficial to the women? Or did Yogi Bhajan just blatantly abuse his powers without regard for their good? Is there some spiritual level at which it’s all inconsequential? Do our moral laws and judgements so thoroughly color our perception of the encounter that it obscures the power and esteem issues involved? Such questions immediately draw into mind the “defense of the cult by those blinded by their involvement in it” issue as well. I don’t have any clear answers. Of course any women will be insulted by open-minded examination of the issue, and most 3HO people will probably be defensive.
I heard so many horrible stories of the Hare Krishnas abducting people during the 70’s and not letting them leave after they had their free meal and were worked to the bone. Moonie stories abound as well. Both organizations have done wonderful things for various communities; Culver City’s Hare Krishna community seems wonderful, and boasts one of the best vegetarian restaraunts around. A friend of mine travelled to spiritual temples all around the world with a program sponsored by the moonies, and another worked for the computer animation lab they ran. Is a cult a black and white issue? Recent articles have condemned the Kabballah Center in Los Angeles for cult-like practices. Many people I know have met their “soul-mates” there or at least praise their spiritual growth and how much it’s helped them. A friend left the Scientology community and had people pursuing him through visits to his home and family. Others claim it’s helped them immensely, although some have lost family inheritances through shyster investment advisors that preyed on the community. Who am I to say? That one hasn’t held any attraction to me.
Steven Hassan has a website called the Freedom of Mind Center. In it, he’s examined some of the issues involved. Forthwith:
Questions to Help the Assessment Process
from Spiritual Responsibility: Avoiding Abuses and Pitfalls Along the Path
1. Who is the leader?
What are his/her background and qualifications?
Have you relied solely on trust that all of the information you were given is true or have you done independent investigation?
Do you feel pressure to accept and not question at all?
Is it possible that there are misrepresentations or falsehoods?
Is there external corroboration for extraordinary claims of accomplishment or are they simply his/her say-so?
If “miracles” have been performed, can they be replicated under open observation or even under scientific conditions?
Are there other explanations for the “miracles,” such as magic tricks, hypnosis, etc.?
If there is a former leader or member, have you sought him or her out to hear for yourself critical information? If not, are you afraid to trust your ability to discern the truthfulness of what you learn?
If you find yourself saying that you don’t care if there are major deceptions, ask yourself if you knew this information before you became involved, would you have even bothered to make a commitment of time and money?
2. Are there exclusive claims made to wisdom, knowledge, love, and truth? If so, the burden of proof is on the leader to demonstrate his or her superiority, not on members to disprove it. A truly “developed” spiritual being exudes love, compassion, and humility. Any person who claims to be “superior” but does not practice what they preach is of questionable character. There is never incongruency between words and deeds. A person who uses fear and phobia indoctrination to control followers demonstrates insecurity and lack of spiritual maturity.
3. Is total submission and obedience required? Any relationship that demands giving up one’s personal integrity and conscience is dangerous and leads to totalitarianism. Be wary of those who advocate “the ends justify the means,” especially when it clearly serves their own self-interest. Also, make sure that your desire “to believe” doesn’t simply activate the common psychological defense mechanisms: denial, rationalization, justification, and wishful thinking. If a doctrine is true or a person is truly spiritually advanced, they will stand up to the scrutiny of objective evaluation. If they do not prove themselves, they are probably not worthy of your commitment and devotion.
4. Does he/ she have a criminal record, a legacy of allegations against him/her or a history of misconduct? If there are allegations of misconduct against the leader, the responsible follower must seek out the negative information and the sources of that information to evaluate the truth. If a leader claims to be celibate and allegations are made that the leader engaged in inappropriate sex, this is an extreme violation of integrity. It must be investigated vigorously. It is never appropriate for teachers, therapists, or spiritual masters to take advantage of a power differential over followers. This is especially true in the area of sexuality. It is grossly unethical to engage in sexual relations with someone who has placed their trust in as a teacher/advisor/master. Many followers are incredibly vulnerable to this and unable to resist sexual intimacy. Anyone should be able to say “no.”
Is he or she a “trust bandit,” stealing hearts, souls, minds, bodies, and pocketbooks for his or her own ends?
5. Does the leader demonstrate psychological problems and awareness of their existence?
Does the leader have addictions to power, drugs, alcohol, sex, even television or shopping?
Does the leader have emotional outbursts?
Does the leader physically abuse followers?
Does the leader drive expensive cars and wear expensive clothes while extolling the virtues of renunciation?
Does the leader financially exploit followers by expecting them to live in poverty while he or she indulges in luxury?
Is the group or leader’s driveway habitually filled with luxury cars while ordinary people find him or her inaccessible and unreachable?
Does the leader ever encourage deception or use deception as a “technique” to trick followers into so-called correct thinking and understanding?
Codependent behavior by a spiritual teacher should be a warning sign of danger. Codependency includes: obsessively trying to control others; allowing people to hurt and use them; lack of clear boundaries; being reactive, not proactive; tunnel visioned; obsessive worrying and denial; expectations of perfection and suppression of human needs. (Beattie, Beyond Codependency, Harper/Hazelden, 1989)
6. Are questions and doubts permitted within the organization?
A healthy spiritual environment must engage individual followers at their level of experience and should encourage them to feel and think and therefore question their beliefs and exercise good decision-making. In this way, the follower can investigate, discriminate, and test the dogma and the environment they are being asked to accept, between what his or her personal issues are and what might be an unhealthy environment. If intense pressure is used to dissuade people who wish to talk with former members or critics, it is a clear sign of information control. Controlling information is one of the most essential components of mind control.
7. Is the organization open or closed?
Are there organizational secrets?
Are there “in” groups and “out” groups?
Are there restricted teachings for initiates only?
Are there secret texts and publications “for your eyes only”?
Is there real financial accountability?
If a group says that you can look at its accounting records, does it actually provide access?
The only way to know is to ask to see the records. If you are afraid to ask, what does this say about the atmosphere of the group?
8. What structural checks and balances exist within the organization to prevent abuse of power?
Are there divisive sectarian biases, even in the name of interdenominational ecumenicism and universality?
Is there an independent “ethics”committee to challenge and change policies of the group?
If there are abuses or injustices, what structure exists to correct them?
Can anyone legitimately question the actions of the leader without threat of emotional withdraw or fear of expulsion to “hell”?
Do the rich and powerful get preferential treatment?
Are “indulgences” (spiritual pardons) sold?
Is there a “code of silence” against unethical behavior of leaders?