On Truth and Cults
By J.L. Forrester
Eddie, a person I was talking to, recently started a dialogue with me on what we talk about here: truth and growth in spiritual terms, and the role of the guru in real esoteric practice. He sent in a few burning questions he wanted answered. This post is my (far too brief) response. Here is his self-made bio:
“Eddie Blatt was formerly a devotee of Adi Da Samraj in Australia for ten years. In his life, he has, variously, worked as a research scientist in the same institute as a Nobel Laureate; beat the Australian chess champion in a game of lightning chess; been a state junior sprint champion; performed and recorded as a classical guitarist and in a number of rock bands; and been part of a sex show in King’s Cross in Sydney. His wife ran off with a bloke who later had a sex-change operation; he spent seven weeks in a psychiatric hospital; he squandered six months of his life gambling in illegal card-houses after dropping out of university.
Over the years, he has made money as a scientist, high-school teacher, tutor, musician, insurance clerk, dishwasher, gambler, thief, and a dole-bludger. He also worked as a storeman in a clothes factory and nearly became an encyclopaedia salesman.”
Here are Eddie’s questions.
1. Is there such a thing as a or the true spiritual process or path?
It seems like every religious person on earth would like to think so. I believe the answer has to be a resounding, Yes.
That might seem counterintuitive, but it’s no different than asking, Is there such a thing as a or the means by which a human child grows to be a biological adult? Human spirituality is either real, or it isn’t.
So if there’s any authentic and not merely ‘faith-based’ spiritual process for humanity, it must be part of what it means to be human, part of the potentiality of our species. And, therefore, it would be not only universal, but measurably so. This is why esoteric, or ‘reality-based’ spirituality can, and I feel should, be viewed as an empirical undertaking – no different than the way the exploration of ‘consciousness’ is in the field of contemporary neuroscience. It is not something that serves people’s clinging to hopeful illusions.
But you point to something important. The exploration of this very question is what likely will divide all future religious and spiritual endeavors into two basic camps: those that are true, those that conform to reality; and those that are false, disproven by the evidence of reality.
Knowing you, though, Eddie, I think your question also relates more to my own practice, my guru, how I view myself in this context. And yes, in that respect – about a single religion being the ‘only way’ – I would say, No. I put that quote in the About section (“What religion owns the holy Brightness?”) to clarify this up front. No religion or cult can lay claim to realization, because it is a thing that happens to individual human beings, not institutions. And typically it happens despite a realizer’s native institutional and cultural setting.
You see this battle in the history of esoteric spirituality – waged between the men and women who actually did realize something great, and their own religions, who find them threatening and repellent! Religious institutions seem to kill off profound human beings as a sport. My own guru waged a battle with us, the ‘cult’ that surrounded him, up until and through the day he left this world. It’s why he wrote “The Mummery Book”, one piece of theater we relentlessly fail to perform, for practical and “other” reasons.
All that said, though, Adi Da confesses a revelation that covers and accounts for the total spectrum of spiritual esotericism with regard to human development. This is an affront to our modern sensibility – as most educated people now no longer believe in “final” communications about anything. But his work is seen this way only if you view it in cultic terms. For me, it feels no different than a scientist revealing his discovery of a previously unknown pattern in nature. It is a description of what is literally seen and known. What any spiritual master writes is a thing that can, and indeed must, be proven. “Prove the way” – this was a constant admonition and calling to us from Adi Da. It is a burden we still have on us, individually and collectively, as even our own way has yet to be proven by anyone in our sangha. We have no ‘enlightened’ sages in our midst, of any degree, up to now. That is the calling we face, to validate the spiritual process in all its detail. If we don’t, we’re no different than armchair philosophers or scripture wielding ideologues.
2. Can a community of “spiritual” practitioners actually (not theoretically) be free of idealism, cultism and fundamentalism?
No, that is quite literally impossible. The reason it’s impossible is that the ego itself is a cult-making machine that never stops. We make cults out of every circumstance we find ourselves in. We can, and do, take the highest dharma and turn it into the lowest ritual of belief and cultural behaviorism. We’ve always done it and we continue to do it, and it must be rigorously undermined.
My own community has always been rife with all three ailments you mention above, and it’s important to admit that. Being in a cult is an unavoidable part of being human – whether you’re in a spiritual community or not. The ego is itself an undeterred idealist. It is a fundamentalist in its self-protection, and makes a cult of every relation it holds precious. This is a hard lesson, but keeping it in mind is what allows for growth beyond it.
But the deeper question is: can a spiritual community be open-minded, humble and consistently true to its deeper nature? Can it be humorous about its failings, yet strong in its force of intention, good-willed, and humanitarian? Can it be esoteric as opposed to exoteric, and skilled in its navigation of money, sexuality, internal politics, and social relations? Yes, I believe so.
I think probably all of us have seen moments of such a higher order of life – manifesting in patches, here and there, for a time – and so most of us know that it’s at least possible. Whether or not any group of people has the maturity needed to incarnate such a thing – that is the question of our time, and perhaps even the greatest challenge we currently face as a species.
3. What is freedom – and is its realization possible – while fixed on, or having faith in, any particular person, way or belief?
People throw the word ‘freedom’ around a lot. It is a concept that can mean, in most minds, anything from running naked on a beach with no parent telling you what to do, to a state of being that perhaps could only be described as divine or transcendental. I think you’re referring to the latter ‘freedom’, and in that sense the answer is: No. Ordinary faith and mind-based belief are not compatible with that kind of freedom.
The ‘freedom’ spoken about by the great sages of history requires a total abandonment of belief, and also of faith – to whatever degree faith is a crutch, or a clinging to ideas or forms of self, it must be kicked away.
“The Way is Consciousness Itself” – this is a summary line of teaching in Adidam, but also a statement that could derive from many higher esoteric paths or ‘ways’: Advaitic, Buddhist, Gnostic, etc. Is there faith, belief, or ideas in ‘Consciousness Itself’? No. That’s why those three are incompatible with freedom and realization, at least as conceived by any of the writers here.
4. If you consider there to be only one way to the realization of truth or enlightenment, and you consider yourself to be currently unenlightened, how would you know there even is such a thing as enlightenment, let alone follow a path to get to it?
I think what you’re getting at is this: how do you know that anything you’re doing isn’t straight up false? How would you know? My neighbor actually came by recently for tea and simply could not stop talking about The Book of Mormon. She said, “Look. All you have to do is read it. Seriously. It is that self-evident. You’ll read it, you’ll convert. On the spot. It’s just that kind of a book!” My father feels that way about Bill Maher, my mother about Mark Twain.
I had something like that experience upon reading “The Dawn Horse Testament” cover to cover in ‘88 while living in a Zen Buddhist temple. But it was not a revelation on the level of belief. It was a discovery of what I felt was the most elaborate, most cutting, and most discriminating view of the esoteric traditions, all of which I was well familiar with, and even participating in.
I do believe that the epistemology (how we know what we know) of our esoteric traditions is fully compatible with rational and scientific methodology. And that all our claims must be held to standards of evidence. “The Dawn Horse Testament”, by way of example, is actually intended to be a measuring stick, an empirical description of spiritual realities, written not only to disclose, but to keep ego-concocted fantasies in check. It is a different genre of literature than exoteric scripture, which seeks primarily to reveal unproveable truths, rather than proveable ones. And as literature, the genre of esoteric instruction has always served me in that way – a measure and a tool for examining real conditions, the facts of life.
5. Is anyone in a better position than anyone else when it comes to realizing the truth?
I think that Freud’s ‘normal neurotic’ is in a better position to know what is true than a paranoid schizophrenic. That a mature esoteric spiritual practitioner is in a better position to know what’s true than a ‘normal neurotic’. And that a fully realized guru or ‘adept’ is in a better position to know than a mature spiritual practitioner. In that sense, I believe we actually are in a hierarchical ontology.
We’re all aware that there are levels of self-delusion, many of them now measurable by objective means. We have not developed such a measure yet for the higher stages of human and spiritual adaptation. I have no question that the gurus I mention in my biography have always been in a senior position of discrimination about reality than me, and are to this day. I’ve proven this beyond a shadow of a doubt – my friends will gladly testify to my poverty! But if you mean, is anyone better ‘equipped’, existentially, or in their nature, to realize truth or what is real – I think I’d have to say yes on that too.
Knowledge of reality is surely on a scale. Your grasp of it is wider than a flea’s, and less wide than any life-form higher in evolutionary development than the homo sapien, if such exists. If you can admit that — you might be able to admit there are gradations, even among human beings, as to our understanding of what is real or true. Gurus and sages from the great tradition of esoteric spirituality speak constantly about their direct experience of phenomena that ordinary people do not typically have access to. That volume of testimony is available for anyone to review.
On a more personal note, my own gurus have always taken me to school – revealing aspects of reality from the mundane to abstruse, and it’s been an instruction in itself to personally validate in my own experience what were once merely words on a written page. So, on every count, I think the answer is yes on the question of being in a better or worse position to grasp aspects of truth or reality at any given time. This is why the esoteric traditions, by and large, demand excruciating challenges to one’s human maturity – in order to prepare the ground for higher wisdom to properly germinate.
6. Is there such a thing as “free choice” and does one have choice in deciding how one’s life unfolds?
Apparently not – the question of human beings having zero free seems entirely beyond scientific doubt at this point, and proven by my friend right here:
Do we have a choice in deciding how our life unfolds? Also, unfortunately, no. Here is one more elaboration for anyone still in doubt. Of course, it’s a complex question. I’m mostly throwing out these answers by Harris as a challenge to people’s prevailing view about it, which is wrong. We are thoroughly patterned and conditioned entities, a fact spiritual masters have gone to extraordinary lengths to point out.
7. What is the primary distinction between a devotee of Adi Da and others who claim a legitimate way of truth?
We’re the hopelessly arrogant ones with the actual truth.
No, the distinction is false across the board in my opinion. Devotees should not be people who ‘claim’ truth. They should be people who live it. That would be a useful distinction, certainly one to aspire to. Our guru never demanded less.
8. Do you feel the future is bright?
Future and present. So bright it is almost impossible to see.
Issues for commenting: (all posts are anonymous btw, just use your initials if you’re wary) And feel free to dismantle what I’ve written here or fill in the gaps; it’s just one perspective, and clearly each of these questions warrants a small book.