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While We Still Have Time

In spite of the grimness of the times in which we live, there is still hope. If you feel, like I do, that the usual discourse about matters of critical concern tends to be superficial, misguided, and false, then you might find some solace and inspiration here. I will try to offer insight and a holistic perspective on events and issues, and hopefully serve as a catalyst for raising the level of dialogue on this planet.

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Location: Madison, Wisconsin, United States

I was born in 1945, shortly before atom bombs were dropped on Japan. I served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971. I earned master's degrees in Economics and Educational Psychology, and certificates in Web Page Design and as a Teacher of English as a Second Language. I followed an Indian guru for eight years, which immersed me in meditative practices and an attitude of reaching a higher level of being. A blog post listing the meditative practices I have pursued can be seen here.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Extraordinary popular delusions

One of the programs on Wisconsin Public Radio's Ideas Network had a discussion today about the mosque situation in New York City. The guest was a Muslim lawyer from Milwaukee, and the conversation was predictable: a litany of complaints about bigotry, Constitutional freedoms, Obama's vacillation and weakness, and paranoia about the "right wing."

I had to answer, and did:

To: talk@wpr.org
From: me
Date: August 16, 2008
Subject: Shed some light

This is a perfect example of how weak is our ability to perceive and communicate about our common concerns. Rather than hand-wringing and looking at the mosque "issue" in terms of political divisions and posturing, it can be easily understood from a psychological approach. As far back as 1841, Scottish author Charles Mackay was able to observe mass hysteria and group or mob mentality in his humorous and insightful book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.

This lynching did not take place in some backwater in Mississippi, but in Duluth, Minnesota, in 1920
Masses of people are manipulable. They can be stirred to bigotry, xenophobia, fanaticism and violence by slick propagandists and clever salespersons. The more mass the civilization, the more vulnerable it is to hysteria. Witness the runup to the "Iraq" war.

Impeach the Muslim marxist
What makes these manipulations more powerful and threatening is weak and compromised leadership in the ruling bodies that are the real target. We have a president who depends on advisers to tell him what he thinks. He will take a stand when backed into it, but will quickly backtrack, following "advice" to "game" the "issue."

"Democrats" in general are fair game for demagogues because they don't really stand for anything. They are as bought and paid for by Wall Street bankers and corporations as the "Republicans," and will sell out on such things as health care and financial "reform" in Pavlovian manner. If they really had beliefs and standards, they would possess a grounding in principle that would make standing up to bullies easy.

Unfortunately, this radio conversation sheds no light, stuck in what amounts to a complaint, otherise known as whining.

John Hamilton

Sometimes my stuff gets read on the air, but this didn't. It may have been too late in the show. It matters little. The time is not quite ripe for getting beyond the simplistic. The mosque "issue" is totally contrived and fake, a ruse to get the rabble roused. It has been generated purely to drum up hatred and mob mentality, an age-old tactic to generate mass hysteria, and its resultant deriviatives - money and power. Obama and the "Democrats" are again showing themselves to be impotent, having no guiding principles other than their own money and power.

When I was a scholar of Siddha Yoga
On another note, Siddha Yoga is in the news again. It is the name of the spiritual path I once followed, and the new Julia Roberts movie "Eat, Pray, Love" has a scene or two about the lead character's involvement with the SYDA organization. Salon had an article ("piece") over the weekend covering the dark side of Siddha Yoga, and I again had to respond:

Stages of disciplehood

This is the South Fallsburg ashram as it looked in 1982. It is the former Gilbert's Hotel.
I was involved with the SYDA organization from 1976 to 1985, living in ashrams in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Ganeshpuri, India, South Fallsburg, New York, Houston and Honolulu. I was on the SYDA staff as a plumber and electrician at the Catskills ashram for two years.

This ID got me into Jackson State Prison in Michigan, where I helped teach a meditation class. Jackson is reputed to be the largest walled-in prison in the U.S. A riot took place there not long after I stopped volunteering there, and all outside groups were banned from entry to the facility.It was mostly a positive experience for me, because I protected my independence. I was not part of the inner circle of Swami Müktananda, the guru for most of the time of my involvement. I didn't seek power or position, trusting the teaching that what matters is one's connection with one's inner Self (the Atman).

This is Swami Muktananda with the ashram elephant Vijay, also known as Swami Vijayananda, supposedly a reincarnation of a fallen yogi who had too much pride. Vijay attacked his mahut, or caretaker, and was sent to a zoo, where he attacked and killed another mahut, and was destroyed.
The scandals were the final straw that drove me away from the organization, but I never had much tolerance for the palace intrigue, the jockeying for power, and the crude and petty abuses of power that went on constantly at all levels of the organization.

The guru may have been deeply flawed, but the followers weren't so great either. Westerners in general tended to get stuck in the periphery, but the worst by far were Americans.

It's comical, looking back on it, how immature and narcissistic my fellow devotees were, and I have found this to be the case whenever I get involved with any meditation group, regardless of tradition.

The pattern is consistent: presumption of knowledge and spiritual power, mini-guruhood, "only through me," and what I call "Getting to know you, getting to know all about you." This last syndrome is followed by "You're this type of person, and here's what you should do." Is it any wonder that the next stage is your pants being removed?

Read HappyJack's other letters

It's a curious juxtaposition, this timely intersect of mass hysteria and the nature of cults. Both situations involve manipulation, psychological control, group fanaticism, and fake leaders. Maybe one of these days we'll learn from these errors. Maybe we'll even learn before it's too late. We'll find out soon enough. It's almost too late.

And, in the road goes on forever and the party never ends category, I seem to be persona non grata in the ex-Siddha Yoga Yahoo group. I sent this yesterday, but it came back "undeliverable":

Sri Sri Ravi ShankarGreetings former Siddha Yogis. Or is it yogins? If times aren't strange enough for you, you might want to check out the latest in the long line of Indian gurus to generate masses of followers, "Sri Sri Ravi Shankar." Not to be confused with Ravi Shankar, or Sri Ravi Shankar, of which there are no doubt many.

I actually met the guy in April, after attending his public, hmm, darshan, or talk, in Milwaukee. I was thankful for the Muktananda experience. This guy pales in comparison, so obvious, so shallow. They don't even do the Indian music in a competent way.

He's bigger than SYDA, though they don't seem to have any ashrams around the world. He teaches a variation of pranayama exercises, and if you take his "Art of Living" course you have to sign a nondisclosure agreement. He likely takes in vastly more money than Siddha Yoga ever dreamed of. Curiously, he has a large Indian following.

I learned about him through the yoga teacher I had at the Madison VA, who emceed the Milwaukee event. I went there on a bus that was mostly Indian students at the University of Wisconsin . It was fun, and he certainly has an energy, but is a piker compared to the energy field around Muktananda. He was a longtime follower or devotee of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, of Beatles and Mia Farrow repute (Beach Boys too).

You can find out all you need to know about Sri Sri by entering Sri Sri in Google. He was interviewed by the BBC last week. One of the comical things about the event in Milwaukee is that a representative of the Mayor, Tom Barrett, presented the guru with the key to the city. This isn't normally done, but the person doing the introduction said that Sri Sri has been given the keys to about 200 cities around the world. Could this be a result of some kind of hustle? Naahh! A fake guru? Don't be cynical.

A mini version of Sri Sri's Art of Living Course is offered through the Madison VA hospital. You have to sign the nondisclosure agreement if you want the secret "knowledge."

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar will likely have a short fifteen minutes of fame. You can tell a lot about a person by the look in his eye and in his body English. His movements are a little Nixon-like - deliberate and self-conscious. His eyes are kind of vacant, making him look a bit simple-minded.

Among the things Sri Sri said in his Milwaukee appearance was that there is no such thing as global warming. This was said to swooning responses from the audience. This is a time-honored technique. "Put your faith in me, dear ones. All is well in the world, as long as you believe what I tell you without question." It is a test of faith, and also a way of solidifying conformity.

It would be short-sighted to leave "Catholicism" out of the mix. I didn't:

Can you be Catholic and disagree with the Vatican?

Anyone Irish here?
I grew up "Catholic," and graduated from a "Catholic" college. Then I left it for good. It's an institution created by men, is a very skewed form of "Christianity," and has no more claim as the one true religion than the Universal Life Church.

Somehow the authoritarian hierarchy of "The Church" believes that elaborate, highly sylized ritual approximates truth, as do highly convoluted arguments, doctrines, theses, and pronouncements.

It was surreal listening to "Father" Bourgeois talking about how "God" chose "Mary" to be the mother of his son, and blah, blah, blah on conventional wisdom about "Jesus" (Yeshua) and other assumed realities.

It's actually the same kind of "magical thinking" that established "authorities" call the beliefs of other religions and "cults." Handed down assumed wisdom is still pretend wisdom, carrying the same weight as a childhood tea party with imagined guests and empty cups.

In this entire context, is the "ordination" of women such a big deal? Begging acceptance in a men's club of pretenders seems to me a huge waste of talent, energy, and aspiration to the highest. The highest dwells within oneself, not in the institutions and buildings of men.