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Swami Harinanda
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Hello subscribername,

This article is in response to a specific request by a member of the Yantra class who asked me to write something about cults, since it seems some of his friends have been swept away by one of these movements that have been mushrooming on the Net and in recent years.

Cults have been around since time immemorial to satisfy the needs of the gullible and innocent. Although the earth's population is some six billion, almost any individual will find some guru, religion, movement or philosophy to suit his particular mind set, or rather, in some way fill the inner void that increasingly large numbers of people feel within themselves, the world over.

It must be borne in mind that there is nothing particularly wrong or particularly right in this. Cults are merely the expression of the base nature of human beings that rises to the surface to capitalize on the gullibility and loneliness of the often innocent and questing individuals who approach the cult with trust and faith, falling easy prey to the false hopes and empty mystical promises, craftily devised by cult founders, to lure the spiritually starved into parting with their money.

Strange as it may seem, even as increasing cases of this kind of profiteering from gullibility are exposed and shown for what they are, for every cult that is closed down, another (if not several others often managed by the same profiteers wearing a different garb), spring up to fill in the vacuum left by the defunct cult, cleverly replacing one false hope with another or disguising the same empty promises under a new exotic label.

History is full of ingenious schemes devised to translate gullibility into profit. An example in point is the Nekromanteion, the oracle of the dead, in the ancient Greek city of Ephyra. With the complicity of handsomely paid architects, the priests of the sanctuary set up a full fledged "son et lumière" show, complete with special effects (smoke, echoes, false walls, hidden chambers, even a crane to make life size puppets appear and disappear!), so that pilgrims could, for a fee, consult and converse with the souls of their dear departed. This only goes to show, that in every age and in every community, no matter how honest and hardworking people are, snake oil salesmen of all stripes and colours will emerge to convince the superstitious and gullible to part with their hard earned money.

A large number of these schemes have little to do with spirituality. Cults find myriad counterparts in the financial world, where quick thinking smart alecks come up with grand investment opportunities or pyramid money making schemes that look so good that even honest people can be convinced to cadging their own friends out of their money by participating in the scheme, as the next layer of the pyramid structure. In the late 1990's, one third of the entire cash deposits in poverty stricken Albania vanished into smoke because of these schemes, entailing the collapse of that country's government.

Religion, mysticism, cult personalities, yoga, gurus, numerology (Yantra), astrology, faith healings, etc. are easily turned into so many excuses to trap the gullible into lining the pockets of charlatans.

Before rushing to pass judgement on charlatans however, one must understand that the gullible are merely getting their due, no more and no less. They will get nothing in the way of education or spiritual advancement since all religious quackery and exotic ways ultimately end up in disenchantment, and the novitiate, poorer in purse as well as in brain, is all too soon off in search of the next quick fix that doesn’t fix anything at all but merely generates even more disenchantment, in a frenzied vicious cycle as the proverbial search goes on and on.

It must be borne in mind that, save for some rare exceptions, the Great Masters never had recourse to a teacher. They never studied under someone else. They had the astute mental discrimination to realize that what they had to find was, in fact, within them. Although each one of them followed his own path, all of them were inevitably led to that Portal of silence and stillness, and there, right there in that simple finding, by residing in and uniting with SELF, they finally reached their liberation. In that union there was never another question to be asked. No further seeking was required. The quest was over.

All cults and false religions, without exception, feature a "leader" of some kind who "leads" the novitiate towards his inner freedom. Novitiates are told that without the help of this leader, who assuredly has mystical powers that will greatly advance their spiritual progress, they will never get anywhere. Firm in this belief, novitiates are quite happy, often even eager, to hand over their money, and sometimes all their worldly possessions into the hands of the magical leader, since no matter what the material hardship, the reward promised either here on earth or in some far off heavenly place, far outweighs the small sacrifice made to richly line the cult's greedy profiteering pockets.

The followers of these cults are so blinded and conditioned that even in the face of extravagant ostentations of wealth, such as a fleet of Rolls Royces in the driveway to the almighty guru's multi-million dollar mansion, they still don't seem to catch on to the scam. This is because the guru is merely fuelling their own greedy hopes of "instant" enlightenment. Greed for self-liberation or Moksha or spirituality is no different than greed for power or money.

The passions residing in all men, are at work here, in the form of Greed, Power, Profit, as well as Hope and Sincerity. In the vast majority of cases, if not all, the first three are perched on the shoulders of the guru or teacher or cult organization, while the latter two are provided by the novitiate. This makes a perfect match, each serving and deserving the other.

Our education system is sadly lacking not only in that it fails to teach students how to think, but also because it does not ignite the spark of spiritual questing within them. The great gurus taught small groups, charging nothing and even refusing gifts. If gifts were accepted they were generally merely touched by the guru before being passed on to someone else. While some novitiates may have perceived this as a sort of blessing, in the guru's eyes, it was nothing of the sort. He simply did not want to give the student the impression that he could be bought for a future favour, since he had none to give. His teaching was free because his teaching was not really his. He acquired it freely by going through the Portal on his own and therefore is duty bound to pass it on free of charge to his students.

While it may seem obvious, people often need to be reminded that heaven, liberation or Moksha simply cannot be bought. While there are a lot of yoga teachers who strive to be honest and only charge what they feel is enough to pay for the rent of their premises etc., to my mind, even this should be stopped if the teacher is completely sincere. Each of us has the ability to go out and work for a living at some job useful to society. If a person feels that he has something to give, he could devote one or more evenings a week to teaching a few sincere students without the need of being bogged down by payment issues. In many cases, teachers often charge their students simply because it is a convenient way for them to avoid gainful employment in society at large, much like beggars rely on passers-by on the street for hand outs!

The aim of this little article is mainly to prod readers into becoming aware of their real needs, so that they may take a little time off to consider to what extent they are willing to pay for spiritual advancement and how much their gurus are willing to peddle themselves for.

The path to self-realization is long and lonely. The first step along the path is merely to get still and silent. If however, you like joining in groups and listening to nice messages, with some guru doing your thinking for you, then as Americans say, "you pays your money and you gets your goods" In English, that last remark translates as "you've been taken for a ride". Many may get upset about this, since they felt they have a wonderful guru whom they love visiting, dropping him a small donation before they leave. They would be much better advised to drop the guru and learn to stand on their own two feet.

How many times must it be repeated that the only true guru is the guru within?

While some may need an experienced teacher at the outset, it doesn't take long to realize (and any guru worth his salt will tell their students this), that there is no need for any outside teaching. All one needs to do is to dive into the depths of oneself. Cult gurus, of course, take great care never to mention this, since they cling to the source of their gold as much as, if not more than, their misguided disciples cling to them.

I hope that my readers are well past this stage and have fully realized that they need no one to teach them anything since they are perfect exactly as they are: all one needs to do for liberation is to be silent and still. Meditation should be approached with a loving attitude. It is a sort of benchmark that indicates just how far a person has progressed in deep soul diving. Some may only like to meditate for half an hour a day: this means that that is all they need, although others may prefer spending their nights meditating instead of sleeping.

Each individual however must take the plunge and start somewhere. Seekers of the truth are well advised to learn to meditate with eyes open and then continue this meditation throughout the day, even while carrying out other tasks. While this may seem daunting to some, it is easy when one gets the hang of it, and as with most things worth learning, practice makes perfect.


Swami Harinanda

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