Friday, 5 March 2010

Pseudomysticism and Cults

The stance of an analytical citizen philosopher does not mean any form of convergence with popular beliefs. Quite to the contrary, at least in my case. Philosophy denotes a discipline of mind and exposition, and compromises are potentially disastrous.

I believe that the viable form of philosophical exercise extends to psychology, sociology, logic, language, history, biography, metaphysics, and yet other channels of analysis. For instance, the difficult subject of metaphysics is no barrier to philosophical commitment, and can be argued for and against with many permutations. To be convincing, the subject has to be closely argued with due reference points. This is just not the same procedure as one tends to find in the widespread “alternative thought” clich├ęs so closely associated with the confusing post-1950s American “new spirituality” trend.

The 1960s “Me” decade of pseudo-enlightenment left ongoing symptoms of debility in contemporary thinking processes. Simplistic refrains are still taken for granted, and the word “therapy” looms large in too many versions of supposed spirituality. Countercultural Americans of the neo-hippy ambience elevated therapy to the status of a mystical achievement. The Esalen commerce in alternative thought disliked philosophical rigour, which was and is unfashionable in sectors of “Inner Science” and related claims.


The general confusion is staggering when duly analysed. The field under discussion is ripe for linguistic and other forms of appraisal, which could perhaps never be exacting enough at the present time. The idioms employed to capture commercial therapy clients and nominally “holistic” subscribers have been nauseating for many years. The pseudo-holistic commercial adventure so frequently subsists upon banal language and suggestion.

The “workshop” vogue was imported from America to Britain and Europe, providing a career income for numerous entrepreneurs in the spurious esoteric. Some of this is on detailed record. The surfeits of pop-mysticism are not merely erratic, but totally misleading in too many instances. For some indications, see my web article Findhorn Foundation Commercial Mysticism (2008); Stephen J. Castro, Hypocrisy and Dissent within the Findhorn Foundation (Forres: New Media, 1996), chapter six.

Another pitfall was supplied by the “guru cults” and related phenomena. These have varied from relatively harmless religious sects to predatory activities, and also suppressive strategies conducted against dissidents. An early danger signal was afforded by the Rajneesh sect which transplanted to Oregon from India in the 1980s. Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (Osho) became noted for the sponsorship of reckless alternative therapy of the neo-Reichian type. This was strongly implicated as one factor causing belligerent attitudes within the sect at Oregon, where a group of Rajneeshi women resorted to terrorist acts of food-poisoning in the local area. The American authorities had to intervene, and Rajneesh was deported. See further L.F. Carter, Charisma and Control in Rajneeshpuram (Cambridge University Press, 1990). See also my web article Cults and suspect parties (2008).

A recent source has gained widespread interest for an account of discrepancies in the activity of “neo-Advaita” and “crazy wisdom” guru Andrew Cohen. See William Yenner, American Guru (2009). Yenner was a leading participant in Cohen’s community EnlightenNext for thirteen years. A related website describes the book as “documenting a history of abuses that Cohen and many of his current devotees have gone to great lengths to conceal.” See also the review by Professor David Christopher Lane.

My first three websites profiled some anomalies in the popular field of presumed “spirituality.” Psychologists, psychiatrists, medics, the victim support organisations, and yet other agencies, have been more than a little concerned at the drawbacks in evidence, which amount to rather more than the well known controversies about Scientology. The factor of solicitor correspondence in a case of dissident complaints has aroused interest in my web article Kate Thomas and the Findhorn Foundation (2009), especially in view of UN sanctions obtained by the alternative organisation concerned.

In future, it is not the claims to prowess that must be taken seriously, but the visible repression of dissidents by any suspect organisation. There is the further demerit of extremist verbal aggression displayed towards outsiders by some sectarian movements. See Internet Terrorist Gerald Joe Moreno (2009) and Hate Campaign Blogs (2010).

Kevin R. D. Shepherd
March 5th 2010

ENTRY no. 14

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© 2010 Kevin R. D. Shepherd. All Rights Reserved.