How the SRF experience holds our thinking hostage
Date: January 18, 2017 11:13PM
From the online discussion board, SRF Walrus, posted by Raja Begum (10/17/01 3:04 am)
I'm itching to get to the central nervous system of the problem. I don't think we'll go far if we content ourselves with nebulous criticisms and flatulent bursts of name calling ("bad ladies") [reference to the Matas in leadership positions]. If we can move our dialogue past collective tantrums towards more objective analysis, we might discover a valuable set of principles which could help us for life. Realistananda --- who is much more of a moderate than I am -- had the idea when he brought to our attention that all organizations are intrinsically flawed. My first posting was entitled "Sleepers Awake." It urged us to take responsibility for the enslavement of our intellects. Life demands discretion on all levels. Hence, what we learn here, we can apply everywhere.
Personally, I think the SRF experience --- that is, the way one undergoes it --- is constructed of fascistic elements. I mean this interpretively. Please put all thoughts of Naziism out of your mind. We are discussing a universal psycho-physiological effect in which the mind and imagination of an individual are held hostage through the continuous use of spectacle and regimentation, while at the same time the ability to critique and make discriminative judgments about the system is discouraged.
I present the term "fascism" as it appears in two distinctly different mediums. The first is from a political glossary; the second is an aesthetic interpretation from a film critic:
FASCISM: a very strong form of statism*, a corporatist economy, modernization, regimentation, and strong central leadership. Citizens' purpose is to serve the state. Often includes appeals to a "glorious" past or pseudo-religious ideal, thus combining several facets of liberalism, conservatism and socialism into an organic vision of society.
(* Statist: Favoring a strong central government, especially with regard to finding solutions for societal problems. Can apply to both right and left. )
Fascist aesthetics flow from and justify a preoccupation with situations of control, submissive behavior, and extravagant effort; they exalt two seemingly opposite states: egomania and servitude. the relations of domination and enslavement take the form of a characteristic pageantry: the massing of groups of people, the turning of people into things, the multiplication of things and grouping of people / things around an all powerful, hypnotic leader, figure or force. The fascist dramaturgy centers on the orgiastic transaction between mighty forces and their puppets. Its choreography alternates between ceaseless motion and a congealed, static, "virile" posing. Fascist art glorifies surrender, it exalts mindlessness, it glorifies death.
We are familiar with the first definition but probably not with the second. You would be surprised to know that Steven Spielberg's films are considered fascistic by serious film critics, not because of "Schindler's List" nor because Spielberg is a Jew, but mostly because his style of filmmaking barrages the viewer continuously with fantastical images and narrative to a point wherein the viewer relinquishes the power of critical analysis and, unable to evaluate what is happening to him in the moment, is plunged into the narrative spectacle until the movie is over. If you analyze most of Spielberg's early films, precious little is happening in terms of theme. But he has always been a master at getting you to forget your opinions and suscribe to his reality while you are in his domain: the theater. This is fascism on an aesthetic level.
I want to make the boldest assertion I've ever made that the SRF experience is fundamentally fascistic because, much like a good Spielberg movie, it keeps directing us precisely where it wants us to go at all times. The pieces by themselves don't amount to anything convincing, but if you take the SRF experience as a whole you can't help marveling how all the parts keep moving us around the same corral path. An extensive analysis would be too exhausting for me to do right now. However, if this idea appeals to enough people, I'd be very willing to attempt an in-depth analysis. Consider the following impressions....all of them revolving around the concept of either our eyes, body, or mind being guided or directed from something outside ourselves.
You enter a parking lot and are greeted by an usher. No problem. Actually very helpful. Then you get out of your car and find your way in. The ushers are helpful and show you to your seat. The first experiment you must do is to sit anywhere but where the usher points. He is ready to greet you with his regulation open-palmed gesture and super smile, but if you spurn his help, his smile will quickly dissolve to a frown of disapproval. You pronam to the altar the way everyone else does. I used to pronam at movie screens. Standing before any proscenium arch, my body would do it reflexively. When faced to the altar, try bowing your head next time and see if you get any looks. You sit. It is a normal church going day. Same as in any church. The minister comes out and you stand again. You say the same prayer that you always say each Sunday: "Heavenly Father, Divine Mother, Friend Beloved God......Om Peace Amen." Then you sit and are guided into a meditation by way of a chant. Then the announcements. Then the so-called "inspirational talk" follows, which is only inspirational if you happen to be visiting SRF for the first time. The ministers all seem to come from the midwest even when they aren't. They have a certain cadence and vocal tone which is signature SRF. After a while, you find yourself talking like that too. Pausing as they do. Making measured hand gestures as they do. All SRF speakers sound like wood flutes. You've been guided through the routine a thousand times (routine is a big word in SRF); you know exactly when the donation is going to be collected even before the moment arrives. You've got your dollar bill in your hand and , before you know it, you're singing "Glory, Glory Hallelujah" or one of the Cosmic Chants. The doors swing open, and you fall into rank past the perennially pronamming minister who blesses you down the spiritual conveyer belt. You land amidst your friends who always have the same idea and the same restaurants in their heads year after year. What a life!
You never think once how that whole hour was scripted like a ride in a theme park. You never wonder why your conversations always center around the urban legends of Mother Center, the monastics, or something you read about in the Autobiography of a Yogi. It's to be expected when you're fresh on the path. But 20 plus years down the road, there's a world out there needing your help and you're still smiling that vacuous smile of a spiritual happy face. No wonder Karl Marx called religion the opium of the masses.
You go home. The color scheme of your apartment is gold, blue and white. Very original indeed! Master's pictures are everywhere, even in the bathroom, though its grievous why you'd want to subject Master to watching you take a dump. You put on some music, the only kind you have: some East Indian ragas or "The Divine Gypsy." Your furniture is mostly wood and brass objects you bought from an Encinitas import shop. You bought a harmonium. You're living plainly. You do alright but you don't make a ton of money because you either work for SRF or live in the world as if you work for SRF. If an anthropologist were ever to visit your dwelling, he or she could never guess what dreams lay buried in your heart. Long ago, you whitewashed them...and added touches of gold and blue.
Monastic life is a tenser, wound-up and boxed-up version of the above.
Television, that's a fascistic medium, deemed so because it renders the mind passive. Why do I always feel as if I'm in the passenger seat with SRF? I'm always in the audience, the important things are happening in front of me, to me, at me. Why can't we all sit in circles or huddles, like the knights a King Arthur's Court? Or the Los Angeles Lakers before the playoffs? Or just place a lay-disciple on the stage once-in-awhile and have him or her address the monastics --- just to confound expectations and invert the programming. (yeah right!)
Consider the spectacle of an SRF Convocation. Notice the large groups, the lines, the ushers, and finally the appearance of a minister on that lonely podium next to Master's picture. Especially the closing banquet where a long table is set on a stage, high above the crowd, and ministers are seated to the left and right of Master's picture in a formation reminiscent of Leonardo da Vinci's "Last Supper." I'm not saying it’s all bad. In fact, its, if nothing else, a quite pleasant distraction. But when does the mind have a chance to be on its own? SRF loves schedules, procedures, guidelines and techniques. If chickens are bred for the meat cutter, I sometimes feel I'm being groomed for obsequiousness.
Guidelines are never more insidious than at Meditation Centers and by virtue of those infamous recipes called Service Readings. SRF must be ruled under the sign of niggling Virgo. Activities are scheduled and quantized down to the minute, jobs are micromanaged, decisions must be approved from above. The lectures, tapes, and videos let you know who you're gonna love. And it ain't necessarily God, apparently. For example, a number of people on this board have commented on Mrinalini’s new video. As you watch her emote, as elements of her family background and early days at Mt. Washington surface, as she talks fervently about Master, as her voice quavers and the tears sprout out of her eyes, watch how you subtly begin to assent to her way of thinking. The SRF communiques rob us of the space in our minds for judicious review of what's being presented to us. I'm not saying there is evil intent in the SRF leaders, but I am saying that, no matter what their reasons are -- even if they are good -- No! especially if they are good --- such thoughtless assent to authority is exactly the kind of surrender every great thinker in the world cautions us to avoid. God is what is left when the residue of other business has been wiped away.
What I've presented thus far is one member's recollection of the outside shell of the SRF experience. Just a few whimsical impressions. As we probe deep down into the inner circle and back rooms of the SRF leadership, we are bound to find more strikingly overt examples of fascistic control which are not as innocent and easy to dismiss as the examples I gave above. In no way does this mean SRF is run by a bunch of Rasputins. But it could suggest that, motivated by fear, these Matas may be unwittingly permitting a form of soft fascism to underscore the SRF experience. This would make sense, since authoritative hierarchies tend to be the least complex and most expedient ways of managing people. But anyone can stand on a hilltop and be a dictator or an oligarch. A leader who empowers others is something else entirely. That demands a certain optimistic belief in one's fellow man; it requires trust and an amazing amount of benevolence.
I'd now like to ask my ex-monastic friends to consider if any of the following elements exist in the SRF organization:
A strong leaning towards property, capital investments, and a reliance on the legal system and government protections.
Continuous building. expanding, touring, promoting, and using technology to further its goals. Wanting to keep up with the Joneses. A refusal to appear behind the times (at least materially and technologically).
Micromanagement. A policy for everything. Making Sparta look like a Club Med Resort, monasticism, dictating a way of life and a routine.
STRONG CENTRAL LEADERSHIP
The secretive Board of Directors, SRF President
CITIZEN'S PURPOSE IS TO SERVE THE STATE
The utilization of a lot of able and willing bodies who will work for low pay or no pay and are expected to have the right attitude about service -- basically unquestioning loyalty and devotion to Mother Center.
APPEALS TO A "GLORIOUS PAST"
Senior monastics still living in the heydays of the 1940's and '50's. "You can only imagine what it was like" underscores everything they say. Keeping things quaint and provincial, the way they were in Master's time..."Those were the days." A high hope that those standards will return and the young monks and members will get a dose of reality the way it was when Master was around...etc.
Mostly with regard to the way the Matas would have us reverence them. Mystification of people in leadership roles.
COMBINING SEVERAL FACETS INTO AN ORGANIC VISION OF SOCIETY
I wrote somewhere else: "In truth, SRF is a disorienting hodgepodge of models sorely in need of integration."
Glorifies surrender to the way of life, to the Matas, to your supervisor, to ushers, to the "right attitude" (whatever that is!).
Critical discussion or inquiry is not allowed, "just live the life" which means follow the routine and don't analyze with the mind.
"Kill" the ego. I once heard a monastic tell me that the only way he would leave the monastery would be "in a pinewood box." I asked him where he got such a romantic notion, and he said Brother Premamoy. The feudal Samurais also had a code of death before dishonor. Personally, I think its all a bunch of prepubescent hogwash...but to each their own.