“Today, wherever I go and whenever I meet someone who follows a
different religion, I deeply admire their practice and I very sincerely
respect their tradition."
- His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet
Rama on Religious Cults
In Zen we have no gurus.
The way of Zen is to become independent and strong. Don't rely on others for perceptions of life and truth. Do it individually. Go to a teacher of Zen to learn how to do that, not to get answers for individual life situations.
Zen is not a religion. There is no room for a cult. There is no dependence on a teacher. There is only learning how to use your own mind and making it strong.
If a spiritual teacher says something that doesn't make sense to you, you should always listen to yourself and not the teacher. A little common sense would end all cults.
Real liberated people, what can you do for them? They've got everything. They are everything. They don't need to be worshipped or adored.
This study is not for the amateur. It's not for the dilettante. It's not for the cult follower. It's not for someone who wants everything done for them. It's not for the one who just wants to stare with that fixed dog-like devotion towards the teacher.
Flaky devotionalism, bowing and scraping and sucking up to the teacher is very phony. It is counterproductive to enlightenment and spiritual development. What is necessary is mutual respect.
People over-focus on teachers as an excuse to avoid their own life, and that way they fail to take responsibility for themselves. They have this feeling that the teacher will just take care of them.
One should never become devoted to a teacher, any more than one should become devoted to a statue of a god. There is only one thing to be devoted to, and that is your mind.
It's nice if you love a liberated person, and you should, because they love you. They're lovable. They're children playing in a very, very unusual world filled with vortexes of dancing darkness and light.
A real liberated teacher never asks for a commitment from a student. That's absurd, a person wants to be there and they want to learn everything they can.
Once in while a teacher may make a recommendation, it is usually after going through the basic Socratic method of trying to get people to figure it out themselves. A good teacher challenges your mind, your intellect, and your spirit.
There is deception. People who think they are enlightened and it's just ego. There are phony teachers who profess all kinds of things, and I think you will figure out real fast who they are. They just don't feel right. Phony gurus make themselves objects of adoration and worship.
Unfortunately we've seen meditation insulted in a sense with the image of ritual. You have to dress a certain way, follow a certain type of lifestyle, all that sort of thing. Very culty, and that, of course, has nothing to do with the practice whatsoever.
The word Guru, as it is used in the contemporary American scene, is someone who takes all your money and tells you what to do with your life. You assume no responsibility. A lot of people want that free ride.
A great many gurus came to the West in the 1960's and created a certain image of what meditation is, what teachers are like and how it all works. But what they taught as meditation is not what I experience as meditation. Their methods of teaching are not mine.
They became involved with changing people's lifestyles and teaching them Sanskrit and making them bow down to the guru as an authority figure. Most of their followers seemed to suffer spiritual burnout; they didn't become enlightened and often appeared worse for the study.
It's really unfortunate that so many people became disenchanted with meditation. It's only because they never really experienced it, its depth, its intensity and its remarkable beauty. Rather, they were given formula mantras to chant and were inculcated into cults of personality and guru worship.
Most of the gurus we see are individuals who have very strong personalities and very defined ways of seeing life and self discovery, which seems to me to be somewhat antithetical to the process of self discovery.
It seems to me that self discovery is a study of the heart and of love, and it shouldn't be confined to any particular system.
The so called spiritual groups that object to the type of creative advertising I do have only been in existence for a few years. Before Alan Watts and a few pioneers like him began the counterculture spiritual movement in the late fifties and early sixties, only a few individuals had heard of meditation.
Now all kinds of small and large groups have sprung up, and they've created a kind of spiritual establishment; they've constructed some kind of moral code of do's and don'ts.
I find it rather ironic that there's supposed to be an established way to advertise or not advertise if you're trying to bring people closer to an awareness of God and immortality. It's funny that these individuals are setting themselves up as paragons and judges.
A number of gurus think that there is something wrong or sick about being gay. They feel that gay people are very confused and that there is only one sexual preference that is spiritually correct, straight sex. They don't even recommend straight sex; they usually recommend celibacy. I don't feel that way at all.
It really doesn't matter to me whether a person has a lot of money or a little bit of money. What matters is that they are curious about life, energy, truth, and themselves and that they haven't sold out to the establishment powers that tell us what to think, what to wear, how to behave, what to believe in and what goes beyond the line of rational and irrational thought.
I don't think of myself as a guru but as a teacher. If one means 'guru' in the original sense a 'dispeller of darkness' then that certainly is my purpose. But today in the west the word 'guru' has come to mean someone who leads a cult, someone who deprives others of their intellectual or spiritual freedom and rips them off financially.
I really don't believe that I am the leader of a cult. It's funny what has happened in United States. Every new movement or group of people who seek to explore awareness is considered a cult.
Certainly, I am aware that there have been a number of articles written about me and television shows in which I have been featured and referred to as a "cult leader."
I remember an article not long ago in a well known Los Angeles newspaper in which they referred to a small group of gentlemen who live up on a mountain and practice Zen as 'the Zen cult'. So journalists do what they do, and they are an exciting group of people. The cult phenomenon is definitely journalistically 'in'.
It's quite strange because, actually, the United States was founded by a cult, or several cults, who felt that they were being restricted.
The United States was founded by several cults. They felt that Protestantism had become much too lax, so they came to America and set up a hard line religious cult.
The Puritans, whose practices were very stringent, left England and came to the United States because they wanted to set an example for the world. They felt that Protestantism had become much too lax, so they came to America and set up a hard line religious cult.
As understood in common English, a cult is an organization in which someone is brainwashed. They are lured into the organization under false premises. They are perhaps invited to a weekend away someplace where they are kept up for long hours and deprived of sleep, at which time the mind is somewhat suggestible. A particular philosophy is pushed, and often they are given physical assurance by members of the group that they are loved and wanted.
I have nothing to do with anything like that. I am a teacher. I hold class for my students every other week. We get together for several nights a month, nine months out of the year. A person must apply to study with me. We are only together for short periods of time. Once in a while we take a field trip to Hawaii or Disneyland.
The aim of a cult seems to be to induce you to accept a particular philosophy or belief. Usually, it involves renouncing your family, your job and your way of life.
If we were to apply for a financial aid grant as a cult I'm afraid we would be turned down for lack of proper qualifications.
I don't engage in brainwashing, I don't dictate forms of lifestyle, I don't perform mass marriages or even singular marriages. I don't tell people what to believe, I don't dictate particular styles of dress.
I do teach classes in self discovery.
My teaching, of what is perceived to be a complex and foreign-sounding religious philosophy, has become the target for people's prejudice and religious intolerance.
Many people who help me encounter a lot of resistance from other people and from forces.
I don't think there is anyone in public life today who can escape the inevitable onslaught of the media. It seeks to pry into and often grossly distort aspects of one's personal and professional life. I guess it just comes with the territory.
When you combine a media, bent on exploiting tabloid-type stories to boost ratings and circulation by innuendo and titillation, with unhappy or opportunistic individuals who have nothing going for them in their own lives, you get a bitter brew.
I find it ironic to read stories about myself which have never occurred and are simply so absurd that they are comical. At other times, it is very painful to be so misinterpreted and vilified.
All I can say is that these cult stories are totally untrue, are without any foundation, and trade on a deep bias against Westerners who dare to embrace an Eastern belief-system.
Unfortunately, in self-discovery, you get the culty types who want the father figure or mother figure to tell them everything to do. They don't want to do any work. They want to hang on your energy and try to drain it.
The source of their motivation ranges from what you might expect -- from the seeking of money and publicity, to those who genuinely suffer from chronic personal problems and have fixated on me as the cause of their frustrations and failures.
It is inevitable that, in the process of teaching an Asian religion in a Western country, many of the teachings will seem strange or unusual, in the same way that Christianity and Judaism may seem strange and unusual to people from the Far East.
Obviously, following my convictions has come at a personal price, but they are important enough that I have been willing to endure the abuse.
Perhaps my own struggle against the negativity created by these so-called critics has enabled me to develop a more resilient, peaceful, inner strength which I, in turn, have attempted to communicate to others.
It is one thing to teach a dynamic Oriental philosophy and religious code; it is quite another to put such a discipline to the test by successfully living it in the face of ridicule.
I think cosmopolitan spirituality is the best, where we go beyond "My teacher is better than yours" or "My meditation form is better than yours." It's not Ford versus Chevy. But it's rather the transition of our limited awareness into eternity.
Don't become a spiritual bigot. Don't feel that just because you meditate and you are striving for enlightenment that you are in any way superior to any other person. Be even. Be easy. You will last longer on the pathway to self-discovery.
Good teachers are not known for telling you what you want to hear, and consequently they're rarely popular because they tend to offend people on a regular basis by their mere presence on earth.
How can you tell a good teacher from a bad teacher? I think you have to go and see them, listen to what they have to say and try very hard not to be swayed by your desire for a teacher. You just have to see if you feel comfortable with them. You must discount the feelings of other people around you. It's really a lesson in perception. Most importantly, you have to meditate with them.
You can't really tell whether a teacher is effective or not when you're with them. You should watch your consciousness later that day or the next day. Has your awareness altered significantly?
That's what you're looking for not just someone to give you a good time, but someone who will teach you something.
Remember, the things that a spiritual teacher has to teach are not like the things you learn from anyone else. They don't teach you information, they teach you about awareness how to stretch it, how to change it.
Sometimes the study is pleasant, sometimes it's not particularly pleasant, but it leads to knowledge. And if that's what you're after, if that's your intent, then you'll certainly be drawn to the right teacher.
Those who practice deserve your respect. If you respect them, you respect yourself. It's easy to be critical, but it does no good. What's important is to be supportive of all who practice.
It is necessary to respect all other ways and other teachings on the subject because even though they may not make a lot of sense to us, they might to someone else. Who are we to say?
One person's cult is another person's spiritual organization.