Spiritual Corruption

Spiritual Corruption

The personal ego is aย self-serving mechanism by its very nature, designed to protect our perceived individuality. Curiously, it will even place protecting itself above protecting the organism when convinced to do so. Soldiers on the front lines, for example.

This makes waking up rather challenging as the ego can be quite convoluted in its attempts to justify, protect, and mask itself. It lays claim to everything it knows, creating self-justifying stories of great complexity. For example, it will use memories of spiritual experiences to call a part of itself ‘spiritual being’. Then it plays that off the ‘personal me’ and we tell ourselves we’re being mindful. But what is watching what?

Ego also creates internal conflicts with these ‘selves’ to distract us from seeing through the maze. But happily it’s not the ego that wakes up so we don’t have to disentangle its maze to get through it. With enough clarity, consciousness will simply see through the noise. Like rising up out of a maze to see it all.

With spiritual awakening, the attachment to the ego falls away. With that, the core of the stories of a me collapses and over time, what no longer serves fades away.

Some people experience awakening with a sense of ego falling away or dying. Butย only the attachment to it ends. The ego itself remains as a function, only now much more in the background and shrinking.

Renunciates are trained to take ego-denial further but for those of us in the world, it’s necessary to have a functioning person. It is hazardous to culture the idea that you are now ego-less. Being detached from is not the same as without. A denied ego is a recipe for delusion.

If you are here in a human life, then you have remaining desires and unresolved experiences. This is perfectly normal andย good to recognize. Without that insight, those can rise up behind us and cause problems.

And this is the essence of spiritual corruption. While moral corruption can certainly be an issue in spiritual circles like anywhere else, the corruption I’m speaking of is a more subtle form.

Spiritual progress can bring abilities and other forms of power on-line. These can be seen as a marker for purity but they can also corrupt. If our shadow side is unrecognized, it can easily arise and unconsciously manipulate our conceived good works. Classic ego dynamics like control, manipulation, and power lead us into temptation and then trouble.

When the motivation of a spiritual teacher is driven primarily by the divine, then good results for all unfold. But if subtle manipulation creeps in, it becomes about the teacher and individuals rather than wholeness. The same external behaviors yield different results.

The greater the power, the greater the hazard. Thus the need for vigilance actually expands with spiritual growth. Of course, vigilance here doesn’t mean control – just awareness.

Everyone makes mistakes. But if we’re more conscious of our own shadow dynamics, then we’ll catch them much sooner and not fall as far into it. But if we believe in our own perfection and specialness, trouble will soon come to visit.

This is not just true of the teacher. As Mariana Caplan discusses in her book Half Way Up The Mountain, the expanded ego can’t get far without enablers. Students attracted by charisma, knowledge and little miracles can become willing to overlook problem behavior. They become complicit in the corruption for their own interests. Often this means surrendering their self-authority.

Have unresolved parental issues? A teacher happy to treat you like a child is not creating a healthy, adult relationship.

The little game that sees the teacher as perfect is for fools – especially for a newer teacher who has not yet been tested. Certainly, a teacher deserves your respect but always recognize there is a human in front of you, no matter how enlightened.

I’ve seen teachers I’ve known personally fall into this trap. Then ego defends it’s new position and power and they develop a new identification to be released. Not to mention more difficult karma, especially if they distract students from wholeness. Some groups have had vast dramas that have played out of this.

For every inflation there will come a deflation.

The recent trend of self-made teachers outside of a tradition that have no peers and nothing to give them honest feedback is hazardous. Worse are those who claim a lineage and titles that are only in their head.

How do we learn about corruption? From practical life experience. It’s present in all fields. The more fame and power, the more temptation.

Some people have also learned about corruption through spiritual organizations. The groups around great teachers can be full of egos wanting position and control. And yet, they see their motivation in terms of purity, righteousness, and so on.

It’s common to become cynical after an experience like this. Many go through a “falling away” after poor treatment by a spiritual group. But cynicism is not the answer to corruption. Discrimination is. Then we learn from it.

When we know what it looks like, we can avoid it. We can also learn not to be an enabler.

If you think you could never be entangled like this, you might like the film Kumare. Or read about some types of Cognitive Bias. You’ll probably see some familiar and some not so familiar ones. We all have a bias and tend to gravitate towards people who support our bias. Then we support that group bias. You’ll notice many of the 12 relate to this discussion.

Curiously, even modern Internet search engines enhance personal bias. They track what you search for and try to give you more of the same, enhancing your impression that the world thinks like you do.

Self-awareness of both our light and our dark plus self-authority with a foundation in wisdom can go a long way to avoid such traps. Life experience is the biggest lesson though.

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  1. Amaryllis

    I have such appreciation for this post, and the previous, Using Awareness. They both address subtle aspects of self-on-the-path which seem basic, but which are all too easy to get sidelined in โ€ฆ I find it so helpful when you speak of pragmatic matters.

    I really enjoyed one of Jim’s comments, where he said that during his unfolding he did lots of physical exercise and stayed away from too much ‘spiritual’ stuff (I hope I paraphrased him correctly).

    1. Thanks, Amaryllis
      Both are big topics. Caplan’s book spends several chapters on these subjects. And yes, even apparently good motivation can take us into dead ends and stagnant spots.

      For some people, the interest in reading spiritual books and so forth falls away when it begins to be lived. For others, not. But yes, he also worked in a demanding job. Being very much in the world is good for integration.

    2. Jim

      Yeah, its all about not peaking too soon. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Even during that time (which seemed to go on forever, but actually only lasted 30 years, with another 10 for ripening…lol), in 1993, I was visited over three days, on the divine plane, by a great teacher who I revered and still do. It was an amazing time, and has led to infinite success.

      Despite the momentousness of the experience, though, I was working full time in tech, married, with a 3 year old daughter – too busy to get wrapped up in it. I could have run off to an ashram with family in tow, or become a fixture at my local ‘Yoga den’, chasing the experience, but living one’s dharma naturally, is really important for fast spiritual growth – something I had figured out by then.

      After awhile the equation flips around anyway, and wanting to grow faster is not a problem. In fact, at some point we become very aware of what it is we are wishing for, as fulfillment, or the means for the choice, is a given. A very different kind of experience. I am sure David has written several posts to that effect. ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. Lindsey L

        Oh yes Jim, I resonate too with your path of living naturally as you say! I love that my job and family life has and continues to really help to move me through the stages more smoothly and feels kind of quick too. Helped me not get stuck into the woo woo vibes/experiences, etc, and keep it a pretty ordinary process to me. Not special really, it’s what we are…”maturity” does sum it up and I am naturally attracted to those who operate in life like this and share from this integrated householder perspective. I appreciate all of you sharing and thanks again David for being part of helping me move on and into more clarity, understanding, integration, and shift into more wholeness. Every shift still feels like kindergarten, learning new rules and skills to operate as a human with the refinement of senses…grounding really essential, for me anyhow. Seems I am still unpacking much from years ago experiences too…the understanding is the maturity which definitely leads to more clarity in my experience. Really grateful for this blog and others to help with my unpacking…

        1. You’re welcome, Lindsey. That’s why I do this. ๐Ÿ™‚

          And yes, it becomes an almost perpetual kindergarten as new vistas continue to open up. Grounding, yes, and that takes on new meaning as it becomes more about embodiment. Bringing all of it right into the physical.

          And yes, the unpacking continues as we move in. ๐Ÿ™‚

          1. Lindsey L

            Embodiment is the word indeed…it is a very physical rewiring,through finer senses and woohoo it sure feels like more fully aware of my beingness, everything else is just more a variety of experiences of senses reflecting back beingness as it, through it, within it and yet not even it too all at the sametime (and accidently picking up and processing an experience I don’t want or need, ie, astral gook)…that one gets a bit hard to explain for me, think you get what I mean…well, still unpacking…and learning the ropes… ๐Ÿ™‚ Rose Rosetree’s books helping me a lot too.

          2. Well put. Yes, a physical rewiring and an upgrade. In fact, a rewiring of all levels along with the purification.

            We’re also unfolding our awareness and relationship and perspective with all of it. Every experience is a new learning about oneself.

            On retreat with L&L this weekend and he spoke to this very subject this evening.

          3. gayanee

            I am unpacking my kitchen in to the new house we just moved to. Took a break to catch up on my hobbies :). I am reading this and silently thanking the 2 year old, the husband and all the other very seemingly worldly things keeping me grounded. Unpacking, moving boxes and running after a two year old are also very helpful to grow faster spiritually it seems ๐Ÿ™‚ Lovely article David as usual! Jim’s responses are always helpful and loving seeing the community growing around here too.

          4. Hi Gayanee
            Yes, life can be very grounding if we come to it the right way and be with it as it is. We can use our life for profound growth or turn it into a hell.

            On retreat this weekend, a friend was sharing about how, while they’re dismantling their person, they’re watching their grand-daughter build theirs. Just as we step into and out of simple being until we can sustain it, so too does the child step into and out of their person until it is established. It’s a necessary step but becomes a trap if we don’t keep going out the other side. ๐Ÿ™‚

            Yes, I’m getting some great comments and questions these days. There was a group of fellow bloggers who were active here in the earlier days but the others stopped writing.

        2. Jim

          Thanks – Yes, I very much appreciate this blog of David’s. He uniquely puts things in a clear and unloaded perspective, and discusses topics found no place else, without contrivance. Quite the treasure trove. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. K

    Do you think that the hold of the ego loosens gradually on the path toward spiritual awakening? I am wondering if there is a survey or questionnaire that could measure the degree of ego identification and the grip of one’s own story? Would be nice if there was one.

    1. Hi K
      There are no hard and fast rules but generally, the ego does loosen gradually through a spiritual practice that exposes us to our deeper nature.

      But there are those who have an ego collapse too, like Tolle. And lots of variations between those poles.

      The shift itself though takes just a fraction of a second. Just enough for the Self to see itself here, at this point of observation. Then the hold is broken and the threads wind down over time.

      However, if we’re not yet established enough, that moment of clarity isn’t enough and we fall back into the mind.

      No, a questionnaire wouldn’t work because that’s mind. While a well-designed test can draw out nuances, identification is generally subconscious in a way it would be difficult to test for. A sophisticated energy reading may be able to see the subroutines and resistance.

      But even if such a test could rate us at, say 3% identification, that would not tell you when or what that last few % would take to let go. I’ve seen people have profoundly deep surrenders that moved them through huge steps in a very short time. And others thrash for years over their last barrier. Human development is a messy thing.

      What causes awakening takes place outside of space-time so it isn’t something we can plan or test.

      On the other hand, when we see how little control we have over the process, we may let go more deeply, which makes us more ready. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Just keep in mind that that which wants a survey is not what wakes up. In fact, it’s what is the barrier. Anything that wants to control or manage the process? Guess who?

      1. K

        That is very funny (perhaps unintentionally) – “That which wants a survey is not what wakes up”. Because I can see the module in me that wants a survey run ahead and trying to operationalize spiritual awakening. Thanks for reminding that it is the barrier – because I can see it sitting there trying to quantify progress – I am used to measuring and quantifying in my work life.

        1. Yes, K, the machinations of the ego are endless. Some of it, when seen clearly, is quite laughable. It can be amazing to think we even fell for it. But fall we do.

          And yes, my professional forte was organizing stuff so it certainly came up here too. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Lindsey L

    Oh, this is very good to share. Lots of ego mind traps. It does try to reinvent itself to uphold a “separate” existence and block the unveiling of wholeness. Lol…it gets to a point,so it seems, this game is obvious, and clearly unbelievable. However, it will claim this idea too, lol…and write about it. Tricky ;)…Saw Kumare, good example…just saw a really harsh one about “The Teacher” called HOLY HELL. It is a good example how one can get caught up in those powers you mention. Yes, very good to be honest to ourself and not hide away in specialness and avoid whatever ego identification patterns might creep up or out into awareness. If there is still a hook, it will be felt, exposed and can be either seen through and cleared by my beingness of truth or might hangout awhile as experience until it gets seen through and cleared by the Truth (basically when I get the lesson and understanding I needed to experience). I think the one thing has always helped me move on from a sticky period is the desire for the full Truth to reveal itself, whatever way, how it Is and whatever it is truly…more and more wholeness is felt as life goes by with no specialness…for me anyhow. It’s good to have friends to help ground and people who share these possible pitfalls like you! Thanks so much for keeping it ordinary…and living as inspired in an ordinary life…

    1. Yes, it’s surprising how common such groups are even today. And how difficult it can be to leave a co-dependent relationship. Even when they know there’s major issues, some can’t leave.

      There are also those who develop a cult-like relationship with organizations that are not cults. Such groups/ people have to be very careful not to encourage that.

      And then there are the people who leave en masse when the teacher turns out to be human and makes a mistake.

      But yes, it’s good to know people outside the group and to focus on truth rather than need. A balanced life fulfills needs from a variety of places rather than one person.

  4. Carl Smuda

    you know, I’ve had three (3) times when something happened; I mean above the occasional joy and love for silence I’ve had. After my first residence course in the late 70’s (as a 16 year old) I had two experiences in one evening of golden sparkling incredible bliss and joy almost a spiritual drunkenness. The 2nd was in the Navy on Guam in 1986. I had been doing daily prayer and scripture study and one morning when all of us in the Squadron were walking the flight line I had this incredible experience of we were all ONE. I could see somehow all of our hearts and in each one was a little blue man with a golden crown (I’m not kidding). The 3rd was in the mid 2000s. I was at home with my wife and kids and suddenly I was Observing. I was the silent witness. It happened just for a few seconds twice in a minute. Life is Good. I am truly thankful.

    1. Hi Carl
      I’m sure theres many more times but some spiritual experiences make little memory impression and are soon forgotten. I long ago learned to journal.

      The first I would call a rapture. The advantage of them arising post-awakening is that new level can quickly become normal.

      The second is beautiful too. The man is called the “being the size of a thumb” in the Vedas. There is some variation in how they are described/ appear due to personalization. Others see a flame there, also seen as the “fluer-de-lis” or triple flame when the heart is awake as well as the three main channels. The Christian cross probably has the same origin. (3 points across the chest)

      The witness arises when the kundalini rises above the throat chakra. If it makes it past the 6th and pops the last cap, it stays up and the witness becomes ongoing.

      Just keep in mind, all of these are passing experiences. Wonderful, but don’t let them create concepts about what it’s “supposed to” be like, etc. The reality is much more.

      1. Jim

        Yes, gratitude and humility, not as moods but as deep, regular ingestions, are very healthy and purifying.

        It is easy to run away with magnificent stories about ourselves, reinforced in public. That appears to be quite a danger, to get caught up in a web of our spiritual story, publicly, as with the groups cults false teachers and wanna bees. The longing and the hunger of the heart usurped by some quickie notion of someone or something or someplace that has ‘all the answers’. The deeper we buy into it, the more lost we become. It is subtle enslavement and sweet poison.

        Our truth can only come in an unadorned and intimate way, immune to circumstance or outside influence, a product purely of faith and intuition, and a desire to sacrifice all concepts in service to it, or to at least place them in proper context. By the same token, once established, reality only grows deeper and stronger, leaving less complete pictures of life far behind.

        1. Well put, Jim.

          These stories can be quite subtle. Throw in some unresolved karma or emotional baggage and it’s very easy to drift.

          For example, I’m seeing someone struggle with this. They have the subtle idea they have “the Answer” and the idea others are broken. So they give unsolicited advice.

          It’s a much safer practice to respond on request rather than hanging out a shingle and promoting oneself. That’s for soda, not enlightenment. ๐Ÿ™‚

          1. Jim

            Ah, the “I have the Answer”, phase…best to keep a low profile on that one. ๐Ÿ™‚ Again, not from any sense of false humility, but in 99.9% of cases, it is a false “arrival”.

            With patience, and just getting along with it, life unfolds in spectacular ways, inconceivable just a moment before. We are here to enjoy the parade, not set up an announcement booth in the elephant section. lol

          2. “not set up an announcement booth in the elephant section.” (laughs) Love the analogy.

            For those not familiar, elephants are used in India as an analogy for pockets of resistance. While in one meditation, the elephants may be sleeping so we can go deep and clear, in another they wake and rush about stirring up lots of dust.

          1. Jim

            as long as it is clear and keeps rolling, eventually our transcendent Self syncs up with an accurate enough rhythm of life (like shifting gears on a stick shift and no clutch, matching rpms with the engine), and then we reach a stable enough platform, so that life can be approached, and enjoyed in wholeness, totality. It simply happens, once the heart has the right trajectory, and the intellect is focused on the goal. No sweat. ๐Ÿ™‚

        1. Hi Jesper
          Apologies but I didn’t take notes. It was in the direction of how gratitude helps culture openness and allows divinity to flower.

          While gratitude is natural when we recognize the nature of reality we might sometimes need to culture it a bit before that dawns.

          She mentioned about what grows stronger in our lives – do we focus on problems or whats good? Certainly we need to address problems but where does our mind dwell?

          For myself I took up a habit of culturing gratitude, mentioned in some older articles. This allowed some deeper release which set the stage for awakening.

    1. You’re welcome, Carl. It’s a rather distinctive experience and a rather unique deva, in my experience. So he makes an impression. (laughs)

      The heart is a well protected space that changes dramatically when it opens from inside and higher love flows.

      It’s the first of the more universal chakras and one of 2 with a direct divine connection.

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