Monday, December 13, 2004

Progressive Indoctrination and the Shadow Sangha

Here at WHAT enlightenment?! we are having a discussion about freedom, indoctrination, and the meaning of true sangha. What follows is some of our in-house email about the subject:

Hello ______
I thought you might find this interview with Rick Ross interesting. It is from a magazine put out by that Christian evangelist buster Ole Anthony who was featured in the New Yorker.

Here's a quote from that interview that I like, about the progressive indoctrination in cults:

"Once people become involved, it is a process of increments that I would liken to boiling a frog in a pot on a gas stove-increasing the temperature gradually so the frog won't jump out. The changes that occur with people are very often a long process or fairly long process, step by step, spoonful by spoonful. People are not allowed to make an informed decision about the totality of what the group wants them to believe or accept or do from the very beginning."

Another excerpt that I think is applicable to the illusory love and intimacy experienced in Cohen’s sangha:

"Certainly people that become involved in tight-knit groups find themselves in the midst of a community where they have a sense of belonging, a sense of acceptance. In destructive cults, the friendships they experience and the acceptance is highly conditional. There is no legitimate reason to leave. (In Cohen’s group leaving is SO illegitimate that one man had his bedroom door guarded to prevent his escape!) Those who leave become marked or estranged from the group. People are no longer friendly with them.
DOOR: Ostracized?
ROSS: They're called losers, backsliders, reprobates. They're rebellious against God-however the group terms it. The bottom line is the friendships they feel they've made and the sense of acceptance they feel the group offers is really not unconditional and instead quite the opposite. Most people could leave a church or a club or an organization and still have friends in that group and still communicate and still have a sense of history with that people and a continuing relationship-but that is most often not the case with the groups I deal with."

This quote made me think about Andrew Cohen's pejorative use of the term "shadow sangha" for those who have remained friends after leaving his community (IEF).

What is the meaning of "sangha?" I think it is friendship that is unconditionally supportive of the friends' path to spiritual freedom. But the IEF "sangha" is completely conditional. It is only supportive of agreement and conformity and submission to authority within the IEF community. If one disagrees, one falls from grace, and there is no longer any possibility of friendship.

In contrast, the friendships that exist among many of the people who left IEF support the friends' various paths, even when they differ or disagree.

So, then, which group of people is the true sangha, and which is the false, the pseudo- and negative reverse image of a real sangha? I think that any group of people, like IEF, where there is no tolerance of differences, and where all putative friendship is conditioned on conformity, agreement and submission to authority, is a false replica of real friendship, and a shadow, and the reverse image of a true sangha.

Dear _________
I liked your definition of a “true Sangha.” I agree. The term Cohen uses, “shadow Sangha,” he feels is apt because it is based on a “negative”, broken or non-relationship to “the Buddha,” namely himself.

We all met in “his light” so to speak, so since we’ve left him we now live and have relations only in his “shadow” it’s all in relation to himself as deified!

I suppose if he was truly a Buddha, a perfect compassionate-wise being/teacher, this could be true...why would we ever want to leave the light of perfection, no matter what is revealed?

However, he would genuinely have to be a pure and perfected being & teacher for the rest of the "triple jewel" (Buddha-Dharma-Sangha) to be authentic. And we know that this is definitely not the case. The man's wisdom truly lacks compassion, and so, I dare say, is not true wisdom at all. His lack of compassionate wisdom seems somehow tied up with an absence of humitity. He's scared to death, seems to me, to be seen as imperfect. (more about that another time)... And also, wouldn't his resulting Sangha (and Dharma) be inclusive, yet discriminating of all paths, which together make up the path as a whole...Isn't that what Chatrul Rimpoche and others were trying to get through to him??? the point seems to be that the “exclusivity” in IEF all flows from the primary exclusion of any and all information (and people) that for one reason or other questions his perfection and supremacy in dissemination of spiritual Truth for living.


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