Sweet Dreams and Secular Gurus

Sweet dreams are made of this
Who am I to disagree?
Travel the world and the seven seas
Everybody’s looking for something
Some of them want to use you
Some of them want to get used by you
Some of them want to abuse you
Some of them want to be abused


OK let that song play in your head a while. Or use the Marilyn Manson version if that’s more to your taste.

The psychologist A. Maslow talked about self-actualization. That means basically being the best you can be. In order to fulfill that, there are basic requirements that have to be met first such as shelter, food and other necessities of life.  Self-actualization is then a series of steps. As one step is taken, the others can be dealt with.

In his scheme one of the things he talks about is a sense of belonging.  That’s where things get a little wonky in a practical sense. Who knows where they belong? And who is there to help us figure it out?

There’s quite a list of secular gurus that one can follow.

If you want someone who:

  • is gracious and well mannered
  • knows how to handle themselves and others in many situations
  • has a remarkable depth of practical knowledge
  • has a variety of life experience
  • has gone through difficult ordeals and risen from the ashes
  • has a mission to improve the daily lives of others
  • try Martha Stewart or Oprah

If you want someone who:

  • has seemingly transcendent knowledge of the universe
  • can assess a situation dispassionately and deduce the appropriate solution
  • can handle any crisis without panic
  • treats all beings with equanimity and without emotionally based judgments
  • try Mr. Spock or Data

If you want someone who:

  • is trained in observation
  • can see the darkest recesses of the human mind
  • will address emotional issues head on
  • has sold millions of books on these topics
  • try Dr. Phil or Sigmund Freud

If you want someone who:

  • will teach you humility
  • will insightfully point out all your errors, mistakes and flaws
  • will provide strong leadership
  • is supremely knowledgeable about the subjects of wealth, beauty and ego and their interdependence
  • try Janice Dickenson and Donald Trump

If you want someone who:

  • will provide the means for blissful experiences
  • will not entangle you with a lot of emotional commitments
  • will let you make your own choices within their program
  • try Dreamland Massage Parlor or your neighborhood drug dealer

And there’s also quite a list of folks handing out all manner of spiritual advice to attempt to fulfill the demands of the marketplace. Some of them are innocuous and some of them are dangerous.

This commodification of spirituality and religion is something that some people, including me, are not too comfortable with. It’s not only pricey spiritual vacations (there’s one going to Nepal for over 1,200 $US per day not including airfare-in Nepal 1,200 bucks can get you 5 star treatment for a month!) and retreats but also  all the books, cards, cushions and  pay-per-view darshans just to hear a guy utter a few sentences.

I’ve run into a couple of blogs and websites lately wherein the owner has “Given up on Buddhism and is going to try something else.” Sort of like trying on another overcoat. And in reading those sites it is clear that these folks have never really reached into Buddhism nor allowed it to reach into them.

When a thing like religion becomes a product it loses all its depth. It is a shallow facade or a symtomatic relief for a deeper spiritual illness. Just to stop the coughing doesn’t get rid of pneumonia.

Everybody’s looking for a quick fix be it for boredom,  a limp dick, an anger management problem, myopia, a dull social life or a restless heart.

And there are some solutions for some of those issues. But for deeper spiritual issues there is nothing that anyone can sell which will make any difference.  Some will try. And the currency may not always be cash. It may be in ego-enhancement,  loyalty, sex, book contracts, public relations, power, adoration, respect, popularity or anything that exploits the needs of others for personal gain. So these would be again secular gurus simply packaging religion (any religion) for personal gain.

So the thing to ask is “What is this costing me?” not just in terms of dollars but in terms of well-being and wholeness of person.  And “What am I compromising just to belong?”  If there’s a list then you are a spiritual consumer.  And there is no refund available for this kind of purchase.

That is not to say that some adjustments are not made in one’s lifestyle to encompass a religion. Time is needed to perform meditation or other observances and sometimes money in the form of a bus ticket or tank of gas to get to a Sangha meeting.  These things though do not compromise belief itself. When belief starts to become compromised doubts appear about the form in which the message is contained. There are doubts about the honesty, trustworthiness, sincerity, generosity, kindness and  faith of some of the people who have packaged up the belief system.

It is unfortunate when that happens since people are left with a lot of regret and self-judgment. They question why they didn’t realize sooner and why they wasted so much time. And ultimately, like those bloggers I mentioned, they question the message itself.

There isn’t much to do beyond try to move on. There is no quick fix for mismanaged or misplaced belief. Nor for the results of it. And in the aftermath it becomes impossible to sort out the message from the messenger.

The only thing to know is truth is not for sale. Not for any price.


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