People who follow gurus (as I did for many years) may become focused on them as the source of positive new experiences and understandings. When we reject that view, as Kramer and Alstad did in this book, we can fall to the other side, over-emphasizing the guru as the source of unhealthy dependence. In either case, we may gloss over the fundamental importance of how we keep our own minds.
In "The Assault on Reason" chapter (pg 73 of Guru Papers), K&A write:
It is commonly assumed that the nature of spirituality is not only fundamentally different from ordinary experience, but that this difference is vastly superior. ... This age-old separation of the spiritual from the worldly is deeply embedded in all of civilization. We view this split as tragic, and at the core of the fragmentation prevalent in the contemporary human psyche.
The authors' use of passive voice ("It is commonly assumed") is a red flag. Who is assuming this? Each individual who holds ideas about "spirituality" as superior to ordinary life can examine and question those beliefs. Yet over and over, K&A write as if the fundamental source of the problem is a "system" or "civilization." As if we as individuals are victims, helpless to avoid the assumptions imposed on us from outside.
In fact, each of us can look into the matter for ourselves. Examining our own minds, we can discover that the disconnect of spiritual/worldly is made by our thinking. Maybe this strategy is profoundly more efficient than trying to change "society" or "the system" or "common assumptions."
When I heard the authors speak last year, Alstad in particular sounded like a doctrinaire socialist. She spoke of us living in a "class system," meaning that the external circumstances of our birth determine our life situation. This perspective leads to political views that minimize the importance of individual freedom and choice. In the spiritual realm, it's a mindset that focuses on the evils of authoritarian religious organizations, while missing the great power of our personal choices.
The book is permeated with this perspective. From the chapter "Healing Crippled Self-Trust," p. 154:
The most extreme form of mental control occurs when the authority is trusted completely and becomes the center of one's identity. Sadly, society and parents insidiously put out messages from childhood on that others know what's best. Many people are deeply conditioned to expect and hope some outside agency power, or person will solve their problems. Letting go of expecting or even wanting this is difficult, partially because of what one is left with is oneself, and all of one's limitations.
In our earliest years, of course parents encourage our trust and tell us they know what's best. The adults generally do know what's needed for survival, far moreso than the toddler. It's not hard to see why natural selection favors the tendency of children to blindly follow the authority of parents (I've discussed this evolutionary perspective elsewhere). And of course it's difficult to move beyond this child-like view; if mentally maturing were easy, then everyone would do it.
In the fullness of time, some of us do choose to stop being followers, and gradually practice seeing things for ourselves. In this process, is it really helpful to blame our dependency on "insidious" society and parents? Do we really need to depend on our parents or gurus or society to allow us to be free-thinkers? Or do we claim this freedom for ourselves?
This issue arose in February on Rituals of DisEnchantment, a blog that has at times examined abuses in the "Siddha Yoga" organization founded by Swami Muktananda and later led by Gurumayi Chidvilasananda. An anonymous commenter on Feb 28 1:17 PM wrote:
It seems that over the years many people only put up with or accepted the steady stream of Siddha Yoga BS because of the intensity of their mystical experiences, and or no other reason.
There's a critical point that's missing in this comment. It's not simply that the followers' intense experiences inevitably led to their acceptance of BS from the guru and ashram leaders. There are several distinct steps in the process. Many of us indeed got amazing experiences. Then the guru and ashram authorities told us that these special meditation experiences were "mystical," and encouraged us to view them as vastly superior to ordinary life. We failed to question what we were told, and consequently believed in this categorization. Our own belief that our experiences were "mystical" and dependent on the guru resulted in our acceptance of all sorts of abuses, deceptions, and BS.
Our own beliefs are the key link in the chain, the link that's most powerful, and most under our control. If we want to escape the BS, we don't need to change the gurus' authoritarian system. We just need to question our own belief in it.
Just as children sometimes need blind faith in their parents, maybe there are millions of people who sometimes want and need an authority to follow. It's not my job to change the system that serves these people. If I encounter someone who's ready to question their dependence on authority, I can try to encourage free-thinking. But ultimately, each individual makes the choice for himself.
I can make my best effort to believe in my own experience, to avoid being a blind follower of others, and communicate these personal efforts as honestly as I can. Beyond that, I can let the "system" take care of itself.