Tuesday, August 26, 2008
I'm just back from a successful trip to Reno. Meanwhile, I've been following the latest posting at the Guruphiliac blog, which explores possible misconduct by followers of Ammachi, the world-famous "hugging guru." Like Reese's, I'll now try to bring these two great experiences together.
The Ammachi organization is built on hugs and sweet words about love, love, love... yet Guruphiliac reports accusations of the org using harassment and violence against critics. I have no personal knowledge of the accusations; clearly they're not all proven. But such scandals are well-documented in similar groups.
Decades ago, Hare Krishna gurus preached purity and love of God, while simultaneously engaging in everything from financial scamming to child molestation to murder. In Swami Muktananda's SYDA group, successor Gurumayi would smile sweetly in public, while secretly sending goon squads to harass followers of a guru deemed to be her competition in her quest to amass devotees.
I visited Ammachi once. (I got my hug. It was OK; hugs are generally nice things.) I noticed the followers often acted ultra-spiritual: wearing white pajamas, speaking softly and reverently, rolling their eyes towards the ceiling each time they mentioned "God."
Afterwards, I mentioned to a friend that even though everyone at the event was so very very sweet and nice, I felt nervous and suspicious. "Of course," my friend replied. "You knew there had to be a shadow."
As a poker player, I try to "read" opponents' inner states, based on their outward behavior. Much of what I've learned comes from Mike Caro (aka "The Mad Genius of Poker"), an expert at this skill. I've enjoyed Caro's writing, and found him fun and gentlemanly the time I played with him live.
Caro teaches that weak means strong, and strong means weak. That is: when we have a strong poker hand, very likely to win, we try to fool opponents by acting weak. But since most of us lack confidence, we're afraid that the act won't succeed, so we overact. The way to see the truth behind the appearances is to keep our eyes and ears open to sense this overacting.
It's not foolproof; sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. But it's cool when I'm able to "read" through the act, sometimes intuiting the exact cards my opponent holds. It applies to non-gambling situations also. When I heard Bill Clinton say, "I did not have sex with that woman...," his tone of voice, and unnatural pause before the word "sex," revealed precisely that he was trying to hide a blow job.
Whenever a person or group acts a bit too loving and spiritual, it's a red flag. Hell, you don't even have to go to Eastern groups like Ammachi, Gurumayi, or Krishnas. Just consider how ultra-pure Catholic priests used to appear... and the shadow that too often lurked behind.
I can't totally condemn Ammachi etc. If you got to a hospital, you'll find sick people. If you got to a guru preaching love, you'll find people trying to deal with intense anger. It's problematic to deny one's inner anger by covering it with an excessively sweet exterior. But for some people at some times -- perhaps when people aren't ready to confront their inner anger head-on -- such play-acting could be a necessary step in the process. Who knows.
I can't condemn the tendency of devotees to display more love on the outside than they've attained on the inside. But still... it can be useful to understand the dynamic of "Weak means strong; strong means weak." It might just help us make more informed choices, next time we need to decide whether to metaphorically hold'em or fold'em.