Thursday, October 08, 2009

Decrepit Bowl of Dog Urine

Tamerlane Phillips is the son of John Phillips of the Mamas and Papas, and half-brother of One Day At A Time's Mackenzie Phillips (who recently promoted her book High on Arrival on Oprah, complete with incest revelations). A few weeks ago, Tamerlane was quoted in the New York Post thusly:

Tamerlane, 38, told Page Six: "My family is and always will be a decrepit bowl of dog urine compared to Nityananda of Ganeshpuri. That is how great Nityananda is." The Indian yogi died in 1961. "Worship Nityananda, not the Phillips family. Nityananda can protect you," said Tamerlane.
Nityananda was the iconic yogi worshipped by Swami Muktananda, my own erstwhile guru. It's a mark of Nityananda's greatness that, nearly 50 years after his death in India, he's still inspiring an American quasi-celebrity to consider his family to be like dog urine.

Though this is an unusually big splash for Nityananda to make in the popular press, he's long had great influence in the Spiritual subculture. Among the successful gurus claiming Nityanada as a Master are the aforementioned Muktananda, his elusive successor Gurumayi, and graphomaniac Adi Da Samraj (aka Da Free John, Bubba Free John, etc). The lineage is well-detailed on the Nityananda Tradition site (created by my friend and former chess rival Swamiji Shankarananda of Australia).

Maybe we can't hold Nityananda responsible for his post-mortem devotees (and good luck trying to hold a dead man responsible for anything, anyway). Yet I do think there's some insight to be drawn from Tamerlane's eloquence.

If you teach that some things are hot, it by necessity implies that other things are cold. You can't have Good without Evil, or Spiritual without Mundane. To the extent that devotees shower Nityananda etc with extreme praise, it follows with mathematical precision that they'll balance the equation by cultivating derisive attitudes towards someone else. If we make one person out to be existentially holy, spiritual, perfected, and God-like... then we'll surely make someone else out to be dog urine.

Follow-up: Tamerlane made similar comments on YouTube, so I've added a brief clip here. On video and in context, he comes off more sympathetic than in the NY Post quote. His beliefs may have been useful in his situation. The benefits of holding his belief-system come wrapped in many other effects, and the helpfulness may have a limited shelf-life. Still, Tamerlane gets points in my book for having some awareness that he's flirting with fanaticism.


Anonymous said...

So the point seems to be that silly people believe silly things.

Hasn't this been going on for practically ever?

Stuart said...

Anony said...
silly people believe silly things.

Isn't it possible that everyone often clings to one belief or another? And that this clinging clouds the clarity of our perceptions, and compassion of our actions? That the medicine for this problem is questioning our own beliefs?

Why say it's limitted to silly people believing silly things? If you make that assumption, there'd be no need to examine whatever beliefs you cling to (since surely you're not silly). Avoiding such inquiry could be a missed opportunity.

Former Berkeley Girl said...

It is certainly true that nearly everyone clings to beliefs at times. It seems a bit different to "worship" or to cling to beliefs unconditionally - in such a way that no questioning can change us. I wonder if this phenomena of having a "guru" in this manner is related to feeling like one's family of origin is "decrepit" or abusive in some way. Then again, as I read your bio, you don't sound like you feel that way about your family at all. And yet, you engaged in a relationship with a "guru" higher power of some sort. Is there a root to that?

Stuart said...

Former Berkeley Girl said...
you don't sound like you feel that way about your family at all. And yet, you engaged in a relationship with a "guru" higher power of some sort. Is there a root to that?

Thanks FBG. Here's my 10-cent quick and dirty psychological self-analysis (nothing more):

My family of origin is wonderful. As a kid, I inflated this, and saw my parents as perfect, my father was superman, etc. Sometime around teenager and early adulthood, I began to see my parents' weaknesses, which wasn't pleasant. I believe this is all a very very common dynamic.

I believe part of following a guru was a re-enactment of the childhood dynamic: enshrining an authority figure as a perfect being, so I could securely have absolute faith in him. My parents and guru were ordinary people, so of course they couldn't ultimately meet my expectations... expectations which may have been appropriate for a child, but sub-optimal for an adult.

When I matured enough, I accepted my parents as they are/were, as ordinary people making mistakes but trying their best, having both weaknesses and great virtues.

I could then honor my parents in a more realistic way. This is perhaps connected to the fact that I then no longer felt the need to believe in spiritual super-heros.

Former Berkeley Girl said...

Thank you for the thoughts on your own evolution of valuing your family. It seems that many of us have found our parents dissappointing at some stage of adolescense or young adulthood. Certainly I did, and I may have called them "phony" or "shallow" or some other insulting words. But this "Decrepit Bowl of Dog Urine" terminology is quite a bit beyond whatever I (and maybe you and lots of other folks who've been dissappointed or disturbed with family members) once said or thought about my parents.

Now, I cannot imagine my dad ever raping any of his children and don't believe he ever did anything remotely like that. (None of my siblings, male or female, believe that either.) So perhaps these folks have more reason to be angry or disgusted with their parents than I did.

I guess I'm wondering how this belief in spiritual super heroes originates. And maybe there is some reason to have compassion for what these folks went through with their father - like maybe they feel a real need for a super hero.

Ultimately, I think they might get dissappointed again, unless they close themselves off completely. The sex thing - I mean disrespectful and/or dishonest sex, being manipulative or abusive to "weaker" partners, seems to be a fairly big trend in these kinds of families and these kinds of "ashrams" or superhero groups. (no offense) So it seems like a bit of symmetry. Like maybe these folks know how to live with and accept certain kinds of behavior.

Cases where individuals seek out the guru, not having come from a "Decrepit" situation, maybe just a run of the mill, flawed human family, where none of the children is being raped, might be the more interesting to look at. Although I've not ever joined up in that way, I've been thinking of times when I've been quite taken with a magnetic personality. Eventually dissappointed also, but initially, quite enamored. Wondering where my initial "crush," although often not romantic, has originated in me. Hmmm, thank you for sharing your story.