Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Gurus, Discipline, and Authoritarian Power

I used to hear devotees say that Yogananda was so kind, that he never was harsh with students who could not take it, and that he actually knew who could and couldn't take it.  But all in all, disciples tend to think of him as being perfect and kind, and when he was harsh it was just because he was trying to teach devotees a lesson. They never think that the same lessons can be taught through love, and they never realized that many came to learn from Yogananda and left because of his harshness. So did he really know who he could treat harshly? I remember mentioning this to my Buddhist friend, and she said that if the Buddhist abbots acted in that way many would leave. What would be the purpose? Our abbot was actually always calm and kind and did not believe in using this method to “destroy the ego”, in fact, one Buddhist said to me, “Can a knife cut a knife?” So can an “ego destroy an ego?” No.

I remember reading a book by an ex-devotee of Yogananda. I wish that I could recall which group he finally joined, because then I might be able to find the book. In this book the author said of Yogananda, as I remember it:  “He would say and do things that would cause normal people to leave him.” He didn't elaborate except on one thing: when devotees asked him if they could go home for Christmas, “He would yell at some of them and shout NO. With others he was kind and allowed them to go.” Couldn't he have been kind to all? Why not just say, no, and then give a good reason? But I don’t think he had a good reason outside of the desire to control and perhaps to prevent them from leaving for good. Perhaps they had not been properly brainwashed at that moment in time.  All that this does is teach others under him to be harsh towards others, and that is what SRF monastics do to others. Even in Vedanta there was a large pecking order of swamis and gurus, most of which were harsh, and then their devotees, who were just under them, in turn harsh to those below them. What fun.
In the book Only Love by Daya Mata there are a few things that she has written on how Yogananda disciplined others. But I want to point out first that this is all done in the name of training. Some people seem to be able to handle this type of training, while others can’t. Just because a person can’t it doesn’t mean that they are unfaithful to God.

Page 196: He would disciple that devotee with sharp words if necessary.

Page 202: It would not be correct to say that Gurudeva Paramahansa Yogananda was capable of anger; I never found him angry, but he could be fiery when necessary. All masters , those who are master of themselves can display a seemingly wrathful disposition at times, but they are in full of control of it.

Page 63, Guruji saw that sensitivity (in Daya) and began deliberately to make sharp and cutting remarks to me I felt deeply wounded.

Page 64: Some years later he once scolded me very severely before a group of the disciples.

I have seen that because of his strict training, it is easier to remain inwardly untouched. You are getting similar training every day.

Page 140: We have to learn to grow a little tougher hide, Guruji said to me years ago. I was extremely sensitive. I suffered a great deal from it. Master said, You know, if you expect to get through life, you must learn how to be tough.
As a Vedanta swami once told me: “You have to learn to roll with the punches.”
When I was talking about this matter in the past a devotee wrote to me:
“Coaching is tough.

You want every kid to do well. You want them all to achieve their highest ability. But you can't say the same darn thing to every kid. You go soft on some kids and they just go to heck on you. You go tough on some kids and they get pissed and rise to the bait to prove you wrong about them.”
And I replied:

"You want every kid to do well."

First, adults are not children. Secondly, the harshness that is used by a guru is used to control others.

The book, The Guru Papers, has to say on this subject:
Not all people blindly obey. Moreover, if people are forced to obey, they will tend to force others to obey.

The role of guru or roshi has within it the assumption that the person who takes on, or is given, that role knows best (or at least better) what life is about and how to live it. Here the reason for authority is presumed special knowledge. Such authority can be more of less authoritarian depending on how it is exercised and how it is received. The guru role is structured to be authoritarian give that unquestioned obedience to the guru is made the prime virtue.

If authority not only expects to be obeyed without question, but either punishes or refuses to deal with those who do not, that authority is authoritarian.

Gurus can arouse intense emotions as there is extraordinary passion in surrendering to what one perceives as a living God."

Yet even with the best intentions, assuming the role of spiritual authority for others sets in motion a system of interaction that is mechanical, predictable, and contains the essence of corruption.  Corruption is not simply failure or weakness of a specific individual, but is structurally built into any authoritarian relationship, and less obviously, any renunciate morality.

As disciples are expected to surrender, gurus must also know how to keep and exercise control. When a living person becomes the focus of such emotions, the possibility of manipulation is correspondingly extreme.

And another book that you can only download off the Internet is Geoffry D. Falk's book, "Stripping the Gurus":

As we shall see, that is a common problem among the worlds spiritual paths for disciples who have endured their own guru-figures harsh discipline, and have then assumed license to treat others in the same lousy way as they themselves had been treated. The excuse there is, of course, always that such mistreatment is for the spiritual benefit of those others, even in contexts where that claim could not possibly be true.

Quarrels due to what Raja[gopal] remembers as Krishnas frequent lying and undercutting of him, Krishna’s agreeing to proposals behind Rajas back, and making promises that could not be kept, became so severe after several months in South America that once Krishna, who could only take so much criticism, slapped Raja. This was not the only time that would happen, but it was the first (Sloss, 2000).

Krishnamurti lacked ordinary human compassion and kindness; he was intolerant, even contemptuous, of those who could not rise to his own high plane (Vernon, 2001).

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