connecting psychotherapy and spiritual growth for human awakening
Self-Realization, Gangaji, Satsang, and Personal Problems
Self-realization involves the discarding of misidentification. You are already free, awakened, and realized; you simply have to relinquish your delusion of separation.
Spiritual teacher Gangaji states the case in a YouTube video entitled "Satsang is Not Therapy.” She speaks of “suffering addiction” and those personal issues or problems we experience as being outside the scope of the satsang which is a spiritual meeting.
She is, of course, right and who would argue with Gangaji? The assumption after all in her guru's (Papaji) and perhaps her guru's guru (Ramana Maharshi) is that the seeker is aspiring to spiritual attainment. Traditionally in the East this may very well have been the case. It is difficult to imagine the spiritual seeker leaving home in search of a counselor for his/her neuroses. Undoubtedly it is a higher motivation to leave one's home and possibly family, job, community, and life in order to pursue a freedom that is beyond this world.
But it is different today. People are far more self-obsessed and sometimes in none too obvious ways. The 20th century was the century of the self. Images were beamed back to us as our projections became our fears and our desires, folded back to us on cinema screens and then ubiquitously in advertising hoardings, magazines, hand-held screens, PCs, and so on. Our lives became a narrative, like a movie, lived through a screen of thought. We learnt to eat the packaging, to imagine our lives, and to erect an idealized, idealizing barrier between ourselves and the rest of the world, which included our own lives and how we thought-lived our existence.
The insanity of the 21st century lies in our obliviousness to all this. Everything is now filtered through a sieve of perfection, of idealization, as we live a life as we think we ought to live. The corollary is living the life we dreaded but somehow expected. Our fears are made manifest in the modern era, along with out overriding desires, our greed, our self-indulgence, and self-concern.
Unfortunately, just when you thought there was a trouble and neurosis free zone in the time-honored search for spiritual freedom, the seeker's realm is clearly not free of this insanity. Perhaps nothing much has changed. In the 17th century the philosopher Nicolas Malebranche observed, “… men neglect [self-knowledge] completely. And even among those who busy themselves with this knowledge there are very few who dedicate themselves to it – and still fewer who successfully dedicate themselves to it.” Is there truly a revolution of the spirit today so that great masses of people, sincere seekers, are flocking to charismatic gurus in order to awaken, or... could it be that the guru-disciple phenomenon—if phenomenon it is—is merely another fad, a show, a commercial proposition with the spiritual teacher a witting or unwitting salesman in the often profitable business of presenting an entertainment pertaining to truth, bliss, and freedom, while avoiding their authenticity.
Gangaji's statement that psychological problems are outside the scope of her satsangs assumes that anyone would still be in her audience if they were not obsessed with their personal problems. Personal problems are inherent in having a body and of course a mind. But as Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj observed, “Suffering is primarily a call for attention, which itself is a movement of love.” This suffering is perhaps of the human predicament, the circumstance in which we experience ourselves as a bodymind, separate, divided, and firmly identified, albeit in delusion.
But can we, along with Gangaji, really dismiss human problems like depression, insecurity, neuroses, fear and dread, anger and hate, sadness and pain in all its forms? Can we even afford to? I honestly wonder how many in one of Gangaji's retreats audiences could sincerely say: I wish for self-annihilation in the Divine. I wish to release my suffering addiction of attachment to the small self, regardless of the pleasures and egocentric happiness that may come my way, in exchange for Truth and Awakening?
I have worked with people's addiction to suffering for nearly forty years now. That comprises thousands of people in psycho-spiritual workshops, training groups, meditation groups, retreats, community meetings, and individual and couples sessions. My experience is that to encounter a sincere seeker is rare. Confused seekers, deluded seekers, immature and misguided seekers, desperate seekers, compensating seekers—all these abound. But, let me repeat, to encounter a sincere seeker is rare.
It was in response to all the confusion, delusion, and ignorance that I began to write a book, The Flight of Consciousness, some eighteen years ago. Inundated by spiritual seekers in my therapy practice, I felt a need to at least attempt to dispel their confusion. Around that time the spiritual seekers of the 1960s and 1970s were coming of adult age and with that their disillusionment and feelings of futility for a life spent in search of something they felt they would never find propelled many into psychotherapy.
Perhaps still with a shred of hope they sought out practitioners like me. With the label psycho-spiritual or transpersonal there was perhaps a chance that along with psychological cleansing they could touch transcendence. But, as I said, a sincere seeker is hard to find.
This conforms to Nisargadatta's experience too, as far as I can make out. Only twice as I recall in the myriad of enlightened conversations that are recorded from his daily darshans—only twice!—does he recognize a sincere aspirant in the multitude of seekers who found their way to his upstairs room in the slums of Bombay.
Ganganji perhaps fairs better in attracting the right sort; I don't know. Suffering addiction is apparently not something she has patience for, as she tells us in the video. Satsang she pronounces is not the place for a conversation about your life-problems. It is rather a place where you may use your problems as a jumping-off place for truth. Self-indulgence has no place in her satsang, indeed she tells us Papaji had even less patience. He would simply kick you out! If your opening (to her? to Truth?) means you having to repress your problem and it comes right back up, Gangaji's satsangs are clearly not for you.
Curiously, in another of her presentations on YouTube she points out, most astutely and accurately in my view, that no matter what people say they want, what they really want is power, and power is control.
This is absolutely right. And don't forget that this thirst for power-control can be subtle, in your face, convoluted, and extremely complex in its application to succeed, sabotage, and thwart the small self who practices it. These emotional-behavioral patterns are so densely complex and sophisticated that only the profundity of western psychology gets near to understanding them. In the hands of a gifted, skilled practitioner – a psychotherapist, a counselor, a healing presence of some kind – it is possible, not certain at all, but merely possible, that the ego-centered being who is practicing these deceptions, these sleights-of-hand, and performing these conjuring tricks may just allow themselves to see exactly what they are doing, how they are doing what they are doing, what they are doing it for, and whether or not they may be ready, truly ready to stop.
The Broken Yogi Samyama (the pseudonym of Conrad Goehausen) writes in his blog that “the dirty secret of virtually all cults and con-men [is that] people want to be tricked and taken advantage of. They like the game, and they like to play it, and they go along because it serves the ego's purpose."
Spot on! Exactly! Now as spiritual teachers we can either send away people who want power and control to feed their egos or we can look around and say, well, since that seems to apply to most everybody, I had better start here.
Dismantling even the childhood ego-defenses (merely the first layer) is tremendously hard. It takes time, patience, and a lot of skill. Most of all, it takes the commitment of the person who is coming to see us as practitioners to truly want to deconstruct themselves and build themselves up again on a solid foundation of reality and authenticity.
The urging to be still or ask who you really are is traditional. Perhaps it worked thousands of years ago, perhaps even hundreds of years ago, I don't know. But I do know this: in the 21st century this kind of urging leads the vast majority of people up against a brick wall. Meditation, being still, self-enquiry—I am sorry to say that in the modern era of self-obsession and complex ego-defense systems you might just as well tell somebody driving at 150 miles an hour on the highway to shut their eyes. It doesn't work; it's disastrous.
I once had the privilege of spending the better part of a year with Zen roshis. In Soto Zen mindfulness is paramount. Everything revolves around the profound practice of zazen (just sitting) and you occupy the meditation hall inside you, whatever you do in the outer world, constantly. After one session of zazen I was washing up in the monastery kitchen when one of the monks turned to me and said he had spent the entire meditation composing his top ten rock lead guitar solos.
Ramana Maharshi, the father of modern advaita, Papaji's and many others’ guru and by association the grandfather guru of Eli Jaxon-Bear, Andrew Cohen, Mooji, and Gangaji, among others, stated that self-enquiry was a method that should only be practiced by “ripe souls.” Ripe souls, rare ones—a sincere seeker is as rare as a… (fill in as appropriate).
Although arguably I could construe a lineage of spiritual teaching, as a spiritual teacher I am glad that I do not rely on sanctioning from any outward authority in the spiritual world. Clearly the sanctioning of Indian gurus, at least, is a mixed blessing. Having sent the now disgraced guru Andrew Cohen, Gangaji, and all the rest to the West, ostensibly to teach, Papaji is on record, reliably I think (see David Godman's book “Nothing Ever Happened"), stating that he didn't mean to send them as awakened teachers at all, but merely to direct people back to Lucknow to receive his teachings. Furthermore, he states that these "teachers” all had “false experiences” and, calling them “leeches,” he states that he just wanted to get them off his back.
This is damning stuff, isn't it? Not only that, it rather points up the ability we have to be extremely selective about what we read, understand, and truly wish to believe.
This is not the time to accept and reject different aspects of human beings. This is the time to look at the whole, the undivided human being. This is not the time for seeking total guidance in traditional methods either. The timeless Truth may not have changed in the last ten thousand years but human beings are very different. Let's find our courage and stop following, just because we cannot think, feel, or choose for ourselves. Instead of pursuing awakening, let's wake up and understand that how we start the journey dictates the outcome.
Self-realization involves the discarding of misidentification. You are already free, awakened, and realized; you simply have to relinquish your delusion of separation. But not everyone who thinks they want Self-realization truly does. Human beings today are complex than ever. Yet the way to Truth has not changed and that way is the way of the “Heart—that and only that is the true teaching.
Papaji stated, the westerners never requested nor received true teachings; what they received, he recounted, were “lollipops for the ignorant” which he dispensed to them. He called the western teachers “fake coins, which glittered like gold but have no real value.” Nobody, Papaji claimed, was “worthy to receive his final teachings.” – David Godman