Thursday, July 26, 2007

On the Nature of Evil, Compassion, and Enlightenment

A rougher version of this post appeared in the comments section. A reader requested that I polish it up and post it on the main blog. The result is below.

A note about my posts and writing style. My feelings about most subjects are more tentative than my direct writing style would indicate. I hope that readers who take issue with my posts feel free to comment in the unmoderated comments section. I am more than open to taking your viewpoints into account and changing my perspective.

Being compassionate doesn't preclude making judgments about behavior -- only about people themselves.

I suspect the Maharishi, the founder of Transcendental Meditation, is mentally ill. I reached this suspicion based on observing his actions for decades &mdash stretching back at least to the introduction of his TM-Sidhi program in the 1970s.

As I've stated before, if he were actually under my care, I would want to rule out narcissism and sociopathy. But I feel strongly that you can't judge a person's mental health through their writings or public appearances &mdash and that is the only way I know the Maharishi.

I certainly don't claim to know he is mentally ill. But as he is a public figure with the power to harm many people, I think that speculation about his character is certainly fair game.

Please note that the phrase "rule out" is jargon in psychotherapy that means that steps should be taken to test the therapist's suspicions -- nothing more. I am not judging the Maharishi's mental health, therefore -- but I am saying it is suspect.

The Maharishi's actions go well beyond those of an ambitious businessperson, in my opinion. I've counseled over 2,000 current and former TMers since I founded back in 1995. I'm sure there are many, many more who have had no contact with me. I believe that thousands of people have been harmed psychologically, emotionally, financially, career-wise, and more by their time spent with the Maharishi. Some have actually lost their lives through violence or suicide. The DeNaro affidavit makes it clear that the Maharishi has known for decades about the damage his teachings have been causing -- and that he simply doesn't care.

If that isn't evil, what is?

Any ambitious pharmaceutical executive that disregarded dangerous side effects of his medicines would be subject to criminal prosecution. Shouldn't we judge a spiritual teacher, if anything, more harshly?

A commenter has suggested that perhaps our differences over the Maharishi's actions spring from disagreements about what constitutes enlightenment. I think the Maharishi has given clear criteria for his ideas of enlightenment, and since he has taken billions of dollars in exchange for teaching students techniques he claimed would bring about enlightenment, I think it only fair to judge him by his own rules. He spoke of an enlightened person as always exhibiting spontaneous right action, exhibiting compassion, friendliness, and happiness. More, he has stated that an enlightened individual is "invincible" -- saying no enemy could even arise for an enlightened person or country. Please note that the Maharishi cannot even enter the US, Switzerland, or India because of charges of tax evasion, he has been found liable in US civil court for fraud and more, and there is no shortage of Maharishi critics on this Blog and elsewhere in countries around the world.

I say he doesn't exhibit virtues to any "cosmic" degree. Perhaps you feel differently.

I think, since he has held himself out as being in the business of spiritual development, to compare his legacy to that of other saints that humankind has produced is only fair.

Can anyone say that he shows the elements of compassion that Jesus, Gandhi, Buddha, and others have shown? I would like to hear that argument made. Jesus sought out the poor and the downtrodden. He didn't preach only to the rich. Gandhi didn't live a lavish lifestyle and reached out across caste lines to the untouchables. Buddha gave of himself selflessly for decades -- never charging more than enough rice to fill his bowl. The Maharishi charges as much as a million dollars for teachings that are the birthright of every human on the planet, thanks to the illuminated Indian tradition.

You, readers and commenters, have chosen to read a site that is largely critical of the Maharishi (although there is a wide divergence of opinion among the contributors and I speak only for myself). I'm surprised that some of you are surprised to find criticism here.

If I perceive evil, which I define as intentional harm or careless disregard for pain that one causes to another being, am I compassionate by saying nothing? Or rather is truer compassion served by warning anyone who cares to listen that something terrible has happened to thousands following the Maharishi -- and that they would be well advised to avoid his teachings and actions?

If you have any doubt, I consider the Maharishi's actions to be hypocritical and dangerous -- whether intentionally or not.

To name, warn about, and avoid evil is well within my definition of compassion. What about yours?

John M. Knapp, LMSW

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