Friday, July 09, 2010

The Anti-Cult Cult

I recently returned from the annual conference of the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA).

At the annual ICSA International conference, cult studies experts come together to reveal common seduction, manipulation and recovery issues from many groups.
Their efforts provide tools for individuals, families, corporations, attorneys and governments to understand cult movements.

My children tease, saying I belong to the ACC or Anti-Cult Cult! When they see my computer screen lit by TMFree blog's green screen they say "Oh, Mom's busy with the TM's ACC." The difference between ICSA or other academic groups is that there is not a defining theology, lifestyle, charismatic unaccountable leadership, nor viewing of outsiders as somehow inferior or unenlightened.

The fascination of attending an ICSA workshop, for me, is to learn the common experiences among different-appearing groups.

Every human being is fallible, and thus every human group will be fallible. While ICSA is not perfect, there is benefit to uniting for common good, to expose manipulative tactics in religious, political, business and personal relationships.

By coming together for research, conversation and activism, we can provide tools for a larger audience, and also diminish our own isolation.

We, here at TMFree, reveal and discuss what we know of the underbelly of Transcendental Meditation Movement.
There are other such sites and communication venues which address the wrongs of a variety of individual cultic groups.

Cult is as cult does, regardless of the facade.

My personal greatest experience at this year's ICSA conference was a long conversation with a woman raised in polygamy. While our upbringings appear quite different, we discovered that we share identical life issues today, resulting from commonalities of our respective cult-family histories.

Other former TMers could find commonalities with former cultists from various groups. Looking at another's experience in a totalistic group can allow one to reflect back upon their TM experience.

With the release of Judith Borque's memoir as Maharishi's lover and Conny Larsson's soon-to-be-released-into-English memoir of his time with Maharishi and Sai Baba, the similarities between the TM experience and that of other cults becomes increasingly obvious.

Readers of TMFree could probably benefit from reading blogs and websites that address other cults' methods, and general cult recovery issues. While Maharishi's Transcendental Meditation has its own twist; we can all learn by exploring similarities of life issues with those from other groups. One can begin such explorations via links on the right column of this blog.


DianeH_TMEX said...

Phenomenal post. Such similarities. Thank you!

Laurie_of_TMFree said...

Testing comments system.

Laurie_of_TMFree said...

Testing again.

jmknapp53 said...

YAY! There you are! See everybody—it's easy!


Sudarsha said...

This, and of course, your own Blog, is exceptionally valuable, Gina. Under the topic of Judith's book, I mentioned how Mahesh had a way of just getting inside people. Not everyone, of course. I know individuals who couldn't tolerate being around him and did not take anything he said at all seriously, yet still thought TM itself was good. But they were in the minority, at least in the realm of my experience.

What has taken me many years to understand is the role just plain old-fashioned talking plays in, literally, exorcising the presence of Maheshism in my own thought formation processes.

Geeze, that sure sounds pretentious. I don't know how to fix it, either. But my point is this: talk about experience. It really doesn't matter in the least whether anyone listens, sympathizes, criticizes or just plain says you're an idiot! The relief, the clear seeing, the penny dropping is in your own talking and nothing else. Keeping the feelings, experiences, doubts, fears, what-if's bottled up is like, for so many of us, like leaving potato salad in the hot sun. It might still look good by the end of the day, but it has festered and turned to something not so nice.

Our time with Mahesh, our time with those wonderful TM friendships, our re-education in the furnace of SCI, all these things changed us. I do not exactly understand how, but no one needs scientific charts to know that TM does something. IF anyone feels that this "something" has been counter-productive, then I think that TM-Free has demonstrated that just talking about it, airing those musty rooms, those dark and damp cellars, those spider ridden attics where we've hidden away those monsters-under-the-bed, is the way to go and, Gina, I think you have wonderfully and holistically and healthily demonstrated the great value of just not trying to hide from what will shrivel and die like Oz's Wicked Witch when exposed to just plain old-fashion talking about it.

morris said...

Since I was never a part of the TMO, I can't really speak about its inner workings, and take what those who were have said about it at face value. However, I think we have to be careful when using the word 'cult'. We have to remember that every movement in history started out as a cult, if that word is taken to mean a group of people who embrace beliefs that are different from the majority. For example, Christianity started out as a cult. Its' members were persecuted and even killed for centuries until enough people came to embrace their beliefs that it was no longer thought of as a cult. I'm not trying to say that TM and Christianity are the same, only that whether something is or is not to be considered a 'cult' can only be settled by the passage of time. After all, it's a common expression that only the winners write the history books.

jmknapp53 said...

To my knowledge, Christianity did not begin as a destructive cult.

I've never heard of Christ drugging his followers, as the Maharishi did. (See Victim #11.)

Christ didn't charge hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars to connect with God. The Maharishi did.

Christ didn't evade taxes. The Maharishi did.

Christ was never accused of abusing his followers or intentionally not caring for them. The Maharishi was.

Christ never claimed to be celibate—and then slept with his followers. The Maharishi did. And even more here.

Christ didn't stockpile guns, obsess on conspiracies against him, surround himself with armed guards. The Maharishi did: armed guards, paramilitary weapons, paranoia and consipiracies.

There of course many other differences—and other sources.

Just my two cents.


P.Ps I'm not a Christian. I'd be happy to make comparisons between the Maharishi and Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius (K'ung-fu-tzu), and any number of other spiritual leaders of "cults."

Betty said...

John, you are mistaken about Jesus. He was accused of many things, such as publicly claiming to to be God, consorting with prostitutes, having sex with followers both female and male, being a revolutionary, breaking up families. His close followers were fishermen who were told to leave their families and “follow me”. Not long after he was executed as a criminal, his followers were killing each other in power struggles.


Sudarsha said...

This is very interesting, Betty. I cannot argue, of course. I think we have been so outraged at the excesses and abuses of the "church" that we have overlooked that Jesus was probably like many other, possibly even "most" other, reformers, zealots, inspired visionaries.

At least Jesus did as he said and said as he did, not exactly something Mahesh is guilty of. There is a book out there someplace by someone (duh!) about such people, the trouble and disruption they cause and how they have changed the course of history.

What is more painful than the way things are? CHANGE! So us sort of peasant folk who don't have grandiose self-images, agendas managed by ego or visions of utopian salvation are kind of crushed between what is and what might be, ground in the dust of change.

Such a nasty picture, yet Mahesh, like the famous instrumentalist of Hamlin, led us on and we thought we were headed full steam into the realization of the stratosphere of our imaginations.

Sneaky bastard.

There is so much to contemplate in what you have written, Betty. Certainly the early church was seen by the Romans as a despicable cult of outrageousness, completely counter to Roman tastes (which were, I think we all can agree, really barbaric in a really sophisticated kind of way). As soon as the Christians got power, darn you, Constantine, they set about doing worse to their former enemies than had been done to them and pretty much kept that up until the early 20th century!

I just watched a really despicable account of priestly paedophilia and how the Vatican remained aloof (and how Dubbia said his government wouldn't try to bring the Pope to account). I suppose that the x-ian church is an example of what the TMO could become. Thank goodness TM and the TMSP makes everyone so dopey they probably need help getting dressed in the morning!

morris said...

I'm not a Christian either, and in no way was I trying to make a comparison between Jesus and Maharishi. The word 'cult' comes from the word occult, and certainly Jesus, who was probably one of the greatest people who ever lived, and his followers believed that they had certain information that was 'hidden' from other people, and that it was their duty to spread that knowledge to the ends of the earth, which they did. If you believe certain writings, Jesus may even have shared knowledge with his disciples that was deemed too 'advanced' for the common people. And it is true that at the beginning, they were regarded as a dangerous cult, because they had the power to turn the world upside down, which they did. I'm not saying that that is what they were, but that is how they were seen, particularly by those in authority.

Sudarsha said...

Excellent observation, Morris. Occult stuff was very popular in our TM centre amongst the TM teachers. I, myself, was quite good with Tarot cards! This kind of occult/hidden stuff wasn't hidden in the sense that others couldn't find it. They only had to look, yet on another side of the same coin, it was assumed that looking itself require a pre-existing kind of condition or ability. This, I suspect, isn't a very accurate observation, but it was obvious that some people were attracted to having their cards read; that is much more attracted to having someone do it for them than learning anything about the Tarot itself.

A matter of interest.

The Gospel of Thomas certainly indicates that at least one sect of the early christian organization thought that they possessed certain information that others did not and that this granted them some special power. Mahesh was obviously very fond of his ability to manipulate others with his special and secret knowledge.

So funny. Because the actual technique, as easily as was fairly common knowledge in all TM centres and something that was drummed into everyone there. That was much more important than the arbitrary business of assigning mantras or the mantras themselves.

Deborah1900 said...

If you can, rent Monty Python's 'Life of Brian'. It gives some humourous insights into the proliferation of sects/cults in JC's time.

Carol Welch said...

I was long-term true believer with a "Christian" organization that most (including Christian churches) consider a "cult."

When I would get into discussions with non-believers (mainly Christian) who stated I was in a "cult," I'd have to ask them what they meant. Of course, I found that "cult" meant different things to different people. Only then could I discuss the matter with them.

It was not unusual for me to agree with them, that yes, according to their definition, I was in a cult. I didn't mind. After all, the first-century church was accused to be a "sect of the Nazarenes" by the Jewish unbelievers. (Acts 24:5) At the time, I considered Christianity outside my organization as "unbelieving believers." (Every "cult"-ure has its lingo. ;-)

I would have to state that some of Jesus' teachings in the Bible are cultish. (Among others: I am the way, the truth, the light. No man cometh to the Father but by me.) Those teachings can become destructive as history has proven.
And some (many?) of the twisted doctrines are still destructive, murdering an individual's personhood.

Yet some Christian interpretations were/are not destructive, even in history. (the key word..."destructive" cult)

When I think of where the word "cult" comes from, I don't think of the occult. Rather I've most often thought of the word "culture." So I looked up the etymology of both "cult" and "occult." (linked below)

Not sure if the "cult" etymology is accurate or not [in general dialog] for one of the major attributes of destructive cults are "concealed secrets."
(BTW, I'm not into picking details of definitions, etc. I find language fascinating & thought the etymologies were interesting. :-)


As far as Gina's post, I wrote something in the last year or so regarding "cross-cult fertilization." [link below] One of my keys in 'recovery/rediscovery' has been conversing with folks once involved with other totalistic type-groups....from Christian to non-Christian to psychology 'cults.' I've also found cultic behaviors within a couple online support groups for ex-cult devotees. These can end up doubly harmful for one seeking help from a mindset of bondage. Same tactics, different labels.

One of my favorite lines from "Life of Brian" is (something like), "Did he say, 'Blessed be the cheesemakers?' "

To cheese!
~carol welch

Sudarsha said...

HH the Dalai Lama has written a very interesting book The Universe in a Single Atom. It is not particularly about Tibetan Buddhism, but is focused on distinctions, overlays, parallels and co-operation between science and spirituality. For me, this has been the antithesis of Maheshism and, I also think, shines some significant light on what you have said about cult, especially taking into account the two etymologies you have linked with.

One might join a cult (the Republican Party, a Cistercian order) for the purpose of being aided by like-minded individuals so that your quest for advancement along these lines would bring fruition for you and for others.

On the other side, you might join a cult that was self-centred, opposed to the world outside itself (the Amish, although I don't actually know if you can join the Amish).

Then there are cults that rope you in (Maheshism) with promises of things beyond rational belief. Then, the cult lives off you rather than nurturing your own growth.

Well, it's just my thoughts, Carol. I much appreciate your contribution here. You write very well. Please continue, I live in hope that good writing will, somehow, rub off onto me. 8-)

morris said...

I did try to join the Amish at one point, but they never answered any of my e-mails.

Laurie_of_TMFree said...

Regarding "What is a cult?" The mini-speech answer I give goes like this: "Any group off the beaten path can be called a cult. Nothing wrong with being off the beaten path. But the problem is with DESTRUCTIVE cults. So, what is a destructive cult? It's one that takes almost all or all your money, your time and your mind. It draws you in by deception, and it keeps you in by mind control." That's the opening statement I used when I gave a free workshop on Destructive Cults at a Rainbow Gathering.

And I agree, no group ever says, "We're a cult." And no one ever says, "I'm in a cult."

Regarding M.'s comment, "We'll use science to prove us right." I am reminded of MMY 's comment, "The job of lawyers is to find the laws that make what we're doing legal." He was talking about how to keep new arrivals to Fairfield in Fairfield, or how to give them matriculating status. (1979)

Regarding that sanitized TV short about M. Vedic City, the TV station certainly cleaned up the interviews to make Vedic City not look flaky! Did anyone notice that they reported that the citizens "meditated" together for world peace? Actually, they "fly" together for world peace.

Speaking of "sanitizing," I heard about the M.I.u. (my capital "u" is not working) staff removing all "questionable" stuff from the M.I.u. bookstore when they had visitors (accreditation committee?) so that they would look like a "normal" university. I think the questionable stuff was pictures of MMY and GD, or maybe Hindu scriptures; I don't remember. Anyone else remember this?

Re: the TV short, I also noticed that several of the TM big shots talked in a saccharine sing-song voice. I wonder if the TV audience noticed that.

(I posted this comment in the TV short comment section, but I think most people missed it.)

Sudarsha said...

Oh, Morris, that's so sad. They are such nice people, too. Perhaps the string had become disconnected on their end of the tin can hookup. 8-)

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

Of course, very outside normal understanding among the flock. Yet, there are very "disturbing" instances, like when he meets with a male devotee in the nude and promises to show the real heaven. Sounds like some Tantric thing.

Two thousand years is a long time. Creating the historical Jesus or what may be a composite of many people is probably not possible.

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

*chuckle* at both...

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...

Thanks for the kind words Sudarsha.

Good writing rub off on you! *chuckle* Sounds like the tin-man thinking he has not heart. ;-) I enjoy reading you! You write VERY well and I hope some of your ability rubs off on me.

I wish I could easily and conveniently learn how to be paid to read and posts on blogs. I find blogs a fascinating avenue for real news. At least to me; they are more real than what is often(?) dressed up for the masses.

Blogs are kind of like going to visit a place and living with the natives. One can get a glimpse of real life, not the necessarily see-only-what-we-want-you-to-see facade. Of course, that depends on the blog. haha We all have our biases (me included!!)

Thanks again...

~carol welch :-)

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...


Awe Shucks.

Really, Carol, now I'm gonna have to buy all new hats, you've made the old ones too small!

Well, silliness aside, I appreciate your excellent contributions to our endeavour here. There are two sides to TM. One obvious one is that it really is just a simple samatha or calming technique. The other, unhappily, not unlike the other side of any coin, is something else. I constantly wrestle with the double-edged sword of TM. Obviously, to everyone who has done it, something happens. No one needs any kind of science (junk or legitimate) to know that!

But that other side. The distraction of the mantra, the distraction of the magician who says oh, look but whilst we do that, he does something else. Yes, the rabbit appears. Nice bunny. But, no, there was no magic, just distraction, illusion and clever manipulation.

John M. Knapp, LMSW said...


Thanks Sudarsaha

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