David Christopher Lane, Ph.D.
Professor of Philosophy, Mt. San Antonio College Lecturer in Religious Studies, California State University, Long Beach Author of Exposing Cults: When the Skeptical Mind Confronts the Mystical (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1994) and The Radhasoami Tradition: A Critical History of Guru Succession (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1992).
We appreciate Jeff Meyerhoff taking the time to respond ["Who's Truth?, Which Tethering?"] to our essay, “The Projective Arc.” There is much that we agree on with him, particularly when he writes that “knowledge arises within contexts of meaning that are socially and historically embedded.”
However, I think it is a misreading (or perhaps a miswriting on our part) to infer from our article that “Lane and Diem-Lane presuppose the idea of an unmediated knowing or experiencing of reality and that we can test our preconceived notions against this ultimate standard.” We donít think anything of the kind, as Meyerhoff admits when he mentions our views on “biological and cultural flavoring.”
Rather, the underlying agenda in the Projective Arc was to point out the danger in tethering oneís inner quest too closely (dogmatically?) with the interpretative nexus provided by his or her chosen spiritual path/guru, primarily because such a dyadic loop can all too often close one off from being more open to alternative explanations and understandings which may potentially be more viable. It is not that one shouldnít align to any particular tradition, but only that such an alignment if too closely bonded can turn the discipleís journey into a “theological echo chamber” where what is uncovered merely becomes more fodder to sustain the leaderís or the teachingís superiority.
I donít say this abstractly or in a vacuum, but in light of a number of living examples that I have witnessed.
For example, back in the late 1980s I met a devoted follower of Eckankar who believed that the former Eckankar master, Darwin Gross, was personally showing up in his dreams in order to “eat the manna of my brain.” Part of why he was having such night terrors was due to a letter that the current Eckankar master, Harold Klemp, had sent out warning against negative powers invading oneís private mental space. Wrote Klemp, “A black magician has a degree of knowledge as to how invisible energies split from the Audible Life Current, but he bends them toward darkness and destruction. With power to invade dreams, he can bring terror through nightmares. The dreamer quakes, wondering what has suddenly unbalanced the delicate scale in his affairs. Monsters appear, forces, tear at the Astral body and strange, awful phenomena confront him. Fear grows and, with it, the disarming influence of the magician steals over the victim. In the initial phase he scatters the initiate's serenity so as to control the mind. Craving raw power, the magician cares not a wit for Soul's freedom. . .”
When I tried to explain to the Eckankar follower that Darwin Gross had no such psychic power and had other more pressing matters in his personal life (such as pursuing his musical career playing vibes and trying to eke out a living since he lost a major lawsuit with Eckankar over his salary) than trying to nightly visit a troubled Eckist, he simply refused to believe me. Why? Because his spiritual quest was so intertwined with Eckankar doctrines that he couldnít properly extricate himself from the theological matrix, where he confused dreaming with spiritual warfare.
Another illustration of how theological tethering can blindside one from alternative explanations behind oneís numinous encounters comes from what I have termed the Kirpal Statistic. It was so named because the famous shabd yoga guru, Kirpal Singh, alleged that he could give first hand experiences of light and sound to new initiates during their initial meditation sittings. However, later research and experimentation indicated that anybody (even a mere high school teacher) could invoke a similar response in would-be subjects, since it was the meditator and not the so-called Master who was generating such inner fireworks. But if the disciple is unaware of how the modus operandi of shabd yoga technique works, there is an overwhelming tendency (given the theology that is invariably entangled in such bhakti laden Indian traditions) to impute all sorts of magical powers upon oneís chosen guru or guide. The projective arc in this situation tends to divert one from a deeper and more robust understanding of how and why certain meditation experiences arise in the first place.
Interestingly, a more depressing example was brought to my attention just today when I was sent a long video which exposed the underside of Soami Divyanand from India. As Mike Carris succinctly summarized it,
“[The video is] An expose of Soami Divyanand's organization and sincere apology to those who thought this person, SD's successor, a godman when in fact the young man had no light nor sound within and no experience whatsoever. He was the child of Soami Divyanand and this personís mother, which was hidden even from himself. Also mentioned is the control that was exercised in an effort to make him toe the line and keep the entire truth of SD's mission hidden, when his conscience began the need to reveal the truth.”
The would-be successor of Soami Divyanand felt that the purity of his spiritual quest was sabotaged by the ideological web his guru weaved in order to justify his licentious behavior and persuade him and other naive aspirants to do the same.
To be clear, we are not suggesting that there is a “taken for granted distinction between reality as it is vs. reality as we see it” or augment it. Rather, we are arguing that too often religious maps by varying injunctions (positive and negative) tend to be self-serving feedback tracks which by their very nature reinforce a cherished paradigm and negate any competing map that may be more instructive and informative. Thus, it isnít that there is indeed an unmediated reality in some Kantian fashion, but only that there are innumerable mediations (many of which might be quite valuable to the spiritual aspirant) which get little if no play in the projectorís mind, particularly if their theological purview acts like a tightening noose which allows for no opposition or variation.
Finally, we not trying to arbitrarily set up a “true” way as if we knew a priori what that was. We donít. Warning against projective arcs shouldnít be confused with some metaphysical undercurrent of “knowing Ultimate Reality”. Instead it is a practical critique which is grounded in the confessions of those who have experienced what it was like to have their earnest yearnings kidnapped by a so-called “liberation” tradition which betrays its very name by disallowing competitive alternatives.
Meyerhoff concludes his rejoinder with an instruction that is perhaps unconsciously filled with double irony when he champions “dispensing with the focus on knowing Ultimate Reality and focusing instead upon whatís more important: Does my mystical or other practice cause me to relieve more suffering for myself or others?” Given his penultimate paragraph (where he pointed out how oneís spiritual truth could be viewed by another as a “sad straying from the path”), the natural question arises, “More important to whom?” To Meyerhoff? To us? To all sentient beings?
Yes, we can quite appreciate that to Meyerhoff “ethics trumps epistemology,” but it doesnít follow that such a statement is somehow a universal or objective factoid which necessitates that “our focus should be beholden to whether we are practicing right action.” It is a nice sentiment and one for which we have sympathy, but it doesnít rationally follow that mysticism (which to be clear represents a wide assortment of varying practices and injunctions and moral imperatives) must culminate in one particular “should.” We can imagine all sorts of “shoulds” that mystical quests may lead to, but that is precisely our point. Perhaps it might be more fruitful not to prematurely tether our inner quests with conclusive injunctions or maps when given more time and more exploration we may find other meaningful “mediations”.
"Religion already claims it has the truth and thus must protect it. Science claims it doesn't have the truth and therefore must go out and find it."