by Brian Emmett
Fundamentalists in Our Midst
You could be forgiven for expecting that in the world of Non-Dualism, Monism, Transcendentalism, Advaitism, Buddhism, and Jed McKenna supporters, you might encounter an absence of fundamentalism. Identified with the grandest of Truths, you might expect Non-Dualists to demonstrate a dramatically more graceful and nuanced relationship, not only to Truth and its expressions, but to their fellow man. Although you can be forgiven for such a presumption, you would be quite wrong.
Perhaps even more surprising, is that the temperament of these high-dharma fundamentalists is nearly identical to the more violent players in the broader culture, although admittedly without the bombs and bullets. Operating a blog has given me an opportunity to witness firsthand, many ‘comment’ submissions (that I usually ditch) that bear all the hallmarks of fundamentalism, yet are not tied to the doctrines of conventional religious beliefs. Instead, they presume to be tied to the high dharmas of non-dualism.
A Quick Definition of Non-Dualism for the Uninitiated
The essential realization, intuition or perspective of Non-Dualism is that the nature and substance of everything, both within and prior to Creation, is made from one thing and one being, however divergent and complex its manifestations become, or how convincing the illusion of separateness may appear. This differs from traditional Theistic systems of the West, for instance, that insist that there exists an ultimate separation between God and his creatures that can only be lessened, and that by a proper relationship to that God.
Furthermore, many Non-Dualists contend that anything one does in attempting to return to an ‘experience’ of that unity is founded on separative consciousness and is doomed to failure for that reason. How does one then manage to ‘achieve that sublime Reunion? Grace or luck or divine bestowal, or gift from a guru, they would contend. Anyway, that is not the point of this essay so I will leave off of that discussion. For a more comprehensive discussion, you may wish to sample this entry on Wikipedia.org -> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nondualism#Nondualism_versus_monism
What I intend to do in this essay is to define, describe and analyze the malady of fundamentalism as it appears in Non-Dual Spiritual circles, and offer a few modest suggestions on how to handle it when it appears in your life.
And, as I said above, having to administer a Web Blog that manages to attract not a few fundamentalists, I have something I want to say to these good folk.
So rather than assume the unrewarding task of challenging them one at a time as they roll in, or else supporting their comments by publishing them, I’ve decided to organize my thoughts and observations into one simple piece and refer any suitable candidates to it whenever necessary. And if I can be of service to others needing to deal with this phenomenon, that would also be nice.
Also, I have been moved to articulate these ideas after spending several decades with a lovely group of good hearted people, most of whom were, like me, Fundamentalists, Idealists and Cultists. Although aware as they were of their vulnerability to this problem, and try as they may have to exceed its limitations, few could actually perceive the depth of the dynamic in their own selves, and actually had very few effective tools at their disposal to help them in this regard. For the rare few of these who are interested, the insights offered in this essay may prove somewhat useful.
What Exactly Is Fundamentalism
Merriam Webster defines fundamentalism “as a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles”. Samples include not only religious fundamentalism and political fundamentalism; you can also add economic fundamentalism such as capitalism and ‘communism’. You may also add scientism while you are at it.
That is fine in itself, but although it describes Fundamentalism, it doesn’t explain anything about the phenomenon, and it doesn’t speak to the (internal or external) dynamics that may distinguish it from garden variety belief systems. And it says nothing about the psychological dimensions that motivate its adherents.
My study of the subject, both in myself in others, leads me to conclude that Fundamentalism can be understood as one component of a dysfunctional, unholy, and probably indivisible trinity, along with Cultism, and Narcissistic Idealism, that are all symptoms of a spiritual disease that we might call “Spiritual Sclerosis,” (the hardening of the spirit).
Fundamentalism is the intellectual, Cultism is the social, and Idealism is the personal and internal aspect of this magnificent malady. (I don’t know if there is a physical dimension to this disease, although it would not surprise me, -> clenched teeth, powerful anuses, staring bug eyes?).
A Fundamentalist is a spiritual ideologue who holds rigidly onto a particular ‘truth’ in a bid for deliverance from that which haunts him, which is a fear of loss of self. Idealism upholds to a positive self-image and self-sense, for fear of being overwhelmed by his own psychological ‘shadow’, and Cultism, properly understood, pathologically binds its member exclusively to a group of like-minded people for affirmation and reassurance, regardless of any violence or depersonalization, and the inevitable isolation that the group routinely imposes on its members.
In my view, dedicated fundamentalists are people who usually fail to comprehend the complexity and subtleties of the very subject of which they champion, and who can’t consider, or maybe even tolerate, a perspective that appears to challenge, however innocently or gently, their chosen dogma.
The Fundamentalist is obsessed by the notion of right versus wrong, with himself situated in the right, of course. This simplistic dichotomy allows him to frame everyone else as ‘wrong,’ and consequently a direct threat to the good and the right and the holy. At its extreme, that polarization seems to offer him the moral authority to destroy those whom he opposes.
Fundamentalists are often abusive and sometimes violent towards others, wanting to dominate or destroy those with different ideas in order to secure a safe ideological place for their ego to hide in. Ironically, they unwittingly do this so they may remain invulnerable and unaccountable to a fuller and realer understanding of (even) their own preferred truth. Tragically, it is often the case that they will abandon important aspects of their own humanity in order to become wrathful talking godheads of truth.
In other words, a blinding belief and a commitment to a part of the whole truth or reality of a situation, regardless of glaring contradictions, contradictory evidence, or failed experiences.
Besides for root motivation of fear that spawns this illness, a key construct to understanding this complex malady of Fundamentalism, Idealism, and Cultism can be found in the psychological concept of ‘differentiation’. Simply stated, differentiation refers to the core developmental task that all humans face, of movement from fusion with the mother and family, (the child state), through and beyond the breakaway independence movement of adolescence, and into a capacity for a mature adult interdependence.
These people are afraid to individuate from the herd, look at what is dark in themselves, and rationally examine the broad and wide truth of existence in a honest way.
Admittedly, one of the symptoms or possibilities of a soul’s descent, or, if you like ‘Fall’, into separateness and unenlightenment, is the option to live a life fused to our local ‘unit’, whether it be the mother or family or tribe, or nation, or religion. Indeed it is a logical response, insofar as it provides a person with a ‘union substitution’ for having (apparently) divorced ourselves from divine unity.
My Personal Involvement in Fundamentalism
So how do I know the Fundies so intimately? Well, I was one! I spent many years thumping the Fundamentalist screed at whoever would listen (mostly myself). Simultaneously, I was also an Idealist and a Cultist. I also belonged to a community, the charming members of which wanted very badly to be above such nonsense, but were, in the end, relatively powerless to resist its lures.
Having examined Fundamentalism in my own case, as well as in others, I have come to understand that it is a disposition that is animated when we resort to a weak and defensive child-space in one’s personality.
And so Fundamentalism is simply one symptom a person’s resort to an (immature) developmental state, and it uses a great ideology or a leader or a group as a parental substitute. Once so parented, safety may appear to be restored.
For one who is chronically locked into that regressive or wounded developmental state, it cannot be blithely bypassed or outgrown, even when attended to with ‘proper care or instruction’. My experience is that it takes years to fully exceed the limits involved in this condition.
That is why no amount of artful dialog with the sufferer is likely to shift him beyond his current state, and why he holds on to his dogma ‘like a squirrel grasping his last acorn in winter.’ You cannot shift him anymore than you can get a 8 year old boy to grasp the splendor of women. It’s just not time for him to come to that realization.
Like most of us I have been impacted by fundamentalists for my entire life, and it is only an effort of self-transcendence in some instances, or recognition of the futility of that reaction in other instances, that frees me from attempting to do to them, what they routinely do to everyone, worldwide.
Is this Essay Another Example of Fundamentalism?
An interesting question put to me about this consideration was: could this essay be an example of (Counter) Fundamentalism itself? I would argue that it is, only to the degree that I have abandoned my own humanity and attempt to demonize and destroy the Fundies in the process.
On many occasions I have found myself unwittingly slipping back into a Fundamentalist mindset. Even whilst I write an article like this one, specifically focused on criticizing Fundamentalists for their Fundamentalism, I can catch myself reverting at times.
But I believe that my own reactions to fundamentalists would not amount to a new incident of fundamentalism simply by virtue of the content of the arguments I present throughout this piece, or even my own anger at the threat they often seem to pose to me/us, for anger is not fundamentalism. Anger is simply the force designed to make and keep appropriate boundaries.
As I see it, for this essay to be yet another example of fundamentalism, it would require me to not only be intent upon destroying fundamentalists for their contrary views, but it would depend upon me actually believing and being identified with, and clinging to some doctrine or belief, or Path or School that they had challenged and which I needed to defend.
But I believe that that is not the case for me. Elsewhere I speak comprehensively about a phase of life and a process that I and others have toppled into, that I call ‘Post-Spirituality.’ It is a phase where, although obviously unfinished and unenlightened, we have abandoned every type of spirituality and path, for what we have found to be a greater occupation. It is a phase characterized by exquisite ordeals, overwhelmingly focused in the extraordinary pleasures and pains of selfhood, and not caring about deities, and not working on ‘getting Enlightened’. And in general, not needing very much from the outside world.
This phase is not of self-as-mind, or self-as-emotion, or self-as-desires, or even self-as-god, but simple, un-projected and un-protected self itself. At its most pleasant, it is saturated with a lightheartedness and detachment that makes lesser satisfactions seem trite. At its worst it bequeaths an aloneness that makes me shutter and my heart call out in agony every time I experience it. Consequently, I really have little personal use these days for all the wonderful Dualist and Non-Dualist Schools, other than as cultural reference points that often are useful in conversation with others. For me these non-dualist schools are ancient and useful markers which are helpful at times in the midst of a conversations with a friend. They are not systems I identify with very deeply anymore, and I certainly don’t subscribe to their dogmas or methods or personages. Not that they are bad. On the contrary, I believe that they can be useful instruments to open people up to higher dimensions of existence. Nothing wrong with that! But as far as I can tell, I am done with them, and can’t get terribly excised about defending them or their adherents.
From an entirely different perspective, I can also foolishly pretend to myself that Fundamentalism and Dualism aren’t two of the grand featured toys of this Creation. Fundamentalism is, no doubt, a wonderful plaything of separation. I admit that I routinely live an unenlightened dualistic existence. Great adventures are granted those tempted by its luscious fruits! Who am I to decry its existence! Viva la difference!
It has also been suggested by someone that in writing this piece about unfriendly Non-Dualists, that I am engaging in a dualistic endeavor. That is entirely true. I don’t object to that critique, and I accept it in this light: any argument, any thought, or any philosophy or even any preference, is always and inherently dualistic. See below for why that is necessarily so -- The Craft Involved in Talking ABOUT Reality
Two Types of Fundamentalists:
1- Idealists (New Age Populists) – “Everyone and everything is already enlightened, - look at me as I mime the doctrine of great Sages… because I comprehend these concepts and maybe have had a taste of these gems, I know that I am already free, so please just KNOW that you too are already liberated. Now go… go everyone…go in peace!”
2- Righteous Realists (Traditional Elitists)- “What kind of fool are you to be speaking about the great unspeakable Truths – don’t you know that that exercise is categorically dualistic! Doesn’t the Tao say he who speaks doesn’t know…? “
Samples of Jargon from Non-Dual Fundamentalists
· “He who knows, doesn’t speak”… and since you have spoken, therefore you are a fool.
· Everyone and everything is already enlightened, so relax and chill out, brother!
· Our Way is the only true and complete way.
The Behaviors of Fundamentalists
Behaviorally, fundamentalists routinely attempt to:
The Psychology of Fundamentalists
Emotional limitations of fundamentalists:
Fundamentalists are often characterized by a childish or slavish allegiance to a father figure “who really knew’ i.e. Lao Tzu, Ramana, Jed McKenna, Adi Da, Buddha, Jesus etc., or else aligned to a doctrine or Tradition in the same manner.
However mature or successful at life a Fundamentalist may otherwise appear to be, in relationship to spirituality there often remains an addiction to a childish emotional state that requires the Fundamentalist to avoid or abandon or neglect his sovereignty, and any sense of self-mastery, when confronted by a teaching or teacher who appears to him as the direct representative of the divine. The person is thereby reduced to a obsequious or sycophantic state as he abandons himself to his idol in the hopes that he will, in return, be granted direct access to the promises of the ‘higher life,’ either while living, or in the afterlife. This effect is relatively benign in most cases (witness the vast majority of religious and spiritual people around the world) but if linked to a malicious leader, or a wounded and angry ego-self, the results can be dreadful.
Energetic limitations of fundamentalists:
They attempt to dominate and suppress ‘opponents’ in order to make the World safe for their chosen idolatry. If you challenge their worldview you are, in essence, threatening their very lives. This is because if you dismantle their ideology they will be reduced to a state of existential confusion and despair that is quite overwhelming. They may anticipate or experience such an incident as a death event.
Social limitations of fundamentalists:
Fundamentalists have a strong need to flock together for support against a seemingly threatening world. They cling together and eschew the company and conversation of outsiders. They enforce their member’s allegiance by shunning deviants, and rewarding fellow travelers with acceptance. Or, others may seclude themselves from others, safe in their Tower of Solitude.
The Intellectual Limitations of Fundamentalists:
Non-Dual Fundamentalists often suffer from an odd confusion about anyone (except themselves) talking ABOUT Truth. What they do have right is to affirm that there is an essential difference between talking and realizing.
What they have wrong is the attempt to overwhelm any contrary assertions with salvos of simplistic fragments of truth drawn from their favorite faith or allegiance.
Non-Dual Fundamentalists will attempt to dismiss any discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of a particular expression or communication ABOUT the Truth, by their favorite Master or tradition or sacred text. They are quick to assert that it was OK for a Master to have done the undoable in talking about Truth (finger pointing at the Moon). However, in their mind, anyone else must not have understood that talking ABOUT the Truth is not the Truth itself. It’s a funny kind of tunnel vision they suffer from. Logical enough, but misguided.
All fundamentalists have a limited capacity for paradox, ambiguity, or irony. They can’t tolerate the fact that everything in existence is framed in paradox, muddied by ambiguities, and twisted by ironies. They can’t appreciate the reality that- everything - is & isn’t, yes & no, black & white, good & bad, yin & yang, Shiva & Shakti, the Manifest & Unmanifest. Consideration of such complexity threatens to devastate their worldview.
If intellectually engaged, fundamentalists will often defend their dogma with a form of circular logic that is impenetrable, and that appears patently absurd to the eyes of an outsider. I have tried to create a few abstract samples below to give a small taste of the thought process involved in this mindset: For instance, they might argue:
“X is enlightened.”
How do you know that he is enlightened?
“Because he says he is!” (the premise and the conclusion are the same)
“X says Y is the truth. Z must therefore be untrue because X says Y is true.”
“Y is the truth,”
How do you know that?
“Because X says Y is the truth.”
So what if X says Y is the truth?
“Y must be true, because X says he is enlightened and therefore he can’t be wrong about that”.
Non-Dualism Fundamentalists often dress and mask their comments in argumentation that appears to be founded in the greatest truths and teachings of the ages. Yet at their core, most of these Fundamentalists are people who are psychologically defensive because they are unconsciously afraid that their prized intuitions and experiences of non-duality appear threatened by statements that seem to undermine a relatively simplistic grasp of their chosen teaching or understanding. They fear that they will subsequently drown in an ego’s sea of terrifying ambiguity.
They are usually very big on grandiose rhetoric that is frequently drawn directly from a GREAT TRUTH. But there is often very little clear thinking or discernment going on with them. The truths that these Non-Dual Fundamentalists actually spout are, in actuality, High-Dogma. Additionally, their points are often married to nothing more noble or substantial than sarcasm, ridicule, guilt by association, red herrings and name dropping, and every kind of ad hominem attack.
Spiritual limitations of fundamentalists
The spiritual flaw is typically based on genuine appreciation but incomplete realization of a great Truth; and subsequently, a clinging to that attainment for fear of losing it to any apparently opposite truth still hidden from the person. The spiritual fundamentalist has had to expend an enormous amount of psychic capital in order to break free of the suffering of his previous worldview and associations, before ‘true religion’ or ‘the Truth’ came his way. But so far, he has a relatively superficial grasp of his new truth. He certainly does not want to hear a lot of crap that may destabilize his relationship with his new ‘savior’. That confrontation could be annihilating. That is why he is so fierce.
He is also characterized by a kind of spiritual exceptionalism or elitism wherein he believes that only his preferred truth, path, way, master, teaching, tradition, sect, technique or religion is capable of liberating an individual, all others are lesser or flawed or false.
Personal limitations of fundamentalists:
Finally, the Non-Dual Fundamentalist doesn’t really bring much of himself to a discussion, and rarely a whiff of humility. This is mainly because he has lost himself inside greatness of the chosen Idol he now champions, and which he derives his identity from. He doesn’t bring much substance or experience or humanity to the table to be sanely considered with others. He is too weak for such a showing.
Yet he is never in doubt! He knows! He has the truth in his hip pocket and the hell with you if you can’t see it his way.
The Craft Involved in Talking ABOUT Reality
The practical reality that our beloved Non-Dual Fundamentalist folk do not seem to grasp is that the Truth of existence may well indeed be Singular and Unitary, but discussions ABOUT that truth are based on language and the human mind, and as such, sadly, must be based upon building blocks that are logical and linear and conditional, or else metaphorical, poetic or allegorical. The best that can be achieved in communicating about Truth is an artful synthesis that builds a temporary edifice made from ideas, words and images that the listener may happen to find a little bit liberating, or at least amusing, insomuch as it neutralizes and dismantles previously held ideas of a lesser and more restricted variety.
Our fundamentalists apparently can’t understand the difference between someone’s talking about a formulation of the truth that some luminary has proffered, and presuming to supplant or supersede the truth with one’s own ramblings.
Our beloved Fundamentalists have very little appreciation for the unavoidable complexity or paradox involved in the act of human communication. When they contact me it is often in the form of paraphrasing the words of Lao Tzu - “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao”. Yet Lao Tzu goes on to talk about the Eternal Tao in ‘non-eternal’ ways for about 6500 words.
Or, “The name that can be named is not the eternal Name...The unnamable is the eternally real…This source is called darkness.” Lao Tzu says that the real Tao can’t be named, but then goes on to name the ‘not-so-real’ Tao as “Darkness within darkness”.
We all understand what Lao Tzu is trying to say, and we appreciate that he is not only doing the best that can be done under the circumstances, but that in spite of that limitation, he is doing a great service to us all, regardless.
Or Lao Tzu could have utilized the affirmative rather than the negative. He might just as well have proclaimed “Before the Father was, I Am!” But that statement would have had as many logic and paradox issues as what he did say.
Lao Tzu tried to not only live The Way, but also to suggest the Way using language, to point at the Moon, in order to undo false ideas and limited doctrines that had accumulated in many human heads. So Non-Dual Fundamentalists seem to ignore the most obvious fact that Lao Tzu is indeed speaking about the truth himself! He may well be coming from a realization of Truth, but what you are getting from him is his formulation ABOUT the Truth.
To make a powerful impact on a listener, a teacher, aside from his/her personal presence or transmission abilities, has to use the imperfect logic and inadequate device of language in order to communicate anything with clout to the misinformed. In other words, he must often use the decrepit tools of logic and rhetoric, tossed into a blender made of paradox, seasoned with nuance, and served at right angles to the prevailing cultural paradigms of the listener, in order to have an impact on the student at all.
In other words, although Reality is singular or unitary, the attempt to socially / intellectually acknowledge or refer to that Singularity, must be expressed dualistically with partial half-truths, made of bits of logic and concept and image. Those building blocks are the scaffolding used to create, and then to stand on top of, and then exceed the seen or unseen paradoxes of the great mysteries.
That mastery expressed sometimes has the power to explode the frigid thinking, conceptual and perceptual minds we have become addicted to. All done in such a way as to penetrate the armor and conceits of the particular listener’s ego. But such language and artistry are quite imperfect devices, and that is indeed what is critique-able. Now I know that I am not a Master, but if a Master can ‘disgrace’ himself by discussing the ineffable, then why shan’t we?
And that is my point – Truth-Speaking about the Absolute is paradoxically a very arbitrary and relativistic endeavor – easily misunderstood, and eventually, even more easily misapplied. Therefore, it is well within the purview of ordinary men and women to critique a sacred scripture for its (‘artistic’) weaknesses, and certainly for how it is being misunderstood or even abused by current listeners. It is my observation that it doesn’t take ‘Enlightenment’ to notice the frailties in even the greatest spiritual literature.
Doubt it? Try communicating about “The Truth” and not sounding like a simpleton or a platitudinous Sunday School preacher. Whether you choose to talk about Reality using negatives such as ‘its not and this, and it’s not that etc”. Or using positive platitudes like ‘it’s all God,” “There is only God,” “It’s All One” “The One” etc. It usually doesn’t amount to very much! It’s a hard job to say something useful without sounding vacuous or absurd, and of course, impossible to communicate that Reality itself solely through language.
Alas, may I be accused of being involved in perpetuating another Right versus Wrong conflict here? But tell me - how ingenuine and self-devided do you become with yourself and others to ignore something so devisive as fundamentalism? So, technically speaking, that is a true criticism, but there is no way around it. No one is pure. No thought is whole. I have a life as an ego in duality and I assuredly do prefer certain experiences over others. Perhaps I could write a better essay if I came to it from a more enlightened space than I do, brimming with evermore good cheer and humorous anecdotes as emblems of my virtue, but I don’t feel a great need for perfection here today, and actually, it still would inevitably be a dualistic comment. They all are.
My Practical Experience with the Online Fundamentalists
My (delightful) Blog critics usually make two assertions- one is to assume that my writings on the blog have been my attempts to present the Truth (that can't be told) when I have stated repeatedly and on the front page of the blog that my interest is merely to criticize the limitations I find in the writings or formulations of teachers such as Jed McKenna, not to replace or supplant them, and certainly not to attempt to ‘speak the Truth’ or offer the impression that talking about Truth has much of anything to do with practice, process, or realization of same.
Additionally my critics seem to love to dismiss me as a some type of heretic because I have the audacity to speak about these teachers and their individual representations of Truth. Furthermore they would brand me, as my ex-teacher loved to call us, a ‘dilettante’ and an ‘armchair practitioner,’ as if they know anything about me. What Non-Dual Fundamentalists can't seem to imagine is that a person can be involved in a living and genuine spiritual process, but that their amusement- their intellectual amusement - their entertainment, is simply to talk about these matters of truth and philosophy. Perhaps the average fundamentalist hasn't learned to walk and chew gum at the same time. Needless to say, I regard these two diverse areas of process and entertainment, as profoundly distinct elements of my life.
Responding to Fundamentalists
So that is my rant with the Fundies. I’m sure that the vast majority of Non-Dual Fundamentalists are a good lot, and have their hearts in the right place, but it does no one very much good to just roll over and accept a lot of crap from them. Not just unhealthy for the receiver, but also very unhealthy for the abuser. One way to look at these good folk is to see them as schoolyard bullies. The best thing you can do for a bully is to stop his game! Don’t allow the abuse to continue ad nauseum. Give him an opportunity to return to his humanity and stop trying to play god with other people’s lives.
That is why I spent the time to organize my thoughts in this essay. So that it will be easier in the future to communicate with some power and clarity exactly what is ‘off’ about this type of behavior, and to be able to do so in a measured way.
So, sorry for taking a crack at these my wayward brothers, but sometimes, these things just need to be said. At least once.