I started reading Eyes Wide Open: Cultivating Discernment on the Spiritual Path by Mariana Caplan and I just had to share a synopsis of the second chapter called “Spiritually Transmitted Diseases.”
She compares concepts, perceptions and egoic confusion to bodily fluids as the infecting agent to the immune system. I often compare dreams to the white blood cells of the immune system. Both are meant to bring us back into harmony and wholeness.
Because spiritual diseases are diseases of ego, and therefore subtle, they can go undetected for years in ourselves and in our communities. That which is invisible is by its nature hard to detect, and nothing is as invisible as the human ego, where spiritually transmitted diseases reside. (Kindle Location 596-598)
She identifies three primary mediums of transmission:
- through cultural influences
- from the teacher to the student
- from within one’s ego structure.
Cultural diseases of the spirit are so subtle and pervasive that often we don’t even know we have been infected by them until we find ourselves spiritually ill from their influence. An example is the way that Judeo-Christian beliefs have permeated the Western psyche. The fundamentally sinful nature of mankind, its polarization of flesh and spirit, and its negation of women and dismissal of feminine wisdom have insinuated themselves into the collective Western psyche so effectively that even our most radical spiritual movements contain subtle Judeo-Christian underpinnings. (Kindle Locations 615-624).
About the infection from teacher to student she writes,
Many spiritual teachers, even if not outright corrupt, are immature in their knowledge and unintegrated in their psychological development—and they are teaching at a level beyond their understanding. (Kindle Locations 627-628)
She identifies ten spiritually transmitted diseases.
1) Fast-Food Spirituality
The need for instant gratification does not translate to spiritual enlightenment. You have to do the work, and you can’t fake it cause if you do you are only fooling yourself. While Christianity professes two paths to heaven: by faith and by work, in spirituality there is only work. There is, however, two paths via work, by head or by heart.
2) Faux Spirituality
Faux spirituality is the tendency to talk, dress, and act as we imagine a spiritual person would. It is a kind of imitation spirituality that mimics spiritual realization in the way that leopard-skin fabric imitates the genuine skin of a leopard. This disease is most likely to be found in new age culture…. They attend spiritual events and assume they have accessed the perennial wisdom taught by mystics throughout all time—without being willing to do the actual work required to initiate a profound and authentic process of internal transformation. (Kindle Location 650-657)
3) Confused Motivations
The question to ponder here is … what is the motivation behind your spiritual quest? Is it to be loved, to belong, to fill an emptiness, to end suffering, or the wish to be special?
4) Identifying with Spiritual Experiences
This is a disease of ego inflation. There is a world of difference between having a mystical experience and integrating that experience into the structure of your psyche. While we may be able to reach the nondual state in our meditation, this does not translate into everyday functioning in the Western world. “For most of us, mystical experiences fade in spite of every effort to cling to and sustain them. Combine this with the humbling realities of the body, disease, and human relationships, and eventually we discover that mystical experiences are, in essence, simply experiences” (Kindle Locations 674-676).
5) The Spiritualized Ego
This is an extension of Faux Spirituality into a complete identification with spiritual concepts and ideas, the example being “Zen boyfriends” and “Zen girlfriends.” These people have fallen into a rigid belief system not unlike the dogma of Christianity. In all cases, the opening to the mystery of life is shut down.
6) Mass Production of Spiritual Teacher
Both the western and eastern worlds are overpopulated with mediocre teachers who instruct sincere spiritual aspirants at a less than optimal level. This disease functions like a spiritual conveyor belt: put on this glow, get that insight, and—bam!—you’re enlightened and ready to enlighten others in similar fashion. (Kindle Locations 683-685)
7) Spiritual Pride
This describes the teacher or practitioner who believes they have reached the end of the spiritual path. A feeling of “spiritual superiority” is another symptom of this disease. “Prideful spiritual practitioners must find the courage and integrity to expose themselves to individuals who can and will push and test them” (Kindle Locations 692-693).
8) Group Mind
Also described as groupthink, cultic mentality, or ashram disease, group mind is an insidious virus that contains many elements of traditional codependence. A spiritual group makes subtle and unconscious agreements regarding the correct ways to think, talk, dress, and act. (Kindle Locations 700-701)
In the 21st century we are called to find our individual path to spirit. We are called to come out of the group think of religions and engage with spirit individually and regularly. If it looks and feels like a cult, e.g. Christianity, then it probably is faux spirituality.
9) The Chosen-People Complex
Related to the disease of group mind but with an added aspect of spiritual pride, the chosen people complex is pervasive among spiritual groups. It is the belief that “our group is more spiritually evolved, powerful, enlightened, and simply put, better than any other group.” (Kindle Locations 714-716).
This problem pervades the desert religions such that the very existence of human beings on earth is threatened. It is a sad state of affairs scapegoating others with the shadow of your god.
10) Survival of Ego Based on the Illusion of Separation
One of the most subtle and pervasive spiritually transmitted diseases—one that affects the vast majority of the world population of spiritual aspirants—is the belief that spirituality is about me: I am studying, doing practices, service, and whatever other efforts I might make so that I can feel better, be happier, or become a better person. (Kindle Locations 725-728).
Finally, The Deadly Virus: “I Have Arrived!”
Our spiritual progress ends at the point where this belief becomes crystallized in our psyche; for the moment we begin to believe that we have reached the end of the path, further growth ceases—and if we are not going forward, we are going backward. (Kindle Locations 739-740)