June 30, 2007

I’ve taken some interest in various forms of new-age spiritual enlightenment. It is not that I think they will enlighten me, but rather that I hope to gain some understanding of what draws people to them.

To clarify, I’m interested in new western groups (not necessarily cults) that often focus their attention to a guru or adopt some elements of eastern thought (whether it be yoga, Buddhism, etc).

One thing that strikes me immediately is the overemphasis on the self by many of these groups. Whereas traditional eastern spirituality focused on defeating the self, much of new-age spiritual thought seems to focus on uplifting of the self, to the point of almost deification.

Self-help, as it is called, soon becomes self-worship. That is one side of the coin. The other side is the self-enlightened guru who deserves even more worship from his followers because his “self” is even higher than theirs. For lack of better terminology, I’ll call this the “Oprah-syndrome.” (not to say that Oprah is a cult leader — geez, it’s just an analogy!)

The new-age guru is not an ascetic, far from it. He/she is usually rich, in some cases, filthy rich (and I use the term filthy in the sense of “dirty money”).

Although the truer forms of new-age spirituality certainly do have elements of bettering society, protecting the environment, and general good will, too many fall short of this, only to be trapped in self/guru worship.

In a sense, it is akin the business pyramid scheme (although this is a spiritual pyramid scheme), where only those at the top reap the benefits. Those at the bottom work diligently to recruit more like themselves, with the promise of becoming like the Oprah…I mean the guru. When they do not, they become disillusioned and usually leave the religion or cult. Nevertheless, they are easily replaced with new recruits.

Islam is not immune to the infection of new-age groups. The Nation of Islam is one that comes to mind (although very little of their focus is on actual spirituality — they still preach the “do-for-self” motto while mostly encouraging the followers to do for the “guru”, in this case the religious leader/minister).

Still, enlightenment can be achieved, and I’m sure there are authentic gurus out there, but there is a sea of misinformation, complex doctrines, and fresh cash to swim through, whereas the path of ihsan (perfection) that comes through submission to God (al-Islam), has always been clear.


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