Monday, August 17, 2015

Thanissara - Time to Stand Up: An Engaged Buddhist Manifesto for Our Earth (A Review)

Thanissara - Time to Stand Up: An Engaged Buddhist Manifesto for Our Earth -- The Buddha's Life and Message through Feminine Eyes

(To be published on August 18, 2015 - Pre-order at the Amazon link above for $7.47)

About the Author
Thanissara and her husband Kittisaro (Harry Randolph Weinberg) are the founders of Dharmagiri Hermitage in South Africa, from where they support several HIV/AIDS Outreach Programs and help guide and fund-raise for Kulungile Care Center for orphaned and vulnerable children and teenagers.  Thanisarra and Kittisaro are authors of Listening to the Heart: A Contemplative Journey to Engaged Buddhism (2014).

Thanissara grew up in an extended Anglo-Irish family in London, attending Southampton College of Art and traveling extensively in Asia in the 1970s. Also inspired by Ajahn Chah, she spent 12 years as a Buddhist nun in Thailand. She holds an MA in Mindfulness-Based Psychotherapy Practice from Middlesex University and the Karuna Institute in the U.K. and co-facilitates the Community Dharma Leader Program at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in California.
[NOTE: This book was sent to me by the publisher (free) with the hope that I would review it, favorably. I never make any promises in that regard. When I do review a book sent to me, it's because I think it is a good book.]

The life of the Buddha has been told so many times by so many people, and in so many different ways, from mythic and magical versions to a very secular version (from Stephen Batchelor), but never has it been told in the context of environmental change and from a feminine perspective.

In the Buddha's time, women were included among his followers and students, but in the following centuries, women were often excluded from those schools erected to perpetuate the Buddha's teachings.

From the Introduction:
This is a book I would have preferred not to write. I would have liked to write something lighter, happier, and more innocent. I would have liked to walk you through a serene wooded landscape, but instead I ask you to look with me at a burnt and tortured Earth and its polluted rivers, dying oceans, razed forests, devastated wastelands, and its litany of extinct species.
This is a book about awakening to the reality of the planet we live on, the pain, the suffering, the devastation, and not blinking, not looking away, not putting it off for the next generation to deal with. It is a book about reality.
The journey of awakening is not an incense-scented walk through a bed of roses--it wasn't for the Buddha, and it's not for us. It's a demanding look at reality. The reality we now face is climate chaos and devastation, an edge that is increasingly hard to move back from. (p. 45)
Buddhism has long had a reputation of being little more than navel gazing. Perhaps that has been fair, perhaps it has not been fully accurate. After all, the Bodhisattva Vow promises to save all beings.
Beings are numberless, I vow to save them
Desires are inexhaustible, I vow to end them
Dharma gates are boundless, I vow to enter them
Buddha's way is unsurpassable, I vow to become it.
In our time, we know that animals are also sentient beings, however great or small. For this reason, most Buddhists are vegetarian. In Seven Years in Tibet, we see Tibetan Buddhist Monks breaking ground for a building and they worry about harming the worms. They too are beings.

An engaged Buddhist approach to saving our planet may rightfully claim that vegetarianism is a necessary part of that agenda. Approximately 36 football fields worth of forest is cut down every minute, and we have lost 17% of the Amazonian Rainforest over the last 50 years, primarily to convert the land to cattle farming.

The meat industry, according to a 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), causes more greenhouse gases - carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, nitrous oxide, and the like - to spew into the atmosphere than either transportation or industry. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),
livestock burping, flatulence and manure was the source of more than 13 million tons of methane gas in 2004, compared with the EPA’s estimate of 9.7 million tons, according to a study published last month in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres

SCIMACHY measurements showed oil and gas industries released 7 million tons of methane gas into the atmosphere, compared to the EPA’s estimate of 9.9 million tons.
Methane gas is the second most common gas that is associated with global warming, after CO2.

Not only does the meat industry destroy our environment but, as mentioned above, animals are sentient creatures. Buddhists vow to cause no suffering and, in fact, to alleviate suffering as much as we are able.
The most painful, the very worst of our madness, is the utterly sadistic and callous treatment of billions of animals and sea creatures caught in our consumer machinery. Animals are sentient, feeling beings with family structures, intelligence, emotions, memories, and needs, just like us. (p. 122)
I eat meat. I have struggle from time to time with this practice, but I have rationalized it in light of humans being omnivores. I have also rationalized it in terms of my protein needs as an active male who lifts weights seriously and often. I have tried to switch to grass-fed, organically raised, and locally sourced meat, in an effort to limit the damage my diet produces.

However, having read this book, and in light of who I feel I am becoming in my life, I am seriously questioning my lifestyle. Meat is a lifestyle choice, since there are many ways to get adequate protein without eating meat.

But, then, do I give up cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, eggs, and whey protein? Do I stop consuming all products sourced from animals? This is a much harder choice, but maybe it is the only moral choice.

To be fair, this is a First World problem, in as much as so many others in this world barely get enough food, let alone protein, to survive. It's easy to be blind to our own privilege. 
As practitioners and Sanghas following the great inclusiveness at the heart of the Buddha's Sangha, we must understand, particularly in the U.S. and Europe, how our colonial histories have set the stage for white privilege and class entitlement to permeate our communities and permit us to develop many blind spots. In making the invisible, visible, we can learn how we subtly perpetuate a dynamic that excludes or diminishes participation of people of color and those who are economically marginalized. (p. 156)
Thanisarra outlines four domains in which we must work together as one people to save our planet: (1) Keep carbon in the ground, (2) Sequester the remaining carbon in favor of alternative energy sources, (3) Massive investment in and education about renewable energy sources, and (4) Move toward a plant-based diet (p. 158-159).
We now need a collaborative global movement on a scale never before seen in the history of humankind to ensure these outcomes. We are not only advocating climate action, but also recognizing that this is the moment to actualize a truly more equitable and just society. ... The intensity of our times invites us to shift our way of thinking, the choices we make as "consumers," and the awareness we bring to each part of our personal lives. 

The Buddhist way isn't to tell people what they should do, but to lead by example. (p. 159)
This is a book that forced me to look at my choices, and quite possibly to make profound changes in my life. Perhaps it will do the same for you.

About the Book (from the publisher)

Time to Stand Up retells the story of the historical Buddha, one of the greatest sacred activists of all time, as a practical human being whose teachings of freedom from suffering are more relevant than ever in this time of global peril. Evolving onward from the patriarchal template of spiritual warriors and their quests, former nun Thanissara explores awakening from within a feminine view where the archetypes of lover and nurturer are placed as central and essential for a sustainable world.

Vital is an investigation into the pinnacle of Buddhist practice, the realization of the "liberated heart." Thanissara questions the narrative of "transcendence" and invites us into the lived reality of our deepest heart as it guides our journey of healing, reclamation, and redemption. As the book unfolds, the author examines traditional Buddhism--often fraught with gender discrimination--and asks the important question, "Can Buddhist schools, overly attached to hierarchal power structures, and often divorced from the radical and free inquiry exemplified by the Buddha, truly offer the ground for maturing awakening without undertaking a fundamental review of their own shadows?"

Chapter by chapter, the book relates Siddhartha Gautama's awakening to the sea-change occurring on Earth in present time as we as a civilization become aware of the ethical bankruptcy of the nuclear and fossil fuel industry and the psychopathic corporate and military abuse of power currently terrorizing our planet. Thanissara relates the Buddha's story to real-life individuals who are living through these transitional times, such as Iraq war veterans, First Nation People, and the Dalai Lama. Time to Stand Up gives examples of the Buddha's activism, such as challenging a racist caste system and violence against animals, stopping war, transforming a serial killer, and laying down a nonhierarchical structure of community governance, actions that would seem radical even today.

Thanissara explores ways forward, deepening our understanding of meditation and mindfulness, probing its use to pacify ourselves as the cogs in the corporate world by helping people be more functional in a dysfunctional systems--and shows how these core Buddhist practices can inspire a wake-up call for action for our sick and suffering planet Earth.
This book is part of the Scared Activism series from North Atlantic Books.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Cults and Intelligent Sociopaths

Adi Da

NOTE: this post is based on a series of comments I made on a thread over at Facebook. The topic had to do with the relationship of brain science and understanding cult behaviors at both the small group level and the societal level.

* * * * * * * * * *

I think that attachment theory has a lot to add in understanding cult behaviors. Around 40% of the population (across cultures) is insecurely attached, which makes them perfect targets for cults and other dysfunctional communities. With insecure attachments, the right brain affect regulation system is underdeveloped and/or oversensitive, resulting in poor communication between the limbic system and the frontal cortex (especially the orbitofrontal cortex, which is involved in cognitive processing, decision making, and in integrating external reality with internal reality, among other things). People who are insecurely attached are much more likely to experience PTSD following trauma, exhibit less resilience to stressful experiences, and show highly levels of depression, anxiety, and dissociation.

People who are insecurely attached often have a hard time regulating their affect (dissociation is one way an infant/toddler learns to regulate affect, but this is highly dysfunctional in adults). Consequently, these people often seek external regulation through relationships (an unconscious attempt to repair the attachment failure of infancy). Cults and charismatic leaders somehow sense this need and are experts at manipulation and control, which provides that needed regulation for the insecurely attached person. One of the ways they do this initially is through "love bombing" - a very directed attempt to make the new recruit feel special and important (filling the hole that results from lack of secure attachment). The cult (or charismatic leader/guru) then slowly institutes more and more control over behavior and thoughts, and even what is appropriate to feel. Part of this involves isolating them from friends and family and requiring secrecy about the group or the charismatic leader. Another part of this is countering the love-bombing with shame instillation, convincing the victim that they are worthless, sin-filled, weak, and so forth, and that the cult/charismatic guru is the only person who understands them and can "save" them.

Over time, what develops is a trauma bond - a dedication to the group or leader no matter how abusive they become. By this point the group/leader has broken down their self-esteem to the point that their only sense of self is in connection to the group or leader. Even when horribly abused, it will be because they are not good enough, not because the group/leader is abusive (see Andrew Cohen, Adi Da, and many others).

This is also a very common pattern in child molesters who groom their victims over time. By the time the victims get help, they will legitimately love the perpetrator even while knowing they have been abused.

Same thing in cults. Same thing in intelligent psychopaths/sociopaths.

* * *

Followers tend to be wounded people - leaders are also wounded, but they seek control of others to boost their sense of self (their narcissism comes from an inner sense of worthlessness and neediness). Followers need acceptance and community, quite often.

In general, I don't think the victims are sociopaths, although this can certainly be the case. Sally Kempton is the best example of this in her rabid defense of Swami Muktananda when his sexual abuse of students (some possibly minors) was exposed (see quote below). A couple of decades later, she became associated with the former Rabbi Marc Gafni, a guru well-known for his abuse and sexual exploitation of students over the course of his career as a religious/spiritual guru. Each time Gafni has been exposed, she had adamantly defended him, just as she did with Muktananda.

This passage is from an article called "O Guru, Guru, Guru" from The New Yorker - which exposes Sally Kempton's defense of Swami Muktananda:
"Durgananda called the accusations "laughable" and "ridiculous." Had they been true, she said, Muktananda would not have been able to go on giving shaktipat and the organization would not have continued to be as healthy as it was. Recently, however, I spoke with two longtime SYDA meditation teachers with well established academic and professional careers as psychotherapists, who say that Durgananda sounded a different note with them. They told me that last winter they had investigated some of the allegations, had sadly concluded that they were true, and, in May of this year, confronted Durgananda and another swami, demanding to know why the truth had been kept from them for so many years. The confrontation occurred away from the ashram, and this time, according to the therapists, Durgananda did not say that the allegations were false. Durgananda told the therapists that she knew a number of the women quite well and was convinced that whatever had happened had been beneficial to them, but that the swamis had never talked about it, because they thought it would be more appropriate to be "discreet." The therapists have now left SYDA. When I phoned Durgananda and told her what they had said to me, she said, "My memory is that I did deny it to them," and she added that, whether the allegations were "true or not, it doesn't really change our understanding of Baba."

As disturbing as the sexual allegations were, Michael Dinga, the former SYDA Foundation trustee, and other ex-devotees gave Rodarmor equally disturbing descriptions of strong-arm tactics used to hush up ex-devotees or punish them for disloyalty. Over the years, the ex-devotees said, various "enforcers" confronted and threatened those not in SYDA's favor. Dinga and his wife, Chandra, told Rodarmor that they were subjected to months of harassment."

In this instance, Kempton is both victim and perpetrator.

 * * * 

To understand how cults and charismatic psychopaths control and manipulate their victims, one would benefit greatly from becoming familiar with Steven Hassan's BITE model of mind control:

Freedom of MInd BITE Model of Cult Expert Steve Hassan
I. Behavior Control
II. Information Control
III. Thought Control
IV. Emotional Control

Behavior Control

1. Regulate individual’s physical reality
2. Dictate where, how, and with whom the member lives and associates or isolates
3. When, how and with whom the member has sex
4. Control types of clothing and hairstyles
5. Regulate diet - food and drink, hunger and/or fasting
6. Manipulation and deprivation of sleep
7. Financial exploitation, manipulation or dependence
8. Restrict leisure, entertainment, vacation time
9. Major time spent with group indoctrination and rituals and/or self indoctrination including the Internet
10. Permission required for major decisions
11. Thoughts, feelings, and activities (of self and others) reported to superiors
12. Rewards and punishments used to modify behaviors, both positive and negative
13. Discourage individualism, encourage group-think
14. Impose rigid rules and regulations
15. Instill dependency and obedience

Information Control

1. Deception:
    a. Deliberately withhold information
    b. Distort information to make it more acceptable
    c. Systematically lie to the cult member

2. Minimize or discourage access to non-cult sources of information, including:
    a. Internet, TV, radio, books, articles, newspapers, magazines, other media
    b. Critical information
    c. Former members

    d. Keep members busy so they don’t have time to think and investigate
    e. Control through cell phone with texting, calls, internet tracking

3. Compartmentalize information into Outsider vs. Insider doctrines
    a. Ensure that information is not freely accessible
    b. Control information at different levels and missions within group
    c. Allow only leadership to decide who needs to know what and when

4. Encourage spying on other members
    a. Impose a buddy system to monitor and control member
    b.Report deviant thoughts, feelings and actions to leadership

    c. Ensure that individual behavior is monitored by group
5. Extensive use of cult-generated information and propaganda, including:
    a. Newsletters, magazines, journals, audiotapes, videotapes, YouTube, movies and other media
    b.Misquoting statements or using them out of context from non-cult sources

6. Unethical use of confession
    a. Information about sins used to disrupt and/or dissolve identity boundaries
    b. Withholding forgiveness or absolution
    c. Manipulation of memory, possible false memories

Thought Control

1. Require members to internalize the group’s doctrine as truth
    a. Adopting the group's ‘map of reality’ as reality
    b. Instill black and white thinking
    c. Decide between good vs. evil
    d. Organize people into us vs. them (insiders vs. outsiders)

2.Change person’s name and identity
3. Use of loaded language and clich├ęs which constrict knowledge, stop critical thoughts and reduce complexities into platitudinous buzz words
4. Encourage only ‘good and proper’ thoughts
5. Hypnotic techniques are used to alter mental states, undermine critical thinking and even to age regress the member
6. Memories are manipulated and false memories are created
7. Teaching thought-stopping techniques which shut down reality testing by stopping negative thoughts and allowing only positive thoughts, including:
    a. Denial, rationalization, justification, wishful thinking
    b. Chanting
    c. Meditating
    d. Praying
    e. Speaking in tongues
    f. Singing or humming

8. Rejection of rational analysis, critical thinking, constructive criticism
9. Forbid critical questions about leader, doctrine, or policy allowed
10. Labeling alternative belief systems as illegitimate, evil, or not useful

Emotional Control

1. Manipulate and narrow the range of feelings – some emotions and/or needs are deemed as evil, wrong or selfish
2. Teach emotion-stopping techniques to block feelings of homesickness, anger, doubt
3. Make the person feel that problems are always their own fault, never the leader’s or the group’s fault
4. Promote feelings of guilt or unworthiness, such as
    a. Identity guilt
    b. You are not living up to your potential
    c. Your family is deficient
    d. Your past is suspect
    e. Your affiliations are unwise
    f. Your thoughts, feelings, actions are irrelevant or selfish
    g. Social guilt
    h. Historical guilt

5. Instill fear, such as fear of:
    a. Thinking independently
    b. The outside world
    c. Enemies
    d. Losing one’s salvation
    e. Leaving or being shunned by the group
    f. Other’s disapproval

6. Extremes of emotional highs and lows – love bombing and praise one moment and then declaring you are horrible sinner
7. Ritualistic and sometimes public confession of sins
8. Phobia indoctrination: inculcating irrational fears about leaving the group or questioning the leader’s authority
    a. No happiness or fulfillment possible outside of the group
    b. Terrible consequences if you leave: hell, demon possession, incurable diseases, accidents, suicide, insanity, 10,000 reincarnations, etc.
    c. Shunning of those who leave; fear of being rejected by friends, peers, and family
    d. Never a legitimate reason to leave; those who leave are weak, undisciplined, unspiritual, worldly, brainwashed by family or counselor, or seduced by money, sex, or rock and roll
    e. Threats of harm to ex-member and family