Beast meets West, Part 1
The Journey to the East in search of truth had been around since Herman Hesse. But the high profile Beatles gave tens of thousands of hippies the dream that their answers were to be found in the East – just follow the nearest Indian with a long beard and funny mantra.
~ Roadjunky: The Beatles Travel To India
What a difference a span of four decades fails to make.
At roughly the same time the Summer Of Love was morphing into an endless summer and heading out (so to speak) from San Francisco into the culture at large, The Beatles were bringing a little bit of India to the West. In the late 1960s they discovered Transcendental Meditation, or TM, and briefly became followers of TM’s great popularizer, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. While isolated Western thinkers and writers have long turned to the East for enlightenment or inspiration, it took the Fab Four, those huge influencers of the baby-boomer generation, to ignite the spark that really spread India fever to the masses in the West. (Coincidentally – or is it a coincidence? – Newsweek has recently published a story about this very topic.)
The Beatles’ love affair with India, or at least with TM, was short-lived, as they soon grew disillusioned with the Maharishi**. Their disenchantment had much to do with what they perceived as his hypocrisy; it seemed that this alleged celibate, this altruistic man of peace, was in truth a horny guy who acted on his lustful impulses, and he was a money-grubber to boot. And it also seemed that he was using The Beatles’ fame to promote himself. But their momentary infatuation did help spawn some silly fashions (think Nehru jackets and endless strands of beads) and, more significantly, some really cool music. "Across The Universe" remains one of my favorite songs of all time, as may be evident on the tag line to my blog, and John Lennon himself said the lyrics were the perhaps the best and most poetic he’d ever written. Whatever poetic, spiritual, or mystical significance the song may have, I like it because it seems infused with the ambience of a prolonged blissed-out (or perpetually stoned) state that I have never actually experienced, and don't particularly want to, but have often wondered about. Jai guru deva om!
Even more importantly, and relevant to this post, the Beatles’ and other influential celebrities’ fascination with India planted seeds that sprouted all over the cultural landscape and now are everywhere. Forty years later, aging hippies, as well as fresh new generations of Western seekers, are still looking Eastward, ever Eastward, to find the keys to enlightenment that Western philosophy and religion – at least in and of themselves – don’t seem to offer. Those who can’t afford to or don’t want to make the physical journey to distant shores simply glom onto the guru-of-choice’s teachings via the Internet. Or they’ll set their starry eyes on a Stateside New-Wager who has trained with that guru, or merely claims to be certified or trained in the guru’s techniques, or even just has a passing familiarity with Eastern/Hindu concepts and practices.
Not that I’m dismissing the value of Eastern thinking, or even of meditation in its various forms, transcendental or not. I can well understand the appeal, and I think that for me to categorically trash all things Eastern would make me as closed-minded as the Secretrons have accused me of being. But I cannot help being amused by the many ways that Eastern thought, particularly in its simplistic and sometimes vulgar Western incarnations, has contributed to New-Wage thinking (or lack thereof). And I suppose I still find it somewhat amazing that allegedly sophisticated, educated Westerners are just as easy to dupe as the poorest and most under-educated Easterner.
Before I go any further with this, let me tell you I am acutely aware of being quite a bit out of my league with this entire topic, having only a superficial understanding of Eastern philosophy and culture (though I do have a fair working knowledge of Indian cuisine, which I LOVE). I leave the informed criticism to people such as Jody Radzik and his delightful Guruphiliac blog. As evidenced by the very name of his blog, the subject of gurus is much more Jody’s bailiwick than it is mine.* Also useful in this area are John Knapps’ TranceNet and TM-Free Blog. And then there’s always the Rick Ross Institute.
But if you want a shallow, smart-alecky, and fairly ignorant treatment of these topics – and an exploration that (with apologies to my friend Gregory) doesn’t go much beyond the cult of personality – then by golly, you’ve come to the right blog. So stick around till you get bored, or until I do.
One Eastern practice that has taken a bit of a hold in the West in recent years is the yagya, a Hindu prayer ritual. This isn’t some sort of simple deal where you get together in your living room with some friends and pray about something, or you ask your church group to pray for you or with you, or you request that everyone on your email list say a prayer on your behalf. No, a yagya must be performed by professionals, and apparently it’s very rarely free; it can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The Maharishi himself has had his own yagya
scam business for years and years.
Actually the Maharishi is a man of many enterprises, and at one time New-Wage writer / speaker / healer Deepak Chopra was one of his business partners. I still remember the stir that Chopra created more than fifteen years ago, when the Journal of the American Medical Association (!) published an article of Chopra’s that was favorable to the Indian healing system of Ayurveda. At that time, Chopra had a few fingers in the Maharishi Ayurveda pie, a fact he conveniently failed to disclose to the JAMA. You can still read about "The Maharishi Caper" here.
As the linked article explains, JAMA was not the only mainstream medical publication to be duped by the Maharishi:
In August , Johns Hopkins Magazine published an uncritical profile on Nancy Lonsdorf, MD, medical director of the Maharishi Ayur-Veda Medical Center in Washington, DC. Lonsdorf is the physician who, in a fund-raising letter distributed to members of the TM community, is described as having recommended a $11,500 yagya for a patient with a serious health problem. The Maharishi's yagyas are Hindu ceremonies to appease the gods and beseech their help for ailing followers.
Despite the extraordinary costs of these ceremonies, patients do not take part or even get to see them performed. (Chopra and Lonsdorf both deny that they recommend yagyas. Chopra insists that yagyas are not part of the Maharishi Ayur-Veda program. Nevertheless, I have a copy of another patient's health analysis from Chopra's center in Lancaster, Mass. that recommends the performance of not one but two different yagyas.)
In more recent years, New-Wage author and entrepreneur Joe "Mr. Fire" Vitale has become a yagya true believer as well. He credits a yagya performed on his behalf for the breakthrough that led to the publication of his book, The Attractor Factor (released in hardcover in the spring of 2005, and in paperback in October of the following year). He tells the story of this miracle in The Attractor Factor. The book actually began life as Spiritual Marketing, which outlined five powerful steps anyone can take to create the life of his or her dreams. The steps were: (1) Know what you don’t want; (2) Select what you would like to have, do, or be; (3) Get clear; (4) Feel how exciting it would be to have, do, or be what you want; and (5) Let go. Simple, huh?
Self-published as a print book and an e-book, Spiritual Marketing was widely distributed and widely read, but it never reached the level of success that Joe had hoped for. A physician friend of his, Dr. Marcus Gitterle, was a big believer in yagyas and apparently got Joe excited about them. Joe contacted http://www.jyotish-yagya.com, had them do a yagya on behalf of his book, and voila! As Joe tells it, in short order a senior editor at Wiley, a respectable and influential trade publisher, sent an email to him, and before he knew it Spiritual Marketing was being revamped and expanded and sent out into the world again as The Attractor Factor. The five powerful steps were reworked a bit and a lot of filler material was added…oops, I mean the book was "greatly enriched." And so was Joe, for, as the legend goes, The Attractor Factor became a bestseller, even outselling Harry Potter on Amazon for a few bright shining moments. (Here's good news: Your book can be an Amazon bestseller too!) Later Rhonda Byrne got hold of The Attractor Factor and decided Joe should be in The Secret. And that, arguably, is what propelled Joe to his current lofty heights in the New-Wage stratosphere.
Although it is not his newest book, Joe is still getting a lot of mileage out of The Attractor Factor, as indicated on a recent appearance on CNBC’s showcase for the aggressively motivated crowd, The Big Idea.
Now, I realize some of you might have been operating under the belief that Joe’s success was due to Ho’oponopono. And some of you probably thought it was the Law Of Attraction, as outlined in The Secret. Some may have believed that the secret to Joe's success was The Missing Secret, or even that it might have been a tapping teleseminar with master tapper Brad Yates. But I ask you to consider the possibility, Dear Ones, that it was a yagya that really started the success ball rolling. (Early this year, there was an interesting discussion about The Attractor Factor on one of Steve Pavlina's discussion forums. On one thread, a commenter named Velvet expressed the opinion that there was too much promo and marketing hype in the book, and in a subsequent comment added, "I find it off-putting to be told 'here's the Law of Attraction, but if that doesn't work, go to this website and pay this acquaintance of mine $4,000 to do some vedic chanting for you.'")
Joe also credits a yagya for saving a close friend of his from death a few years ago. One version of that story, written some time in 2004, appears on the testimonials page of the Jyotish Yagya web site. A slightly expanded version of this story is in The Attractor Factor, although in the book the friend is not named. Entrepreneur and investment adviser Gary Scott published an article on his web site that quoted the relevant passage from the book at length (scroll down to the section titled, "Saved From Death").
What the passage does not mention is that the friend in the anecdote passed away in October of 2004. What it also doesn’t mention is that this is the same friend Joe wrote about in another chapter in The Attractor Factor, "The Shocking True Story Of Jonathan." He had only briefly mentioned Jonathan’s fate at the end of Spiritual Marketing, saying only, "The thing is, Jonathan is no longer available. He has taken time off to do personal things." He did not mention that "Jonathan" was not even the guy’s real name, though he does mention this in The Attractor Factor, where he goes into painful detail about Jonathan's shenanigans.
Even if one is willing to consider the possibility that the yagya did extend this woman’s life by a few months, it seems disingenuous at best to present this case as a "happy-ever-after" tale, when, judging from the "Jonathan" story, it seems clear that it was anything but that.
But forget that. It’s old news. And Joe’s adventures continue, as he remarks at the conclusion of the shocking Jonathan story in The Attractor Factor.
Meditation also plays a starring role in The Attractor Factor – specifically, something Joe calls Intentional Meditation, or IM, which is an idea that apparently came to him as he was writing The Attractor Factor. If IM seems to be merely a rip-off of TM, perhaps that is because Joe drew his inspiration from a book called Permanent Peace: How to Stop Terrorism and War – Now and Forever. The author is Robert Oates, a senior policy fellow with Maharishi University of Management's Institute for Science, Technology and Public Policy in Fairfield, Iowa.
On The Attractor Factor web site is a bulleted list of some of the topics discussed in the book, and several of these mention meditation. One item in particular caught my eye: "The Beatles meditated – and look how rich they are! Why not you?"
Never mind that The Beatles were rich several years before they discovered meditation. Never mind that it was arguably the influence of meditating and the Maharishi that helped lead to the Beatles’ breakup. (Here’s another article that echoes that opinion.) And never mind that the Fab Four were supposedly meditating for peace and nonviolence, not wealth, since they were, as I just noted, already wealthy.
For those are just details, and perhaps not very important ones at that. Many of Joe’s younger readers may have only a dim awareness of who The Beatles were, and to heck with that old boomer music anyway; just bring on the money and the cars and the hot babes! Besides (for those who care about such things) Joe claims that IM, like TM, can be used to create peace as well as wealth.
Even so, there seems to be a big emphasis in The Attractor Factor on creating riches for yourself (and maybe, as an afterthought, for the world). According to the promo page, The Attractor Factor explores:
- The amazing moneymaking and peace producing IM technique. Page 205
- How to meditate yourself rich. Page 206
- The 3 easy steps to meditate yourself rich. Page 208
At the time The Attractor Factor was released, Joe also announced his decision to create a global set of "wealth hubs" where people would learn how to mediate to intentionally attract wealth. "The idea is simple," he wrote. "The more you help yourself the more you help those around you. And as you help those around you — you help the planet."
He added, "That’s the noble purpose of the Intentional Meditation Foundation. It is a non-profit organization designed to teach a specific meditation technique to people all over the globe. The purpose of this meditation is to lower violence and increase wealth wherever it is practiced." As Joe explains on The Attractor Factor web site:
In the last chapter of The Attractor Factor I reveal my colossal plan to change the world. People will become wealthy. Crime will reduce. Violence will go down. Prosperity will come not only to those who join but also to people around the planet.
I announced my plan on a radio show one night not long ago. To my amazement people from Africa, India, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia and all over the United States volunteered to help.
He also mentioned this mission in a 2005 article that came out before The Attractor Factor was published.
Whenever I read of someone’s noble plans to make the world wealthy, I always wonder, What would it be like to live in a world where everyone was wealthy – or, for that matter, if everyone who signed up for some hustler’s how-to-be-a-millionaire course actually became a millionaire? I get a kick out of seeing how other average everyday folks have explored this question. I found an interesting link discussing this very matter. On another related discussion one contributor wrote this:
In a way, this has already happened in the west. Although most of us are not rich by the new standards being set, most medieval peasants would consider the average American worker to be wealthy. In fact, a medieval lord might even envy the average working Joe's diet.
So poverty, once you get past a certain comfort line appears to be a relative question. If all were wealthy, we would still be envious of the one person more wealthy than we are. This is how contemporary capitalism seems to work: Basic needs have been filled a long time ago. Now the art of producing more seems to be based on creating envy, on making sure people are dissatisfied with what they have.
I’m getting off topic again (or maybe not, come to think of it). At any rate, maybe Mr. Fire’s plan to change the world is not quite as scary as the "Invincible Germany" plot that we just discussed here the other day, but it does sound a lot like the Maharishi’s shtick. Curiously enough, I haven’t really heard anything else about those "wealth hubs," nor can I find a web site for the Intentional Meditation Foundation. But if any of y’all have any information, feel free to share it with me!
As for that old coot the Maharishi, who is ninety years old, he is still going strong, or at least his organization is, with its tentacles spread far and wide all over the world. Unlike his imitators and wannabes, the Maharishi does have an amazing network of "hubs," or spiritual terrorist cells, or whatever you want to call them. However noble the idea of spreading world peace may be, and however sincere and well-meaning most of his followers might be, I am left with the feeling that there is something rotten at the very core of the Maharishi’s cult of bliss. But don’t take my word for it. Ask someone such as Jody at Guruphiliac, who has written scads of posts about the Maharishi.
On my own blog, I’ve been getting some interesting comments in response to my post about the recent Berlin debacle with David Lynch and the Maharishi minion who calls himself the "Raja of Germany." Gregory, for example, quoted the late French essayist and poet Charles Péguy: "Everything begins in mysticism, and ends in politics." And then there’s this, from another one of my favorite commenters, "hohahe":
This [the Berlin spectacle] is a great example of how things can go wrong, how genuine bliss is not a replacement for common sense. Lynch is totally sincere about the bliss he has found, and is naturally grateful to those who helped show him. It is a very strange thing that those who are the best at helping plug people back into their own bliss are often highly manipulative or drivel talkers.
It’s obvious that for a very long time the Maharishi has been interested in much more than just teaching people to meditate (duh). And there are many reasons that the idea of a world government based on the Maharishi’s ideas (or even a Maharishi-inspired political party, with a quantum physicist as "president") are somewhat frightening to me. For those same reasons, I find the legions of copycats who "want to change the world" to be a little bit scary as well.
But mostly, I find them all amusing.
So that’s it for now. If I haven’t completely bored you to tears with this, or even if I have, I’ll conclude my journey East in my next post.
PS ~ I recently found out about a free e-book called Stripping The Gurus: Sex, Violence, Abuse and Enlightenment, by Gregory D. Falk. You can download it here. I have, and I can’t wait to read it.
PPS ~ If you like "Across The Universe" as much as I do, you’ll enjoy these two videos. The first one is Fiona Apple’s cover of the song, which was featured in the soundtrack of one of my favorite movies, Pleasantville.
And here’s Rufus Wainwright’s version (yes, he’s the son of Loudon "Dead Skunk In The Middle Of The Road" Wainwright III).
One You-Tuber suggests you play both videos at the same time, for kind of a yin-and-yang experience. Nothing’s gonna change my world!
* And for any of you Jody-detractors out there who wish to ply me with "shocking facts" about him, save your energy. I’ve heard it all. I don’t care if he has indulged in recreational substances. So have most of the people I know. I don’t care if he is a devotee of Kali. I have a dog named Kali; whom do you think she’s named after? I don’t even care if Jody claims to be "self-realized" when, in your opinion, he’s really not. To me the value of his blog is that he is documenting and offering opinions about the bad behavior of folks who claim to be spiritual leaders.
** [Added November 2009:] Opinions differ about whether it was the Beatles who grew disillusioned with the Maharishi or vice-versa. Here's Deepak Chopra, the Maharishi's former JV partner, in a February 2008 piece that 'splains things from another p.o.v.