Thursday, March 11, 2010

The joy of sects according to The Simpsons

Take a break to watch this episode of The Simpsons. Good laugh guaranteed, though a tragic comedy for many of us who recognize many scenes, reactions, phrases, thought processes as our very own for as long as we belonged to the AoL - the joy of sect, with the Guru of joy who promised joy forever as long as you faked it until you made it.

See how many things you recognize. I will start the list:

it's free, the leader, low protein diet, blisstonia, "bhajans", nanananananana leader!, the circle of judgement, "I am dustier!", etc.
(click it twice)



Anonymous said...

Here is a good one:


Art of Leaving said...

I watched this Simpsons episode & directly afterwards my eyes fell on the JA letter (previous post) and I reread it again. It was eerie to recognise how JA was exactly exemplifying all the cult speak shown in the video. Particularly the ways in which s/he tries to create fear and self-doubt in someone who left the AoL cult.

Art of Leaving said...

What the Simpsons nicely illustrates is how one can be immune to many kinds of sects (e.g. Homer had no problem in giving the Hare Krishna and Christian preachers a pass), until the one with the right “recruitment hook” comes along, hitting your exact weak spot.

Next thing, the potential recruit is told that the ordinary joys of life (fishing & beer for Homer) are nothing compared to the “complete and utter contentment” to be found with the leader and the sect.

Reminds me of Ravi’s poem, “The Promise”:
“If you are willing to walk with me….
I promise that this will be the most rich and fulfilling life possible.
I promise your life will be an eternal celebration…
You will meet yourself in my arms…
I promise.”

Or the big picture of Ravi at the back entrance to the Vishalakshi Mantap, with the quotation: “Once you come to the Master, seeking ends and blossoming begins”.

Unfortunately this never happens for anyone, but then people start doubting themselves instead of the Guru and his “Holy Promises”. So many dedicated long-time devotees I’ve seen who look miserable, subdued and depressed, not at all living to the full or expressing their creative talents - because they are constrained to express themselves within the narrow confines of AoL culture and the Guru’s bidding.

Art of Leaving said...

I started making a list of AoL stuff that I recognise in the Simpsons episode and was surprised how many cult issues were addressed in those 20 minutes. It can serve as a good educational tool for awareness-raising about cults. Here goes:

- The leader knows how miserable you are and can change all this - except he never does, instead he makes you his slave and indoctrinates you into telling others how happy you are (– like Ravi who tells you to share only your happiness with others, and to share your misery with the Divine only – clever way of preventing people from expressing experiences that could cast doubt on the efficacy of his Grace, the AoL techniques, etc. Also effectively suppressing people’s individuality.)

- You’re free to leave anytime (but we will keep pestering you, embarrass you, paint you as a loser or threaten you if you do). You are doomed if you leave. You may even come to physical harm.

- Collection of money, setting up centres, buying the media, recruiting leading figures in society.

- Using exhaustion, group processes and videos designed to numb people’s critical thinking, destroy their individuality and self-esteem, and focus them on the leader and the sect.

- Chanting and repetitive catch phrases (“the leader is good, the leader is great”, “we love the leader”, “we’re serving the leader”, “we surrender”, “loving serenity”, “bliss”).

- Interesting how in the end it is the singing of a “bhajan” (nananananana leader) that finally zombifies Homer, where pure chanting had failed previously. Music has a powerful influence. (Satsangs every evening was compulsory for everyone in the Bangalore ashram. And those AoL bhajans contributed greatly in creating and sustaining a susceptible mindset in me – continuously thinking of Ravi while experiencing the music’s subtle moods of tremendous longing and devotion, created a very powerful association, leading me to believe Ravi had those qualities, which he didn’t, in fact. He isn’t worthy of those moods.)

- The leader is to be thanked for everything.

- Expecting one’s acquaintances to also join the sect, even if it means forcing them. If they don’t join, cut all ties with them.

- Salvation is promised, but it may take long. So you need to commit indefinitely (ten trillion years, many lifetimes, whatever). In any event, there’s no way of proving that the leader’s promise is deception.

- Attack/annihilate those who express criticism (“kill the girl, kill the girl”).

- Uniform clothing, mannerisms, emotional expression and speaking styles among members (especially senior ones). Fake, one-dimensional personalities.

- No privacy, numerous people to share the same living space (4-8 people per room in the Bangalore ashram).

- Hierarchical, authoritarian.

- Free exploitative labour in the name of service.

Art of Leaving said...

- Pictures of leader displayed everywhere, including in sleeping and working space. It increases the feeling of his omnipresence and allknowingness.

- Leader inaccessible to the mass of devotees. People supposed to be going into raptures of devotion and gratitude at the slightest glimpse of the leader granted to them.

- People fighting for the favour of the Guru, each trying to be closer to him than the others.

- Things that would be considered humiliation under ordinary circumstances, are counted as grace when coming from the leader. Anything and everything are interpreted as due to the leader’s all-knowing and benevolent intention, no matter how unrelated, random or accidental the event.

- Leader’s lifestyle dramatically different and more luxurious than that of devotees. Devotees experience a fall in lifestyle, leader a rise.

- Sect leader is wealthy, making profits, but enjoying tax exempt status.

- Role of d├ęcor and spatial arrangement to create an aura of specialness, mystery and power around the leader. Just watch one of those Ravi mahasatsangs – him alone on some massive stage or walkway, projected as Divinity Incarnated, no less!

- Romantic matches to be made within the sect; some individual matches even prescribed by the sect.

- The leader’s knowledge considered superior to all other knowledge. People discouraged from reading other material.

- Members who express criticism within the cult are seen as less advanced and treated in patronising, condescending ways with fake love and subjected to subtle threats.

- Intensive indoctrination of children.

- Getting sucked into a cult is easy. Leaving is tough and may require great willpower and perseverance.

- Devotees seen as the property of the sect.

- Us-and-them mentality with respect to outsiders.

- Sect uses lawsuits to maintain possession of illegally acquired cult property.

- Blatant inconsistencies between the ethical ideals professed and actual practice: “Even though the leader himself is completely non-violent, he urges you to be as violent as you like in capturing” ex-devotees.

- Orchestrated fake miracles to create and maintain faith in people.

- If things go wrong, it’s because of “your lack of faith”, not the failure of the leader.

- Members who leave the sect go through a period of doubt whether the sect and the leader weren’t right after all, and whether they weren’t wrong in leaving.

- Even when great deceptions come to light within the cult, some people will remain in denial. In this case, the leader’s “spaceship” may start falling apart, but some cult members are still able to maintain faith – it’s only when the whole thing really crashes that the truth may finally sink in for them.

- A disgraced leader immediately looks for a new constituency.

- A disillusioned ex-cult member often searches for a new cult / returns to an old one.

- The mindless happiness you get in a cult is just as much a form of addiction as other forms of addiction, e.g. drinking. After being disillusioned by a cult, some people fall back into former addictions.

- The after effects of cult conditioning may remain with one for a long time even after resuming a normal life.