Evaluating Spiritual and Utopian Groups
* Article: Evaluating Spiritual and Utopian Groups. Arthur J Deikman. AntiMatters, ISSUE 2 (4) 2008
"Spiritual and utopian groups will always exist because they answer to fundamental human needs. However, not all of those needs are spiritual or utopian and that is the problem. Some groups may fulfill their announced goals, benefiting their members and society, others may turn into a nightmare of exploitation, fear and violence. This article offers criteria for evaluating such groups."
"Judging a spiritual group is complicated by the fact that spiritual leaders often present a unique problem. The outsider as well as the member may be intimidated by the claim that the leader has special knowledge, is “enlightened,” able to perceive and know what the ordinary person cannot and, therefore, immune from ordinary criteria of behaviour. Such leaders say that what they might do in their wisdom may make no sense to the unenlightened. Indeed, the mystical tradition in the various forms it has taken throughout history has been quite consistent in defining its teachers as people whose spiritual development had progressed to the point that they could “see” what others could not. If we grant that such people do exist, how can it be possible for the ordinary person to judge them?
Actually, the problem is not as difficult as has been thought, for the spiritual traditions are quite consistent about their goal and the requirements for reaching it. It is this fact that permits us to make a functional assessment of spiritual groups and thereby avoid cultural bias. We can make a judgement based on how well the activities of a group and its leader are suited to its stated aims.
A careful study of the literature of the mystical traditions — Vedantic, Taoist, Zen and Tibetan Buddhist, Sufic, Hasidic and that of the English and Spanish Catholic mystics, as well as the writings of such people as Jacob Boehme and Meister Eckhart — shows that they share the same basic goal. Their diverse procedures represent different ways of reaching that goal, according to the type of people being taught and the culture in which the teaching is taking place. The aim of the mystical traditions is the development of the ability to perceive directly (intuitively) the reality that underlies the world of appearances, whatever that reality may be called. All the traditions agree that the primary requirement for the development of this capacity is that a person shift from a self-centered orientation to one of serving the Truth. This service must be without concern for personal gain."