Demystifying Eastern Transcendental Models of Spirituality


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Since the 1960’s Eastern dharma has heavily influenced the evolution of the spiritual seeker community in the United States. More Americans are going to India and returning with new names, “let it go” has become part of the vernacular, and more people are understandably giving up on conventional therapy and turning to new-age forms of eastern influenced spirituality.

Serious spiritual seekers are not usually attracted to mainstream religions like Christianity, Judaism, or Islam; at least, not the exoteric versions. There are pockets of Sufi influence (originated from Muhammad’s teachings) rising with the alternative healing tide, for example, and the Kabala has been gaining attention, especially since Madonna gave it her stamp of approval . But still, most seekers today lean further east. Perhaps we’ve all had our share of Sunday and Hebrew school and have been sufficiently jaded about western devotional practices. Some of us are even aware of the kinds of distortions that have historically come from “mainstreaming” a spiritual teaching into a religion.

It is time to challenge the western over-romanticization of eastern paradigms in the same way the distortions of western spirituality have been so glaringly clear for some time now to serious seekers.

For example, it doesn’t take a religious scholar to see that the Qur’an is not a very good book on which to base a way of relating to life. While it’s reasonable to assume that Muhammad was an accomplished channel, since despite being illiterate he somehow began reciting thousands of lines of rhymed couplets (a feat unable to appreciate in translation) over a number of years, it’s understood by many historians that the guidance he channeled was very specific to the historical context in which it arose. Islam was a revolutionary value system and the followers of Muhammad were often in great danger. Much of the Qur’an refers to specific situations, strategies, and pre-battle inspirations to help them get through it. This easily explains contradictory lines in the Qur’an: the guidance was circumstantial, not the absolute word of Allah applicable for all time. For example, there were times to fight, in self-defense, and there were times to trust Allah and let the “unbelievers” (often better translated “ungratefuls”) be. 3:151 “We will put terror into the hearts of the unbelievers. They serve other gods for whom no sanction has been revealed. Hell shall be their home. ” According to historians, this is a verse in which God is addressing the prophet before a critical battle during Islam's first decade. This is the battle of Uhad, when the leadership of Mecca put a death sentence on followers of Islam. The Muslim force was far outnumbered, and the Qur’an offered reassurance and inspiration. In other words, this passage was specifically intended for a certain situation in early Islamic history.

This same quotation is often used today as a justification for fundamentalist violence against “un-believers, ” and is obviously taken out of historical context. Like the followers of Yeshua, followers of Muhammad faced persecution as they threatened the political power base of the time. Interestingly, we might consider that a religion formed partly as a reaction to political power is perhaps liable to be used for political power. In other words, to the degree Muslims play victim to persecution is the degree to which they have switched from victim to perpetrator, the same way the Jews in Israel have with Palestine, and the same way abused children often turn into abusive parents. What we resist persists, as it is so often said.

In contrast, 68:44-52 is a Qur’anic passage that presents a very different view: “So [Prophet] leave those who reject this revelation to Me. . . The disbelievers almost strike you down with their looks when they hear the Qur’an. They say, “He must be mad!’ but truly it is nothing other than a Reminder for all peoples. ” This is a very different tone than the pre-battle inspiration; it speaks of trusting God and using resistance as a reminder to return to themselves and to God. Unfortunately, Islamic extremists feel they can use whatever aspect of the Qur’an to fit whatever context they like and call every word absolutely true, even amidst blatant contradictions.

In summary, the reliance on the Qur’an as the absolute word of God 1400 years later, out of its historical context which easily and honorably explains obvious contradictions within its verses, is at best a shaky ground on which to base a way of relating to life. At the time, the Qur’an was a beacon of light, codifying radical changes in value systems including a number of revolutionary legal rights for women. One has to wonder if women’s rights have progressed since the Qur’an was written in the early 600’s, and is it not possible that maybe Allah would have some newer things to say about the subject today. Islamic law may have been leading the improved treatment of women 1400 years ago in many ways, but if the Qu’ran was meant to be a guide for only those times, it would certainly explain why Islam has stagnated in its evolution of consciousness related to women. In 1400 years it has gone from leading to trailing the world in this domain, and this impacts all Muslim women, not just the fundamentalists.

To be fair, Christianity is just as rife with distortion from its original message. More and more scholars are talking about Paul’s role (Saul of Tarsus) in founding what we now know as Christianity and how little it actually had to do with Yeshua the Nazarene’s teachings. Similar to Islam, Yeshua’s teaching also arose as a revolutionary movement, only to be corrupted by power-mongering political forces after the death (or disappearance) of its originator. One need only to Google “Pauline Christianity” or “Paulianity” to begin the research. The official stance of the church is that “Pauline Christianity” is a tautology: that Paul's version is the only Christianity and furthermore many conservative Christian scholars maintain he did not alter the teachings of Yeshua.

But if nothing was changed, then why is it no original writings of Yeshua were preserved, when countless texts before that time period were? How was it that Yeshua’s teachings were used to justify the Inquisitions and murder of countless people, when Christians don’t even have an equivalent term to “jihad” to misinterpret? Typical responses to questions like these tend to revert to the argument that people are not living their values adequately instead of looking at what might be faulty with the value system itself that causes it to be so unlivable. In other words, maybe the problem is not the Christians, but Christianity itself. A simple illustration of this is the number of pedophilic priests that have been exposed in the last few decades. What if this is not an issue of the church needing to be more careful in their recruitment efforts, but instead a tragic and inevitable ramification of a distorted religion that shames our natural human sexuality? Therefore, those priests who are required to repress their human sexuality the most are the most likely to act it out in inappropriate ways. Such priests are certainly caught in an endless loop of shame like so many Christians, an emotion that Christianity both institutionalizes with original sin, and then preys upon by selling salvation to wounded hearts aching for forgiveness of their “sins. ”

As said, poking holes in mainstream exoteric religions though, is like shooting fish in a barrel to most seekers today. Where this kind of analysis gets interesting is in looking at the current sacred cows of the times. Doesn’t it make sense that the same kinds of distortions would be inherent in eastern traditions? Are westerners aware that the sexy dharma from the east they have been incorporating into their lifestyles is just as rife with distortion? Just based on the magazine stand at your local health food store, the empirically obvious answer is “No. ” This is so for a number of reasons, including the romanticization of the East, the lack of jadedness with new perspectives, and the slippery nature of eastern metaphysics, full of paradox and complexity making distortions less glaringly obvious to some. . . but no less distorted and therefore no less damaging. In fact, the subtleties of eastern dharma are exactly where distortions hide.

In this way, many of the inconsistencies and contradictions in neo-transcendental models are dismissed in the satsang with a shaming “Who’s asking the question?” received often with “ooos” and “ahhs, ” but this is only a desperate cover for the metaphysical holes large enough to drive a paradigm through. How can a teacher who claims there is no self allow himself to be carried into a satsang like a Roman King? How can a teacher who advocates“loving what is” get a full face lift? How can a teacher who claims that the truest self is only eternal unchanging awareness create a line of glamorous DVDs with new age music and images of waterfalls? Why would a teacher who claims he is absolute Being or Source put seven pictures of himself in a brochure, including him scuba diving and kissing a baby? In other words, in all of these actual examples, why do these supposedly non-dual teachers who are in the business of destroying people’s illusory self-images, seem to have so much self-image themselves?

The answer is, in a way, simple. In the same way that a priest’s distorted paradigm forces him to repress his natural sexuality, a sagely teacher who attempts to invalidate the self in the name of attaining the Absolute will create an inner tension that must resolve. What we resist persists, and so as sure as the repressed sexuality of a priest acts out as aberrant *** behavior, the repressed real Self of an Advaita Vedanta style teacher acts out as blatant, teenage-like personality mischief. This has included promiscuity with devotees, affairs, and physical and spiritual abuse which is quite amazing considering these teachers claim to have completely transcended their localized self which was an illusion in the first place. It’s incredible how much mischief a transcended illusion can cause, isn’t it?

One of the most notable examples of Buddhistic distortion is the increasingly popular Diksha movement, whereby a Guru transfers “divine energy” into a disciple which can produce immediately or over time certain kinds of oneness states. This is perhaps an understandable response to the problem of how few people have become Buddhistically enlightened, but it is as desperate as turning to heroin when over the counter drugs fail to address the pain. The dilemma of how difficult it is to become enlightened should have turned people more inward, not outward. Pure Zen, before it was mainstream-ified into Buddhism, was and remains a solo practice. Zen Master Lin-Chi in the ninth century coined the phrase, “If you meet the Buddha, kill him” to emphasize this point. His line of Zen Buddhism was one of the most influential in history and later become the foundation for the Rinzai school.

The Diksha movement is fundamentally misaligned with pure Zen’s original teachings. It is a goal-oriented, bliss-seeking, suffering-alleviation shortcut driven by the immaturity and ignorance of its leaders. For one thing, the highest attainment of true Nondual enlightenment by definition cannot be a state, and it is certainly not the Oneness bliss-state advertised by Advaita Vedanta, Diksha, and other neo-transcendental quick-fixes. The Buddha specifically warned against the seduction of the bliss-state and how oneness is a delightful experience on the way to true enlightenment, but not the end point. Oneness is still in the realm of duality because it is seen as good and not bad, and because there is still an experiencer in thrall of the experience. Non-duality is not about having an experience, it is about experience having you. Further, any time there is a ‘something’ versus ‘something else’ or any kind of distinctionability you are by definition still in duality, even if it’s in an extremely thinned out aspect of it.

U. G. Krishnamurti was one of the few teachers who understood some of these ideas so deeply that he became known as an anti-guru. “A real guru, if there is one, frees you from himself, ” he said. He was very clear that he was not trying to sell anything and claimed that he didn't care whether people believed him or not. Embodiment of the deepest level of nonduality burns up and obviates any need to teach anything about it, much less hold satsangs from a stage or produce a series of DVDs about it.

Theohumanity, an entirely new emoteric spiritual paradigm founded by Daniel Barron who was enlightened in the Zen tradition, offers an explanation for the distortion in Buddhism. He offers, in Enheartenment, that true Buddhistic enlightenment is not about achieving a state or transcending an illusory ego, but rather that it’s about healing your fear of ego-death through rigorous self-inquiry and meditation practice where the point is to find the meditator, and experience the terror how that person cannot be found.

Thus, the distortions in Buddhism and all of its descendent practices have been that its followers have been using access to levels of nonduality to medicate their suffering, rather than healing fear. It is not, nor has even been about feeling good. The good feelings are a by-product along the way, but are not to be attached to. That transcendental teachers claim to be unattached and yet seek to cultivate and maintain this bliss-state, often using the word “vigilance” to describe the effort, is a contradiction and irony of tragically epic proportions. It is the fundamental false god of neo-transcendental teachings: attachment to non-attachment.

This is no different than the elevation of Yeshua to God status, the seeking of heaven, or believing that killing infidels will earn you seventy-two virgins when you get to paradise. This distortion renders such enlightenment practices as nothing more than sophisticated spiritual heroin, as its users use the glamorous self-image of seeker-hood and juice off the very real spiritual states they’re attaining, but with fundamentally unhealthy and avoidant motivations. All of this comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of the reason to seek Buddhistic enlightenment in the first place. It’s not a way to have a more relaxed lifestyle, to experience bliss, to alleviate suffering, to reduce conflict, or to create world peace.

As offered in Barron’s Enheartenment, Buddhistic mental body enlightenment is not about obliterating the mischievous ego that is the source of all of our problems, it is about healing the fear of its loss by coming face to face with the very real reality that from the mental body perspective there is no “I” experiencing anything, but rather that experience has us. This awakening is a terrifying process of deconstructing a false sense of relating to self and everything else. The oneness bliss state is a side effect on the way to this awakening as the deconstruction of differences between self and other melt away. It is neither the ultimate destination, nor the Ultimate Reality, nor the goal of transcendental enlightenment practice. Identifying it as any of these things will only keep you further from What It Actually Is and keep you hooked into a sophisticated drug addiction as you unwittingly medicate your emotional pain held in the unconscious of your very real Self.

Because of this, any methodology that advertises any kind of good feeling state as the reward for all your hard meditation work is distorted at its foundation, and in the bigger picture damaging to individuals who practice it. This is because the drug-high of the bliss-state is so powerful it can be used to numb out huge wells of suffering that Buddhistic practice is simply incapable of addressing. In the absence of effective methods to address emotional based suffering, the use of Buddhistic enlightenment practice to transcend our emotional wounding has been understandable, but it is time now that we recognize that it has failed. Not only are exceedingly few people enlightened, but those who are display obvious play-outs of untouched emotional wounding as said. One only needs to scratch the surface of a sagely teacher’s personal life to see the evidence for this. Daniel Barron, as part of his paradigm of Theohumanity, created a rigorous practice called Emotional Body Enlightenment which he offers is a necessary pre-requisite before beginning nondual practice The depth and breadth of this paradigm cannot be covered here, but suffice it to say that there exists in earth today ways of healing our emotional wounding so that we can healthily approach nonduality without using it as a designer drug.

Certainly many Buddhistically influenced people will read this article and say its author clearly is inflammatory, unmindfully creating conflict, and that we all need to work toward understanding each other peacefully. The fact is that rarely do significant advancements in the evolution of consciousness happen without conflict. New world-views always create great disagreement as was the case with Yeshua, Muhammad, Moses, Galileo, Gandhi, etc. Even the teachings of Siddhartha Gotama challenged other religions at the time so deeply that he was subject to murder attempts. So clearly, the founder of Buddhism was as much a revolutionary as the other prophets throughout history and not the bliss-suffused, dispassionate character that has become the archetype of the modern neo-Buddhist. This exposes the most glaringly obvious distortion inherent in Buddhism today: if the Buddha had been a Buddhist, there would never have been Buddhism. Gotama was a man of passion! Perhaps, though, Buddhists have themselves observed the enormity of this contradiction within their own paradigm and are so blissfully enlightened they saw it only as dualistic maya so simply “let it go. ” Transcendence is exceedingly convenient that way: you can let go of any aspect of it that doesn’t work for you, without having to examine your criteria for what does or doesn’t work or your unconscious motivation for transcending it in the first place.

In summary, what is needed now is a model that allows us to not only easily see through the distortions we have inherited from the teachers before us, but a process by which we can actually embody undistorted living. Only by shedding the false gods to which we cling to medicate our suffering will we be able to abide with the Living God Itself. Such a model is now offered by Daniel Barron and his paradigm of Theohumanity. Only by healing our emotional based suffering, the reason we had to grab on in the first place, will we be able to exist without these false gods. Muhammad said, “There is no God but God” and many teachers have agreed, but no spiritual teacher in our history until now has offered an actual process that is specifically designed to heal the reason we clutched to false gods in the first place and lovingly burn to the ground all the false aspects of ourselves in service of the spring loaded truth of our Authentic Self below. To the degree we exist as a false self, we can only experience a false god. The time of belief- and transcendence-based spirituality rooted in negativization of the Self is over as it has ostensibly failed. It is only our false self that has been the problem, and only because we’ve not understood what to do with it.

We are not pathetic human beings here to escape to a “higher” spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings who have incarnated here to have a human experience. Our humanity is divine in itself and neither needs to be saved nor transcended, both of which only recapitulate the invalidation of our emotional humanity from childhood and stagnatively perpetuate our suffering. As long as we bring our personal pain to the doorstep of some Aspect of God, be that the bliss of oneness, the Absolute, Essence, the Merciful Allah, Christ the Savior, Yahweh, etc. we will be avoiding what is our (and not God’s) responsibility to heal. Until and unless we do this, our experience of the Divine will always be distorted by our need for It to carry our pain like the parents we never had, and it is this distortion, this false godification, that is the root of millennia of spiritually justified insanity that we as a species can no longer endure.

As an intrinsic element of Theohumanity, Daniel Barron’s Emotional Body Enlightenment practice is the first dharma to offer an emotional healing process inside a spiritual paradigm, Theohumanity, that can metaphysically and experientially reconcile the existence of individual Self, Nonduality, and the Living Maker. It offers a process to lovingly deconstruct the false self that is the creator of our false gods, but it is not to be believed in. Those who are called to experience it will determine for themselves what is true.

Mark Shapiro is a Certified EBE Facilitator and lives in Ashland, OR. For more information visit or email This article may be reprinted only in its entirety and may not be edited.


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