When we think of spirituality, we think of peacefulness, tranquillity and harmony. When we decide we want to practise something spiritual – whether it be yoga, meditation, mindfulness or Qi Gong – we usually do it because we aspire to connect with something deeper inside ourselves and to be in harmony with all that is around; we feel that spiritual practice will bring us greater meaning and happiness in our lives.
We have the right to freely and actively aspire for happiness – don’t we?
It is a basic human right and nobody should be able to take that away from us. Our exterior environment can support or impede our spiritual practice, but still the aspiration we have belongs to us.
So what do we stand to lose by aspiring for this? Ultimately we will lose the huge hold the ego has on us – which is an important loss – and we will see how this manifests in our daily life. We become stronger, wiser and more conscious as human beings. We start to love more and we stop being so caught up in the daily turmoil that can take us out of harmony and stops us caring for each other.
Unfortunately, our ego-centred way of life is not the only thing we could stand to lose. For some, this non-materialistic approach to life is seen as a threat. It is a threat for those who do not consider the importance of true inner freedom and the right to find authentic happiness in ways that are not common in society. Why is this? Put simply, when we are autonomous human beings, it is harder to control us. When we are able to live life consciously, making the right and highest choices, we become powerful souls and we step out of the herd mentality. Throughout history we have seen those who feel threatened by spirituality retaliate in ways which are very far from being reasonable or even humane. We have seen it in the past and it is happening now.
The marginalisation of spiritual groups is happening everywhere and it is bigger than you might imagine.
Inner freedom and true happiness are huge threats to those who have a different agenda. Created and propelled by the media and some corrupt individuals in power, fears develop and run through society, with the idea that spiritual beings are a danger to society. This belief is unfounded; moreover there is much less criminal or subversive behaviour within spiritual groups than – for example – some sports. This kind of suspicion is based only on ignorance and fear of the unknown. The spiritual groups become “the other” that may threaten us. Thus we are dealing with structural discrimination against individuals who practise their fundamental right of religious freedom. Society has previously acted ardently to stop discrimination based on race, gender and sexual orientation, and it is now time to act in order to counteract the ongoing discrimination against spiritual groups.
We have seen this discrimination on a global scale.
SEXUAL ABUSE DENUNCIATIONS
[excerpts taken from http://www.soteriainternational.org/witch-hunt-effects-in-society-part-1]
More recently a type of invisible abuse is emerging: the denunciation of almost all the spiritual leaders of the past thirty years is largely due to a campaign of stigmatising spiritual minorities. This allowed, and still allows, many people to settle personal scores through this sensitive subject. We are all generously informed of the charges, but we are kept in the dark about the huge amount of fabrication, exaggeration and slander, which are more or less intentional.
The few big stories in recent years, summarized below (some resulting in convictions and others not), provide overall a more balanced and informative account than that provided by traditional media.
Deepak Chopra (March 2000)
Deepak Chopra was cleared by the court after a deliberation of 10 minutes. The jury rejected a complaint from his former colleague, Joyce Weaver, who said she was dismissed because she complained of sexual harassment. “The jury’s verdict was unanimous and said she lied, she made this story up, and Chopra told the truth,” reported his attorney, Michael Flynn.
Sri Swami Satchidananda (1991)
In 1991, one evening, some old disciples of a famous master of Yoga, Sri Swami Satchidananda, brutally interrupted his lecture in a large hotel. “How can you consider yourself a spiritual leader when you have sexually abused women in your community?” called out Susan Cohen. The wise man with a grey beard, 76 years old, sitting cross-legged in his saffron robe did not seem disturbed by the interruption. He even whispered “Thank you”, which made the assembly laugh, and then resumed his presentation on the way of finding inner peace … while Susan Cohen left the room. Susan Cohen and Sylvia Shapiro accused him of having forced them to have sex when they were his secretaries… 20 years earlier.
One of the closest disciples of the old man thought it was pretty normal for a person with thousands of students to have disgruntled and unfounded accusations made against him. No trial had been filed. A reporter asked him privately about the charges, to which he responded by saying, “She knows that they are false. In addition, my life is an open book, I have never hidden anything from anyone.”
Mata Amritanandamayi (Amma)
In 2014, a previous Australian disciple of the ‘hugging saint’, Gayle Tredwell made some serious allegations of sexual and financial abuse from Amma and some of her disciples, in a book she wrote about her time living in Amma’s ashram. Gayle or Gayatri, who was later renamed Swamini Amritaprana was a close disciple of Amma. Gayle Tredwell stayed with Amma for 19 years, becoming Amma’s first western devotee. She left the organization in late 1999. Initially Tredwell wrote of ‘scheming, plotting, planning and suspicion’ and also ‘terrorism – in a subtle sense, not with guns or anything’. Other claims include ones of sexual abuse (by a swami from Amma’s ashram), violence (emotional, physical and psychological) and financial abuse (giving money to family and putting them up in palatial houses). Claims have also been made that Amma has been having sexual relations with her disciples. Amma’s response has always been one of love and forgiveness. The mass media in India also added their stamp to the scandal
These are but a few examples.
As you can see, the media plays a huge role in this modern-day witch hunt. The distortion of facts (often lies) have and are being published in the press in order to convince the public that it is dangerous to be part of the targeted spiritual groups. Often journalists are paid by corrupt individuals in power to write defamatory articles, or in other cases the lies and scandal are simply more entertaining than the truth. Due to the unfounded and arbitrary stigmatising of “sects”, it takes very little to create a campaign against spiritual groups. Behind the media campaigns, there may be just one or two testimonies against the group, while thousands are still in favour. Furthermore, some of these accusations come from previous members or apostates who have personal vendettas within the groups.
There is a need to stand up for Spiritual Human Rights, because Human Rights’ abuse is happening here and now.
The police are rightfully obliged to look into any criminal accusations. In the case of spiritual groups, media campaigns as well as police investigations often turn against the whole group due to the vagueness of the accusations.
We see here a modern version of witch hunts, with a few unreliable witnesses who have managed to create a wave of fear in society, in order to label those who are different, as being dangerous.
Unfortunately this creates an unfair situation for many who are in spiritual groups, who become wrongfully judged and criticised, and can lose their jobs and even relationships in the process. Once the media gets to work, people’s lives are affected in unjust ways.
We all have a right to be happy, and to pursue this happiness in different ways as long as it is not harming others. We all have the right to practise spirituality and explore our inner worlds, and nobody should be able to take that away from us. Our spiritual human rights are the rights of our heart to express itself.