I recently had an exchange of emails with Dave Oshana and a fellow participant in the Enlightenment Transmission retreats about “spiritual” “teacher” Bentinho Massaro. I had not heard of Massaro until she sent me this link, written by a former member of his audience cult. Ironically, it is written by a trans-person (I say ironic because I have made my feelings fairly clear about the trans-agenda), and it has of course been rebuked by Bentinho’s many followers as a hatchet-job from an axe-grinder. I only read part of the piece and watched a couple of the videos linked, but my impression was almost immediately that Massaro does an admirable job of invalidating himself without much assist from disgruntled ex-followers.
There’s no way I can claim to be looking at Massaro with an impartial eye, however, any more than someone who has a history of heroin addiction can view “recreational” drug use impartially. Experience sensitizes us and gives us discernment, but it also makes us touchy and reactive. Often it is hard, sometimes impossible, to tell the difference.
As I think most of my readers and listeners know, and not counting my association with Dave Oshana, I have by now pretty much thrown out the baby of “spirituality” with the bathwater of a millennia-long disinformation campaign. My response to Massaro, accordingly, was one of irritation, weariness, and, at a visceral level, sheer disgust. Superficially at least, he reminds me of a male Teal Swan, another young, attractive, and “edgy” (conspiracy-minded and high-woo content) self-appointed spiritual teacher. Can we call them post-Icke baby-gurus? Is there a factory now for these Manchurian initiates?
I admit that I haven’t looked into Massaro in any depth. I only have so much attention to devote to these seemingly endless false ceremony masters (so many fakes, so little time). But do we really need facts to dismiss someone who claims to be a dimension-hopping Shiva-avatar posing as a cigar-chomping boy band wanna-be? Has the spiritual scene really sunk this low? Unfortunately, the answer is yes, it has; but by all means check out the link for yourself (as well as Massaro’s official response) and tell me I am being unfair to young Benhinto (it might just be sour grapes, since I failed in my own bid to become a movie star tough love sci-fi avatar).
At the heart of my distaste for these postmodernist, self-appointed fashion gurus is, no doubt, not a feeling of envy but one of “ancient” (primal) betrayal. Whatever infant wounding I reenacted with John de Ruiter and Whitley Strieber, I continue to reenact in miniature fashion every time I stumble upon the latest piece of socio-spiritual skulduggery. There are unresolved issues in my psyche that cause me to see red at the first whiff of spiritual power-abuses. But right next to this visceral reaction is, I think, a genuine soul-response: the imperative to say No to reality distortion in order to say Yes to reality. There’s really no reason to reject pyrite unless you are looking for gold. And I have been looking for gold long enough to feel fairly confident in my abilities to identify the stuff of fools.
Some might argue that you can’t judge a book by its cover or an awakened being by his “superficial” behaviors. Isn’t it better to give the benefit of the doubt than jump to conclusions? I admit to having a knee-jerk reaction to these people, which is the opposite of measured and clear perception. Fact is, as a seeker, over-exposure to spiritual hypocrisies has instilled in me the desire to create an impenetrable filter to prevent any more radiation from getting through. And it is not just spiritual reality distortion that infuriates me: I felt outraged and disgusted the other day when I saw some “critic” (writing for Roger Ebert’s site) gave Alien Covenant 4 stars! (Yes, this really happened.) This outrage hardly comes under the rubric of serving the public good. Sometimes it is better just to shrug and click away.
But there’s a funny thing about human behavior. We are hardwired to look for the warning signs of a predator, and even just one serious indication is often enough to convince us to stay away. It takes a fair bit more for us to trust a person is noble, wise, and good. A while back, I noted about Jimmy Savile, how one serious infraction (if proven) undermines a person’s trustworthiness in our eyes, regardless of how much apparent good they might have done. We saw the same thing with Kevin Spacey: one perceived bad action canceled out a hundred perceived good performances (he even got removed from Ridley Scott’s new movie at the 11th hour, though doubtless for economic and not moral reasons). This seemingly sensible approach seems to get reversed with cult followers, however, in which one experience of perceived goodness is enough to obscure a legion of sins.
The actual truth, perhaps, is that there is no consistent individual self or “doer,” only a series of actions, and that no “one” of us can ever be consistently one thing or another, only the sum total of all our actions (and then some). But the way we are conditioned to perceive and receive others is on this basis (the belief that people are individuals), and to be honest, I don’t even know how to perceive otherwise. Maybe that’s the real problem here, and what this post should be addressing. On the other hand, maybe it is addressing it, since a guru can only become such by allowing people to perceive him or her as not only having but being a personal connection to the divine. Such a context makes it difficult to perceive such individuals as anything besides all-good, or all-bad.
My cousin and I fell out in 2016 over her support of Hillary (or at least, we haven’t been in touch since our disagreement). These are the times we live in. We are being divided to conquer. When I was deliberating over this current subject matter, I considered whether being unwilling to accommodate someone in a possible delusion was a good enough reason to allow a rift to form. I thought, if Dave Oshana couldn’t accommodate what he sees as people’s delusions, he wouldn’t interact with anyone! But Dave is always coaching people to see their delusions, that’s kind of his job, and if someone isn’t willing to be coached, he can’t really help them. The difference is, people are paying Dave to help them so he already has a green light. With my cousin, it was more a question of, how can I really trust this person as an ally if her judgment is so off? It’s not a reason for falling out; but it does create a gulf. The trick, for me, is to continue to sort the seeds and expose the flaws in these public figures, and in people’s beliefs (starting with my own), without succumbing to the all-too-human tendency to demonize, either the false gurus or the people who support and defend them. Because I know this is the way it works with myself: identify the distortions, without self-recrimination, and let go. There is no crime in being wrong (and no honor in being right).
Liminalism is all about remaining in uncertainty. But finding the ground requires crossing the threshold of “relativism” into assurance. At what point does “Does anyone really know?” become tepid sophistry or postmodern political correctness, fit only for spewing out? Do we “know” that a serial killer cannot be “awakened,” or vice versa? Strictly (intellectually) speaking, we don’t; but then, at the mind level, we don’t know anything, except this (that we don’t know anything), at which point, words not only lose their dogmatism, they lose all meaning.
Regarding claims of being awakened avatars from other dimensions, since we cannot ever know what state of awareness anyone else is in, all we really have to go on are their behaviors. This includes what they say, but I think words are generally the least relevant, the least reliable, evidence, at least when taken at face value outside the larger context of overall behaviors. For me, to see a Massaro or Swan is to dismiss them. But obviously I wouldn’t rest a case against their being awakened on a gut response. At the same time, I see no reason not to go with it. For me, there’s really no case to rest, because like I say, I don’t have the time. Barring the (largely mythical) smoking gun, as I discovered while investigating John de Ruiter, evidence is always accumulative so it requires a concerted effort to “prove” a guru is dirty. Most, possibly all, of the data points shouldn’t be turned into deal-breakers, but they are all pieces in the puzzle. Just as de Ruiter flying first class while charging his volunteers to see him and preaching surrender to endless suffering was the tip of that particular toxic iceberg, so I would wager that Massaro’s glaringly obvious “off” behaviors are reliable indicators of a fundamental lack of spiritual integrity (I mean literally, the guy is damaged goods).
It would be a whole lot easier if I was able to take a position against all spiritual teachers, and just argue for why there are no exceptions and can never be, because the whole game is rigged. Unfortunately, I can’t argue this, because I don’t actually believe it to be true. I don’t believe it’s true because I think that, somehow, I got so improbably lucky as to meet one such exception. And if the only point in identifying pyrite is to find gold, then it behooves me to be totally transparent about the interior gold I believe I found, via Dave Oshana and the enlightenment transmission (I left off the caps this time).
One of the main things I enjoy about Dave, ironically, is how he confounded my expectations about how a spiritual teacher, or “awakened being,” should act. I say ironic, because one of the most frequent defenses of power-abusing spiritual teachers is that they only appear to be abusing power when what they are really doing (like Osho with his Rolls Royces) is having a laugh and confounding our expectations, as a filter for the “undiscerning” (i.e., you have to see beyond the surface behaviors to get the full benefits). But there is a world of difference between being uniquely oneself, as I think Dave is, and justifying neurotic behaviors with the claim of defying cultural conventions, as de Ruiter with his Calling or Massaro with his callow poses, cigars, and “tough love” appear to be doing. At best, we can say they are being willfully obnoxious as a form of “crazy wisdom.” But does crazy wisdom really work? Does tough love? I don’t believe in either one anymore, though I used to preach and practice both. They might seem to work, because they might have the effect of scaring the constructed identity, causing it to inflate, deflate, dissociate or fragment, as a self-protective strategy, thereby inducing “alternate states of awareness.” But if so, I think these are inevitably states that move away from wholeness, not towards it.
There are of course people who claim to have had “transformations” from exposure to de Ruiter, Massaro, Teal Swan, or any of the countless claimants to awakened states currently prowling the marketplace (and really proliferating now via YouTube). I find this a source of endless curiosity, frustration, and bewilderment. My best guess ~ and Prisoner of Infinity recounts my education for making such a guess ~ is that these people (both the gurus and their followers) have been pushed by their own desperate need into dissociative fantasy states of “self-empowerment,” and developed turbo-powered uber-egos in lieu of making real, lasting contact with their souls. Of course, no one can tell them as much, and no one can really know for sure. But I have had enough experience of this to know that it can and does happen, and that it can easily lead to the premature assumption of a mantle of “awakened teacher”: provided at least that one is able to persuade or inspire others to go along with it. I was lucky enough to not be so lucky.
Beyond examining gurus’ words and behaviors, what we have to go on is the effects of their “transmission.” Short of submitting to the teacher’s influence oneself ~ as I did with de Ruiter and, I hope in a very different way, as I have with Dave ~ the best way to gauge this is by observing the teacher’s followers, especially in how they speak about and relate to their teacher. (The article linked to above includes a large number of comments from Massaro’s followers.) This can also be extended to the spiritual scene in general, and the prevalence of what I might charitably call “unexamined assumptions” (the building blocks of all crucial fictions). One of these might be the belief in an awakened state, at least insofar as it is unexamined, untested, and undefined ~ or dependent on other people’s untested definitions. And if you think about it ~ since people seeking awakening are by definition unawakened ~ this is always the case. It is for this reason that I am toying with the idea of becoming an unawakened teacher.
Another popular belief, directly related, is the belief that the Earth and/or humanity is currently in a process of awakening. Personally, I find this belief easily as baffling as all these people currently insisting the Earth is flat. I can only surmise that it is based on the myopic viewpoint of people who frequent “spiritual” circles and surround themselves by people who reinforce the idea of a collective awakening, starting, of course, with themselves. Admittedly, I may be guilty of the reverse: I surround myself by my own “audience cult” made up of people who believe humanity is headed deeper into darkness, distortion, and despair. (Though I hope you don’t feel this way about yourselves. I know I don’t.) In today’s conversation with Jim Kunstler, he points out how the set he grew up in were big on psychoanalysis but seemed not to be any the better for it when it came to rudimentary self-examination or self-awareness. I would suggest the same, or similar, is the case with spiritual people. A set of beliefs and practices does not a way of being make.
Are people awakening to reality in 2017? Or is the trauma-matrix of the constructed identity self-care system becoming more and more creative, imaginative, and cunning in its subterfuges, red herrings, and dissociative strategies? There are countless public spokespeople out there, spiritual or not, from Alex Jones to Eckhardt Tolle, teachers whom people I know and even respect see as positive influences. I regard most of them as at best ineffective and self-serving, at worst destructive and harmful. This may be partly projection. They say if everyone you meet is an asshole, the asshole is you. I am a public figure also, and some people might even say I am a kind of teacher (I hope not, but I am not immune to the flutter of vanity such an idea causes in me). And my distaste for lies, obfuscations, and misrepresentations can only be sourced in something internal, because I almost literally want to vomit when I encounter these snake oil salesmen, even while I have been drawn to a few of them myself (Strieber, Icke, de Ruiter). But there is also, I think, a core recognition of distortion and deception (indistinguishable from the disgust) by someone (me) who has been there, and done that, himself. If you have had shingles, you know the symptoms when you see them. By the same token, I think I know an inflated ego when I see it. I don’t see unique awakened snowflakes in these characters: I see the same flaming boil of trauma-generated super-ego identity, oozing pus and peddling it as nectar.
Can these people be “teachers,” in the sense of providing valuable data/experience for others? Of course, that’s why I like to study them. Might they genuinely have a calling to help the human race? They sure might, but intentions don’t count for much when the calling in question is fueled by unconscious trauma and will to power. (Hitler meets all these requirements, if you replace Aryan for human.) Sympathy for the devil isn’t the same as advocating him, either, and these characters’ fervent belief in their own calling doesn’t make them any less useful to the covert programs of Hell-construction that make up our society. On the contrary, it may be what makes them so effective as cheese in the transhumanist mouse trap. This way for self-realization and gnosis, total disembodiment and oneness with Spirit.
While I was engaged in the email discussion that led to this Christmas post, my wife, entirely unaware of it, sent me a quote from Morris Berman’s blog:
“Communities of the abandoned,” Ernest Becker called them, and said that when a person gets to the point of seeing the emptiness of the dominant culture, he or she is then confronted with the question of the meaning of life.
My wife then added this comment:
So what post-modernism and identity politics do is integrate “abandoned” communities by inculcating a desire and a process by which outsider groups can be subsumed into the dominant culture, thereby avoiding any such self-reflective moment? Explains things somewhat.
Though she wasn’t referring to spiritual seekers and gurus, I think this amply diagnoses the situation. It even matches closely my own back cover copy for Dark Oasis, while adding an even darker nuance to it. The purpose of cults, whether the more literal (“spiritual”) sort such as Massaro’s or de Ruiter’s or Swan’s, or the more benign and amorphous audience cults (like, urm, this blog?), is to provide a refuge for people who are reacting to a growing awareness about the deleterious nature of society. The result (generally, not always, and whether intentionally or not) is to lure them away from true individuation (or awakening) and back into the mainstream, by giving them a renewed sense of belonging and a restored faith in the power of social consensus. It is a form of collective negative identity: people united in an unconscious conspiracy to reframe their shared alienation as freedom.
It saddens and frustrates me that people have so low a bar for “awakening,” and that the same old story plays itself out, over and over again. When tawdry, socially engineered imitations like Massaro or Swan get taken for the real deal, humanity takes another step closer to oblivion, singing “Amazing Grace” with a smug smile of knowing on its face. Even the elect will be fooled? You better believe it.
‘Tis the season for crying humbug. Happy solstice to my unknown audience. May you kindle your own interior light. The darkness is now upon us.
Also of possible interest: 2013 piece “The Spiritual Market Place.”