Words are interesting. They are tools, but as Marshall McLuhan recognized, tools are double-edged. ďMan shapes his tools, but thereafter his tools shape him,Ē he said. Smart man.
As a computer programmer and as a writer, I make my living by manipulating words. Words are my tools. To write a good program, you have to understand the words that form a computer language ó their meaning, their function, the syntax within which they must be used. You string the words together into the proper order and then you sit back and watch it run. It if doesnít run properly ó doesnít have the exact effect you want it to have ó you go back and readjust the choice and the order of the words until it does.
Itís the same process when writing poetry or fiction or non-fiction. After one of Ramaís Non-Poem evenings, I came up with a short one-liner that I still like a lot. ďOf all the programming languages I have learned, my favorite is still English.Ē You string words together and then you sit back and reread them, trying to see whether the sentence has the intended effect. If it doesnít, you go back and readjust the choice and the order of the words until it does. If you do a good job, when someone else reads the sentence ó when the program runs ó the reader will experience what the writer wants to share with them. What can I say? Itís an occult science.
But one of the things that gives you fits as a writer is that, unlike computer programming languages, words in English or other conversational languages are not clearly and universally defined. Readers bring to their experience of a book their own definition of each word the writer uses, a definition that may or may not be the same one the writer had in mind. Itís a bitch. Itís the thing that makes programming English far more challenging than programming Java.
Take one of the words that appears in this book a lot: fun. Simple word. Three letters, one syllable. When I say that one of the guiding principles in my life is having fun, every reader reacts to that phrase slightly differently, depending on how they interpret the word fun. If I look up fun in my online dictionary, what I get is:
But if I venture a little further into the uses of the word fun, and look up quotations that invoke the term, I find a quote from English author and politician A. P. Herbert, saying, ďPeople must not do things for fun. We are not here for fun. There is no reference to fun in any act of Parliament.Ē Or this quote by fashion designer Vivienne Westwood: ďEvery time I hear that word, I cringe. Fun! I think itís disgusting; itís just running around. Itís not my idea of pleasure.Ē Canít you just imagine her clothing, and how comfortable it must have been to wear?
Clearly, not everyone defines fun in a fun way. They associate it with frivolousness, with a lack of responsibility. They associate it with youth, and remembering only folly from their own youth, they look down on the pursuit of fun as immature and unproductive. I disagree, but that is because of how I define the word fun. Fun is the perception of infinity flowing through the finite. It is a natural consequence of the practice of mindfulness, and develops as you begin to pay attention to the flow of thoughts and emotions that run through your mind and your body during the day. Having fun is, for me, one of the key indicators that I am doing something right.
Some of the things that enable me to have fun are frivolous and immature. I love the Farrelly Brothersí movies. I tell terrible jokes and drop horrendous puns into conversations. I even play dressup. Recently I took advantage of a young friendís visit to realize one of my great ambitions ó to attend the Santa Fe Opera dressed in my tuxedo, my dirty leather hiking boots and my cowboy hat. It was a real hoot. We had fun.
But on the other hand, there are some more sensible moments in my life that are also fun. Trying to do the best job I possibly can when writing a computer program, the purpose of which is to make someoneís life easier. Trying to do an equally good job with these stories. Buying an Italian ice that I donít really want from a Santa Fe street vendor just so I can hear her perform an aria from a famous opera and tip her well afterwards. I donít even like opera that much, but the idea of her funding her operatic studies by standing outside an art gallery and singing her heart out as she scoops gellato inspires the hell out of me, so helping her out is fun.
Fun is a state of mind. It is nothing more, nor less, than the amount of attention you can bring to the normal, everyday events in your normal, everyday life. The more attention ó the more consciousness and light and style and heart ó you bring to the events in your life, the more fun you can have with them. Even if the events themselves arenít most peoplesí idea of fun, you can have fun with them anyway if you are just weird enough. Thatís my theory, anyway. Some may call it self-serving or delusional. I say fuck Ďem if they canít take a joke.
Which brings me to the real subject of this story. The C word. No book about Rama and what it was like to study with him would be complete without such a discussion.
Sanskrit scholars believe that some words ó the oldest ones ó do have inherent meaning. They speak of name and form, the idea that the very sound of certain words has an effect and a meaning that transcends any meaning that humans may give to them. I like this. But I am also a realist, and know that in English and other modern languages, writers do not have the luxury of being able to use a word and assume its meaning in the minds of readers. We have all been imprinted heavily by the world in which we have grown up, and rely on the worldís definition of the words that we use.
Thatís Ok with some words, but dangerous with others. Some words have become loaded over time, either unconsciously, as one definition of a word becomes predominant in a culture over time, or consciously, as human beings manipulate the meaning of words to manipulate other human beings. George Orwell had a handle on this kind of word loading. He wrote eloquently about it in 1984, and in his description of doublespeak revealed many disturbing truths about language and its use in mind control to manipulate people and make them think the way you want them to and act the way you want them to.
There is a word that is being used a lot these days to control the way that people think and act, and that word is cult.
If you look up the definition of the word in a dictionary, you find stuff like, ďA system or community of religious worship and ritual.Ē Or, ďThe formal means of expressing religious reverence; religious ceremony and ritual.Ē Or, ďAn exclusive group of persons sharing an esoteric, usually artistic or intellectual interest.Ē But thatís not what you thought of when I used the word cult, was it? What you thought of was some deviant group of people with strange beliefs and practices, dangerous to its own members and quite possibly dangerous to society. You flashed back to all the horror stories you read in the newspapers and saw on TV about Jim Jones and Aum Shinrikyo and dead bodies covered in purple sheets in a sleepy Southern California suburb.
And if you are in the United States, and all you know about them is what you read and saw in the media, you thought of Rama and his students. Ask almost anyone on the street who Rama ó Dr. Frederick Lenz ó was, and if they have heard of him at all, they would describe him as a cult leader. Suffice it to say that any subsequent descriptions of the man they volunteered would be colored by the loading that the terms 'cult' and 'cult leader' have been burdened with over the last two decades.
Was Rama a cult leader? By some peopleís definitions, absolutely. By other peopleís definitions, no way, Josť. What he was was an individual, a free thinker who wished more than anything else to inspire free thinking in those he encountered along the way. If my stories have any value at all, it will be to share that simple teaching. My intent in writing these silly stories of my even sillier life is to show people that they can think for themselves and get away with it ó in a spiritual context, in a societal context, in every context.
I suspect that there will be some who call me a cultist or a cult apologist. This amuses me no end, because the very term 'cult apologist' amuses me. Talk about loaded terms. Itís like the term 'pro life.' I think that the anti-abortion movement made a brilliant choice in the creation of that phrase. They manipulated words to give a positive slant to what they hope to accomplish, rather than focus on the means they use to accomplish it. Would they have gained the support they have today if they had called their movement 'anti-choice?' I think not. Well, by the same standards I believe that the term 'cult apologist' is a brilliant choice. Its very structure and syntax implies negativity, and reinforces the redefinition of the word 'cult' as bad. If you speak out in defense of a group that has been deemed by those 'in the know' as a cult, by definition you are an apologist, because by definition there is something to apologize for.
I have nothing to apologize for.
I am not selling anything. I am presenting in these stories an alternative approach to life and living, one that has worked for me and has given me an uncommonly fine life. If you donít like it, tough. Be more discriminating in the next book you buy. If you like it, tough. Ramaís dead, man. I donít know of anything to belong to, any group that you can become part of to experience these things yourself. If the stories inspire you to give more thought to your spiritual life, you will have to find your own spiritual life. You will have to graze the spiritual smorgasbord, tasting this dish and that dish and determining for yourself if you like them. And if you donít find anything you like, you will have to invent it for yourself. Cool. Welcome to the world of thinking for yourself.
I spent fourteen years studying with Dr. Frederick Lenz. I followed him and his teaching all over the world, spending a great deal of money in the process. And I defend every moment and every penny of it, because I benefited from every moment and every penny of it. If in your mind that makes me a cultist, I cop to it proudly. Take a look at the photo on the back cover. Thatís what a cultist looks like. Show it to your sons and your daughters and warn them to avoid anyone who looks even remotely like that. But also notice the smile on my face. I think you can just barely see it under the nose glasses. This guy is having fun.
Maybe that is what the anti-cult movement is so uptight about. Perhaps as someone long ago said about Protestants, ďThey are driven by the terrible suspicion that someone, somewhere is having fun.Ē And that simple fact drives them so crazy that they have to try to stomp it out and remove it from the face of the earth.
Donít worry. Iím not going to go off on a tirade against the anti-cult movement. They donít deserve either my tirades or my antipathy. From my point of view, they arenít terribly bright. They donít even have the smarts to think up a good name for themselves, like the pro life folks did. Anti-cult movement? I mean, really. Donít these guys know anything about martial arts? In Judo and Aikido and other arts, what you long for in an opponent is someone who cannot think past anti. If you spend all your time and energy pushing against something, trying to overcome it, you are by definition off balance. All your opponent has to do to defeat you is to step out of the way, and you fall flat on your face. The anti-cult movement is dooming itself to failure because they arenít for anything; they are only against.
Iím for something. I am for fun, and for the pursuit of self knowledge and personal success and the ability to think for oneself. I managed to think for myself for fourteen years as a member of an organization that the anti-cult folks would have you believe practiced mind control. In all that time, I didnít do anything that I didnít believe was right, both for myself and those around me. I wouldnít have done something I knew to be wrong for me or for others even if it had been directly suggested by Rama, my supposed cult leader. Go figure.
He never had a problem with my independence and my incredible stubborn streak. He laughed at them and encouraged them. I listened to what he taught and to the lifestyle suggestions he made and I weighed them against my own intuition and my own seeing and I made my own decisions. Rama never expressed disappointment when those decisions took me in opposite directions from the ones he suggested. He might have done his best to persuade me that I was choosing a more difficult path than the one he had pointed out on the map, but he always wished me well when I threw my pack on my back and struck off on my own. He even went out of his way to wish me well when I left his study altogether, and to say that I was always welcome back if my path happened to cross his in the future. Some cult leader.
I studied with Rama for as long as I was having more fun there than I would have had living some other lifestyle and pursuing some other spiritual path. And the day I realized that there was another path that appealed to me more than the one I was on, I turned and followed it. And the man portrayed in the media as a cunning, manipulative, disturbed cult leader supported that decision and simply wished me well, with all the warmth and generosity with which he had supported my decisions to study programming or teach meditation as part of his organization. Go figure.
One of the main reasons I am writing this book is to present an alternative to a lot of the spiritual whining that is going on in the world. Whining is the disease du jour. You canít browse a bookstore or read a newspaper or watch TV without running into the latest iteration of My Life In The _____ Cult, with all of its horror stories about the terrible things that the cult forced the author to do through mind control. Donít get me wrong. I think that there are destructive organizations out there, and folks susceptible enough that they fall prey to them. But that was not my experience, and part of me resents being lumped into a group that is described with the loaded buzzword cult.
But another part of me revels in the name-calling, and takes pride in it. I try not to whine too much about the less-than-positive things that occurred on my long and winding pursuit of the spiritual path. I canít. Every decision I made along the way was my own. I simply canít understand those who claim that the decisions they now regret were made only because they were the victims of mind control. And that they gained nothing positive from the experience.
I gained a lot from My Life In The Rama Cult, almost all of it positive. I am no victim. And I have nothing to apologize for to those who believe that I am both victim and victimizer. The anti-cult forces have done their worst to me and I have laughed at them. I have lost jobs because of blacklisting. I have seen myself labeled in newspapers a dangerous cultist, because I was in their town teaching meditation for free to anyone who wanted to learn. I have had friends kidnapped and held against their will by 'deprogrammers' hired by their own parents. And you knowÖI had fun anyway. I used the teachings of Tantric Buddhism to shift my mind to a more productive place, and turned each challenge into an opportunity. When one of my teaching locations was canceled because of bad publicity, I would just go out and arrange for three more locations and teach meditation classes there, paying for everything myself. Now that is my idea of fun.
I am still having fun. Take a look at the photo on the back cover again, and notice the smile. If anything in these stories inspires you and helps to point you to experiences that put that kind of smile on your face, and someone calls you a cultist because of it, please remember the mantra I started this little rant with. It is powerful magic, and will serve you well. Fuck Ďem if they canít take a joke.