The Source Family is a new documentary about the far out hippie commune/cult of the same name. It debuted in New York City on May 1 and will be hitting indie theaters across the country soon. The Hairpin has a good write-up.
Many academics and observers of cult phenomena, such as psychologist Philip G. Zimbardo of Stanford, agree on four criteria to define a cult. The first is behavior control, i.e., monitoring of where you go and what you do. The second is information control, such as discouraging members from reading criticism of the group. The third is thought control, placing sharp limits on doctrinal questioning. The fourth is emotional control—using humiliation or guilt. Yet at times these traits can also be detected within mainstream faiths. So I would add two more categories: financial control and extreme leadership.
Jezebel is a new web comic by Elijah Brubaker, the writer and artist behind the Wilhelm Reich bio comic Reich. It’s humorous telling of the Biblical story of Jezebel.
The comic is being serialized at Study Group Comics every Wednesday. There’s a warning that this is not safe for work, but I haven’t noticed anything particular racy — but perhaps the comic will get more explicit as it progresses, so watch out for that.
Tim McGirk writes about the struggle that Tibetan Buddhist rinpoches — an honorific generally given to supposed reincarnations of past lamas — are having in the modern world:
By and large, the lineage of rinpoches survived intact for eight centuries, until the Chinese Red Army invaded Tibet, in 1950. It was easier to maintain this system when the “precious ones” were locked inside monasteries ringed by mountains, far from worldly distractions. But in exile, this tradition is fast unraveling. The younger rinpoches are exposed to all of the twenty-first century’s dazzling temptations. The irony is that while Tibetan Buddhism is gaining more adherents around the world, an increasing number of rinpoches are abandoning their monastic vows. Some are having a hard time finding their own path through the complexities of modern society and feel unable, or unqualified, to pass on much in the way of advice. Neither their early training in the monastery nor, supposedly, the good karma of their past lives as teachers is able to shield them entirely from the afflictions that the rest of us experience—desire, rage, attachment, envy, and egotism. The pull of samsara, the flow of worldly existence, can be overwhelming. One Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas has two tests for graduation: first, monks are sent out onto a snowbank wearing only a wet sheet and told to keep themselves warm by tumo, a sort of heat-generating meditation; second, those who pass the first round are sent to the monastery’s printing house in Old Delhi, a neighborhood that teems with prostitutes and myriad sensory distractions. For young monks, the stint in Old Delhi is the harder test.
A recent paper published in The British Journal of Psychiatry looks at surveys of 7,400 people in the United Kingdom for links between mental health and religiousness and spirituality. I could only find the abstract online, but Mark Vernon (a former priest turned agnostic Christian journalist) wrote about the paper for The Guardian here.
Vernon focused on the paper’s finding that spiritual but not religious people are more prone to . But there were two other unusual findings:
-Non-spiritual, non-religious people were no more likely to have mental health disorders, other than heavy drinking (the abstract notes that they also are more likely to have tried drugs, but doesn’t indicate that they are more likely to have developed a habitual drug habit). This conflicts with previous studies that assumed that religion was a key part of happiness.
-According to Vernon’s write-up, non-spiritual, non-religious people tended not to have education beyond secondary school, challenging previous findings that atheists are more intelligent (or perhaps the assumption that intelligent people go to university).
Vernon concludes that churches in Britain should do a better job of reaching spiritual people who don’t have religious affiliations. He’s holding on to the idea that religion can treat mental health issues, but I think he’s reading too much into the study. First of all, it will need to be repeated and compared with other studies with conflicting results. Second, it’s not clear that religiosity is what “healed” anyone — correlation vs. causation and all that. But it does lend some credence to concerns about religious practices being taken out of context.
Ann Neumann writes about William Coleman, a U.S. prisoner who has been on a hunger strike for the past five years:
There are two places in the U.S. where you can be fed against your will: a Catholic hospital and a prison.
Staff turned off the video camera typically used to record medical procedures. They strapped Coleman down at “four points” with seatbelt-like “therapeutic” restraints. Edward Blanchette, the internist and prison medical director at the time, pushed a thick, flexible tube up Coleman’s right nostril. Rubber scraped against cartilage and bone and drew blood. Coleman howled. As the tube snaked into his throat, it kinked, bringing the force of insertion onto the sharp edges of the bent tube. They thought he was resisting so they secured a wide mesh strap over his shoulders to keep him from moving. A nurse held his head. Blanchette finally realized that the tube had kinked and pulled it back out. He pushed a second tube up Coleman’s nose, down his throat, and into his stomach. Blanchette filled the tube with vanilla Ensure. Coleman’s nose bled. He gagged constantly against the tube. He puked. As they led him back to his cell, the cuffs of Coleman’s gray sweatshirt were soaked with snot, saliva, vomit, and blood.
“I have been tortured,” he would say later. And it was enough to make Coleman start drinking fluids again. For a while. When he stopped a few months later, the prison force-fed him again, and twelve more times over the next two years. By last year they could no longer use Coleman’s right nostril. A broken nose in his youth and repeated insertion of the tube have made it too sensitive.
“People today love high-speed things,” he said in an interview. “We didn’t have instant noodles in the past, but now people love them. For the sake of presentation, we have to change the way we teach Buddhism and make it easy and digestible like instant noodles.”
He says Buddhist leaders should make Buddhism more relevant by emphasizing the importance of meditation as a salve for stressful urban lifestyles. The teaching of Buddhism, or dharma, does not need to be tethered to the temple, he said.
“You can get dharma in department stores, or even over the Internet,” he said.
But Phra Paisan is markedly more pessimistic about what is sometimes called “fast-food Buddhism.” He is encouraged by the embrace of meditation among many affluent Thais and the healthy sales of Buddhist books, but he sees basic incompatibilities between modern life and Buddhism.
His life is a portrait of traditional Buddhist asceticism. He lives in a remote part of central Thailand in a stilt house on a lake, connected to the shore by a rickety wooden bridge. He has no furniture, sleeps on the floor and is surrounded by books. He requested that a reporter meet him for an interview at 6 a.m., before he led his fellow monks in prayer, when mist on the lake was still evaporating.
Monks are suffering a decline in “quantity and quality,” he said, partly because young people are drawn to the riches and fast-paced life of the cities. The monastic education of young boys, once widespread in rural areas, has been almost entirely replaced by the secular education provided by the state.
Via io9, here’s what … wrote on Facebook according to io9:
All the world’s major religions, with their emphasis on love, compassion, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness can and do promote inner values. But the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether.
Pastor Phil Wyman writes about his Christian missionary work at Burning Man:
I see Burning Man as a developing festival culture in American society. Like the children of Israel, who gathered for holy days like Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles, millions of people throng to festivals such as Burning Man, the Rainbow Gatherings, and Mind Body Spirit. Such events are imbued with a hedonistic party culture, but they often foster a search for deeper spirituality. That spirituality is typically not Christian—it’s not specifically or predominantly anything. Rather, it’s at root the search for meaning. Like the Jews running out to the desert to see John the Baptist, these spiritual seekers run to festivals and find new crazed prophets. [...]
Like others at the festival, we devoted ourselves to building a large art installation—one of more than 300 built on the playa that week. Ours would be something of a sociological experiment. We were looking for people who were hoping to hear something—a still, small voice, perhaps.
I found some friends to help me—Hope Deifell, Dennis Huxley, Scott Veatch, and Matt Bender—and we built something we called Pillars of the Saints. It was an interactive meditation project based on the life of Simeon Stylites, the 5th-century Christian desert father and ascetic mystic. Simeon lived on a pillar for 39 years, seeking God and sharing wisdom with the multitudes who sought him out. Even popes asked for his advice, and Simeon’s work started a small movement of “pillar saints.”
It took us four days to build the installation: three pillars 10 to 12 feet tall and three blank walls with a flame altar in front of each. Each of the elements—the pillars, the walls, and the flame altars—had its own purpose.
Many Technoccult readers have probably seen Hermetic.com. Maybe you even got your first taste of Aleister Crowley, Austin Osman Spare or Hakim Bey there. What you might not know is that the site’s founder, Al Jigong Billings has given up the site to focus on what he calls “Open Source Buddhism.” I recently talked with Al about what Open Source Buddhism is, how it differs from other contemporary the Pragmatic Dharma movement and the secular mindfulness movement, and how he gravitated from Neopaganism to Buddhism.