Spiritual egalitarianism or spiritual authority?

One of the issues I have encountered during the time I have been on Kinfonet is the question of spiritual authority. Some people are hyper vigilant to this danger, while others seem to be completely asleep to it. Some people feel that by simply having a website dedicated to understanding the teachings of Krishnamurti that this already implies accepting spiritual authority; while others apparently seem to believe themselves to be in possession of spiritual authority (without being explicit about it).

What is spiritual authority? As I understand it, it is the mind’s (or ego’s) attempt to find power, specialness, security or gratification from the feeling of being in possession of a spiritual truth that other people are not in possession of. This feeling can be hidden under layers of phoney virtue, phoney affection, phoney certitude. The person may in fact be completely oblivious to it in themselves.

We all have a tendency to be egotistic, competitive, or want to be special. We are all capable of self-deception. So part of our responsibility in relationship is to be awake to this danger, to be alert to the dawnings of our own pride and prejudice, our own seeds of spiritual authority.

And yet why oughtn’t we to share our questions and insights with other people? We all have little breakthroughs in our understanding, we each have our own small epiphanies. Why can’t we share these when they happen? Surely this is only natural?

I think it is natural. The only proviso is that we do so without claiming to have spiritual authority over other people, and are transparent about not being totally transformed (if we are not totally transformed). I think Krishnamurti sums this up well in his reply to a question he received in Saanen:

The questioner says: ‘I have understood what you have said somewhat, partially, not completely; I am not a transformed human being. I understand, and I want to tell others what I have understood. I do not say I have understood the whole, I have understood a part. I know it is fragmented, I know it is not complete, I am not interpreting the teachings, I am just informing you what I have understood.’

Well, what is wrong with that?

But if you say: ‘I have grasped the whole completely and I am telling you’ – then you become an authority, the interpreter; such a person is a danger, he corrupts other people.

But if I have seen something which is true I am not deceived by it; it is true and in that there is a certain affection, love, compassion; I feel that very strongly – then naturally I cannot help but go out to others; it would be silly to say I will not. But I warn my friends, I say, ‘Look, be careful, do not put me on a pedestal.’

(3rd question and answer meeting, Saanen, 25th July, 1980)

So there is nothing wrong with sharing our insights, partial as they may be. But we should make clear to other people that just because we have had certain (partial) insights we are not completely transformed. We are not in possession of the whole truth. We are not liberated from the contents of consciousness. We shouldn’t try to create a mystique around this.

If one notices, there are people who seem to be on Kinfonet simply to preach, to share an insight they may or may not have had and who refuse discuss it or enter into dialogue about it. They do not like to be questioned about anything, or enter into a relationship of equality, friendship with the person who is questioning them. They keep their statements oblique, generalised, ambiguous, niche. So, wittingly or unwittingly, they have assumed the role of spiritual authority, and when asked to clarify their role, they simply ignore the question.

Are such persons aware of what they are doing? Why are there so many people who find this acceptable behaviour, and who go along with it, make excuses for it, welcome it? Why do we do this?

Why can’t we be open with each other and admit that we do not have total insight into life, that we are not completely transformed? Is there such a great shame in admitting to this? Is our pride in refusing to admit this so important to us that we do not see the danger of doing this? Do we not see the confusion this semblance of spiritual authority creates? - The division it creates between the one who supposedly ‘knows’, and the one who doesn’t?

Do we not see that to become a spiritual authority is a form of corruption, and that to be transparent about our equality with other people is a way of halting this corruption? Can we stop accepting spiritual authority ourselves, or being a spiritual authority to others? And yet still share our insights with others, and be open to listening to the insights they share with us?

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Isn’t freedom from spiritual authority - either the authority of others of the authority one believes oneself to have - the first step in seeing that “freedom is essential”?

Isn’t the denial of spiritual authority, whether in oneself or in other people, the first step in understanding the meaning of “no division”?

Spiritual authority creates tyranny, creates division. It is not free and non-divisive. Do we see this I wonder?

There is also the authority of our beliefs.

Such as the belief in the final lasting value of the ‘self’.

Or the belief in the overriding importance of ‘ideas’.

Do we have beliefs that we cannot deeply question?

Are what we take to be our insights something beyond being susceptible of questioning?

Why do we accept the authority of anything inwardly? And why do we accept being an authority (inwardly)?

I think there is something interesting going on here which I certainly don’t understand. I agree with you James - I do perceive some contributions, from time to time, to be “preachy”. I tend to immediately feel annoyed by this, feeling that such contributions lead inevitably to separateness. However, contributors you come across as “preachy” to me almost certainly don’t feel they are preaching, or talking from the position of “I know and you don’t know.” So what is going on here? Is it even possible to discuss this without causing further division and conflict? Having said this, I do think it is important to discuss this issue.

Part of the problem is that we are a small family on Kinfonet, so it is very difficult to avoid being personal. As soon as we get too personal there is the obvious danger of creating images, projecting our own assumptions, prejudices onto others, putting up defences, and trading unthinkingly in accusations and counter accusations (as seemed to happen on the ‘facing psychological facts’ thread).

And yet there is also an absurdity to completely impersonalising these discussions, because we are such a small family that sometimes it’s quite natural and healthy to call out X for their behaviour.

For example, I know that I can be more intellectual than is necessary. Some people have pointed this out, rudely or quietly, and I am open to listening to what they say. Sometimes it’s just a clash of personalities, or because people have a negative image of people who are interested in what they narrowly consider to be “intellectual” things, etc. But I think it is important not to be intellectual in the sense of being dominated by the intellect, and so I want to watch out for that, so I listen to what others say (in this mirror of relationship).

Which means I am open to looking into this, I am willing to talk about it, be challenged about it. But I do not see any similar openness from certain others about their preachiness or dubious identification with having been transformed, etc. When I have challenged them they brush it off or ignore or evade the question. They seem to be incapable of dialogue about this matter. Why?

Are all people with partial insight terrifically stupid in this respect? They cannot see their own implicit privileging of their own partial insight into things, which separates them from other people. If they would only admit that their insight was partial, then there could still be openness, communication, shared inquiry. But they seem to want to carry on as though their insight was complete, total, transformative in the total sense. Why?

Is it because they are unaware of what they are doing? Probably they are unaware, otherwise they wouldn’t do it. But they are the ones talking, preaching, about ‘non division’, ‘awareness without thought’, the ‘necessity of freedom’, and so it’s obvious that they will reject any inference that they are themselves being divisive, unaware, tyrannical, etc.

If they were willing to get off their high horses and sit with the common folk who are not yet free from thought, from the contents of consciousness, then we could talk about all this, and their insights (which do not belong to them) would also be your insights and my insights. But they want to remain aloof, profound, divorced, divided, and preach love, unity, peace, etc!


Meanwhile certain other people have left the forum because they were unwilling to subject certain preciously held beliefs - for example, a belief in the importance of ideas, or in the significance of the ‘self’ - to close scrutiny. Why any belief has so much importance that it cannot be investigated and dissolved is something I find difficult to assess. Which is why I ask myself if i have beliefs like that?

I find Krishnamurti’s insightfulness compelling, but would I refuse to subject anything he says to close scrutiny? I don’t know. This would be something worth exploring if people were open; but not if they are just doing so from a place of strongly held beliefs themselves, because then it just becomes a debate - and who has time to debate every last issue?

So these are some of the issues I feel are relevant here.

Can we approach ‘spiritual’ questions without assuming that we have some special insight into them, and without standing on the false platform of a strongly held belief? This would be a more egalitarian approach as I see it.

If I don’t have partial insights, how can I know I’m not completely identified with and limited to my conclusions and beliefs?

If I have a partial insight and I make too much of it, will I have an insight into making too much of my insights?

If I have an insight, am I vulnerable enough to talk about it here, and reasonable enough to acknowledge that it may not be an insight at all?

Already, today, I have reacted to Pilgrim’s confession of an alleged insight he had by debunking it. I should have been kind and delicate about it, but it didn’t seem to me like an insight at all. Mea culpa.

I think all these problems can be resolved easily if we accept that truth is discovered from moment to moment, and so insight has to be discovered moment to moment too. We must always start a moment afresh, from the beginning.

I’m not sure that this is what is being asked for Inquiry! As you yourself imply in your post, it takes a certain amount of vulnerability (I won’t say courage) to share one’s insights with others. We are too quick to reject things we don’t agree with, or which we haven’t understood.

As I said on the ‘insight’ thread, I think there is a very straightforward way of understanding Pilgrim’s insight that doesn’t mean one has to sell one’s integrity or intellectual honesty (or whatever it is that concerns you about what he said). I think one can take his insight as valid, and as an opportunity to reflect on the importance we give to books, to knowledge, neglecting the only book that is essential for us to read: the book of oneself. This is how I understood it.

This is where one’s sensitivity is called for. One has to be able to listen to another person without drawing immediate conclusions.

People do have insights all the time - both in the so-called secular world, of science, art, music, etc; as well as psychological insights of various kinds. So we mustn’t fall into the trap of cynicism.

What we are trying to do is to understand our relationship to the insights we have or that other people have, and to not allow insight to become a burden of authority. But this requires intelligence both on the part of the person who is sharing their insight, and on the part of the person listening to it without reacting to it.

The person who is sharing their (partial) insight must be able to step away from it, dis-identify from it, so that it doesn’t become an ego thing; they must be able and willing to look at it critically, to look at it objectively, as though they were looking at someone else’s insight.

While the person who listens to the (partial) insight being shared by another must be able and willing to listen to it without images or preformed assumptions and prejudices. They must be able to listen to it as though for the first time, even though they may have heard it said before by other people. At the same time they must not be gullible, or accept the apparent certainty of what is being communicated. Which does not mean cynicism or being contrarian.

Only then can this insight be said to have been communicated properly.