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RECOGNIZING AUTHORITARIAN CONTROL

by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad

Surrendering to a guru brings instant intimacy with all who share the same values. In a world where traditional values are crumbling, bringing brittle, hedonistic ways of relating, many feel alone and disconnected. Acceptance by and identification with the group induce a loosening of personal boundaries. This opening consequently increases the emotional content of one's life, bringing purpose, meaning, and hope. It is no wonder that those who join such groups rave about how much better they feel than previously. But this quick, one-dimensional bonding is based solely upon a shared ideology. No matter how intense and secure it feels, should one leave the fold, it evaporates as quickly as it formed.

Surrender is the glue that binds guru and disciple. Being a disciple offers the closest approximation (outside of mental institutions) to the special configuration of infancy. Surrender is a route that enables disciples to experience again, at least partially, the conflict-free innocence that is the source of their atavistic longings. Among these, perhaps most important is the feeling of once again being totally cared for. Surrendering to any authority brings this about to some extent, but with a guru it reaches vast dimensions. The guru reinforces this by letting it be known that all who follow him are and will be especially protected. For the follower, this feels like being protected by God.

This dependent state satisfies other longings that stem from infancy. Once again, one experiences being at the center of the universe--if not directly (the guru occupies that space), at least closer to the center than one could have thought possible. The guru also puts out the image of the totally accepting parent--the parent one never had but always wanted. So disciples believe they are loved unconditionally, even though this love is conditional on continued surrender. Disciples in the throes of surrender feel that they have given up their past, and do not, consciously at least, fear the future. In addition, they feel more powerful through believing that the guru and the group are destined to greatly influence the world. Feeling totally cared for and accepted, at the universe's center, powerful, and seemingly unafraid of the future are all achieved at the price of giving one's power to another, thus remaining essentially a child.

Surrendering to an authority who dictates what's right is a quick, mechanical route to feeling more virtuous. It is a fast track for taking on a moral system and to some extent following it. But more, that act of surrender itself can feel like giving up or at least diminishing one's ego, which is presented as a sign of spiritual progress. All renunciate moral systems have as prime virtues selflessness and obedience to some higher authority. If confused or in conflict, conforming to programming can make one feel immediately better. Obedience itself can feel selfless. The conditioning here runs deep. Children are praised for obedience, which fundamentally means doing what the parent wants instead of what they want. When disobedient, a child is often called selfish, which is never a compliment. Surrendering to an authority and then being rewarded for it is part of being a child. It may be true that there is no way out of this. Yet there is a world of difference between parenting aimed at holding on to authority, and parenting that leads children to self-trust. We are certain that children raised to trust themselves would be far less susceptible to authoritarian control. No matter how much better one initially feels, anything that undermines self-trust in the long run is detrimental to becoming an adult.

Disciples usually become more attached to the psychological state that surrender brings than to the guru, whom they never really get to know as a person. Repudiation of the guru (or even doubt and questioning) means a return to earlier conflict, confusion, and meaninglessness. The deeper the surrender, and the more energy and commitment they put into the guru, the greater their emotional investment is. Disciples will thus put up with a great deal of contradictory and aberrant behavior on the guru's part, for doubting him literally means having their world fall apart.

This is why many who are involved in authoritarian surrender adamantly deny they are. Those who see the dissembling in other gurus or leaders can find countless ways to believe that their guru is different. It is not at all unusual to be in an authoritarian relationship and not know it. In fact, knowing it can interfere with surrender. Any of the following are strong indications of belonging to an authoritarian group:

1. No deviation from the party line is allowed. Anyone who has thoughts or feelings contrary to the accepted perspective is made to feel wrong or bad for having them.

2. Whatever the authority does is regarded as perfect or right. Thus behaviors that would be questioned in others are made to seem different and proper.

3. One trusts that the leader or others in the group know what's best.

4. It is difficult to communicate with anyone not in the group.

5. One finds oneself defending actions of the leader (or other members) without having firsthand knowledge of what occurred.

6. At times one is confused and fearful without knowing why. This is a sign that doubts are being repressed.

The age-old inquiry that asks "Who am I?" looks inside for self-discovery. The process of digging deeper into oneself reveals there are self-images constructed out of the past that are part of one's identity. The true meaning of spiritual surrender involves letting go of self-defining images that limit who one is and can be. Within this inner inquiry one also comes to realize that one is part of a larger context. Surrendering to those who present themselves as a better or more real representative of that larger context perverts the true beauty and meaning of surrender. On the contrary, surrendering to another as the gateway to salvation keeps people dependent, childish, and living second-handedly. Surrender as an adult encompasses realizing that all of us are an interwoven part of a larger process that both creates and is created by its components. This involves being able both to control life and to surrender to what life offers. It does not involve giving up one's power or identity.

The only way any living system works well is to have information flowing freely between its parts and its environment. This is particularly essential with human beings, in order to counteract the inbuilt nature of subjectivity and the biasing filters of self-interest. The guru/disciple relationship, which is inherently authoritarian, cuts off the necessary flow of information for both, creating a feedback-proof system. If any degree of objectivity can ever be obtained, it is only through open minds that change with changing information."

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