Following up on the Scientology post just prior:
The world is full of seekers, yearning for a path to meaning. If you stand up and say, "This way," you will collect followers if you have any charisma at all. Even if you are waiting for the mothership to arrive with the next comet and the ticket is a bottle of Drano.
We are a social species; we want company on our journey, like-minded folks to whom we can turn, strength in numbers. We have our lone wolves and our rogues, but most of us want a pack. It is our nature.
You can see this everywhere you look, groups of seekers who aspire to more than food and sex. Some of it is sincere and motivated by altruism and love and spirit; some of it is motivated by lust and fraud and greed. And shades in-between.
I've been in and out of enough doctrines, faiths, and cults to see how they work. Even in some that I've thought were outright scams, it often turns out that some of the folks in it benefit. Holy men arise in the oddest places. It's an ill wind that blows no good; sometimes the right thing happens for the wrong reasons.
Belief is very powerful, mustard seeds and all, and there are lots of paths that lead up those mountains.
You can fake it and draw a crowd. You can also be one of those folks who actually achieve some kind of cosmic connection, and people can feel that. Look at Mata Amritanandamayi Devi -- Amma -- the Hindu spiritual teacher. Her main thing is, she hugs people. She doesn't have to say a word. Crowds line up to get a chance to get hugged, and people walk away feeling as if they have been touched by a saint.
People have had visions around such lights, just being in the same room. Chances are good you've experienced this at some point. Heard somebody speak, and waves of energy from them felt more powerful than anything you'd consider normal.
The direct experience isn't always about bliss: Once, I stood with several students next to a most adept martial artist, a true expert. Somebody had a new knife they were showing off, and they handed it to him to examine.
The moment that knife was in his hand, all of us took a step back, moving as one, as birds wheeling in flight. He wasn't a threat, in the sense that nobody expected him to commence cutting, but there was something in us–certainly in me–that instinctively recognized danger.
Give this guy room! the reptile in my hindbrain said. Death is here.
At the center of most religions, creeds, faiths, there is a focus; a man or woman who has an aura that shines in such a way that those around them know they are special. When they speak, people listen–and believe. He or she is the spiritual axis; what arises and revolves around them is the religion that seeks to achieve that same state of being. They are the territory, and the religion is the map. People often conflate the two, but they are not the same. You can be spiritual but not religious. You can be religious but not spiritual.
Is it the god gene? Are we talking about illusion? The placebo effect? Mass hypnosis? Hysteria? Is it a short-circuit in the brain, a mental illness, a chemical imbalance? Or is it something real, a spiritual connection to something?–call it God or Cosmic Consciousness or the Universal Flow, whatever name you like.
Well. You have to decide that on your own and act accordingly. But the experience can pop up in the most unexpected places, and if it does, you won't miss it. If you are hit by the relampago, it will take the top of your head right off.
Hope you enjoyed the sermon. See you next Sunday ...