14 Baha 167 B.E. (Baha’i Calendar)
Soundtrack in my head: Green Day, “American Idiot”
I was drawn to the Baha’i Faith in 2007 for a number of reasons. The first and most important reason was a series of spiritual experiences over the years that made it feel like I was being guided to the Faith. Second was their encouragement of the independent investigation of truth. Equally important was the positive impression I’d long had of Baha’is, a positive impression that went back all the way to 1988. And some of the books I read in my efforts to learn about the Faith really resonated with me.
One thing I realize now is that as I was leaving the Mahikari organization, I still felt the need to belong to a spiritual community, and the Baha’i Faith seemed to hold some of the tenets of Mahikari (indeed, more than one person has alleged that Mahikari founder Kotama Okada stole some of his ideas from the Baha’i Faith–without attribution.) The Baha’i Faith felt like Mahikari without all of the foul-smelling baggage.
My feelings about the Baha’i Faith are still very positive, but my devotion to the Baha’i Faith is not really strong. I’ve gradually come to realize this while attending meetings where we would discuss attracting new people to the Faith. I’d sit and listen at the meetings and find myself feeling quite sad for no apparent reason.
I began to suspect that my negative experiences with Mahikari were feeding these emotions. So I asked a good Baha’i friend of mine to meet with me for coffee so that I could talk about my experiences with Mahikari. I felt that the process of talking about them would give me some clarity, and that she might be able to see some things I didn’t see.
Then, to organize my thoughts, I took several sheets of paper and made a list on each sheet of paper. The lists consisted of 1) what values, spiritual and otherwise, have consistently been important to me over the years 2) what initially attracted me to Mahikari, 3) my initial negative gut feelings about Mahikari, 4) why I chose to get involved with Mahikari despite those negative gut feelings, 5) what I did for the Mahikari organization, and 6) the negative experiences that ultimately caused me to leave the organization.
Then I met with my friend for two hours, and it was very powerful to talk about my Mahikari experience. I still have a copy of a color photo book the Mahikari organization sells, and I used it to give my friend a visual image on top of narrative I was giving her. Her response to the things I said and showed here were interesting. As I showed her the enormous temple, shrine, and museum in Takayama, Japan, she wondered aloud how Mahikari could have gotten all the money it needed to build these enormous structures. Even more interesting, she used the word “abuse” to describe some of the experiences I was describing to her–a word that I would not have used at all.
I found this list-making and experience-sharing exercise to be very illuminating. Indeed, I strongly recommend this for any questioning or ex-member of Mahikari, or anyone else trying to come to terms with a religion they are questioning or have left. In my case, I was surprised by the number of things that ultimately made me leave the organization–two sides of a sheet of paper were actually not enough to include everything.
Based on this narrative, it would seem that drinking the Kool-Aid the Mahikari organization offered me left me with a sour stomach that for now, and that makes it a challenge for me to digest even healthy spiritual teachings and experiences. It could have been worse. I have always had a bit of a rebellious streak which, in the case of Mahikari, served me well. While I was a dedicated member of the organization, I never quite stopped questioning things, and as such, was able to avoid some of the spiritual traps that I saw other Mahikari members become ensnared in. Indeed, I take some devilish pride in knowing that a few Mahikari staff members and senior members were even scared of me because of my willingness to question things. Compared to many former members, I think I came out relatively unscathed.
I burned out after thirteen years of fundraising and promoting good causes. There is a part of me that has become cynical, jaded, and automatically suspicious of any effort–political, charitable, or religious– that claims to be for “the common good,” or “making a difference in the world”–those particular phrases for me have the nutritional value of skim milk and iceberg lettuce. I realize that this is not an entirely healthy attitude, but it points to some other things I feel I need to work on.
So, yeah, I’ve got some things I need to work on and figure out.
As far as the Baha’i Faith is concerned, I must make a strong distinction between Mahikari and the Baha’i Faith. There are things about the Baha’i Faith I’m not entirely sure about, but the Baha’i Faith has never raised any red flags. By red flags, I mean things that feel really strange, weird, and questionable. Throughout my entire tenure with the Mahikari organization, I saw many red flags spring up, and pretty soon they became so numerous that I realized I couldn’t trust the organization any more.
I need certitude one way or another in my feelings about the Baha’i Faith, and I feel that the only way to do that is to immerse myself more in the Writings. I have a number of writings by Baha’u’llah that I have yet to read, and many that I certainly have not absorbed. As I read, I want to take notes, and highlight things that resonate with me, as well as things that I question. I should also continue my study in the Ruhi series–right now I am at the end of Book Two, but have been stuck on Book Two for two years.
That such an independent investigation of truth is encouraged in the Baha’i Faith is a good thing. I look forward to seeing what I find out.