12 Rahmat 165 B.E. (Baha’i Era)
Soundtrack in my head: Chemical Brothers (feat. Beth Orton), “Where Do I Begin”
This morning I rented a kayak and paddled out into the middle of Lake Mendota. It was an absolutely gorgeous morning—the temperature was perfect, and the sky was blue with only a few little puffy clouds here and there. The water was calm–a perfect day for something to go ker-plunk.
Once I’d paddled out about a half-mile, I pulled out of my shirt pocket a gold-plated locket with a silver ball-chain. On one side was a six-pointed star which makes up part of the Sukyo Mahikari emblem, and in the middle of the star was a small equal-armed cross, which makes up another part of the Mahikari emblem. On the other side was a little picture of a shoreline and a tree.
With my left hand I threw the object into the water. There was kind of a nice little arc as it flew–about five feet up in the air, and then the object plunged into the water with a surprisingly satisfying “ker-plunk” about fifteen feet away. I was a little surprised at how loud the “ker-plunk” was—kind of a deep and full noise. There was something that sound that felt very…complete.
I was surprised at how well I could see the object as it sank. The gold-plating caught the sunlight and reflected it in ripples for a few seconds, and I could see it going down for a surprisingly long time. But it sank fast. My mission was accomplished.
The object I tossed into the water is what the Mahikari organization refers to as an “omitama.” It is a locket that the organization considers sacred, and every Mahikari member is supposed to be wearing it pretty much at all times day and night. What I did would be considered extremely sacrilegious by Mahikari members. However, after so many years in the organization, most of it in a leadership position within the organization, I felt that I had to.
It has been nearly nine months since I publicly announced my departure from the Mahikari organization. One of the reasons I started “The Different Drummer Soundtrack” was out of my desire to promote Mahikari…but that changed. I can never claim to really know what God’s plan is for me, but my hunch is that God guided me into Mahikari and then guided me out of the organization years later—all of this as a stage of my spiritual development.
It’s important for me to note what I was looking for in a spiritual organization at the time I joined Mahikari. I’ve long been conscious of a looming crisis we human beings have created for ourselves with environmental destruction, the threat of war, and economic dislocation and exploitation. After years as a political activist, I became convinced that solutions to this crisis had a spiritual dimension as well as a political dimension. It was also clear to me that this time we live in is unprecedented in human history. Never has our ability as human beings to achieve things been so great, yet never has our ability to destroy ourselves and our planet been so great. Spiritually, I see this as very significant.
At the time I was introduced to Mahikari, I had been involved somewhat with the Chicago Pagan community, but I was beginning to gravitate away from it for various reasons. One of the reasons was that my beliefs were becoming more monotheistic. Many Pagans believe only in the existence of multiple gods instead of a single God. Others believe that there is some kind of original Creator of the universe, but that the only way to connect with the Divine is through lower gods. I still believed in the notion of multiple gods, but was beginning to believe more strongly in one single Creator of the universe.
Sukyo Mahikari spoke to both my desire to connect with a monotheistic God in a polytheistic context, and my need to engage in a spiritual practice that seemed relevant to the urgent and trying times we live in today. I liked how the Mahikari teachings said that monotheism, polytheism, and pantheism were merely different ways of looking at the same thing. This combination, a reflection of the very strong Shinto influence on Mahikari, had a real appeal to me at a time when I was not quite sure of either monotheism or polytheism.
There were other things I liked, too. Mahikari seemed to recognize, more than any church or spiritual organization I’d belonged to previously, that the “love thy neighbor thing” ought by nature to be a 24/7 practice, and that there were real-world consequences when such practices were not followed strictly. To me, this was (and still is) an absolutely critical component of the change that needs to occur in order to get humanity through these trying times,. There was also, in Mahikari, a reverence for nature that was deeply ingrained in the organization. There is also a teaching I like that talks about the spiritual power of words, and the resulting importance of choosing one’s words carefully.
But there was always something that wasn’t quite right. There are plenty of websites out there that talk about negative experiences people have had within the organization. I consider most of them to be to be at least somewhat accurate. One of the best ones can be found here.
Rather than go into great detail explaining my disenchantment with the organization, I think the best way to describe my relationship with the organization is to compare it with a long romantic relationship. This may sound strange until one realizes that one’s relationship with God is an intimate relationship in many ways. My experience is that Christian rock songs that praise God often sound indistinguishable from love songs, which only makes sense if you believe God is love. As such, my experience with the Mahikari organization colored my relationship with God for many years.
So imagine yourself in a romantic relationship–I’m sure many readers here can relate to this: When you first meet the person, there isn’t anything about them that seems particularly special. Indeed, you might think them to be perhaps a little odd. But then, one day you realize that something about them strikes a chord with you. Then, as you get to know them better, you begin to realize more and more that they possess more and more the qualities that you are looking for in a significant other. They have faults, but you seem very eager to overlook them because you are amazed at the degree to which this other person strikes a chord with you.
But from the beginning, there is something about that other person that makes you go, “Hmmm…” Maybe it’s something they said or how they said it. Maybe it’s the way they reacted to a situation. Maybe it’s the way that they treated you or someone else in a specific instance. At first, the issues seem so minor that they barely register a thought. But then you begin to think about them more and more. Finally, you realize that you have to say something.
The other person might respond in any number of ways. At first, they might deny what happened, and initially what they say seems believable. Or they might reinterpret what it is that you’re seeing and this seems believable, too. You want to believe them. But then more things happen. Finally, you sit down with them and have a talk about the relationship. Their response is part apology, part explanation, and partly a promise that the things that raised concern for you will disappear. You believe them, and the promise is enough to keep you involved and excited about the relationship.
Yet red flags keep coming up. You keep raising issues about these red flags, and you get a mixture of responses—sometimes an apology, and sometimes defensiveness or an angry denial. Sometimes they insist on your loyalty and trust, as if your concerns were because of a lack thereof. Sometimes they even attempt to put the blame on you, that it’s somehow you who is the problem. But more and more you begin to realize that they’re actually avoiding the issue and trying to go around you and your concerns. In fact you begin to see signs that there is a whole aspect to their life which they seem to be hiding from you—an aspect that seems quite shady and alarming. You realized that the number of red flags is only increasing, not decreasing, which seems like quite the opposite of what you would expect from someone whom you’ve been involved with for such a long time.. Mutual friends mention things which make your eyes widen, and your significant others’ critics start seeming more and more credible because of things you have seen.
At the point that you really wonder whether you can trust them at all or not, your significant other does one more thing. It may even be a relatively minor thing, but it’s yet one more in a series, and at this point you’ve had enough. Perhaps the person may even have a legitimate explanation for what they did, but you really don’t care anymore. You don’t want to hear any more explanations, any more rationalization, any more apologies. You just walk away from the relationship, not returning any phone calls, cutting off all contact. You might not be 100% sure that you were right in walking away, but time, and yet more tidbits from mutual friends tell you that leaving was the right thing to do. Friends and family begin to share with you the fact that they’d had concerns about the relationship, and that they clearly could see that it wasn’t a very good relationship.
This, in a nutshell, describes my long relationship with the Mahikari organization. It doesn’t describe my relationship with God, because if anything, my relationship with God has grown deeper. And as the months elapse after my break with the organization, it seems like my life is getting only better and better. I’ve lost somewhere between thirty and fifty pounds, and my financial situation has improved considerably. I’m more engaged in the work I love, and I feel I have a greater sense of purpose and clarity in my life than I did before I left Mahikari.
To be brutally honest, I feel embarrassed about the fact that I was associated with Mahikari for so long. I was even reluctant to make this post for that reason. But I guess that’s the burden of being a Different Drummer. I’m well aware that “normal” is not always healthy in this day and age, and that things of true value might exist in the most obscure and surprising places. So it didn’t seem strange to me that an odd Shinto-like sect might hold something of value. It’s still quite possible that the gem God wants me to find is in an equally obscure place. I can’t rule anything out.
But like any other relationship, I learn from it. One side effect of this long involvement is that I am more tentative about my involvement with religious organizations. I like the Baha’i Faith. It speaks to me on many levels. I do my prayers and chants every day and go to the feasts and devotional services. The Baha’i Faith probably helped make my departure from the Mahikari organization easier, as many of the good aspects of the Mahikari organization are also in the Baha’i Faith. (In fact, I suspect some of the teachings may in fact have been borrowed from the Baha’i Faith, as the Baha’i Faith precedes the Mahikari organization by over a hundred years.) Yet, I’m more reluctant to get involved with the Baha’i Faith beyond that. Because of my recent experience, I’m more wary of ANY religion, period. Maybe this will change as time elapses.
In my post of 21 October 2007, I said I wasn’t sure whether I could recommend the Mahikari organization to other people. Now I definitely wouldn’t. Granted, there are a number of individuals within the organization that I admire, and many who have been good friends. I wish the individuals involved in Mahikari the best of luck, but I really can’t offer that wish to the organization itself. I realize more than before that where there’s smoke, there’s likely to be fire, and yes, some people are definitely getting burned. If the spiritual energy, this “light-giving” energy they work with is indeed real, I’m not convinced that it’s entirely benign, and as a caution, I would urge people to refrain from “receiving Light.” And that is why I sent this omitama locket on a one-way trip to the muddy bottom of Lake Mendota.