Wild, Wild Culture
Or, Cults All The Way Down
Navigating the world is extremely difficult if you're in a state of depersonalization.
Normally, this arises in a context of psychic pathology, and is an involuntary experience. However, there are certain spiritual practices, peddled incautiously by certain celebrity-gurus, that induce a state very similar, if not identical, to depersonalization. The naïve seeker is then duped into thinking that this is a taste of enlightenment, and that their dissociated state is not pathological at all, but actually a 'merging with pure awareness' or some such drivel.
There are certain spiritual traditions in which these practices, and this kind of terminology, may be appropriate, but they have developed methods of preparing the seeker for their integration so that the desired state of awareness may be reached in a non-pathological manner. One of the teachers who appeared to have reached such a state is Sri Ramana Maharshi, a guru whose remarkable aura of calmness and compassion drew many followers to his home in Tiruvanamalai, in the South Indian region of Tamil Nadu.
So far as I can tell, Ramana was one legit dude. The worst bit of gossip I've found regarding his behaviour towards others was that he once berated his kitchen staff for serving him a bigger portion of curry than the others. His humble lifestyle was matched by his chastity, and I have seen absolutely no indications of any 'conduct', mis- or otherwise, with any of his followers, male or female.
For many of those who were drawn to his presence, however, it was a rather different story. After spending time with Ramana, a number of individuals decided to proclaim themselves as 'non-dual' teachers, and began attracting followers of their own. It should be stated that Ramana himself never claimed to be part of any lineage – his guru was a mountain – and he never authorised anyone else to carry on his work.
That didn't stop men like Robert Adams and Papaji from setting themselves up as enlightened masters. Whether they were or not is up for debate; take a good look at the biographies of the two I've just mentioned and decide for yourself.
Papaji's satsangs (basically a seminar, but with more beads) often featured hysterical fits of laughter, as attendees convinced themselves that they were reaching some sort of cathartic awakening. This process is sometimes called shakti-pat, a physical transfer of energy that can be mistaken for enlightenment, as it often feels quite blissful. It can also be extremely traumatic, a quality that it shares with many experiences of psychedelic drugs.
This is where I met the experience of shakti-pat and the world of spiritualized dissociation. Many of Papaji's followers did the same thing that Papaji did; set themselves up as charismatic spiritual teachers without any 'official' authorisation. Most of them have been involved in various scandals, such as Andrew Cohen, and the fake-guru power-couple of Gangaji and Eli Jaxon-Bear.
The one I encountered was Mooji, aka Tony Moo-Young, a softly-spoken Jamaican Londoner who hung out with Papaji in India for a time, before returning to sell incense and chai from his stall in Brixton Market in the late 1990s. His popularity grew, and when his videos were shared via YouTube, he was well on his way to becoming the next Eckhart Tolle.
I first encountered him in 2011, after having taken a reasonable amount of psychedelic drugs, and embarked on my own confused and incoherent spiritual exploration. He was impressive, but I was more interested in sorcery than non-duality, so I quickly moved on to other things.
I re-encountered him the following year, after my brother had committed suicide in the autumn of 2011. His humour and facade of unruffleable calm eventually won me over, and I found his videos extremely therapeutic. I started to practice his “I am” meditation, in which one is supposed to focus on the sense of “Presence”; according to him, once you start, “soon you're going to love it so much, you won't want to do anything else.” In a short time I moved onto “self-enquiry”, which was another practice copped from Ramana and shorn of its original context.
Ramana rarely prescribed this particular practice, and only did so if he felt it would be beneficial. Mooji, however, chucked it around at anyone who would listen, and claimed that it was some sort of fast-track method for attaining enlightenment.
You know what is a fast-track method for attaining enlightenment? Subscribing to Flint & Steel.
As Mooji explained it, the practice entails asking yourself the question “who am I?”, particularly in states of extreme emotional distress or, indeed, doubt. Despite what he claims, it is not an effective remedy for a panic-attack, as I can personally vouch, except to the degree that if pursued with enough effort it can induce a sort of numbed-out disembodiment. My body would still be surging with cortisol which would be converted into toxins soon enough because, instead of going for a run or something, I sat in the lotus posture and thought to myself, “who is the one who is experiencing this panic?” over and over again for half an hour, but by that point, I wasn't really paying attention to my body anymore, so it didn't matter. Thanks, Mooji. So much gratitude for your presence in this world. Etc.
Mooji also performs pseudo-exorcisms on his followers, when they're going through particularly rough episodes of shakti-pat. He did it to me, in front of almost a thousand people, in London. I remember him looking quite firmly into my eyes and telling me that “its” power was neutralised, and that “it” had no right to be there. What was “it”, other than the threads of my reluctance and disbelief? Luckily, the “exorcism” didn't work, and a little over a year later, I began to drift away from the sangha.
I had enough investment remaining to feel a sense of guilt over what I perceived as my failure to “realise the teachings”, and two years after the fake exorcism, I encountered Mooji directly for the last time. I was shaking, again, and going through a complex set of emotions that involved shame and resentment. He patted me on the head with a very grave look and a dismissive “thank you”.
It was around this time (2015) that Mooji also began to change somewhat. Earlier (late 2000s to early 2010s) recordings show a much more breezy, informal character; from the mid 2010s onward, a heavy sense of pressure and urgency crept in, more and more. Life outside of the 'sangha' or some state of 'awakening' was increasingly portrayed as unbearable; Mooji had previously said that one didn't need to be 'liberated' to have a good relationship with someone, but began to say that any relationship 'not grounded in truth' would last no longer than 5 years. A subtle encouragement to cut ties with those outside the sangha was there, for those who could hear it; if the phrase 'dog whistle' hadn't been so thoroughly contaminated, it would be quite appropriate.
It wasn't until 2019 that I properly broke with Mooji. I received an email from Mooji's mailing list about some absolutely dreadful white reggae singer-songwriter who had received Mooji's official endorsement, and I remember thinking “can anyone with such bad taste really be enlightened?”
Around a week later, my friend sent me the article 'Becoming God: Inside Mooji's Portugal Cult'. While it was somewhat disorientating for a time, I nonetheless breathed a deep sigh of relief, as my misgivings about Mooji and the sangha appeared to be confirmed.
In my last Dodcast conversation with Jasun Horsley, we discussed the relationship between cults and the macro-cult – i.e., the dominant cult-ure. Horsley’s own experience of the disciple-guru relationship was with John de Ruiter, a Mooji-like teacher from Canada; his ongoing collaboration with the disarmingly approachable Dave Oshana forms a chalk-and-cheese polarity with JdR (and Mooji’s) extremely hierarchical and one-sided relationships.
In Horsley’s view, an effective cult has to appear to offer some sort of viable alternative to the dominant cult, and in doing so, will usually end up being incorporated into what he terms 'the second matrix', a hallucinatory world of fake alternatives, psy-ops and controlled opposition. Interestingly, where a number of other grifters have leapt upon the 'truther' bandwagon since 2020, the ever-politic Mooji has remained on the fence, and as far as I know has not commented publicly on contentious issues such as the Covid-19 'vaccines'. This is perhaps fitting, as Mooji's own brainwashing methods dovetail extremely well with those of the mass media; fragmentation of the psyche and dissociation from one's embodied experience makes a very ripe subject for a propaganda campaign. Mooji-K-Ultra? You vil rid yourself of your ego, und be happy…1