Mysticism, by nature, is suspect. It is difficult not to find it questionable that a person claims wisdom but refuses to lucidly explain the nature of the wisdom. It is even more arduous to endeavor not to question those mystics that develop large followings and profit socially and financially from their supposed wisdom.
Sam Harris and Netflix: Outing the Unwise
In recent years, the neuroscientist, skeptic, and social commentator Sam Harris has done a fine job of warning his readers of the lack of personal wisdom among many meditation gurus. The production division of Netflix has been even more instrumental in warning the public. Riding on the coattails of the #metoo movement, they produced two documentaries on the most well-known scandals that arose from recent Eastern mysticism, namely, those of Chandra Mohan Jain, who renamed himself Rajneesh and later Osho, and Bikram Choudhury. While the narratives about Rajneesh and Bikram illustrate the sort of personalities that commercial Eastern mysticism attracts, they do little to describe the pervasiveness of the immoral and unwise lifestyles at the core of many Eastern traditions.
Putting the Power of Meditation in Perspective
In this series of blog posts, I will summarize some of the noteworthy examples of personal hypocrisy among South Asian and East Asian mystics. My interest is not to disparage the guru-shishya tradition of the East, nor to elucidate the social danger of ascribing god-like qualities to men, but to show that excellence in meditation, mindful or otherwise, does not always lead to excellence in behavior. Though the perversion and immorality of the mystics is most salient, the lack of self-discipline exhibited by these giants of Eastern meditation is even more puzzling.
While South Asian yoga remains in vogue, Southeast Asian mindfulness meditation has almost eclipsed it in the 20th century Western mind. As health-conscious individuals, we are encouraged and in turn encourage others to hone their mindfulness. We point towards research indicating that mindful meditation quiets the default mode network of our brains, allowing us to gain control over our own streams of consciousness. We can conquer anxiety, insomnia, our selves – through the meditation of the East. But meditation was brought to us on the backs of the men described in this blog series, most of whom displayed an absolute inability to control their actions, and many of whom were known for hedonism, ego-driven behavior, anger, and absolute hypocrisy.
Necessary but Not Sufficient
Meditation is a practice that is healthful and productively spiritual. For some, it may be a necessary step towards spiritual growth and improved cognitive performance. But as the accounts in the next posts will show, though it may be necessary, it is certainly not sufficient.
 Harris, S. (2014). Waking up: A guide to spirituality without religion. Simon and Schuster.