Wednesday, June 7, 2017


A new self-realization group was just advertised on MeetUp. It is one of many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of such groups around the New York City area alone. Its claim is quite typical:

·       A glimpse of your True Self, a Reality without fear or obstruction, experiencing bliss and divinity as your very Core. Join for discussion, delicious vegan food, and energy transmission.

I have nothing against vegan food or conversation. However, the claim “experiencing…divinity as your very Core” requires some examination. How would we know when we are experiencing divinity as our very core? None of these groups ever seem interested in providing any evidence that divinity is what we would be experiencing. Perhaps it would just be a matter of wish fulfillment. After all, the idea that we are God is very appealing, especially to us humans who are perpetually seeking anything that will boast our self-esteem.

In fact, a wealth of studies have revealed that we are masters of self-delusion:

·       “In one study of nearly a million high school seniors, 70 percent said they had “above average leadership skills, but only 2 percent felt their leadership skills were below average.” Another study found that 94 percent of college professors think they do above average work. And in another study, ‘when doctors diagnosed their patients as having pneumonia, predictions made with 88 percent confidence turned out to be right only 20 percent of the time.’” (; “Self-images Often Erroneously Inflated,” 11/9/05)

Many such studies demonstrate that self-delusion is pervasive, perhaps even normal. Although we have the inner resources for self-knowledge, we seem to lack the willingness to use them. In “Positive Illusions,” psychologist Shelley Taylor sums up the evidence:

·       “Normal people exaggerate how competent and well liked they are. Depressed people do not. Normal people remember their past behavior with a rosy glow. Depressed people are more even-handed…On virtually every point on which normal people show enhanced self-regard, illusions of control, and unrealistic visions of the future, depressed people fail to show the same biases.” (214)

This demonstrates that these “self-enhancing biases and illusions” are entirely human and serve to explain why we flee from true self-knowledge. It’s just too depressing. We are simply addicted to the pleasure of having an inflated self-esteem, and we will reject anything that might threaten our comfortable addiction. And what can be more self-enhancing that to believe that we are God!

We so love to elevate our self-importance. In light of the reality of pervasive self-delusion, can we trust our “experience of self” and conclude that we are God? Hardly! Nevertheless, on Western college campuses, there are no shortages of students who believe that they are God or god. When I ask them to prove it by just performing a slight miracle, they demur, but this inability doesn’t seem to upset their convictions.

However, the collective wisdom of the ages should give us some hesitation about our convictions about our true identity.

·       “Lying to ourselves is more deeply ingrained than lying to others.”― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

·       “People who believe that they are strong-willed and the masters of their destiny can only continue to believe this by becoming specialists in self-deception.”― James Baldwin, Giovanni's Room

·       “It is a self-deception of philosophers and moralists to imagine that they escape decadence by opposing it. That is beyond their will; and, however little they acknowledge it, one later discovers that they were among the most powerful promoters of decadence.”― Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power

·       “We all practice self-deception to a degree; no man can handle complete honesty without being cut at each turn. There's not enough room in a man's head for sanity alongside each grief, each worry, each terror that he owns. I’m well used to burying such things in a dark cellar and moving on.”― Mark Lawrence, Prince of Fools

·       “So the paradox goes: No man who is really ignorant is ever aware that he is ignorant. That is its finest, most faulty manifestation; there can be no true ignorance without first some claim of intelligence or consciousness, or superiority or enlightenment.”― Criss Jami

Jesus taught extensively about self-deception – our hypocrisy of judging and correcting others, when we are even more self-deceived than they (Matthew 7:1-5). He diagnosed the cause of self-deception, which arises from our love for the darkness of self-deception:

·       And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. (John 3:19-20)

It might even be worse today. We are taught that believing in ourselves and elevating our self-esteem, apart from any consideration of the truth, is a virtue. We are told, “If it works for you, go for it.” It seems that the test of our beliefs is whether or not it makes us feel good, at least temporarily.

However, there is always a cost for believing the lie. If we do not see accurately, we will eventually crash. What do we tell our wife when she accuses us of treating her badly?

·       We are God. Anything else is illusion, or
·       You need to experience “divinity as your Core.” Evidently, you haven’t experienced it yet.

Neither response will promote reconciliation. Psychologist Roy Baumeister had extensively researched the relationship between high self-esteem and performance, suggesting that there are hidden costs:

·       Recently, though, several close analyses of the accumulated research have shaken many psychologists’ faith in self-esteem. My colleagues and I were commissioned to conduct one of these studies by the American Psychological Society, an organization devoted to psychological research. These studies show not only that self-esteem fails to accomplish what we had hoped, but also that it can backfire and contribute to some of the very problems it was thought to thwart. Social sector organizations should therefore reconsider whether they want to dedicate their scarce resources to cultivating self-esteem. In my view, there are other traits, like self-control, that hold much more promise. (

If you are God, there is no longer a need to learn or investigate. Everything you need is found within. However, there are important lessons to be gained by investigating the nations that have lived with such beliefs for centuries.

In “The King of Knowledge,” a very literalistic commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita, Prabhupada, the late head of the Hare Krishna Vishnavite sect of Hinduism characteristically wrote:

·       The hospital making business is being conducted by the government; it is the duty of a disciple to make hospitals whereby people can actually get rid of their material bodies, not patch them up. But for want of knowing what real spiritual activity is, we take up material activities.

However, if we believe that the only reality is spiritual or that we are all God, then we have eliminated any rationale for attending to the needs of others, especially if our physical bodies are real but illusions that interfere with the spiritual.

How had this thinking affected its place of birth – India? In “The Book that Made your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization” Indian scholar and Christian convert, Vishal Mangalwadi, wrote about the negative effects of Hinduism on India:

·       Our monks did not develop technical aids to improve their eyesight. They took pride in closing even perfectly good eyes in meditation. (108)

If this material world is illusory and the only reality (monism) is that we are part of the universal God-Consciousness, these ideas put the kibosh on learning and technology:

  • This attitude toward knowledge could not create and sustain an academic culture where peers and students could challenge, reject, and improve the medical techniques they had received. Thus, India had intellectual giants but our religious tradition failed to build academic communities. Individual genius, knowledge, and excellence in technology are insufficient to build a medical center. (311)

Mangalwadi also claims that Indian religions couldn’t provide an adequate rationale for compassion – a necessary pre-condition for the practice of medicine:

  • A person’s suffering was believed to be a result of her or his karma (deeds) in a previous life. In other words, suffering was cosmic justice. To interfere with cosmic justice is like breaking into a jail and setting a prisoner free. If you cut short someone’s suffering, you would actually add to his suffering because he would need to come back to complete his due quota of suffering. (312)

Ideas come with a hidden price-tag, and in regards to monism, the price is devastating. Believing that we are God might be self-elevating at first, but so too are street drugs. Only later will they demand payment.

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