To: Mo Morgan
CC: Dave Winer
(also posted on some weblogs)
Subject: Sri Chinmoy Project, Sri Chinmoy Centre
Dear Mo Morgan:
I would like to compliment you for your work on the "Sri Chinmoy Project," although I do have some reservations. First of all, let me say that I think your work was motivated by loyalty to the weblog community, and a concern that the data in weblogs.com (and other sites which use that data) be kept pure. You and others did a great job of documenting that there were a number of different domains running scripts designed to publish short poems by Sri Chinmoy and to ping weblogs.com after updates. Although this is something like a haiku blog, on balance I would agree that these pages were not true weblogs as the term is commonly used by the weblog community.
Shortly after Labor Day, when this issue broke, I got in touch with people at the Sri Chinmoy organization, to find out what was going on. Although I had not been in touch with them for many years, these people were not strangers to me. I had studied Yoga and meditation with Sri Chinmoy in the past, which was a very positive and rewarding experience for me -- one which has helped me in many areas of my life. During the past year, I have also been involved in Usenet discussions about Sri Chinmoy Centre, and it would be entirely fair to call me a supporter.
What I learned from my own investigations and from dialoguing with members of Sri Chinmoy Centre is that these people felt they had been unfairly attacked, and they were trying to get out the positive message about the actual teachings and lifestyle of their group as best they could. To their credit, although they put out a lot of material, none of it was negative. It was all about the ideals of inner peace and world peace, which are the hallmarks of their philosophy.
However, what I put across to them was that in responding to unfair attacks, they may have become too aggressively positive. I encouraged them to adopt a more moderate approach in getting out their message, and they were very receptive to this idea. In short, I believe that they have already begun to change their approach, and that the weblog community has no reason to be concerned about them. Here's an excerpt from our dialogue:
Me: For the greatest success on the web, you should treat the web community the way you would treat the running community: as people with whom you wish to partner long term. This is the opposite of a strategy which says that the web is like a big vacant lot whose walls need to be plastered with posters advertising Sri Chinmoy. Since you've done such a fantastic job of winning over the running community, I know that you're bound to succeed with the web community as well; it's just a matter of fine tuning your strategy. One of my favorite Sri Chinmoy links is this article by Kevin Tiller. It's valuable because it's written by someone who is obviously not a member of your organization, but who knows you well and writes with insight and empathy:
Them: You are absolutely right in pointing out the mistakes we have made in our over-eagerness! We shall rectify those immediately. We love your suggestions on making our sites really excellent, and aspiring to have them serve the on-line community, just as we try to serve our brothers and sisters through our races! You have given us a vision which is extremely fulfilling to work on and totally one with Sri Chinmoy's vision for our manifestation in all fields! For this, we are extremely grateful. We will begin immediately working to make our sites better.
Me: Happy to hear it. You know Dave Winer of Userland put a block on the string "chinmoy" for weblogs.com?
Them: We're sorry that such a misunderstanding has come between us and Dave Winer. We really like what he is doing. Can you please pass along our apologies to Dave?
Me: Will do. Is there an e-mail addy that people can use if they have any outstanding technical issues or other questions about your web sites?
Them: Sure! email@example.com
Since then, I've been volunteering to help them with some things, and I must say they are as I remembered them -- really good people who simply march to the beat of a different drummer.
One of the interesting phenomena that those of us who hang out on the web have often observed is that there is no such thing as an immaculate perception. Information comes in various flavours, and depending on our world view, we tend to choose a flavour that appeals to us. We hook into a certain source of information which may not necessarily be "true" in any deep sense of the word, but which resonates with our personal lifestyle. Within the hacker and weblog community, there is an emphasis on individual style and rebel culture. Since by nature I'm an outcast and a rebel, this often resonates well with me. Though I'm not a hacker, I've been a regular listener to Emmanuel Goldstein's Off The Hook show on WBAI radio for many years. I know that the hacker community is often misunderstood and even demonized, and I believe the same is also true of people who choose to join minority spiritual groups. Sociologists of religion correctly perceive that such groups are in fact *nonconformists* in relation to the rest of society. But in pop culture, such minority spiritual groups are often stereotyped as "sinister cults." For me, this portrayal of Sri Chinmoy Centre does not ring true.
When I look at this curious confrontation between weblog culture and yoga culture in cyberspace, in reminds me of a Star Trek episode. Aliens from planet Chinmoy are flooding the ship's computers with poetry for some unknown purpose. At first this is seen as a potential threat (such as a DoS attack); but by the end of the episode we discover that the "aliens" are humanoid, and that they are in fact a peace-loving race who simply choose a different way of life. They are sending out vast quantities of poetry because this is their instinctive way of defending themselves against attacks by Vogon-like anticultists.
For what it's worth, that's my take on this affair!
When I first got involved in this issue about a year ago, I resolved to speak my piece and then shut up. A year later, I see that there's still some confusion.
There was never any "sinister cult" or "diabolical plot." A couple of guys who were doing web sites for Sri Chinmoy Centre thought it would be a neat idea to use weblogs to publish a collection of Sri Chinmoy's poems. They believed this use to be consistent with what weblogs are or can be. They never imagined it would get on anybody's nerves. Nobody emailed them to to let them know. Instead, a guy named Mo Morgan appointed himself dragonslayer, and proceeded to publicly rake them over the coals.
These guys were naive and enthusiastic, but never malevolent. When they found out that some people disliked this kind of weblog, they stopped publishing it, and stopped pinging weblogs.com. True to their word, they have worked hard at improving their non-weblog sites by enriching the content. A year later, some of their content-rich sites include:
There are also many third party sites which have published articles confirming the altruistic and non-threatening nature of this nonprofit group:
School of Metaphysics
Dining San Diego Magazine
European Vegetarian News
University of Washington Daily
Unfortunately, people like Mo Morgan, having appointed themselves dragonslayers, are loath to admit that the dragon was never anything more than a pussycat.
The pinging of weblogs.com by sites that were publishing poetry (albeit a lot of it) was never more than a tempest in a teapot, and if you go back to the original Metafilter thread, most people treated it as a joke and didn't see what all the fuss was about.
I once joked to Emmanuel Goldstein of http://www.2600.com/ that there was a new Fox special called "When Hackers Attack." I was highlighting how the mainstream media treats alternative culture as something dangerous, and tries to provoke paranoid reactions. Ideally, the Net should be a place where alternative culture can flourish, and where misunderstandings can be solved through good communication.
Unfortunately, as far as I can tell Mo Morgan has not yet been able to see beyond the "us and them" mentality. That's a pity, but I suppose that like the real world, the Net has its share of cranks. I think Mo would do better to embark upon a blog beautification project than to continue to beat his chest and flog the pussycat.
The above post by "TruthFreedom2000" is simply wacky. I have never owned a computer server or restaurant, and am not a member of Sri Chinmoy Centre.
As someone who strongly believes in religious freedom, I have been outspoken in defending seekers from mean-spirited attacks. I have also read the riot act to some hate group members who have engaged in a pattern of aggravated harassment against Sri Chinmoy and his students.
In its analysis of hate groups, the FBI refers to something known as "secondary justification." For example, suppose a neo-Nazi group starts a web site called "Elie Wiesel Information," on which they publish that Mr. Wiesel is a child-molester, publish his home address, and claim that the Holocaust was "a lie spread by Jew-lovers." Such an inflammatory site might provoke decent people into writing angry letters of complaint, and attempting to track down the publishers of the hate material, subjecting them to lawful due process. This would then be interpreted by the neo-Nazi group as "secondary justification" for stepping up their activities. Within the psychology of the hate group, they would see themselves as "persecuted victims," ignoring the fact that they were the aggressors. However, this fact would not be lost in a court of law.
I have been active in trying to track down some of the scam artists spreading hate material on the Internet. My experience has been that when these people are identified, they turn tail and run. This too is consistent with the FBI profile of hate group members, who tend to be cowardly individuals with negative self-worth. In an article entitled "The Seven-Stage Hate Model: The Psychopathology of Hate Groups," John R. Schafer, M.A., and Joe Navarro, M.A., write:
"Many insecure people feel a sense of self-worth by relegating a person or group of people to a lower status. ... Irrational haters seldom hate alone. They feel compelled, almost driven, to entreat others to hate as they do. Peer validation bolsters a sense of self-worth and, at the same time, prevents introspection, which reveals personal insecurities. Further, individuals otherwise ineffective become empowered when they join [hate] groups, which also provide anonymity and diminished accountability."
There are some haters whom I have unmasked, thus taking away their sense of "anonymity and diminished accountability." One hopes that in the best of possible worlds, these people could get psychological help. I suspect that most therapists are compassionate healers. Unfortunately, there are a few therapists whose bread is buttered by the anticult movement. These therapists, rather than truly helping their patients, instead use them as soldiers in the anticult war, actually encouraging them to post hate material on the Internet.
It seems we live in troubled times, but that is just one more reason why I admire people like Sri Chinmoy and his students, who manage to keep spiritual values alive in a corrupt world.
I became involved in these issues rather by accident. I had participated in a general discussion on the topic of religious freedom when I began receiving emails from someone I'll just call "Sam." In the course of time, I discovered that this person had been expelled from Sri Chinmoy Centre for misconduct, and that he had subsequently gotten involved with anticultists and deprogrammers. He used a number of aliases (known as "sock puppets" in Internet jargon), such as "Steve," "Sylvia," "Seeker" and "Schubert," to spread hate material attacking Sri Chinmoy and his students, whom I know to be people of great integrity and great heart.
With "Sam" and other members of hate groups, I have found that once their activities are held up to the light of day, and once they realise they are subject to lawful due process, they tend to vanish into the woodwork.
Of course, some of the more troubled people simply adopt new sock puppets, and become more clever at hiding their identities. Instead of letting in the light of day, they join together with other haters in creating a dark, distorted picture of reality which they collectively sustain.
I would guess that "TruthFreedom2000" is such a person, since he or she persists in publishing blatantly false material. This reminds me of the definition of a "net kook" offered by the Jargon File:
"Term used to describe a regular poster who continually posts messages with no apparent grounding in reality. Different from a troll, which implies a sort of sly wink on the part of a poster who knows better, kooks really believe what they write, to the extent that they believe anything. The kook trademark is paranoia and grandiosity. Kooks will often build up elaborate imaginary support structures, fake corporations and the like, and continue to act as if those things are real even after their falsity has been documented in public. While they may appear harmless ... there are several instances on record ... of journalists writing stories with quotes from kooks who caught them unaware." [The on-line hacker Jargon File, version 4.3.3.]
While kooks come in many flavors and colors, those spouting some sort of hatred, bigotry or intolerance are perhaps the most pervasive on the Net. Trying to counter their kookery is, I suppose, a little like trying to straighten a dog's tail -- it only curls up again. Nothing I might say is likely to put an end to such kookery. I can only hope to set limits, and by unmasking the identities of some of the more dangerous haters, send them scuttling back beneath the floorboard. I much prefer to spend my time with music, poetry and art.
I have used the term "dangerous haters." Are members of anticult hate groups really dangerous? Since they have often been arrested and tried on charges of kidnapping and unlawful imprisonment, I would answer in the affirmative. Even where they do not directly assault spiritual seekers, they create a climate of intolerance which has a chilling effect on the right of seekers to follow their conscience and their faith. Such a climate, in which members of minority faiths are vilified and dehumanised, can easily lead to acts of violence. Schafer and Navarro write:
"Hate groups form identities through symbols, rituals, and mythologies, which enhance the members' status and, at the same time, degrade the object of their hate. ... Hate is the glue that binds haters to one another and to a common cause. By verbally debasing the object of their hate, haters enhance their self-image, as well as their group status."
"[T]he more often a person thinks about aggression, the greater the chance for aggressive behavior to occur. Thus, after constant verbal denigration, haters progress to the next more acrimonious stage. ... To avoid introspection, haters use ever-increasing degrees of rhetoric and violence to maintain high levels of agitation. ... Violence coalesces hate groups and further isolates them from mainstream society."
"Research has shown that bias crimes are twice as likely to cause injury and four times as likely to result in hospitalization as compared to nonbias crimes. ... Each successive anger-provoking thought or action builds on residual adrenaline and triggers a more violent response than the one that originally initiated the sequence. Anger builds on anger. The adrenaline high combined with hate becomes a deadly combination."
"The ultimate goal of haters is to destroy the object of their hate. Mastery over life and death imbues the hater with godlike power and omnipotence, which, in turn, facilitate further acts of violence. With this power comes a great sense of self-worth and value, the very qualities haters lack. However, in reality, hate physically and psychologically destroys both the hater and the hated."
"From the sophomoric to the terroristic, acts of hate have the same effect. Eventually, the haters sabotage the hated [person's] projects and attempt to ruin the individual's reputation through rumors and innuendoes ... In so doing, the haters make the work environment intolerable for the hate target ... Scenarios like this occur every day across America and, indeed, around the world. The targets of hate may change, but the hate process remains constant."
In my own experience researching the activities of a hate group which targeted Sri Chinmoy and his students, I found this FBI model to be very accurate. A number of the haters admitted to being on psychiatric medication, having problems with anger management, coming from dysfunctional families, and having trouble making friends. They used hate as a primitive bonding mechanism. As is typical for groups with a stereotyped way of thinking, they systematically eliminated anyone who challenged their beliefs (such as myself). However, this created a crisis for the group, since they no longer had outsiders to interact with. As a result, they began attacking each other!
This group had been rather small to begin with, but its ranks were swelled by an army of sock puppets -- alter egos using different aliases to give the illusion of support and confirmation. Gradually, the few sincere people who had been sucked in by attempts to create a rumor panic surrounding Sri Chinmoy left the hate group, realising they had been the victims of a hoax. The few remaining haters were radicalized, and as they escalated their harassment, became subject to legal due process. One person was fired from his job for posting a series of four-letter diatribes. This seemed to help bridge the gap between the fantasy world of the hate group, and the real world in which actions have consequences.
One of the group's mythologies was that anyone who speaks well of Sri Chinmoy (as I do) must be part of some vast conspiracy involving foreign governments, the United Nations, the Nobel committee, and possibly the devil himself! However, as members of the hate group were forced to examine the disconnect between their private mythology and the real world, many chose to leave the group and remove harassing material from the Internet.
In the real world, Sri Chinmoy has been examined by his peers in the interfaith community -- by people of good will and broad spiritual understanding. The result is that Sri Chinmoy is the recipient of the Pilgrim of Peace Award, the World Peace Literature Award, the Light of Asia Award, UNESCO's Nehru Medallion, the Matsunaga Peace Award, the Jesse Owens Humanitarian Peace Award, the Gandhi Universal Harmony Award (received jointly with Coretta Scott King), and the Hindu Renaissance Award (presented by Hinduism Today). He was also invited to open the Parliament of the World's Religions' First Plenary Session with a silent meditation, and to speak before the U.S. State Department on the role of the United Nations.
Faced with the cognitive dissonance between the real Sri Chinmoy and the Sri Chinmoy depicted on anticult hate sites, some hate group members eventually came to question the accuracy of the material they were being fed by anticultists. When they looked into the allegations made by "TruthFreedom2000," and found that I was in fact not a member of Sri Chinmoy Centre, and had never owned a computer server or restaurant, this led them to further question other false beliefs spread by the group, thus helping to "release the bonds" (to coin a phrase!).
I think another thing which ultimately helped to liberate many people from this hate group was seeing that the targets of their hate remained unafraid. Sri Chinmoy and his students continued to go about their daily lives with quiet dignity, holding to such classical religious ideals as prayer, meditation and service. This is one of the reasons I admire them.
One of the paranoid delusions fostered within the hate group was, in essence: "We are the only ones who know the Truth about a dangerous cult. Everyone else is a dupe or a conspirator." However, as data from the real world continued to filter in, this delusion became untenable to all but the most troubled people. Consider these comments from statesmen and religious leaders. Could they all be in on the conspiracy?
"Sri Chinmoy has been a dedicated servant of peace who has been able to bring diverse people together for noble goals. At a time when war continues to rage, violence exists between races, and governments still violate basic human rights, Sri Chinmoy's message of peace is timely and inspirational." - Senator Paul Simon
"Your enormous and significant activities are helping people to live better lives in peace, friendship and love. Everyone knows and highly appreciates your work at the United Nations. Indeed, you are connected with the whole world, and your work is to foster peace-making efforts and the spiritual development of humanity. Whatever you dedicate yourself to -- art, music, poetry, drawing -- all this is connected with peace, peace amongst people and peace amongst nations." - Mikhail Gorbachev
"During the past 30 years, countless numbers of United Nations ambassadors and staff have experienced your Peace Meditation at the United Nations. Your spiritual activities have contributed to raising the standard of humanity to new heights. I am proud of the fact that South Africa is one of the 60 [now 152] countries which have dedicated themselves and their people to fostering peace and friendship as Sri Chinmoy Peace-Blossoms-Nations." - Nelson Mandela
"I am so pleased with all the good work you are doing for world peace and for people in so many countries. May we continue to work together and to share together all for the Glory of God and for the good of man." - Mother Teresa
"Sri Chinmoy's glance expresses more than all the words in the world. Following the Indian tradition, he is one who ever revitalizes. The mutual friendship that unites us is proof of the deep resonance that can exist between initiates devoted to the cause of spirituality on earth." - Pir Vilayat Khan, head of the Sufi Order in the West
I think it began to dawn on some hate group members that the people who speak well of Sri Chinmoy seem generally intelligent, knowledgeable and successful, while the people suggesting that Sri Chinmoy is somehow behind the World Trade Center attack seem like illiterate buffoons:
From: "andiraaz "
Date: Wed Jan 29, 2003 1:41 pm
Subject: Just A Thought
Who has a global network? Who plots ones diabolical schemes while practising there spiritual disciplines daily. Who moves in secrecy . Who is financed by the the blind followers who carry out the evil deeds. Who preys on the innocent, those who once believed in Truth and Justice but is now deluded. Answer: Usama Bin Chinmoy. The Master Terrorist. Some of you claim here we were to blame, where is your compassion and zeal to stop this terrorist from more destruction. The loss of lives at the WTC has affected the families and there generations to come. Lets all be in agrrement to stop this terrorist from inflicting more pain ...
I think the obvious disconnect from reality in the above message speaks to the fundamental lack of credibility of material found on anticult hate sites.
For more on what Sri Chinmoy and his students actually believe and practice, see this BBC presentation in which author Alan Spence, who runs the Sri Chinmoy Centre in Edinburgh, discusses meditation and silence:
BBC - Religion and Ethics - Hindu Meditation