Today I want to try and understand what drives ordinary members of the Church of Scientology, or rather what is Scientology minus Hubbard’s presence. Of course there would be no Scientology without LHR but I mean his physical absence while keeping all his ideas intact. For that we need to start at the beginning again but I hope I won’t be repeating myself.
Scientology started with dianetics, which was a new age take on contemporary psychiatry before new age was a thing. Does it work? That’s a good question about all new age practices. There are promises, there are practitioners, there are hopes, there are stages, there must be some measurement of progress, too. It doesn’t mean that Scientology or any other new age discipline works but the adepts have a perception that it does.
From the very beginning dianetics and later Scientology promised people a better life. Everybody does that, of course, and in Scientology it means achieving full control over “MEST” – matter, energy, space, and time. The process of “auditing” was supposed to give immediate results and gradual progress was supposed to lead to attaining the full range of yoga siddhis, in our speak. There are lots of side effects like attaining spiritual immortality or perfect health or generating thousands of volts of electricity, or mind reading and telekinesis, or healing people by touch etc.
I wouldn’t be surprised that this aspect of Scientology inspired George Lucas and his Star Wars “force”, it looks pretty similar to me, about as similar as connection between the movie Matrix and illusory world as described in our Kṛṣṇa conscious literature.
The documentary that inspired me to write this series of posts, Going Clear, features interviews with some of the earliest Scientologists and they mention that their church has a lot of folklore stories about advanced members’ extraordinary abilities. It might all be mumbo-jumbo but I see no reason why it wouldn’t work in principle. Kṛṣṇa fulfills everyone’s desires and if people want magic powers they are going to get them, doesn’t really matter if it would be controlling the force ala Star Wars or auditing ala Scientology.
So, Scientologists have LHR personal charisma plus faith, justifiable or not, that the process really works. Another major attraction is the sense of community. It’s rather normal – every fan club has this kind of camaraderie, be it a church or a Comic Con crowd. Scientology didn’t have farms or anything like that but somehow LHR managed to create a world where people felt at home as opposed to their day-to-day jobs and families. In Scientology people were improving themselves, outside they were practicing their powers. This naturally forced people to relate to outside world in a different way. It’s not supposed to be a place to seek shelter, it’s their domain to take control of, and therefore relationships within Scientology matter while relationships outside do not. We, ISKCON, are no different in this regard, except we do not seek to manipulate the world, we just excuse ourselves from it altogether.
Sea Org I mentioned earlier had a very special place in Scientology. It was a fleet of ships on which Hubbard and his best followers went sailing and preaching around the world, a sort of a traveling saṅkīrtana party. Sea Org members had the privilege of being personally very close to LHR himself, they had the privilege of renouncing their previous lives, and for them “mind over matter” was a real thing, not a hypothetical concept.
Scientology was a very wealthy organization already but Sea Org members worked for pittance, the documentary mentions fifty cents an hour. They also had to work very hard on reducing their egos. Their first assignments were always menial ones – cleaning and scrubbing and painting the ships and serving senior members, personal pride had no place there. A decade of such life produced a generation of ideologically pure Scientologists who couldn’t be accused of hypocrisy or any hidden motives and they were the ones who took over the organization when Hubbard retired himself. David Miscavige was basically running the church since 1980 and he formally took over after LHR went to explore the universe while outside his body. He is their self-effulgent, undisputed next ācārya,
Being raised on Sea Org pathos he rules the church with an iron fist and enforces strict discipline to ensure church’s purity. This naturally made him a magnet for complaints ranging from harassment of journalists to separating family members to physically abusing dissidents. Nothing stops him and he has no morals in the common sense of the world. Nothing also sticks to him, however, and I don’t mean just legally – everything he does has the support of church members and church ideology and even people severely beaten by him see themselves as victims. Cultish? Yes, but we are not that different, too, even if in the past couple of decades we moved away from such practices.
Maybe it’s a Stockholm syndrome of some kind but it’s not unusual for victims of abuse to blame themselves and not their abusers, which, incidentally, how the law of karma explains it, too. It’s like a wife beaten by her husband who would need a lot of persuading to take it outside her family and file a police complaint. Relations in these cases are seen as more important than justice and Scientology exploits this particular human trait to the full.
In the documentary several ex-members described their ordeals and while they clearly see it as inexcusable abuse, from their descriptions it’s also clear that for remaining members it’s all seen as just and proper.
Human mind is a dark and mysterious place in this sense. Why do we do it to ourselves? What makes us tolerate this kind of tapasyā? What do we hope to achieve? Could it be that we see preserving our relations with Kṛṣṇa via His devotees as more important than personal humiliation? Shouldn’t it be commended, then? Or do we stay because we have no other place to go?
Fact is, real devotees accept chastisement by the Lord as a blessing. They think it’s far better than being ignored and forgotten. Whatever the Lord wants to do with us – let Him. We should always remember that no one can do us any harm without Lord’s permission and so when it’s His devotees that channel our karma the Lord is even more aware of what is going on. We shouldn’t be the ones to judge. Also, accepting unpleasant actions from Lord’s devotees should be even better than accepting them from the Lord Himself.
More often than not this Kṛṣṇa’s tactic apparently fails and most devotees feel incensed and leave but memories stay with them and I bet the time would come when they reassess their earlier judgments. I know it happened to me and I see no reason why it wouldn’t happen to others, too. It just takes time.
It works the same way in Scientology but in their case they do not get Kṛṣṇa bhakti so it all just a giant waste.