Rampa, Castaneda, etc... Truth or Fiction.... Does it Matter?

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charles19

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I remember the disappointment I felt after I read the Third Eye, and found out that Lobsang Rampa was actually born as Cyril Hoskin, a plumber from Plympton, Devonshire, who had never been to Tibet. I had a similar feeling when I learned that the Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda was not a true story. But now I wonder if it makes a difference. Both books inspired me and started my spiritual quest. I remember sitting on a bus as a high school student and devouring the stories and even having mystical feelings while reading them. One can say the same about the Bible, and whether it is an accurate account or even divinely inspired. These works of literature, whether fact or fiction, inspire the soul. Does it matter if they are fact or fiction? I was wondering if anyone had any thoughts about that?

-Charles
 

Siri Kirpal

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Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"-- a Sikh greeting)

Well, as you can see from my standard greeting, truth matters to me...and a bunch of other people.

That said, inspiration is inspiration, however we get it. And from a Sikh perspective, the divine flows through all things...whether those things are true or false by human standards or not.

But the real problem with spirituality texts that are billed as fact, when they are fiction, is that they cast doubt on all other spirituality texts. This is true in other genres too. When one novelist hoodwinked Oprah with a fake memoir, it suddenly became difficult to sell genuine memoirs. (Says a memoirist and spirituality writer.)

I would bless the inspiration, but I sure wouldn't choose to emulate such things.

As I understand one Buddhist once said, "There's no good and no bad. But if you have a choice, do good."

Blessings,

Siri Kirpal
 

charles19

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Hi Siri:

Of course, you are absolutely right. Such texts can harm the integrity of the genre by virtue of their deception. But there are other viewpoints to consider. For instance, the Hindus consider all of worldly existence to be a maya or illusion, and in a sense, all of this manifestation is a product of our imagination. So truth here is relative. They would be more concerned about focusing on anything that would lead their mind to a higher truth. That is the role of scriptures, including modern day spiritual texts. Of course, we rarely question the veracity of scriptures if we have faith in their genuineness. I am not condoning deception by any means, but any tool that opens the mind to a higher truth is useful. The issue, as you rightly point out, is that it can have the opposite effect... it can also close one off to such truth by virtue of the disappointment they engender.

-Charles
 
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mccardey

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I remember the disappointment I felt after I read the Third Eye, and found out that Lobsang Rampa was actually born as Cyril Hoskin, a plumber from Plympton, Devonshire, who had never been to Tibet. I had a similar feeling when I learned that the Teachings of Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda was not a true story. But now I wonder if it makes a difference. Both books inspired me and started my spiritual quest. I remember sitting on a bus as a high school student and devouring the stories and even having mystical feelings while reading them. One can say the same about the Bible, and whether it is an accurate account or even divinely inspired. These works of literature, whether fact or fiction, inspire the soul. Does it matter if they are fact or fiction? I was wondering if anyone had any thoughts about that?

-Charles
It's a question of honesty v manipulation, I think. If Cyril Hoskin from Plympton does a lot of thinking about spiritual issues and becomes in some way changed or uplifted or altered by things he discovers, that's great. If he decides to write a book about it, that's also fine. If he changes his name to something that he feels is more exotically convincing in order to attract followers to his teaching, I'm less fine with that - a bit: but really what's in a nom de plume anyway? But if he lies in his telling of how he came to the conclusions he's come to then - nup. He's manipulating the facts in order to sell books t such an extent that I wouldn't place any value at all in what he says about what he believes (or even in what he says he believes.)

I think truth does matter. I think it matters more than anything except perhaps empathy.
 
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Helix

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Perhaps the question should be addressed to the people whose culture and spiritual beliefs were plundered and misrepresented in books like these.

People still believe the pile of absolute tosh called Mutant Message Down Under.
 

Kjbartolotta

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People still believe the pile of absolute tosh called Mutant Message Down Under.

Oh God, I had to read that in college!

Re: Castaneda. I just can't with him, especially later on when he started that bonkers Tensegrity stuff and became very abusive towards his followers.
 

mccardey

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Mutant Message Down Under.

Oh God, I had to read that in college!
OMG, Helix, I thought you'd made up that title - but wiki has it.
In 1996 a group of Aboriginal elders, seriously disturbed by the book's implications, received a grant to travel to the States and confront Marlo Morgan about her book and to try to prevent a Hollywoodisation of it. She admitted publicly that she had faked it but this received little publicity in the USA. The Aboriginal people are angry that this book continues to be promoted and sold widely because it gives a false picture of their traditional culture and of their current political and social status. This is regarded as damaging to their struggle for survival
What an appalling thing to do!
 

Kjbartolotta

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Wow. Everyone in my freshman class had to read that book...in 2000.
 

Kjbartolotta

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The whole class had to read it as part of the Freshman seminar 'Global Citizen' program that everyone hated. For some reason, we had to read Milton Freidman as well, and most sessions were just excruciating political discussions. I have no idea why they picked that book, I think they just needed something New Agey and 'conscious'.
 

Roxxsmom

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Works of fiction can indeed contain great spiritual truths and be inspiring to readers.

However, works of fiction should be presented as such. They shouldn't pretend to be memoirs or anthropological treatises or biographies or whatever. This is especially true when the spiritual "truths" in the work of fiction are supposed to be based on teachings of real-world, marginalized cultures that are not the author's own.
 
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Siri Kirpal

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Sat Nam! (literally "Truth Name"--a Sikh greeting)

About Maya: From a Sikh perspective, it's all God's show. But at the same time, God is present in all acts, all everyone, all everything. And therefore it behooves those of us who acknowledge that Real Behind the Real not to mess up our presentations with falseness. So, yes, it makes a difference.

So what about the stories in religious texts, like the Bible? The early ones are mostly taken from the oral tradition, and so variation and changes are expected. There almost certainly WERE men like Abraham and Jesus, who had deep experiences similar to what ended up in the Bible. And they made a huge impact on the people around them, who told stories about those persons according to memory. This is not the same as making up stories, although some of those stories may have been embellished along the line.

In more recent works, like the Sikh Siri Guru Granth Sahib (which was compiled by one of the saints who wrote the words), there is more certainty. But even here, there are cases where the Guru compiling the poems (it's all poetry) marked the work as his, when it was actually the work of one of his followers. We take this to mean that he was claiming the work was as good as his, kind of like a certification.

Neither is what Castaneda did.

Blessings,
Siri Kirpal
 

charles19

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I appreciate all the comments here. But I just want to bring just a bit more nuance into the conversation. For instance, Ron Hubbard was a science fiction writer, and he used his imagination to found the "religion" of Scientology. Paul Twitchell's "The Tiger's Fang" represented outright plagiarism (including spelling errors from the original document), yet it was the seminal work for the Eckankar movement. These are clear cut cases of deception.

But how far can we take it? The founder of the Mormon faith, Joseph Smith, said an angel directed him to a buried book written on golden plates which he published as the Book of Mormon, named after the ancient prophet who compiled the book. If we are skeptical do we discount this faith entirely?

What about people who have had revelations or who channel information? For instance, Barbara Brennan, the foremost energy healer and author channeled her information from a supernatural entity. And some of Edgar Cayce's prophecies were downright bizarre and stretched the bounds of credulity.

So we have people who deceive knowingly, and of course they deserve to be outed. But there are also those who deceive themselves, and therefore others as an extension. I think it all comes down to what we decide to believe, and how we channel our faith and inspiration.

What constitutes deception is a bit tricky to define. One person's deception may be another person's religion.

-Charles
 

RichardGarfinkle

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Mod Note:

no sacred text, sacred object , sacred place, sacred artwork, sacred plant, animal, ritual, or object of any kind holds up to an outside analysis in that what the thing means to the people to whom it is sacred is not discernable from outside perspective. Nor is that sacral quality likely to be disrupted by outside analysis. It is not the province of outsiders to demand the desacralization of the sacred.

By the same token that sacral quality does not change the factual basis that can be discerned by that outside analysis. A sacred text that is claimed to be the work of one hand can be subjected to literary analysis and determined to be the product of many writers over several centuries. A relic claimed to be two thousand years old can be determined to be half that age by radioactive dating techniques. This is only a problem if adherents of the sacral insist that the sacral overrides the factual.

As long as these two are kept decently separate there is not a problem.

The question of the intent and the authenticity of the makers of works treated as sacred is a more complex matter. Cultural appropriation and fraudulent self identification are serious matters that are subjects that are worth discussing. Beyond that, it is diffcult to see what ends this discussion serves.
 
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