Spiritual Slavery and the Prostitution of the Soul

A Dialogue with Andrew Cohen

Question: I’m very confused about this matter of ethical conduct and its relationship to the enlightened understanding that you speak so much about. Why is it that so many gurus seem to be prey to the very same weaknesses as ordinary people? I would have thought that an ego that had died would not be able to act in the same selfish way as people who did not claim to be enlightened.

AC: Maybe in the cases that you are speaking about, the ego didn’t die. Maybe in these cases, there is a fully intact ego coexisting with a profound realization. Most people don’t realize that ego and profound realization can coexist. It is for that reason that so many people have gotten into trouble.

Q: But I don’t understand how, even after the failings of the guru have become obvious, people will still allow themselves to be taken advantage of. They often will continue to be followers in the face of unethical behavior, and in some cases even gross abuse.

A: Often when a person meets a teacher in whom the Absolute is manifesting to a powerful degree, their heart will open up unexpectedly. They may experience unusual insight and understanding just through mere association with this kind of extraordinary individual.

After this kind of experience it is easy to understand how one may get very attached to that individual. The bond that is formed through experiences like these runs very deep. Slowly without even realizing it, in order to protect the love and beauty of that precious event, the person starts to be willing to overlook things. The minute that begins, they become corrupt themselves.

Q: Is that when they start to rationalize?

A: Yes, then they become corrupt, in the same way the guru is. When you try to talk to the disciples of these gurus about simple virtues, they often are unable to make any sense. Also, they will frequently say things like, “Ethical conduct and enlightenment have nothing to do with each other,” in an attempt to justify the confusing behavior of their guru.

The minute anybody allows themselves to tolerate corruption they become a part of it. These people desperately don’t want to see the depth of the corruption that they themselves are immersed in. The security of their spiritual well-being depends on the fact that no matter what, the actions of the guru are never questioned. Because their hearts are so invested in the guru, they will make almost any rationalization or justification for the guru’s actions.

They will do almost anything in order to protect that love that the guru has revealed to them. This is spiritual slavery and prostitution of the soul. In weak-minded people the seal of enlightenment becomes a license for abuse.

Q: How is it then with the matter of trust? Does one ultimately only surrender to one’s own knowing of the truth?

A: Yes.

Q: Then not to the guru?

A: Ultimately the guru and your knowing of truth should be one and the same. There shouldn’t be any difference. If there is, there’s something wrong. That means there is either something wrong in your idea of what the truth is and your experience of what the truth is or there’s some defect in the guru. Ideally they should be perfectly synonymous.

Q: But shouldn’t surrender be to truth alone?

A: But in a sense that’s all people surrender to anyway. They surrender to their own experience. If you go to a teacher and you have a powerful experience, it’s that experience that you surrender to. What usually happens next though, is that you get involved with the personality of the teacher.

Powerful experience makes you hungry for more. That’s why people get more involved. They want to get to know who this guru is. They fall in love and then want to be more intimate. Then they get involved with the personality of the teacher. At that point it’s no longer just a spiritual experience; they begin to get involved with a human personality. That’s when the trouble starts. If there’s any trouble that could start, that’s when it’s going to begin.

When the personality of the guru and the love and beauty that the guru revealed begin to conflict with each other, that means something is wrong.

As I said before, people are weak, weak-minded, and if someone is truly enlightened, they will have a very powerful mind and be very charismatic. People are easily overwhelmed by that. Because their heart has been awakened, because they have been deeply touched by something, they often don’t care about anything else.

And in order to protect that experience, they will often tolerate just about anything. This is dangerous. This is a corrupt condition that a great deal of the spiritual world is in these days. If the guru is corrupt and you’re intimately involved with the guru, you can’t help but be corrupt yourself. It’s unavoidable. By association it’s an automatic result. It’s a very delicate business.

Q: So how does one discern? To what degree do I question my own perception and trust?

A: Just go by the basics. There are some very basic, ethical laws that anybody who’s not insane knows. They are not esoteric.

Q: So where do you draw the line?

A: The line is drawn where suffering is caused to other people due to selfish actions that stem from ignorance. That’s where you draw the line.


2012: A Time of Extraordinary Change

Futurist John L. Petersen predicted the global financial meltdown with stunning accuracy. Now this hard-headed soothsayer is tracking the winds of change that he feels are destined to sweep away the foundations of our current society and prepare the way for something completely new.

by Carter Phipps

Trying to predict the future,” business consultant Peter Drucker once remarked, “is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window.” Indeed, when it comes to peering into life’s crystal ball—whether one is a futurist or a fortune teller—the experience is likely to make humble men and women of us all. That’s why it is particularly meaningful when someone steps out, takes a risk, bets their reputation on a controversial prediction—and then is proven completely right.

Enter John Petersen. Petersen is the founder and director of the Arlington Institute, a think tank that has made a specialty out of helping its clients anticipate and plan for rapid, unpredictable change. Petersen’s always interesting thoughts on the future have appeared in the pages of EnlightenNext before, and his email newsletter FUTUREdition has long been a must-read for those interested in keeping up with the frontiers of human knowledge.

In August 2006, I received an email from the Arlington Institute, signed by Petersen, which contained a frightening warning. The world’s finances, it claimed, were overstretched, overleveraged, and overexposed to the U.S. housing market, creating the conditions for a financial panic that was likely to unfold in the near future.

Petersen was going out on a limb, I thought, doing what so many others, futurists included, are loathe to do—make specific predictions with specific dates and do it publicly. Normally, I might have dismissed such a doom-and-gloom forecast as alarmist and not to be taken seriously.

But Petersen is not the kind of person one dismisses lightly. With a military background (he is a veteran of the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars), time served in various positions in the national security apparatus, and a scientist’s penchant for fact-based analysis, Petersen has a pragmatic, no-nonsense attitude that has earned him respect inside the Pentagon and in the corridors of Capitol Hill.

And yet his interests are extremely eclectic and would frustrate attempts to easily categorize him, ideologically or philosophically.

On any given day, he is as likely to be having lunch with an Air Force colonel, a maverick physicist, or a New Age psychic. He counts among his acquaintances such philosophically distinct figures as Newt Gingrich, former CIA director James Woolsey, 2012 prophet Daniel Pinchbeck, technological guru Ray Kurzweil, and UFO enthusiast Whitley Strieber.

And his recent interest in the work of Rudolf Steiner and Indian teacher Sri Bhagavan shows that his spiritual interests have accelerated over recent years as well, adding another surprising twist to the resume of this unconventional futurist who has made a name for himself in the land of convention.

Recent history has been more than kind to Petersen’s prediction of financial collapse, a vindicating truth that gives a certain degree of gravitas to his other predictions about our near-term global future.

Indeed, Petersen’s crystal ball has turned more and more gloomy of late, and when I called him last winter to get his perspective on our current global downturn, his apocalyptic sentiments didn’t exactly soothe my concerns.

But don’t get me wrong. This broad-minded sage, whose recent book is titled A Vision for 2012: Planning for Extraordinary Change, is not a pessimist. He is, in fact, surprisingly upbeat about humanity’s long-term prospects. He may see us heading into extremely rough waters but feels that those turbulent seas are necessary to induce the much-needed transformations that can truly remake our society. Dare we be so casual about coming catastrophes? In the eyes of this prescient prognosticator, such system shocks are simply the inevitable price of living in a time of extraordinary change.

–Carter Phipps


EN: Your new book is called A Vision for 2012: Planning for Extraordinary Change. It’s an inquiry into the ways in which the world might change quite dramatically in the next decade. You always manage to capture a wide spectrum of perspectives in your work, and this book reflects that as well. You were one of the few people who clearly predicted the current financial meltdown. You warned that the world’s finances were locked up in the U.S. housing market and predicted the collapse back in—

John Petersen: —2006. The Arlington Institute sponsored a presentation that laid out month by month when it would start (in December 2007) and what would happen in January, what would happen in March, and so on.

EN: I remember reading those reports and wondering if they would prove to be true. They turned out to be very true, and now we’ve seen the whole thing unfold. So what do you see in your crystal ball today?

JP: I think it seemingly gets a lot worse before it gets better. I mean, there are a couple of ways to look at it. But we can start by saying that all the attempts by the government to deal with the financial problems are variations of what they’ve done in the past. There’s no attempt to make a systemic or fundamental change at this point. They’re trying to just reinflate a balloon that has become flat.

On one hand, from the political point of view, it’s clear that they’ve got to do something. They have to try to jump-start the economy, and the only institution that’s large enough to do that is the government. But I think what’s likely to happen soon is that we are going to see a loss of confidence in the government’s ability to fix this thing.

I’m also concerned that there are going to be big cascading failures and bankruptcies. We’ve just recently identified possible problems with the insurance industry, for example, that may end up costing another $400 billion, and the government is now suggesting that they will have to invest at least $2 trillion before this is over. Others are saying more than this will be required.

All of this could lead to a period of hyperinflation where everybody is afraid of their money losing value and they start running up prices. On top of that, there are increasing numbers of people who are suggesting that by the middle of the year the stock market might collapse. And, the big wild card is the derivatives in the whole global financial system, which are commonly estimated at $600 trillion.

EN: $600 trillion?!

JP: Well, yes, that’s the commonly reported figure which is the total of the listed credit derivatives. The total U.S. GDP is about $14 trillion, to give you a relative sense of the size of that number.

The Bank of International Settlements says, though, that when you count all of them, the real value of outstanding derivatives is $1.114 quadrillion, or $190,000 for every human on the planet. These are casino bets, with no underlying asset value, that are completely dependent on confidence in the system. If it doesn’t look like this situation is going to get fixed—and the casino isn’t going to be able to pay—then confidence will evaporate.

So I could see a slow-motion collapse going on early in the third quarter of this year, and that could fully take the wind out of the sails of the global economy. By the end of the year or earlier, we could have real questions about the viability of the dollar. Maybe we’ll have new currencies and even civil unrest. It’s going to be a very interesting, very disruptive year.

What you’re watching, it seems to me, is the collapse of the old system. And there is no way to fix it without dealing with it in systemic, fundamental terms—redesigning the system, building a new world. My guess is that the Obama administration will not figure that out until around October or November. Of course by then there will be a whole different set of problems to deal with.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author of The Black Swan, has suggested that this financial event has the potential of being the biggest thing since the American Revolution, bigger than anything that’s ever happened in the history of our country.

EN: What do you think of the new administration?

JP: I think Obama is a wonderful man, but he has a very hard job. The reality of politics is that it is almost impossible for him to really change the system until it has failed. What you’ve got is a set of politicians who do not get the fact that we’re going off a cliff, so they argue about the Titanic’s deck-chair configuration. These are epochal times—for our country but also for the world, because we’re all so tightly connected.

EN: It’s not like the depression, where you had relative isolation compared to our system today.

JP: No, the whole system didn’t come down then. This time the whole system is probably going to be threatened in significant ways.

EN: The financial news is dramatic at the moment, but your work is about much more than the financial world. You’re tracking the energy crisis and the issue of peak oil, and you are watching many other systemic areas that may experience rapid transformations during the upcoming years.

JP: Yes. The CEO of Total oil company in France, for example, is now saying that we’ve hit the peak in terms of oil that can be economically pumped. Global oil production has been the same for the last three years—and every other year in all of our lifetimes it has increased substantially.

They’re saying that the cost of production is so high that Total is likely to never pump more oil than what they are pumping right now. So the reality of our energy crisis is starting to work itself into the system. If you put this on top of the financial crisis, you compound the complexity of the situation and lose all conventional ability to understand what is really going on. So this is a big thing.

Also, my guess is that we’re going to have more climate perturbations in the coming months and years. My own feeling is that we’re at the beginning of an ice age, not global warming.

EN: An ice age? I remember people were talking about that in the seventies, but I don’t hear that today.

JP: Like religion, science has its theology and dogma that most everyone believes—often without considering the validity of the underlying theories and supporting data. It becomes the conventional wisdom. Today, there is a bandwagon effect where almost all scientists have jumped on this notion that what we’re experiencing is global warming. They run their simple little models and say the world is all going to cook by 2030 or something like that.

But the fact of the matter is that we’re really early on in our capacity to project this sort of thing. Climate models are still relatively very primitive. There is also evidence that Mars and Pluto and Neptune are all heating up as well. So this present warming is not just the earth, which means that it may not be a result of human beings. What is happening to the sun to cause the other planets to heat up?

And then there are scientists who are starting to say that the climate is really driven by the oceans and that the winds over the oceans have very high leverage on climate; small changes in the general wind pattern affect the whole global climate situation.

Perhaps that’s driving our climate change. That makes one ask, “What changed the wind patterns?” Well, there has been an increase in the number of terrestrial volcanoes. Maybe there’s an increase in the number of underwater volcanoes with localized heating of places in the ocean. But generally, I would suspect that we’re probably going to experience a mini ice age rather than an extended period of heating. Certainly there is climate change happening, but whether it’s net global warming is uncertain.

EN: Some have worried that with climate change, the biggest concern is not that the earth might heat up slowly, but that it might change quite quickly—the whole system might suddenly shift.

JP: Yes, rapid climate change. That’s the really tricky one, because you can’t adapt to it. It’s a shock to agriculture because the temperature changes so quickly, and because we’ve got all these monocultures of crops that are all bred for specific climate conditions. The agriculture system would be hard-pressed to adjust, which would, of course, significantly influence the economies of the world as well. So overall, there is just an interesting combination of things happening.

EN: Yes, that’s quite a picture. What about good news? Is there any good news?

JP: Yes, there is a lot of good news. But what you’ve got to do is to back away from the short-term details of all of this. : If you attach yourself to this present system and give energy to all of the negative things that are happening, you will be carried away with it in the process. It will be very painful. So what we must do is learn how to transcend all of this disruption, focus on a new world, and give our energies to manifesting that new reality.

This is an interesting place in the history of the planet, it seems to me. We’re going through a major transition, a major perturbation, an extraordinary evolutionary jump in terms of the life on this planet in general, and we’re seeing the evolution of a new kind of human being in the process.

Our role is to build a new world. We need to start to construct an image in our minds, a vision for what this new world is going to look like—who the new human beings will be and how they are going to operate. What are the new principles they will operate under, the new systems and institutions? We’re very much in the process, it seems to me, of being major players in the redesign of a whole new way of life.

EN: If you put pressure and stress on a system, any system, it helps create change. But it would seem that the trick with any crisis like the one we’re going through is for there to be enough of a challenge to create the impetus for positive change.

But you don’t want total collapse because then people tend to slide back down Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. So if you’re right, how do we negotiate that process? There is a desire for positive change, for a transformation and rethinking of our systems from the ground up, but at the same time, if no one can eat, all you’ve got is disaster, not evolution.

JP: Yes, that’s quite important. I think of it in terms of levels of potential shock. At one level, there are shocks like 9/11 that shake everybody up. They put concrete barriers around Washington, D.C., and they make people take off half their clothes before getting on airplanes. But it doesn’t change the system. Eventually, we go back to the way things were. That’s the bottom end of the spectrum. On the top end of the spectrum is a shock so big that it threatens the whole system—like Hurricane Katrina. Your interest becomes survival and protecting your family. That’s what you’re talking about. You slide down Maslow’s hierarchy.

In my way of thinking, it comes down to two general scenarios for the future: with the internet and without the internet. If you do not have the internet, then something really bad happened, and you’ve got a whole new set of problems. But if you do have the internet, then the shock wasn’t so disastrous that it all came down.

So we don’t want a crisis that is so bad that it collapses the whole system. We want this kind of finely engineered middle-ground disruption to scare everybody, grab them by the lapels, and say, “We can’t do this anymore!” It convinces everybody that they have to redesign their lives, but you don’t lose the infrastructure. You can rebuild around something rather than rebuild the entire infrastructure.

EN: Which do you think we’re headed for?

JP: Any of these scenarios is distinctly possible. If we do not manage this transition well, we could lose it all. At the same time, I don’t think it’s possible to get where we need to go without the present system going away in some way. There needs to be a vacuum produced by the departure of the old system before a new paradigm can emerge. The key is to have an alternative to the old model that is ready to be fielded.

For a couple of reasons it appears that this kind of major overturning is in the works. Number one, the old system has structural and philosophical shortcomings that are just not sustainable. And two, if you go back in history, every time there was a major shift in biological or cultural evolution, over a relatively short period of time there was a complete redo of the whole paradigm, a complete change in the entire way life worked. There’s a regular cycle to these major events, and we’re due for one now.

So it seems likely to me that the present system is going to collapse, and that’s going to generate a vacuum. And in that vacuum is an opportunity for all kinds of new ideas, new perspectives, and new outlooks to be inserted by well-meaning and enlightened people who see the world in fundamentally different terms.

I’m talking about people who are relating to larger spiritual realms and see themselves as part of a far bigger reality than this narrow notion of a material world where only what is right in front of us is true and real. So it’s extraordinary and amazing that we get to play a part in this.

EN: So is this a multi-year process, multi-decade even?

JP: No, I’ve found sixteen different, seemingly independent indicators that all suggest that 2012 is some particularly important kind of transition time that starts a new era. There’s good reason to believe that the next three years will really torque the system and open up the possibility of a new world . . . if we rise to the occasion.

EN: The year 2012 has been talked about by all kinds of people. Most famously, it is the end of the Mayan calendar. But there is nothing in your book that is particularly esoteric or New Age. I mean, Newt Gingrich endorsed it! You’re talking with people from science, from technology, futurists, experts across the spectrum. Who in your mind has been particularly prophetic in thinking about these dynamics?

JP: Well, my publisher asked me, “What would you write if you could give the book to the new president to help him deal with this coming period of time?” That’s why I picked 2012, because it’s the end of the first Obama administration. The book is really practical. It’s about how you deal with large-scale change, whether you’re an individual or an organization or a government. How do you systematically think about it? How do you plan for extraordinary change?

But, in terms of the people who are thinking about 2012 there’s a full spectrum. It goes all the way from Daniel Pinchbeck, author of 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, to some indigenous elders in the United States and other countries.

Then there are psychics and remote viewers, Terence McKenna, spiritual teachers—all kinds of different people. There are the folks who track long social and planetary cycles and some, like William Strauss and Neil Howe, who track shorter cycles. You can sort of pick how far out and weird you want to be—there are indicators for anyone and everyone! But they all point to the fact that something really big is coming together now. There’s too much happening for me not to believe that we’re in one of these major evolutionary punctuations.

EN: If what you’re saying is true and there really is a major breakdown, then I guess that provides an open space for people to jump in with new ideas.

JP: Absolutely! Necessity is the mother of invention.

EN: As you mentioned, a big part of the current challenge is the energy crisis and the need for alternatives to oil and fossil fuels. What is the latest on that front?

JP: Well, I’m convinced that we are going to have breakthroughs in terms of energy. It really does look like there is a convergence of capabilities showing up that might, in the next eighteen months, make cold fusion or zero point energy a practical reality.

Certainly, there’s a huge amount of money chasing alternative energy for obvious reasons, and that does encourage people who are trying to think their way through these issues. And as I said, when the CEO of Total is talking about peak oil, that makes it more palatable for government agencies like the National Science Foundation to fund these things. There is now a commonly understood economic incentive to try to make new technologies happen. So I’m encouraged.

My guess is that it’s an all-electric world twenty or twenty-five years from now. The only question is how to make the electricity for everything—heating and lighting, transportation, etc. That opens up all kinds of opportunities for new ways to generate electricity that do not involve smokestacks and pollutants.

EN: Given everything you’ve just said, what advice would you give people?

JP: It all comes down to how serious you are about trying to do something about this. I think that life works in strange ways and, as I’ve suggested, our consciousness is causal.

That means if you decide that it is quite important to do something about all of this, things will start to happen and people will show up in your life and books will show up that are appropriate. But you have to make that decision first. It has to be a kind of quiet, explicit, serious decision that has a lot of intention behind it. Then the solutions start to emerge and those solutions are different for different people. At the same time, I think it’s quite important that we are open to alternatives and fully prepared to consider things that are unconventional, because if you’re locked into conventionality, you’re not going to get there from here. I’m talking about an open-minded commitment to change.

EN: What are your own plans for the year? Is there any particular angle you’re focused on?

JP: Well, I think you guys are talking about what the new human is all about, and I’m trying to think about what the new world is going to look like. How will it operate? What does the new economy look like? What will the new government look like? How do the new institutions work?

What does a world based upon cooperation or oneness—or whatever you want to call this inclusive, interdependent, love-based orientation—look like? All of the institutions we have now are built on competition. We’ve got to come up with a new framework.

So I’m getting myself involved in some groups that are interested in building prototypes of what the new world might look like in terms of communities. They are starting with an open piece of ground somewhere and asking, “How would you design a new community that operates on a new economic system, a new governmental system, a new social system, an agricultural system that is self-sustaining? Somebody’s got to start building these prototypes. And that’s what’s interesting to me.

John L. Petersen is a futurist and the founder of
The Arlington Institute

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