Non-dualism Cult Dynamics - The "Sleepers Awake!" Belief System

Neo-Advaita is not your typical cult with a central physical location/in-person community, with one leader. Yet the system of it is extremely cult-like, including the authoritarian nature of the belief system/ideology, and in so many cases, the patterns of teachers' behavior and the teacher-follower dynamic very clearly fits many of the tell-tale signs of cult-like, authoritarian leadership, and the community of followers that they gain influence over. Recognizing this doesn't mean there's nothing positive people gain from it. It's because there is, that cults are able to attract people in the first place! Cult-like groups provide many things that are helpful and positively transformative for people, especially in the short-term, but to a large degree, the healthy elements are outweighed or overshadowed by the toxic ones. As one person described, it's like nectar mixed with poison. If it was only poison, no one would drink it.

Part of what makes it so cult-like is because its' belief system is not open to evolution, revision, it is barricaded from questioning, which is not only discouraged, but you are taught to abandon, or at least mis-trust your rational mind, with your intellectual judgment to critically evaluate being constantly shamed, blamed (as the source of your suffering), and belittled. Essentially, you are encouraged to surrender your rationality if you want to "get" the Ultimate Truth and be free. This is inherent in all belief systems based on truths that are held as absolute, as well as all forms of dogma, and indoctrination. What happens if you question X tenet? Are you told that your questioning shows your spiritual immaturity, your own inadequacy? That your ego just hasn't dissolved enough yet? Are you turned against yourself? How often have you heard a famous non-dual teacher answer a question with "I don't know?" or "I'm not qualified to answer that?" 

Here is just one example that gives credence to one of the cult-like dynamics that features so strongly in modern non-dual ideology and communities: "Sleepers: Wake Up!"


This outline is based partly on the author’s experience in a pseudo-Buddhist cult, and partly on talking to, or reading the accounts of, other ex-members of various cults.

Briefly, the way that brainwashing (aka mind control) works, is that a cult promotes its cultish belief system, and then believers control their own minds, as they attempt to train their minds and reform their personalities, in accordance with the tenets of their cultish new belief system.

A cult belief system is a “Sleepers Awake!” type of belief system. In simple terms, it puts forward the idea that whatever unhappiness or dissatisfaction a person experiences in life, is due to them being at a low level of awareness, or effectively “asleep”. 

But a person can wake up, becoming more fully aware and enjoying happiness and spiritual fulfillment, if they follow the teaching and training offered by the group.

Brainwashing does not directly overcome a person’s free will. Rather, it tricks a person into voluntarily inhibiting their free will, by persuading them that the cult leadership is “enlightened”, or at least wiser and more aware than them. Therefore they should not rely on their own flawed and unenlightened judgement, but should defer instead to the guidance compassionately offered by their spiritual guide, who can see, where they are blind. (This is similar to Gaslighting, except that brainwashing manipulates a person into doubting their own awareness and judgement, rather than into doubting their own sanity.) An unscrupulous teacher, having gained the faith and trust of their student, can then exploit this trust and deference for their own ends. Students may thus become subject to “insidious forms of spiritual tyranny”.

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