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Spirituality and BDSM: giving away your power in role-play

Charlatan
Charlatanhttp://grewordlist.wordpress.com/2010/10/05/charlatan/

Today's topic is far more controversial than any I've previously discussed, so buckle your seatbelts. I'm about to take you someplace you may have already been, without knowing it.

The exploding popularity of the novel (now movie) Fifty Shades of Grey has brought consensual BDSM (Bondage, dominance, submission, sadism, masochism, master/slave relationships) into the mainstream. Even this year's San Diego LGBT Pride festival featured a 'Leather Area' for adults over 21, and it was packed with curious straight, vanilla-looking people, strapped to big 'X's or kneeling on benches getting flogged by dominatrixes in the outdoor dungeon playrooms. Except for the few obvious practitioners in gasmasks and fetish apparel, it might as well have been a county fair.

And maybe that’s not a bad thing, even if it may seem so.

Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate." - C.G. Jung

Whether people get involved in BDSM as an experiment, an occasional fetish, or as a lifestyle, the BDSM community is known for its structures. There are limits, contracts, rules, and the like, and mutual trust in the keeping of agreements is essential. These are negotiated in advance, and the dominant person has the responsibility and the accountability to ensure that the submissive person remains safe emotionally and physically. It's a consensual, fully conscious walk into the darkness, or the light to which it might lead, if BDSM is your thing. (It’s not mine.) In a way, however icky or scary that the vibe might feel to you, BDSM seems cleaner than some spiritual communities or cults in which people who are thrilled by exchanges of power often find themselves.

In the spiritual world, we don't usually have the rules and intentions laid out up front. We don't talk much about power - we want Enlightenment, right? Hoo rah!

But what does that mean, exactly?

It's difficult to free fools from the chains they revere." - Voltaire

We meet or see a teacher, feel a connection, perhaps a buzz, the locking into place of a missing puzzle piece of our soul searching. Bam! It's a relationship. A student-teacher relationship. And then we proceed with devotion and reverence, in some cases. Especially if we're very young or naive, or if we have the bakhti (devotional) temperament. When really, mutual respect and mutual trust have not had an opportunity to develop. For all you know, you might have walked into a narcissist's formless dungeon. It's been known to happen.

What we don't realize as young students or naive spiritual seekers is, that being a seeker is playing the submissive role to someone else's dominant role. Just because there is no sex doesn't mean that it isn't role-play! In addition to the fact that the teacher is senior in ability and knowledge to the student, the roles are psychologically designed to get students out of ruts and shadow and into deepening self awareness and self-empowerment, and to keep the teacher practicing, rather than resting on past accomplishments and reputation.

However, in spiritual groups, there are rarely contracts, and the teacher doesn't have the same automatic accountability for the student's well being as a Master does his Submissive. It's usually not just a one to one relationship, but rather a one to many relationship. That makes it unlikely that the guru will be able to see to the needs, safety and comfort of all his students. It would be physically impossible to pay as much attention to each student as a submissive gets from his master or mistress.

Why the comparison between the seedy and the sublime?

The truth is that spiritual paths are all role-play, until one has played all the roles. The role play doesn’t have to be sexual to enhance, deepen, or mess up your psychology. Giving away your power, giving away your lotus of control, without realizing that you are doing it, without knowing what that is, what it means, and especially, most importantly, why you're doing it - well, you might get badly hurt.

Does this mean you shouldn't study with a teacher or a guru?

Of course not. Just become aware. Notice the role-play. Who is the teacher today? Who is the student today? Who will be the teacher tomorrow? Is what this teacher advising truly in your best interests? Marinate on it. Weigh it out, and make sure you can trust your teacher not to hurt you, or not to let you hurt yourself by following their instructions. Remember that it's okay to say 'no' to a teacher, or to question them.

Who knew that spiritual people had anything in common with 'the dark side'? Truth is, we have a lot in common. We're all on different paths, each just trying to find our own way back to ourselves. So judge not, trust cautiously, and know thyself.

For More Information:

http://hardcorezen.info/npr-link/573/comment-page-5 - ADDENDUM part where the 'thrill to power' is discussed. (I do not agree with Brad Warner's assessment of Genpo Roshi)

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James