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Why are we so gullible?

Greetings from Utopia Park: Surviving a Transcendent Childhood - Claire P. Hoffman

In this engaging episodic journey, Hoffman tells the story of her life growing up with a largely absent alcoholic father and a mother looking for salvation in the teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of the TM Transcendental Meditation movement. The book is brilliantly written with a sharp eye towards the ironic and the ridiculous, balanced with compassion and understanding of the sincerity of TM's adherents.


The followers of TM felt they had found TRUTH in capital letters and that their personal spiritual journeys collectively would help usher in World Peace. Why are we so gullible? As the author notes in her epilogue, "I wanted the idea of faith and meaning to not be a socially constructed illusion ... nor a masterful fraud by a malevolent con man, but an accessible worldview." Here is the fatal flaw: wanting to believe that there are answers, answers that are universally true, beautiful and cohesive, TRUE in capital letters.


Ultimately the author found peace with her mother's choice to move her family into the TM community in Fairfield Iowa. The author clearly sees the flawed man at the heart of TM and the foolish complicity of his followers, but she walked away with something to hold on to: the meditation techniques that still provide her some momentary points of peace against the incessant noise of life. Her descriptions of her meditative practice remind me of a favorite quote from Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse: Within you, there is a stillness and sanctuary to which you can retreat any time and be yourself.


What does this book teach us about seeking TRUTH and our gullibility in following those who claim to have found it? Perhaps it is arrogance that leads us to want answers and arrogance that keeps us fenced in the corral of our delusions. One of my favorite Bible stories is of Job, who complains to God of his ordeals and is shut down with God's booming voice putting him in his place: were you there when I created the heavens and the earth? did you call yourself into being? No? then who are you to question me?


What if this is the only TRUTH: that we cannot transcend the level of wondering to the divine heights of knowing. We cannot know and should be skeptical of those who claim to know. To seek is human, to find is dangerous.