Tomoe Gozen
A Ronin is a Japanese Samurai Warrior that has lost his (or her) master and yet wanders boldly and bravely into their life. Many of us are taking a hard look at religion, a “religious path” and longing to make real personal, spiritual progress before this life is over. The problem is, that often people follow these religions with great devotion and expense, and yet find after many years that all of the amazing qualities promised, are just not occurring. Why? They promised us that if we do these practices and did everything that they said, that we would be free of pain and evolve into something greater, even magnificent. For example, in the yoga community, they have a famous quote:
“Practice and it’s all coming.”
Anyone who’s ever been involved with a high demand group, or a very controlling semi-cultist religion might want to read this book immediately. It’s called Cults in our Midst by Margaret Singer of Colorado. She discusses basic, standard tenets of spiritual/ religious abuse and control, it’s always the same, formulaic. For 25 years, I was closely involved with some Tibetan Buddhist communities and could see the same problems recur: power, control, hierarchy, people fighting to be close to the teacher and people in power, treating others unwell as they maintained their positions. They used subtle threats of spiritual punishment had no grievance board or place to work out issues or offer feedback. For years as an insider, I thought that the valid concerns I kept seeing were “me”, well…
After the exposures of #metoo movement, a lot of these organizations are now being questioned and some of them are even dismantling. Many have fallen apart with some pretty painful, scandalous hemorrhaging, and it was really hard for me to process. We have some very deep personal vows that we take with our guru, an authoritarian teacher. I was told if we ever break them or speak ill of anyone or anything that we would become ill, or have serious personal life obstacles and then be born in some type of torturous compassion-less hell in an afterlife.
Even though I’m married to an evidence-based scientist and was educated and went to some of the best schools, I actually really believed in this stuff on a deep level and was frightened. I sought out help from people who understand religious dynamics and that brought me to an organization called Recovering From Religion, which offers a community support group and even a 1-800 number/ 24 hour chat, if people find themselves in a spiritual crisis! I went to some of their meetings in Denver, and I wanted to share with you some of the wisdom about how people can be harmed by religions.
Here were their healing suggestions for those who wanted to deconstruct their acquired belief system and heal. There were people there who grew up as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists, some very heavy-handed religions that made people feel bad about themselves, period. We, together, tried to heal the pain and confusion from our religion or organization. It can be so incredibly hard, especially if you’re born into a religion that’s hardwired to see the world from that lense and oftentimes people’s entire families, relationships and entire milieu are part of the constructs of these heavy handed, black and white, spiritually retributive religions.



  • We do not talk anymore in terms of “magical thinking,” things that are not based in consensual evidence-based reality for example: imagining all of the different fantastic reward and punishment things that could happen in some afterlife, any afterlife or previous life, devils, angels, Buddhas or gods influencing us from another dimension. We do not point to there being some type of unseen, righteous moral authority that’s calibrating our good and bad deeds and judging us from a place that we can’t perceive. We do not talk in terms of any type of magical thinking as being real. In sum, we take a full stop to- archaic beliefs, religious crazy and conspiracy theories. Even if any of this afterlife, interdimensionality or other-worldliness is true, we remain in consensual, earth based reality.


  • We decide that we no longer want to participate in any type of religious tradition or paradigm or organization that is incapable of questioning itself and learning to grow beyond it’s structure. It’s religious rites and tenets cannot be so fixed that it creates a closed contracted, limited belief system. Oftentimes, High Demand Groups, cult-like communities or very closed fixed religions will suppress, defame, invalidate, attack and even modern-day shun, anybody that merely questions it’s values, formula, beliefs and ethics. This closed, contracted system simply can’t benefit human evolution in a genuine path of questioning learning and growing. The Buddha himself, said “don’t take anything I’ve taught on faith, please question everything I said, your own experience is what matters and be a lamp unto yourself.”


  • Avoid destabilizing traditions that make you feel like you doubt yourself, that you are bad that you’re evil, or that you’re going to hell, or that you’re sick. It happens all too often, that religions try to co-opt and monetize some type of purification, absolution or spiritual evolutionary process. Oftentimes the whole thing becomes a business and all of the amazing qualities promised never really occur, even after following their practices and paying with a lifetime of devotion. One of the most debilitating conflicts of interest is spiritual codependency, taking complete trust and refuge and someone or something outside of yourself, to help you to grow and to fix all of your problems. This quest is perilous and keeps us looking outward and it’s nearly impossible to grow with the mind turned in the wrong direction.


This is the best quote from an article called How Cults Work by Julia Layton. It summarizes the type of control and induced dependency in the spiritual communities: Induced Dependency– Cults demand absolute, unquestioning devotion, loyalty and submission. A cult member’s sense of self is systematically destroyed. Ultimately, feelings of worthlessness and “evil” become associated with independence and critical thinking, and feelings of warmth and love become associated with unquestioning submission.” This pretty much sums up my religion also known as Lamaism, or at least the exploitative parts of it.
I actually had the good fortune of studying with a powerful, old, ancient wisdom Buddhist Yogi. I would fly over to Nepal every year and climb the top of the mountain and stay with him. There was one time where I think I asked for too many teachings and practices and it was clear that I wasn’t even putting to practice the ones that he’d given me before. I asked for some blessing, and empowerment and some high spiritual this and that, he said:
“I’ve already told you all that you need to know, I want you to go out and practice what I taught you.” Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche
He never asked me for money or commanded me to do any type of administrative work, only to practice. There was never any sexual impropriety, any type of manipulation on his part and he did not want to use me for anything in any way. He simply gave me some very powerful meditation instructions that were simple and subtle and required quite a bit of time to go pretty deeply and hopefully, establish some type of quality of simple clarity and compassion in my being. There was one time he even taught us a practice called Guru Yoga where you imagine all of the ancestral qualities of an enlightened, powerful teacher above your head. Even as he was giving this instruction, he was very very careful to not attribute all our openness and sacredness to him personally. He said “you can imagine it’s me but it’s not me.” What you are connecting to is, beyond me.
I’m so grateful that my spiritual teacher worked with us in a very personal way and had so much integrity. With any trace of this spiritual codependency or grasping arising, he would gently redirect us back to our own strength and heart. In this way, eventually we can grow up and stand alone in our power. This was the essence of a healthy relationship with a real master, guru or spiritual teacher, and I feel fortunate. In retrospect, I’ve seen many religions, yoga and spiritual communities become these giant monstrosities of control and commoditization, and I’m not altogether sad that a lot of them are dissolving. My teacher passed in 1996. Many of us, Ronin like spiritual refugees, hold the hope that something ethical, transparent and beneficial will arise in their wake. Genuine rock real, raw, falsity-free spirituality.
The master-less Ronin uncovers her own deep power. Look for what is healthy and empowers and strengthens you, rather than makes you dependent upon a priest, teacher or their methods, to be absolved to heal to grow or to learn anything.

 Sloughing off any traces of spiritual codependency, allowing ourselves to think critically about what is helpful to us verses what is just the socialization of religion and spirituality, is such a powerful and first step in finding a way to really grow and to develop into the best people we can be. We might then, from our own wisdom, find true spirituality and release any limitations from the bounds of constrictive religion.

Cults in Our Midst Image of Tomoe Gozen was a onna-bugeisha, who appeared in 14th century Japanese literature. According to lore, she served Minamoto no Yoshinaka during the Genpei War and was a part of the conflict that led to the first shogunate. Her family had strong affiliations with Yoshinaka. Wikipedia
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