Sick Systems

Meditation groups, ashrams, spiritual communities, and (probably) monasteries, can become sick systems quite easily. People join when they are at their most vulnerable, seeking the truth and a new life. This vulnerability can evoke a predatory response in people around them.

The sick dynamics that take over spiritual groups resemble those that rule any office, military organization, family, cult, or tribe.

To extricate yourself from a system, you need to know a bit about the reward + punishment control structure that you have bought into.

Creating a sick system
review by Kottke
Really disturbing piece about how to make someone dependent on you ...i.e. "creating a sick system". Here are the four basic rules:
  1. Keep them too busy to think.
  2. Keep them tired.
  3. Keep them emotionally involved.
  4. Reward intermittently.
Then the author provides a number of techniques you can use to achieve those goals. Like:

Keep real rewards distant. The rewards in "Things will be better when..." are usually nonrewards -- things will go back to being what they should be when the magical thing happens. Real rewards -- happiness, prosperity, career advancement, a new house, children -- are far in the distance. They look like they're on the schedule, but there's nothing in the To Do column. For example, everything will be better when we move to our own house in the country... but there's nothing in savings for the house, no plan to save, no house picked out, not even a region of the country settled upon.

- from Kottke.

  • from Issendai’s Superhero Training Journal
  • JUN. 9TH, 2010 AT 9:39 AM

So you want to keep your lover or your employee close. Bound to you, even. You have a few options. You could be the best lover they've ever had, kind, charming, thoughtful, competent, witty, and a tiger in bed. You could be the best workplace they've ever had, with challenging work, rewards for talent, initiative, and professional development, an excellent work/life balance, and good pay. But both of those options demand a lot from you. Besides, your lover (or employee) will stay only as long as she wants to under those systems, and you want to keep her even when she doesn't want to stay. How do you pin her to your side, irrevocably, permanently, and perfectly legally?

You create a sick system.

A sick system has four basic rules:

Rule 1: Keep them too busy to think. Thinking is dangerous. If people can stop and think about their situation logically, they might realize how crazy things are.

Rule 2: Keep them tired. Exhaustion is the perfect defense against any good thinking that might slip through. Fixing the system requires change, and change requires effort, and effort requires energy that just isn't there. No energy, and your lover's dangerous epiphany is converted into nothing but a couple of boring fights.

This is also a corollary to keeping them too busy to think. Of course you can't turn off anyone's thought processes completely—but you can keep them too tired to do any original thinking. The decision center in the brain tires out just like a muscle, and when it's exhausted, people start making certain predictable types of logic mistakes. Found a system based on those mistakes, and you're golden.

Rule 3: Keep them emotionally involved. Make them love you if you can, or if you're a company, foster a company culture of extreme loyalty. Otherwise, tie their success to yours, so if you do well, they do well, and if you fail, they fail. If you're working in an industry where failure isn't a possibility (the government, utilities), establish a status system where workers do better or worse based on seniority. (This also works in bad relationships if you're polyamorous.)

Also note that if you set up a system in which personal loyalty and devotion are proof of your lover's worthiness as a person, you can make people love you. Or at least think they love you. In fact, any combination of intermittent rewards plus too much exhaustion to consider other alternatives will induce people to think they love you, even if they hate you as well.

Rule 4: Reward intermittently. Intermittent gratification is the most addictive kind there is. If you know the lever will always produce a pellet, you'll push it only as often as you need a pellet. If you know it never produces a pellet, you'll stop pushing. But if the lever sometimes produces a pellet and sometimes doesn't, you'll keep pushing forever, even if you have more than enough pellets (because what if there's a dry run and you have no pellets at all?). It's the motivation behind gambling, collectible cards, most video games, the Internet itself, and relationships with crazy people.

How do you do all this? It's incredibly easy:

Keep the crises rolling. Incompetence is a great way to do this: If the office system routinely works badly or the controlling partner routinely makes major mistakes, you're guaranteed ongoing crises. Poor money management works well, too. So does being in an industry where the clients are guaranteed to be volatile and flaky, or preferring friends who are themselves in perpetual crisis. You can also institutionalize regular crises: Workers in the Sea Org, the elite wing of Scientology, must exceed the previous week's production every single week or face serious penalties. Because this is impossible, it guarantees regular crises as the deadline approaches.

Regular crises perform two functions: They keep people too busy to think, and they provide intermittent reinforcement.

read more .....

The Feudal System in Operation

To see the principles illustrated, check out THE BUDDHA FROM BROOKLYN by Martha Sherrill. The book is about Alyce Louise Zeoli, who was the first Western woman to be named a reincarnate lama. Then she was enthroned as a tulku within the Palyul lineage of the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.

I wasn’t there, so I do not know what actually happened with Alyce and her great adventures in Lamahood, but this book is one of the best descriptions I have seen lately of the kind of thing that does happen, over and over, endlessly, in spiritual groups.

From reviews:

Jetsumna Ahkon Lhamo, the red-headed woman from Brooklyn who wore a black leather jacket and stick-on nails, had no Buddhist training. And still she had managed to build up the largest monastery of Tibetan Buddhists in America. Martha Sherrill, a journalist for The Washington Post, introduces us to Jetsumna's monastery outside Washington, D.C., and to the world of Tibetan Buddhism. With a measured hand, she unfolds the life of Jetsumna and her acolytes, revealing the unshakable devotion, the enormous sums of cash, the ostracism, and the mysterious magnetism of the highest-ranked woman in Tibetan Buddhism. Jetsumna joined the illustrious ranks of Tibetan lamas after being discovered to be an enlightened reincarnation by the same lama who would later discover Steven Seagal. As Sherrill learns, Jetsumna did appear to be enlightened, and her students believed in her infallibility. They became model Tibetan Buddhists, doing prostrations, building stupas, saving all sentient beings. So why did the group occasionally seem like a cult? In a narrative of complexity and sensitivity, Sherrill struggles with the answers to this and other doubts even while she is attracted to the religion herself but troubled by its embodiment in this stretch of wilderness outside America's capital.”

Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo



Brooklyn, NY
, Maryland


1988 Enthronement With Dakini Crown


Tibetan Buddhism
Other name(s)
Catharine Burroughs
Dharma nameAhkon Norbu Lhamo



Alyce Louise Zeoli
October 12, 1949

Senior posting

Based in


Religious career


HH Drubwang Pedma Norbu Rinpoche
ReincarnationGenyenma Ahkon Lhamo,

Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo (October 12, 1949 -; born Alyce Louise Zeoli) is an enthroned tulku within the Palyul lineage of the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. In the late 1980’s, she gained international attention as the first Western woman to be named a reincarnate lama.[1] She continues to serve as Spiritual Director for Kunzang Odsal Palyul Changchub Choling, a Buddhist center in Poolesville, Maryland, which includes one of the largest communities of Western monks and nuns in North America. She went on to found a center in Sedona, Arizona, U.S.A.[2] Jetsunma has been described by her own teachers, as well as many other Tibetan Buddhist lamas who have visited her temple, as a dakini or female wisdom being, and is thus viewed in that way by her students.[3]
read more at Wikipedia

One thing I like about this book is that everyone seems so intelligent, hard-working, and well-intentioned. Yet the whole thing goes to hell anyway. Jetsunma in particular sounds brilliant, funny, insightful, and . . . herself. A real person with a history.

It’s important that what went wrong, and what goes wrong in American spiritual centers, is noticed and recognized. Let’s get on with making new, different mistakes, instead of endlessly repeating the old mistakes.

I think it will take centuries to develop a healthy relationship with Tibetan Buddhism. And may God (who doesn’t exist to Buddhists) bless the souls (which Buddhists don’t have, since there is no self), on their path (which is an illusion).