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Jon Atack: The biggest thing L. Ron Hubbard got wrong about Buddhism

Jon Atack is the author of A Piece of Blue Sky, one of the very best books on L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology. For more than three years he’s been helping us sift through the legends, myths, and contested facts about Scientology that tend to get hashed and rehashed in books, articles, and especially on the Internet. Today, he takes on Scientology’s notion of reincarnation and past lives.

Many of the concepts in Scientology are borrowed from earlier traditions — whether in religion, psychotherapy or just straightforward hypnosis. Hubbard acknowledged his debt to Freud in several places, and Scientologists may be startled by Freud’s pre-WWI Worcester Massachusetts lectures, where Book One Dianetics is pretty thoroughly described –- along with Freud’s explanation for abandoning the technique: because it makes the client ever more dependent upon the therapist.

Among the significant notions adopted from religious tradition is “past lives.” The term was probably borrowed from Hubbard’s principal source – Aleister Crowley (see my Possible Origins for Dianetics and Scientology). Elsewhere, known as “reincarnation” or even “metempsychosis,” the concept is common in eastern religions.

In the West, interest in the mysteries of the East began in the early 19th century, when scholars like Oxford University’s James Legge began to translate Taoist, Buddhist and Hindu texts. The Pali Text Society began translations of Buddhist literature in 1881. The philosopher Schopenhauer was greatly influenced by the proto-Buddhist Upanishads.


But scholars were not the only ones interested in the exotic ideas of the East. The “New Age” movement has its origins in figures such as Helena Blavatsky, a distinct precursor of Ron Hubbard.

Blavatsky was a Russian “spirit medium” who claimed in her sprawling text Isis Unveiled to have made a “synthesis of science, religion and philosophy” (now, where have I heard that before?). Just as with Hubbard, she would be accused of fraud and plagiarism, but many intelligent followers –- including Nicholas Lutyens, the architect of New Delhi, and later Judge Christmas Humphreys, were drawn to her cause.

Blavatsky founded Theosophy, which included belief in psychic powers such as telepathy and clairvoyance, the ability to control the minds of others, to materialize physical objects and to move outside the body (in an “astral projection”), which is the basis for Hubbard’s Operating Thetan (“an individual who could operate totally independently of his body,” Scientology Technical Dictionary).

Theosophy came a cropper when its purported messiah Jiddhu Krishnamurti publicly revoked this status in 1929. Published accounts make it clear that Charles Webster Leadbeater -– who “discovered” Krishnamurti –- was a pedophile. To its credit, the Blavatsky Theosophical Group UK accepts the evidence.

Perhaps the most significant teaching of the various pseudo-eastern groups –- many inspired by Theosophy –- is reincarnation. My own background, before joining Scientology at the age of 19, was in Soto Zen Buddhism. I cannot claim profound knowledge of the subject, but I was surprised to find the completely different interpretation put upon reincarnation by Scientology.

In the eastern traditions, reincarnation is often termed “the fear of the eternal return,” and the focus of those traditions is to escape the “wheel of suffering” through constant rebirth. Scientologists accept Hubbard’s notion that the continuum of death and rebirth is somehow positive –- while he terms our existence thus far as a “dwindling spiral,” where we have lost godly powers and been reduced to “meat bodies,” there is no reference to any wheel of suffering.

This is strange, as Hubbard insisted that Scientology is “twentieth century Buddhism,” even suggesting that the Buddha was the first Clear. But Scientology insists on the permanent independence of the thetan or being (see Creation of Human Ability, process R2-48 Separateness: “the thetan is an individual separate from every other thetan and … he has never been part of any other thetan”). To Scientologists, eternity on the wheel of suffering is doctrine. As a Buddhist, I found the notion far more frightening than the idea of death –- and that view is usual in that tradition.

Often, escapees from Scientology simply relabel the concepts they have been taught without looking to Hubbard’s original sources. It is a very good idea to dig deeper. As to the “fear of the eternal return,” after a billion years in the Sea Org, I’m sure that every Scientologist will agree with me. Hubbard has quite clearly given up after only a single lifetime peddling his distortions of other people’s ideas, or, by now, he would have displaced David Miscavige and taken his place back at the helm.

— Jon Atack


Scientology disconnection, a reminder

Bernie Headley has not seen his daughter Stephanie in 4,826 days.
Jamie Sorrentini Lugli has not seen her father Irving in 2,583 days.
Quailynn McDaniel has not seen her brother Sean in 1,929 days.
Claudio and Renata Lugli have not seen their son Flavio in 2,423 days.
Sara Goldberg has not seen her daughter Ashley in 1,463 days.
Lori Hodgson has not seen her son Jeremy in 1,175 days.
Marie Bilheimer has not seen her mother June in 701 days.
Joe Reaiche has not seen his daughter Alanna Masterson in 4,790 days
Derek Bloch has not seen his father Darren in 1,930 days.
Cindy Plahuta has not seen her daughter Kara in 2,250 days.
Claire Headley has not seen her mother Gen in 2,225 days.
Ramana Dienes-Browning has not seen her mother Jancis in 581 days.
Mike Rinder has not seen his son Benjamin in 4,883 days.
Brian Sheen has not seen his daughter Spring in 990 days.
Skip Young has not seen his daughters Megan and Alexis for 1,392 days.
Mary Kahn has not seen her son Sammy in 1,265 days.
Lois Reisdorf has not seen her son Craig in 846 days.
Phil and Willie Jones have not seen their son Mike in 1,351 days.
Mary Jane Sterne has not seen her daughter Samantha in 1,595 days.
Kate Bornstein has not seen her daughter Jessica in 12,704 days.


3D-UnbreakablePosted by Tony Ortega on July 29, 2017 at 07:00

E-mail tips and story ideas to tonyo94 AT gmail DOT com or follow us on Twitter. We post behind-the-scenes updates at our Facebook author page. After every new story we send out an alert to our e-mail list and our FB page.

Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook versions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.

The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2016 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Undergound Bunker (2012-2016), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)

Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…

BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of L.A. attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts

Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | Scientology boasts about assistance from Google | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ

Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield


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