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essay Fear of Missing out: A Marketing Ploy to Monetize Spiritual Cultivation

Essay typically is a creative, free flowing, and self-contained complete article, but also a manner of unusually lively written interaction where formality is not a stifler.

Fear of Missing out: A Marketing Ploy to Monetize Spiritual Cultivation​

There are many violent ways to control and entrap unwary people, but often times it can literally pay back in saved time and money if you pay attention early whether there are subtle mechanisms of manipulation that heighten base drives like greed and fear. Cleverly crafted psychological baits usually avoid all the direct coercion attempts to impose order or obedience on others, so it's not so easy to identify them and call out them outright abusive. Nevertheless, from both the spiritual and the ethical perspective, it's impossible condone any means that artificially inflate human base needs and create new dependencies. Fear of missing out (FOMO) is a particular trap in this very same regard.

The fear of missing out is exactly as it sounds: a basic marketing psychology ploy to sell highly exclusive deals. In the spiritual cultivation scene, the cunning salesman pitches the impression that there is a highly desirable service or teaching available
  • through this particular school or teacher alone (or through intense labor otherwise),
  • only for a limited amount of time,
  • that grants further access to special indoor teachings or privileged status (i.e. building a further ego trap), and
  • without which you would be creating or keeping serious obstacles to your own progress.

It's possible that the fear of missing out is implemented without conscious design to make money and simply because there are some innovative ways to create new content which increases the visibility and availability of inner development chances to an ever larger audience. Even so, it is a serious flaw and acts as potential catalyst for accumulating dependent behavior where there no longer is even slim room for spiritual growth. Any ethical teacher should avoid the formation of dependent relationships with their students, and wise students should be cautious and beware of their own tendencies to seek such. It is in this sense of smothering and lulling dependencies how monetizing spirituality promotes the watering down of teachings and unhealthy transactional views towards training, ethics, and self-cultivation.

What if someone completely falls under the spell of fear of missing out? The person didn't confront the provoked insecurity, but sought to sidestep it by serving the craving that arose to counter it. The person also failed to confront the craving at its source, but sought to plug it with a surrogate filler. If the person continues to seek or entertain further filler pitches, then this is how a cycle of bad karma (i.e. self-grasping) is created out of simply nothing. The growing of ego is no joke, but it's fairly common if incentives exist. If you fall under this spell and its usual pitch, then you are almost certainly entertaining a high sense of self-satisfaction and pride for having felt smart enough to take the apparently priceless opportunity. This pride can manifest in following ways:

  • The teachers are idolized beyond their proper place and often inaccessible for private heart-to-heart communication to see how someone is really doing and if it's in the student's best interest in mind to continue training.
  • The value smart "initiated" seniors subtly encourage or expect new students to adopt the same stance of adoring reverence towards the teachers.
  • Smug elitism and "chosen ones" club mentality where grass is always greener on the own school's yard.
  • Passive-aggressive relationship with other school (often demanding of particular set of manners manners, but showing sleight of hand contempt in return).
  • Bragging about accomplishments or musings of progress to people outside of the school.
There is no genuine spiritual path which allows anyone to gain real progress through purchasing power.

Now comes the embarrassing part: I admit that I fell for the fear of missing out two times in the past, and it was for two of the four reasons and for all of the five excessively proud ways that I have listed now. How embarrassing, I'm so ashamed of myself how stupid I was! Luckily, I grew out of the bad experiences and grew wiser to recognize the issue. The fact also is that one of these "schools" was in fact a front for a personality cult that turned out hiding sexual abuse and deviated practice results for the sake of the school and its head not losing the face. Of course, I would've never fell for the first place if there was some doubt about the training method's efficacy, so I was blinded to the fact that I was already too tightly attached to the teaching and the seeking of tangible results in both of these two cases.

My concluding advice to everyone is as follows:

  • Don't become impressed in meditative experiences, but take all experiences as they are.
  • If you see a lot of easily impressed or enthusiastic people in a school, then this a red flag.
  • If you see consensus seeking in a school, then be on your guard.
  • If the teacher doesn't essentially encourage you growing out of his assistance, then there is a strong cause for dependency.
  • YOU are what matters, so don't compromise or miss out yourself.
 
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  • Equanimity
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Earl Grey

Gonzo Daoist and Dharma Punk
Moderator
Here's an extension of missing out that some cult teachers use: the fear of missing out on your own life.

How does this work? Through their framework which uses a bastardized version of the concepts they supposedly represent, they gaslight you into believing that you are not living your life fully the way that you deserve to, you're doing it wrong, and they can help you harmonize your way into living your highest potential.

My own experiences with this is a great example: I was not familiar with Daoism, and I had only been exposed to The Tao of Pooh, before the teacher who inspired this FOMO in me came along and talked about Yin and Yang and duality, alchemy, initiations, karma, destiny...all without actually having a clue beyond New Age platitudes from social media memes, old kung fu films, and discount paperbacks.

The absurdly defined terminology may have been the same as those used by Daoist, Vedic, and Buddhist traditions, but they do not refer to the same thing at all.

Karma as used by the popular misunderstanding is a kind of "You jerk! Karma's gonna get you!" and often referred to when someone disagrees with something you say--as though whatever offend them is "bad" and deserves karmic punishment. No mention at all of vasnas and atmas. In other words, "My frame of reference determines how the cosmos works."

Likewise, it takes a special manipulative individual to twist and distort what should be very simple concepts like Yin and Yang into being a justification for abuse. My own mother, for example, would talk about how for all the verbal abuse my stepfather gave me, that was the Yin which is the tradeoff for the Yang which is that he is "inviting me over and paying for my dinner". Obviously this is not how Yin and Yang works. She was not impressed when I said that the same reasoning was once used when looking at totalitarian regimes that some nostalgic people look back at fondly, which can be summarized as "To get people to overlook human rights abuses and corruption, build good infrastructure and say that this is the price of progress, even if it is done with the blood of critics of the regime".

So if looking at the example of how people can misunderstand and distort concepts like Yin and Yang when it's not a philosophy they have any familiarity with, imagine how someone seeking to con you can use this to get you to believe your own understanding of the concept is wrong and he is right.

Another example of missing out is of one other abuser and predator who was a closeted gay and megalomaniac whose first attempts to coerce students into sex with him was that "we are all energy and so it doesn't matter what your orientation is". It is a nice way to force someone to reluctantly consent to his sexual advances by equating their boundaries, orientation, and hesitation with failing to understand both basic and deeper applications of a philosophical framework he is using to abuse and take advantage of victims with and convince them that it's their idea, not his.

Your own life does not need to be sacrificed and compromised for the sake of fitting into a framework, whether it is the cult of toxic positivity or someone else's dubious claims of mastery over similar technical jargon that has no relation to the actual concepts from their respective philosophies. Always consider if your framework benefits you or benefits someone else before determining that it is a good interpretation and application of the philosophy and concepts you are being introduced to by them!
 
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Neirong

Magus
Teacher
Great post by Virtue, here is what I can add. (I will divide the post into 2 parts, as it is a long one)

Fear of missing out arises due to the very specific marketing suggestion done on purpose by "spiritual" gurus all over the world. It is not a singular case, but rather it is a common occurrence.
You can see signs of it when discussing practice with their students.
They will tell you things like these :

"Faqi is not important"
"Siddhi is not important"
"Loaded LDT is not important"

"We are training for a much higher goal."

And this is what they usually mean - Immortality.
Immortality and mythic spiritual attainments is that kind of a hook that drags people into wasting decades of their life and loads of money into pointless and useless practices.
It can be hard to sell Teaching for what it is (nothing special), thus Teachers talk all kinds of nonsense. They are shifting and manipulating the information they give to sell more.
They will tell you that taking more money from students and giving less is actually for the benefit of students.
Seen Neidan teachers claiming anti-ageing effects of practice while looking older than their physical age.

A product has to sell, and spirituality is a business, that is driven by profits.
When teaching is driven by profits, its structure alters for the sake of profits. Consumers are usually too hooked on their delusional bubble or too busy revering their Teacher greatness and benevolence, to even consider that they are being scammed or used.
Some teachers take a bit of knowledge and divide 1 book, into 20-30 books, while adding unnecessary and repetitive content to all of those.
Others use audio-prerecorded lectures in subscription programs unlocking once a week, absolutely disconnected from whenever a student made progress or not. The only thing that matters is time wasted in between, which would count towards subscription.
Those mundane teachers would further bloat the curriculum by adding all kinds of nonsense, and useless materials, thus making it look like they have a lot of knowledge and it is well worth the money spent.

Why sell 2 courses, when you can sell 20 courses?

Nonetheless, I have seen a lot of such scams, and very few critical reviews on the internet.
The main reason why is cause it feeds students egos.
Like Virtue nailed it, they feel elitist and they also feel they are above all others, they feel they are special cause they learn from "legit and genuine, authentic lineage", while all others are just missing out.
When asked about their personal experiences, we don't hear many constructive thoughts but rather things like: "Potent, Strong, Powerful, Incredible, Not like anything else out there"

It gets worse as cults and large esoteric schools have what is called Confirmation Bias. When many deluded people stick together, they start living in an alternative reality from everyone else.
They will have their understanding of what ego is, of what is right and wrong, of what morals and ethics is.
Usually telling them anything that confronts their Cult paradigm, is deemed as an extremely arrogant, toxic, and offensive action.

As Virtue already said, Leaders of such schools, do not like or support critical thinking, as that would make selling dumb stuff much harder.
Whenever a student tries to think for himself, he will be taught, that he is not a master, he should just listen to greater authority and follow it.
What is also common is that those systems have no barriers or filters for students, they take everyone in, as long as those have money to pay.
 
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Roots of Virtue

At Your Service
Staff member
Moderator
A product has to sell, and spirituality is a business, that is driven by profits.

It looks like we have a complete consumer guide in the making.

Nonetheless, I have seen a lot of such scams, and very few critical reviews on the internet.
The main reason why is cause it feeds students egos.

The hardest part of the equation is the taboo of publicly discussing if someone is a scam or actually sucks. People don't want to get into arguments or mistaken for acting in bad faith, so they expect strict limits to personal involvement, which is understandable to a fair degree especially because convincing people is difficult and often futile in the context of true learning and growing out of dependencies. Then the uncanny part is that the underlying business logic and wanting to keep the clientele as docile cash cows makes it entirely possible that the wealthy con artists sues the critic. It's all about shifting blame and keeping the appearances.

An enormous part of the problem is that people may not initially get into the internal training to become wiser and more aware, but to simply please themselves. How is this not a root cause for being lead astray one way or another?

"Potent, Strong, Powerful, Incredible, Not like anything else out there"
What is also common is that those systems have no barriers or filters for students, they take everyone in, as long as those have money to pay.

What if the practices actually do stimulate a lot of qi, but without the traditional context of slow and personalized progress and without the proper teachings to ground and stabilize the heart-mind first of all?

It could be much better for the gullible people if they were handed non-working placebo gong instead of real internal teachings. I know of cases where genuinely potent practices were taught out of context and without teachers really comprehending the internal principles, which resulted in senior instructor deaths and some odd brain strokes. Oops! Then the asshole teachers go about saying pretty much this: "Don't worry, it was just their karma to encounter terminal or almost fatal illness, and our teachings provided as much good life and karmic cleansing as possible. Our teachings are super safe!"

What else could I retort except that sometimes we are really lucky to miss out?
 
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Earl Grey

Gonzo Daoist and Dharma Punk
Moderator
What if the practices actually do stimulate a lot of qi, but without the traditional context of slow and personalized progress and without the proper teachings to ground and stabilize the heart-mind first of all?

It could be much better for the gullible people if they were handed non-working placebo gong instead of real internal teachings. I know of cases where genuinely potent practices were taught out of context and without teachers really comprehending the internal principles, which resulted in senior instructor deaths and some odd brain strokes. Oops! Then the asshole teachers go about saying pretty much this: "Don't worry, it was just their karma to encounter terminal or almost fatal illness, and our teachings provided as much good life and karmic cleansing as possible. Our teachings are super safe!"

What else could I retort except that sometimes we are really lucky to miss out?

My retort: "I'm not dying because I am in the ER after an accident. I'm coming here to prevent illness or injury, which your practice is supposed to teach me to do, and your authority is supposed to be able to see this coming, including the karma."

High level teachers do see karma. Master David could do that and is how he managed to turn some drunks into teetotalers and gamblers into investors. Someone like a certain individual I knew couldn't see anything and defaulted to "It's your toxicity" or "The way you treat me and disrespect me because of your toxicity projecting onto me that I am a scammer and a liar is your karma and your students and others will treat you the same way you treat me" to shut you up.
 
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Neirong

Magus
Teacher
It looks like we have a complete consumer guide in the making.
Just imagine if some fake master finds this thread... and then thanks us for helping him set up successful cult/scam teaching. (Should I leave my bank details here in this case)

because convincing people is difficult and often futile in the context of true learning and growing out of dependencies
I don't think we have to convince anyone, people have a choice in life, and if it is their choice to study and invest in questionable systems with scam elements...
In the same way, we can talk about the dangers of fast food and Mcdonalds diet, but millions still choose it as a place to eat. Nothing wrong with that.
It is the problem of making an informed decision when you have 100% positive reviews online.
The real issue is that you cannot even voice an opinion, critical review without being silenced and shit on by countless students or associates of respective cults.

If anyone wants to see people who have a healthy attitude to their arts and training, just check professional athletes and bodybuilders. Those who reach a high level and win competitions don't go around with this whole cultist mentality, thinking they are better than everyone or have this special exercise unlike anyone else. I have seen a lot of that from Tai Chi masters, with big bellies, talking about how special they are, how it is a secret art only exclusively available at this place and how much power they have. All the mumbo jumbo thrown in students ears is just to Sell and to inflate the value of the teaching.
 
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One Finger Chan

Practitioner
Tutor
It is the problem of making an informed decision when you have 100% positive reviews online.
I see another problem.
How can there even be an informed decision if the recipient of the information doesn't understand it?

Say for example, that a teacher has a lecture on the subject of Nei Dan, 'cause it says so on the label.
Watching it, the aware watcher realizes that it is a lecture on post heaven energetics, and should have been labeled "TCM stuff that relates to basic qigong".
The question is, does the average student understand the difference?

The truth is, everything can be sold, and the students who buys it will also endorse it.
 
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Roots of Virtue

At Your Service
Staff member
Moderator
I don't think we have to convince anyone, people have a choice in life, and if it is their choice to study and invest in questionable systems with scam elements...

I agree, but speaking out has the final cause of bringing people back to their senses. Otherwise no one would bother.

What separates good and bad convincing is determined by whether it resolves the self-grasping of people or not: Simple perceptive and factual awareness given through an opinion might not be something that eases the overall situation, but may become a cause for further cycles of human drama. As I suggested, the majority of people would be very motivated by their own desire to influence and approach with a difficult stance similar to a butting goat and really try to persuade and argue with people, so that they adopted another, usually more meritorious and wholesome, perspective and a self-identity with it — because people love ongoing rationalizations and how these make them feel more in control of their lives (and the reverse is true). Do the people acting in the name of fairness and public good make themselves as dispensable as possible in the process? In my opinion, this is increasingly rare. These subtle points could lead to other problems like the continuing persecutor-victim-and-bully triangle which just is another perpetuation of self-grasping on all fronts. It's incredibly skillful work to give a good opinion which burns through the usual clinging habits and the need to adopt some substitute view and its identity issues.

The irony of free will is that with self-grasping this freedom becomes severely limited: People assume self-conceited and predictable knee-jerk responses as if they were programmed non-player characters in a computer game. Therefore, it often isn't enough to share an opinion to truly help someone, but it would be much needed to use correct karma-shattering cues that cause people to investigate their sense of self and hopefully even illuminate the matter with non-conceptual awareness without reacting with partisan stances. Just sharing an opinion is alright if it doesn't lead to the opinion giver accumulating any deeply ingrained conceptual view, but that alone might not help others and can thus become a bit selfish act. It surely is a tough world if we were to consider all the nuances of wisdom and compassion in helping others, but this is how the sages, immortals, and enlightened masters operate spontaneously without thought: In the world, but outside of its dominant paradigms.

Anyway, thanks for the wisdom stimulation, @God S. I have learned a lot and really appreciate your contributions so far.
 
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Neirong

Magus
Teacher
The irony of free will is that with self-grasping this freedom becomes severely limited: People assume self-conceited and predictable knee-jerk responses as if they were programmed non-player characters in a computer game. Therefore, it often isn't enough to share an opinion to truly help someone, but it would be much needed to use correct karma-shattering cues that cause people to investigate their sense of self and hopefully even illuminate the matter with non-conceptual awareness without reacting with partisan stances.
Love this term NPC even though it comes from computer games it has deep application to our reality and cultivation. Even supposedly high-level practitioners somehow behave like an NPC and developed "higher level of Qi" does not save them from being predictable, stuck in delusion and delivering programmed responses over and over again like a radio on repeat.

Like in a game, NPC's can be low level and high level, can have a various amount of stats, but just because they levelled up and developed some skill or ability, does not mean they stop being an NPC's.
On the opposite, developing some kind of Qi manipulation skill or progressing in some cultivation practice or teaching may make a person, more inclined and ingrained into his views, he is less likely to awaken, as he is now more certain that he has the skill, and other's are "noobs", meaning he is moving in the right direction and only needs to grind 50 years more... They will never realize they are stuck inside a "dream".
 
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Zork

Grand Inquisitor
Tutor
And this is what they usually mean - Immortality.
Preach it!
A product has to sell, and spirituality is a business, that is driven by profits.
"Give it all away!" ;)
It is not by chance that this is a lecture of you know who!

I would like to add to what @Roots of Virtue said, that being completely aligned with a school and it's practices despite seeing evidence of malpractice is just another form of clinging. I will not analyse what happened on TDB but all i will say is that multiple people damaged their karma for no reason at all. FOMO moved them towards their actions? Maybe but experienced practitioners should know better than to fan the flames.
 
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