Ketan Tamm Memorial

Remembering the life of a gifted actor-director, restaurateur, but above all spiritual seeker

Introduction

One of the curious things about our present-day world with its emphasis on the secular and the material is that when people make spiritual choices it’s almost as if they’ve fallen off the edge of the earth. They seemingly no longer exist to people who only measure secular activity. They become unpersons, particularly to hardline anti-cultists.

How strange that people whose days are filled with activities and whose lives are filled with meaning are simply written off as “lost” by those who take an extreme worldly view. Yet, when people make spiritual choices, they continue to breathe oxygen, to eat food and drink water, to plan and dream, to care for others and be cared for. That they do these things in a broader context of service to God or pursuit of spiritual enlightenment does not lessen their humanity.

When Ketan Goldman Tamm passed away in March 2014, it marked the end of a life filled with activity and service. He ran the Panorama of My Silence-Heart Café, which offered more than lattes and loving-kindness: it became a hub of community activity. According to reviewer Julia Lofaso:

Events held there have ranged from community board meetings, elementary school class plays and meatless barbecues to demonstrations by local raw food devotees, performances by Brazilian opera singers and a dramatic President’s Day reading of writings by the founding fathers. Local musicians come to play at Panorama’s recurring Edible Jam while listeners partake in a tasting menu of desserts, all of which feature jam. And, of course, there’s always a chance that [Guinness record holder Ashrita Furman] will walk in and start snapping celery stalks in half or cracking eggs against his forehead in rapid succession.

Ketan was first and foremost a spiritual seeker. Before settling down to run the Panorama Café, he traveled the globe, arranging meetings and events for his teacher, Sri Chinmoy, with the goal of inspiring a more harmonious world. Ketan also loved theatre, and enjoyed directing and acting in plays.

Ketan doing his roadwork with the World Harmony Run, on the island of Jamaica, 2005

Ketan doing his roadwork with the World Harmony Run, on the island of Jamaica, 2005

A poster for the play "Siddhartha Becomes The Buddha" which Ketan directed at the Bleeker Street Theater in 2010

A poster for the play “Siddhartha Becomes The Buddha” which Ketan directed at the Bleeker Street Theater in 2010

The Buddha character from Ketan's play

The Buddha character from Ketan’s play

Because Ketan was very devoted to the spiritual life, his closest friends and family were those who shared his spiritual interest and remained true. This is how his friends and family at Sri Chinmoy Centre remembered him.
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False Salon Story: What was said at the time

Collecting good rebuttals to bad journalism

I previously blew the whistle on blogger Edwin Lyngar and his agent Elizabeth Kracht for planting a false story in Salon libeling the late meditation teacher and humanitarian Sri Chinmoy (1931-2007). I analyzed the false Salon story in relation to a false story (on a different subject) appearing in Rolling Stone. (See “Can Salon Learn From Rolling Stone’s Mistakes? Part 1.”)

I’ve recently been beating the bushes, making a nuisance of myself, trying to track down what people said at the time in rebuttal to Salon. I remembered people wrote some good things, but realized they were scattered in different places and somewhat difficult to access. So I hope no one minds that I’ve collated what different people said and presented it in a single blog post, where the whole may be greater than the sum of the parts. The purpose is to resolve a matter of public concern. Continue reading

Jayanti Tamm Rebuttal, Part 2

This is Part 2 of a rebuttal to anti-cult activist Jayanti Tamm which I wrote in 2011 but never published. Part 1 is located here.

Just Say No To Cult Checklists — Part 2

In Part 1, I noted Jayanti Tamm’s efforts to revive a “cult checklist” to be used as a witching wand for separating good religion from bad, and began cataloguing the problems associated with her approach. According to Ontario-based ReligiousTolerance.org:

The term “cult” is generally used as a hateful snarl word that is intended to intentionally devalue people and the new faith groups that they have chosen to follow. It tends to associate thousands of benign religious groups with the handful of destructive religious groups that have caused loss of life. The term often creates fear and loathing among the public, and contributes greatly to religious intolerance in North America. The word “cult,” particularly as used by the media, carries a heavy emotional content. The term suggests that this is a group that you should detest, avoid, and fear. In reality, the only “crime” of most “cults” is that they hold different religious beliefs from whomever is doing the attacking.

The power to define is the power to control. Anti-cult groups typically use cult checklists as part of a larger effort to subject minority religions to restrictive laws. They’ve met with relatively little success getting such laws passed in the U.S., but greater success in Europe, where religious intolerance is on the rise. See this transcript of a hearing held by the U.S. House of Representatives, Subcommittee On International Operations and Human Rights, concerning “Religious Discrimination In Western Europe.” It contains many quotable quotes from a stellar panel, including this opening comment from Rep. Cynthia McKinney:

[W]ho has the right to determine for others what is a “cult,” and what is an “acceptable” religion? When the government presumes to do so, it seems that a Pandora’s Box of state interference in religious life has been opened. And furthermore, when the government becomes the arbiter of religious authenticity, which religions are likely to be targeted? Certainly not the established religions that enjoy the support of the majority in a population. Instead, the victims are going to be minority religions, the least well known and most misunderstood faiths, in short, the very groups that agreements like the Helsinki Accords were designed to protect.

Within this larger framework, it’s trivial to see how cult checklists operate: One takes a database of all known religions, applies the checklist in subjective fashion, and is left with a database of religions purported to be cults. The list is then pitched to lawmakers as accurate and unbiased, when it is in fact a species of pseudoscience. Such cult checklists are part of a conveyor belt system leading to widespread religious discrimination. As the old joke among Jews in Nazi Germany goes: “If you don’t want to end up in Dachau, avoid train travel!” The train itself may appear innocuous; the destination is anything but. Whether cult checklists are wielded by government or by private anti-cult groups, they tend to produce a chilling effect on individual freedom of conscience. When the media endorses them, it sullies its hands.

While opinions on religion abound, constructive criticism will often come from the faithful. It’s difficult for secular groups who eschew religion to understand the requirements of faith. Our nation was founded under a theory of dual spheres of influence in which religions are presumed to be competent in their own sphere to determine what practices are beneficial. When people like Ms. Tamm try to usurp that right — brandishing cult checklists which are a thinly veiled form of social control — we should not take them with perfect seriousness, except to the extent they seek to undermine Constitutional liberties. That effort we should seriously oppose, rejecting the mindset which would make “meditating while Indian” a crime on a par with “driving while Black.” Continue reading

Jayanti Tamm Rebuttal, Part 1

Introduction

This is a two-part rebuttal to anti-cult activist Jayanti Tamm which I wrote in 2011 but never published. In coming across it, I realized it says much of what I would say generally about anti-cult groups and individuals who circulate propaganda which demeans and “otherizes” spiritual minorities. We live in a populist society where the majority is increasingly running toward secularism and materialism. That is their right. It’s also why we need strong laws protecting the rights of spiritual minorities — because without such protections democracy becomes just another form of tyranny. Continue reading