Book Review - Saints and Psychopaths

This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 1995, Volume 12, Number 2, pages 208-210. Please keep in mind that the pagination of this electronic reprint differs from that of the bound volume. This fact could affect how you enter bibliographic information in papers that you may write.

Book Review - Saints & Psychopaths. 

William L. Hamilton. Dharma Audio Network Associates, San Jacinto, CA (available from DANA, P.O. Box 1527, Coupeville, WA 98239, or call 800-7262421), 1995, 142 pages.

This is a book that speaks from experience, the experience of a man who has spent much of his adult life seeking enlightenment through meditative arts aligned with Buddhism. This book is also a warning. William Hamilton tells us that there are more psychopaths than saints in this world. He warns us that naïve seekers, no matter how intelligent and street wise, can fall for the wily charisma of a psychopathic guru or partner. Hamilton describes two psychopaths he experienced. One was his spiritual teacher; the other, his exwife. Both abused him spiritually, sexually, financially, and emotionally. After describing these scenarios in Part I, Hamilton outlines the traits of a psychopath and the traits of a saint.

In Part II Hamilton engages us in the positive experience of a saint and the path to enlightenment. He outlines different Buddhist approaches, contrasting Vipassana with Samatha forms, the latter being a focus on still objects (candle, colored disk), the former, a focus on moving or changing objects (breathing, walking). The Vipassana approach has been the most popular in the West for people interested in Buddhist retreats. According to Hamilton, among those participating in this form of Buddhism, fully one half are psychotherapists. A goal is to become a "Streamwinner," that is, one who has achieved the first level of enlightenment. The Streamwinner sees objects in a continuous state of change "because consciousness is continually changing."

For Hamilton, saints are enlightened human beings. His definition includes many mystics from the Catholic tradition, but excludes sanctity based on miracles. His view is more in line with Buddhist philosophy. However, enlightenment can be hard to spot from the point of view of the unenlightened, and the enlightened as well. Hamilton tells us that "nothing is acquired" in the enlightenment process. In fact, enlightened people can be quite "embarrassed" by the enlightened state, not knowing how to speak about it or relate to it experientially. Most often, he says, those who announce that they are enlightened are not. Which is why he wrote this book. Hamilton wants to help people, seekers mostly, avoid the pitfalls of the path; he provides a guideline and a checklist.

As for characteristic traits: saints "say, mean, do" consistently, whereas psychopaths "say, mean, do" with disparity. Saints keep promises, pay debts, adhere to their own moral standards, will apologize for mistakes immediately, and have truth as the highest standard. Psychopaths say they do but do not. Saints felt loved as a child; psychopaths did not. Saints may adopt one spiritual name, while psychopaths tend to have many aliases but not always. Psychopaths tend to attack their accusers when confronted with wrongdoing. When completely trapped, a psychopath might admit to a wrong, afterwards asking for a clean slate of forgiveness, only to return to his or her misdeeds later. Hamilton warns us that his checklist is only a guide; having some of these traits does not make someone a saint or psychopath.

Hamilton's spiritual journey began in 1971 after his first LSD trip. After completing a degree in psychology in 1959, he became a very successful businessman during the 1960s. Like so many in that era, he discovered a spiritual void in his life, one that became magnified by a psychedelic drug experience. He dropped his business ventures and tuned into the consciousnessraising subculture. He founded the Ophalese Foundation in Denver, where mostly psychologists shared a 30-room house in the mountains. There they explored yoga and meditation, but the group disbanded after it became the victim of Agreed, aversion and delusion" as with the "vast majority of intentional communities of that time." He then read Be Here Now by Ram Dass, a.k.a. Richard Alpert, the former Harvard psychologist. In the 1960s Alpert had experimented with LSD with Dr. Timothy Leary; finding drugs to be limiting, Alpert moved onto meditation and guru devotion. Alpert's guru, Neem Karoli Baba, died in 1973, thus leaving a void in Alpert's life again.

Hamilton worked with the Hanuman Foundation founded by Ram Dass until 1977. He later intensified his Vipassana efforts especially with the Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts. During the latter 1980s he promoted Peace Pilgrim, the work of a female Buddhist teacher. In the 1990s he continued his Vipassana work with Sayadaw U Panditia in Burma.

Hamilton recounts his experience with one psychopath, which began in 1974 when he became attracted to Ram Dass's new "teacher" in New York, a woman who trancechanneled the dead Neem Karoli Baba. The channeler claimed to be an incarnation of the frightening Hindu deity, Kali, an aspect of the Divine Mother. Hamilton neglects to name the woman, but former devotees told me her name is "Joya Santana" or "Ma Joyti Hanuman." She was a Brooklyn housewife who claimed to be spontaneously enlightened one day in her bathroom. According to her former devotees, Joya moved to Vero Beach in Florida.

Hamilton and Ram Dass and his circle were introduced to Joya through Hilda Charlton, a trusted friend and spiritual teacher in New York. Charlton helped to screen members for "secret classes" and managed the cult rituals. Hamilton stayed in Joya's cult longer than did Ram Dass, who after two years of embattled devotion, left her and later wrote an exposé of "the complicated web of lies, deception, sexual misconduct and drug use."

In chapter 3 Hamilton relates his hapless romance with Mukti Ma Deva Walla, a.k.a. Jane, another devotee named by Neem Karoli Baba. He met Mukti in 1977. Her Hindu name means "Goddess Who Sells Enlightenment." Mukti impressed Hamilton with her incredible guru recognition -- she apparently had met all the “who's who" in the current guru market, including Anandamayima, Amarit Desai, Muktananda, Sai Baba, and Ram Dass. Hamilton describes Mukti as an insecure adoptee who grew up in a very wealthy family. Her foster mother eventually cut Jane off after her hippie adventures led to some bizarre habits. Nevertheless, Mukti manipulated money out of anybody she could con, including Hamilton. Her spending habits and guruhopping cost Hamilton more than $150,000. During one five-month spree Mukti managed to charge an average of $20,000 per month in India--no mean feat when anyone could live there very comfortably on several hundred dollars per month.

At the end of the book Hamilton offers a useful glossary of the Sanskrit terms and some of the psychological jargon he uses. The last two pages are extra charts that can be removed from the book. If you are a seeker not yet devoted to a psychopath, you might take Hamilton's advice and pin it above your desk or on your refrigerator, or carry it around in your wallet. Those already trapped by psychopathic gurus may benefit little from such a list--unfortunately, the effect of the psychopath's control over a follower is that just about anything ends up being justified and rationalized.

Joseph P. Szimhart

Cult Information Specialist/Exit Counselor

Pottstown, Pennsylvania

Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 12, No. 2, 1995