Conspiracy theory researchers like Dr. Peter Knight assert that conspiratorial thinking follows 3 axioms:
- Nothing is as it seems.
- Everything happens for a reason.
- Everything is connected.
For seasoned yoga students — and New Age enthusiasts — these principles will sound very familiar.
Funny story: when I cited Knight’s axioms in an interview with Buddha at the Gas Pump broadcaster Rick Archer, the 71 year-old ambassador of New Age media laughed. “But I believe all of those things!”
As well he should. As a half-century veteran of Transcendental Meditation and other forms of yoga, Archer knows that these principles can provide insight, equanimity, and resilience. But he also knows — and this is part of what we talked about— that if they cross a certain line of paranoia, or are stripped of the moral frameworks or the pastoral guidance that give shape to functional religious culture, these same rules can point in another direction. They can form the backbone of conspiratorial thinking.
“Nothing is as it seems”
This sounds an awful lot like the ancient premise of māyā, a Sanskrit term central to many Indian wisdom traditions. The word is typically translated as “illusion” or “magic show”, and reflects a history of understanding the conventional world as being a mirage, and society as a corrupting conspiracy against the pure inner self.
The Buddhist take on māyā teaches that the material world is ephemeral and unreliable, and that our attachments to it, and consequent expectations, are the source of all human suffering. Central to this view is a rebellion against rigid caste structures. The bureaucracy of religious elites is a sand castle. For many Buddhists, māyā offers a keen sense of where social conditioning becomes limiting or exploitative.
The literature central to Hinduism offers a different take on māyā: the material world is a kind of divine play, put on by benevolent forces to lead all souls towards enlightenment. In a book…