by Koert van der Velde
Original article in Dutch: http://meer.trouw.nl/nieuws-en-debat/spirituele-naam-en-methode-zijn-duur>
Spirituality must outweigh personal gain. But nowadays spirituality is also commercial – it is copyrighted and patented. Can divine merchandise be protected against competitors?
Followers of traditional religions are invariable happy when others adopt their message and start shouting it from the rooftops. No evangelist would ever think to claim copyright for "Jesus is the Lord!" Someone who wants to spread Islamic prayers all over the world would be applauded by most Muslims.
However, this is not so with several new spiritual teachings. They see their belief as a form of merchandise that must be sold, and thus can be stolen. But the protection of divine merchandise is not easy. The Church of Scientology knows this by now.
The Dutch Church of Scientology spent more than a decade in a juridical fight with Karin Spaink because the Church claimed the right to protect its "secret knowledge". Many of those materials could be found on the Internet, so the judge decided that quoting from them was permissible. Scientology finally gave up their court battle.
Also Bikram Yoga – introduced in Holland – claims copyright on name and method. Of course money is not the motive – says the Indian-American, Bikram Choudhury [owner of] the organization. Bikram has plenty Rolls-Royces parked before his house. And he is being visited by a lot of Hollywood celebrities.
No, instead of money, the main reason for the claim of copyright is security. He says his exercises are so powerful that they can lead to injuries when performed wrongly. The copyright prevents that – so he says. Whoever uses the name or method of Bikram without permission can expect a lawsuit. Only teachers, who bought a course from Bikram himself, are allowed to teach this kind of yoga.
In 2002, Bikram registered his yoga-exercises as a trademark, at the Trade Marks Registry in the US.
When the Indian government discovered this trade marking, they asked a group of historians to make an inventory of all yoga postures published in the Vedas and other Hindu books of Indian origin. Not in order to stop Bikram, but to be better prepared in the future for commercial profiteers of what belongs to traditional national property.
For that matter, the boss of the Trade Marks Registry says that here lies a problem that needs further study. Patents are western, and can only be supplied for "Eureka-inventions". It is not quite clear how expressions of collective creativity of a nation, being maintained over many generations, can be protected.
The Netherlands is not impressed by Bikram's strategy of patent and copyrights. Bikram Yoga is quite popular, so there is the danger of competitors. Sauna and Beauty Center "Zwaluwhoeve" in Veenendaal offers Bikram yoga. Spokeswoman Marieke Hop says that she did not have problems with Bikram's organization.
Also Chris Knibbe, owner of the recently opened yoga center Goyume in Amsterdam has not had problems with Bikram. Knibbe offers, in alignment with the recipe of Bikram, "hot yoga" – a fixed sequence of exercises in a hot room. He defends himself: "Bikram offers the common traditional Hatha-exercises. They belong to everybody. We made a slight variation of Bikram Yoga, because Bikram Yoga is too commercialized. "You even exercise before mirrors, and compete in championships. I mean, this has become way too Western minded." Yoga is about letting go – to turn in. Bikram understood very well what a certain type of Western people wants, but he does not understand Yoga very well.
Whoever claims copyright is mostly powerless against others who violate their rights. Not only is spreading of the holy materials or the use of trademarks hard to prevent, also the spiritual methods themselves are hard to protect against competitors. Nowadays, the Church of Scientology, Avatar, and Reiki practitioners have to deal with deserted members who offer a comparable teaching and method, but far cheaper.
Scientology and Avatar did not succeed in protecting their (copy)rights. Ron's Org is the name of an organization of ex-Scientologists who find the teachings of Ron Hubbard valuable, but did not like the rigid organization of Scientology, nor their high prices. After a good start, the amount of members diminished rapidly, spokesman says. On this moment no course is being given at Ron's Org. Scientology in her turn, weakened by now, ignores Ron's Org instead of starting expensive lawsuits.
Also, Avatar – an organization that offers expensive, secret courses in "creating your own reality" – has its own leakers, who offer the teachings of Harry Palmer for free. Former Avatar Master Ronald Cools translated a book that tells how Avatar works into Dutch and sells it on Marktplaats, but is forbidden in the US due to copyright infringement. Cools says about his motivation, "If you really believe that your religion can save humanity, than you are cruel if you subsequently keep it secret and only give it to people who are willing to pay a lot of money for it." He says spirituality and money make "a disgusting pair of bedfellows". Cools did not have judicial problems with Avatar, but was victimized by character assassination on the Internet.
Also, Jeta Eggers, who owns a website where the secret Avatar materials can be downloaded for free, did not get problems with the Avatar organization. The website is not designed to offer Avatar for free, but to deter potential consumers from doing the Avatar course.
Nowadays, the once-so-expensive Reiki is very cheap. Reiki is supposed to be a method to transfer spiritual energy for curing people. Initially this method was applied exclusively by a very rigid system of certified "masters" who were members of the Reiki Alliance. They made an agreement to ask 10.000 euro ($12,700 USD) for the most important initial degree, which gives access to a mastership. They argued that this high price was needed because Western people only see something as valuable when it is expensive.
But the power of the alliance was broken, because masters began to see the alliance as a "non-authentic" path, and decided to work beneath the agreed upon price. Nowadays there are a lot of variations of the original system. Many people offer Reiki only for free, and today even the expensive master initiation can be obtained for free.
Ton Driessen, who once stood at the cradle of the Alliance, says that the Alliance leads a phantom existence, and that any form of maintenance of copyright has disappeared. Also he left the Alliance, but he still asks a high price. "Nobody is ripped off by me. A good product deserves a good price."
Scientology, Reiki, Avatar and Bikram: The Stats
Scientology is not doing well. In 1992 the church community counted 9000 members. That is spectacular – today "only hundreds" of members are left. The role of Ron's Org is negligible.
In Holland there are a few certified teachers of Birkam Yoga, but a comparable method is being practiced in ten times as many centers. There must be thousands of practitioners.
Officially, Holland counts 404 Avatar Masters. Only they are allowed to give Avatar courses. Thousands of people followed the course since the beginning of the 90s, when Avatar first came to Holland. Since then, the secret Avatar course materials have been downloaded ten thousand times at www.avatarcult.info – hundreds of times by Dutch citizens.
In Holland, Reiki is the most popular method that was initially was protected by copyright and patent. Hundreds of estimated practitioners give Reiki treatments after they are initiated, paying a lot of money or for free. Reiki practitioners say that millions of people did a Reiki course, but that is probably estimated too high.