Coaching within the maieutics school is based on two basic experiences: the experience of doubt and the experience of totality. This means that existential themes that are especially suitable for coaching – including guilt – are approached from the perspective of both expe-riences. In concrete terms, this means that, on the one hand, the (painful) shadow sides of the theme in question and the accompanying doubts are discussed, but that, on the other hand, comforting metaphysical insights are sought. For, in contrast to Harm van der Gaag’s philosophical practice, coaching according to the maieutics school means that a client does not only go home with questions, but also – if possible – with answers.
The theme of guilt has a loaded meaning in both Western and Eastern culture. It can cer-tainly be counted among the experiences of doubt, since it can sabotage people’s lives to a great extent. In the East, we can link the theme of guilt to the concept of karma. This means that the quality of the present life is determined by the way you behaved in previous lives. In other words, if you have a difficult life now, it is in fact your own fault, for which you have to pay.
In India, this concept of guilt has led to the so-called caste system. In this system, guilt is, as it were, materialised, because “you can see from someone’s position how he has performed before on earth” (Coppes, Bijna Dood Ervaringen en wereld-religies, p. 101). In concrete terms, this means that people from the lower castes are doomed to remain in them – at least in their present lives. They simply have to resign themselves to their miserable fate. Only if they behave well now, they may be rewarded in a subsequent incarnation. According to researcher Dr. Bob Coppes, this Eastern view of guilt has created completely inhuman social conditions. He writes the following about this:
“People of higher castes look down on people of lower castes, and everyone looks down on people without a caste, the untouchables (the pariahs). They are shunned like the plague, insulted and not allowed to enter temples and houses of caste people. In restaurants, it is not unusual for them even to be given their own cutlery […]. There have been horrible excesses. There was a time, not too long ago, when untouchables wore belts with bells, which warned other people of their arrival. They could get a beating if their shadow [sic!] hit a brahmin [= priest]. And even today there are many incidents in which untouchables are attacked” (Coppes, Bijna Dood Ervaringen en wereldreligies, p. 102).
It should be clear that this Eastern conception of guilt, which causes people to have serious doubts, both indi-vidually and socially, is diametrically opposed to the unconditional love of the totality experience. For that matter, the Western concept of guilt is not necessarily better. The West is largely coloured by Christianity. And one of the most important representatives of that religion – the Church Father Aurelius Augustine (354-430) – created a rather bleak image of mankind. In it, he sees mankind in particular as the cause of evil. This is called sin. Man is a sinful and therefore guilty being. Even if someone com-mits an outrage out of ignorance, he is guilty, namely for neglecting to search for the distinction between good and evil.
Because of sinfulness, man is enormously distant from God, Augustine says. There is an unbridgeable gulf between God and man. Man is estranged from God. Augustine sketches a pitch-black image of mankind: man is a lost mass (massa perditionis). Moreover, man him-self is to blame for this lostness. It starts with Adam, the first human being. According to the traditional Christian view, Adam (through Eve) committed a sin, and thus all of humanity after him became genetically burdened (original sin). As a result, mankind is essentially no longer able not to sin; he is guilty by definition and thus lost in principle.
Is there a way out of hell? Yes, says Augustine, but only for some. “Some are chosen [by God], others rejected, and this … from man’s point of view arbitrarily. According to God’s eternal counsel, therefore, one part of mankind is predestined to salvation, the other part to eternal damnation” (Störig, Geschiedenis van de filosofie, p. 246). Christians who do not repent, pagans, and all those who have not been baptised, whether children or adults, burn in hell forever anyway. Later, the church somewhat softened this rock-hard predestination doctrine of Augustine: God does not a priori determine who is saved, but only knows. In other words, man remains responsible for his own fate.
Once again, it is clear that this Western concept of guilt, at least the traditional Christian interpretation of it (by whom many have probably been influenced or frightened in the course of the centuries), is diametrically opposed to the unconditional love from the experience of totality. For that matter, the theme of ‘guilt’ does have a certain, very meaningful place in the totality experience. The big difference with both the Eastern and Western traditions, however, is that ‘guilt’ no longer leads to a personal punishment – respectively an unhappy reincarnation or eternal hellfire – but only to an educational function. What does this function entail? A crash course in self-love and charity!
During the totality experience, experiencers can undergo a so-called retrospective or life review. This means that their life so far passes before them at lightning speed, but in all details and clarity. In fact, their lives are evaluated. However, this evaluation is not done by God or a divine judge! Dr. Cop-pes literally writes: “No Bible is brought in, no Koran opened, no Bhagavad-Gitá, no lists of commandments and prohibi-tions. No rabbi is involved and no priest, imam, brahman or lama is consulted” (Coppes, Bijna Dood Ervaringen en wereldreligies, p. 36). But who actually evaluates? Answer: you do that all by yourself.
During the totality experience, the experiencer experiences what he has done to himself and to others, both the good and the bad. He actually feels the pleasant and less pleasant fee-lings that he or she has caused the other person. This can of course be very confronting, according to Bob Coppes:
“While you are there, completely defenceless, watching all the facts and feelings in and around your life pass by, and feeling deeply ashamed for all those unkind actions, there is absolutely no one to call you to account for all that. The Light does not change. It remains totally loving. It remains full of understanding and full of forgiveness and it continues to accept you unconditionally, despite all your shortcomings. In spite of all the pain and sorrow you have caused others, which is revealed in the smallest details, in all vehemence and in a way that cannot be misunderstood. In spite of all this, the Light continues to accept you. In the presence of this totally perfect and unconditional love that warmly surrounds you, something is happening within you. You feel your own shortcomings. You judge all your actions and thoughts. You do that all by yourself” (Coppes, Bijna Dood Ervaringen en wereldreligies, p. 36).
We are therefore our own judge, but on the basis of the knowledge we acquire during the review. And usually that knowledge is so convincing that, after their experience, experien-cers start to look critically at earthly life. Their strong, empathically acquired sense of guilt is thus positively transformed. The absolute core question here is: how can I love more, both myself and my neighbour?