I occasionally come across individuals who joined what they thought was an authentic bhakti sect, but end up experiencing coercion by motivated individuals. Such people are emotionally manipulated and trapped in inauthentic sects and find themselves powerless to leave for fear of isolation and slander.
Generally, people who are honestly looking for authentic understanding of bhakti will not stop till they find it. Authenticity and honesty is more important to such individuals than personal reputation or allegiance to this or that organization. However, such people are far and few in between, and are vulnerable to character assassination by people who do not have the caliber to understand their concerns. The price for character and integrity, these days, is calumny.
Inquiry into scripture and the search for authenticity is every individual’s inalienable right. If one is forced into situations where so-called bhaktas act unscrupulously, one should learn to recognize these behaviors without hesitation and defend/protect oneself from them.
How does one recognize unethical behavior? The highly influential Belmont report is valuable to understand what constitutes ethical behaviors toward other human beings. This report was formulated for developing rules for scientific human research, but the ethical principles are broadly applicable. I quote some relevant parts –
The expression “basic ethical principles” refers to those general judgments that serve as a basic justification for the many particular ethical prescriptions and evaluations of human actions. Three basic principles, among those generally accepted in our cultural tradition [..]: the principles of respect of persons, beneficence and justice.
In a discussion on “Respect of persons”, we find the following description:
“..individuals must be treated as autonomous agents.. An autonomous person is an individual capable of deliberation about personal goals and of acting under the direction of such deliberation. To respect autonomy is to give weight to autonomous persons’ considered opinions and choices while refraining from obstructing their actions unless they are clearly detrimental to others. To show lack of respect for an autonomous agent is to repudiate that person’s considered judgments, to deny an individual the freedom to act on those considered judgments, or to withhold information necessary to make a considered judgment, when there are no compelling reasons to do so.”
I find, sadly, that some modern sects of bhakti are designed to dis-respect individuals, that is, deny them the freedom to have their own opinions, make their own choices and confront the truth. This is typically achieved by condemning those who wish to dig under the surface and understand bhakti theology properly. These sects also tend to withhold information or provide selective information which impedes individuals from making a considered judgement.
If this is happening to us, we need to recognize the signs and act. Typically, the best solution is find the nearest exit!