Monday, February 8, 2010

Woo Woo Gurus

I don't trust the trappings of "spirituality", the clothes, the trinkets, the Books, the stereotypical voices. I am suspicious of anyone in a guru costume. I can't believe that enlightenment comes with a uniform. I just don't buy it (pun intended).

What would a true teacher want with a crowd of worshiping followers? If the teacher is qualified to teach, he/she should be able to recognise the relative handful with real sincerity and potential. After all, a teacher's job is to help the student find enlightenment for him/herself, not to preside over an adoring hoard of groupies. Pretty words, no matter how true, will never bring understanding. They can only reflect and confirm the knowing that is already present.

I don't consider myself enlightened (yet) but I know enough to see the dynamic at work in these spear-it-you-all cults of personality. Nobody gets enlightened but there are still pay-offs all around. It starts with the "teacher" who is usually sincere and charismatic, but deluded. He (it's usually a "he", but not always) typically has a peak experience (often accompanied by siddhis) and takes it for a divine mandate. Other people who are looking for a savior, are attracted to his aura of certainty. Those people begin to idolise the teacher, giving him their energy. This increases the charisma of the leader and attracts even more followers. This establishes a feed-back loop. The power and charisma of the leader keeps growing until it overwhelms him. Any weakness in the leader eventually becomes magnified beyond his control. At that point, scandal of some kind is practically inevitable.

The trap is equally deadly for the followers. Most of them come seeking to lose themselves in something greater. They are not disappointed. They don't know that the leader's powerful aura has been created by his (unconscious or not) vampirism of the flock. They imagine it is a sign of divine selection. Membership in the group relieves them of emotional isolation, gives them an identity, and makes them feel special. Eventually, the ability to think for themselves is trumped by their desire to belong. If they lose their belief in the leader because of scandal, abuse or glaring hypocrisy, they are left drained and disillusioned.

When I saw the ad at right on a newspaper box, I felt like sicking up. How dumb do you have to be, to think that anyone who promoted real spiritual freedom would be given editorial control of a Zionist rag like the Vancouver Sun? I can't believe people take this guy seriously. It's tragic. What could a sheltered, pampered figurehead possibly teach anyone. He's never been poor or married or raised a child. He hasn't got a clue about the challenges faced by those he presumes to teach.

Surely any real teacher would have the goal of making himself unnecessary. Are professional standards really too much to ask? Don't you think a Guru should have to produce at least one enlightened student before accepting the title? I can't think of a single good reason for a real spiritual teacher to claim to be one. The true teacher is revealed once his work had been accomplished. Think about it.


  1. Freakin' excellent post!! Funny thing: "Guru" is one of the epithets of the paradox/war god Murugan. From this standpoint, to accept and to identify with such a name points towards tendencies of hubris in the Classical Greek sense of attempting to take on the qualities of the divine that remain the divine's sole purview, or rather trying to take something with which the divine isn't finished (if we're getting into the Babylonian philosophy of divine/human relations).

    That said, sometimes a person must act as a net from which a person can extricate him/herself to find the true liberation, be it for the follower or for the leader. Spiders have grown into a varied and clever series of transformational spirits.

  2. Thanks Ben. I suspect that "Guru as adversary" is a more accurate conception than "Guru as savior". Real Gurus, as I understand it, undertake to challenge their students until the students overcome the challenge, at which point the Guru considers his role complete. It seems unlikely that this process could be properly accomplished from atop a throne surrounded by flowers and worshipers (although I'm pretty sure some of these fake teachers tell themselves it can).
    Ultimately though, all things dangerous and creepy are our allies if we can make them so.

  3. The whole guru-follower dynamic is something I've never really understood. I suppose I'm just too individualistic. Also, my upbringing was in a religious tradition where the "teachers" were seen as brothers, fallible human beings and the equal of anyone else. You'd have to go back to its beginnings in the 19th century to find a central leader figure, who even then didn't really fit the "guru" type AFAIK.

    I just find it amazing that this dynamic continues to play out in the world. It's so obvious to my eyes. Whenever I see it (not often, as I don't seek out those people/situations), I just feel a little sad inside. My consolation comes from the fact that, like all human dramas, it's all just needed lessons for the people involved.

    I suppose I may have been susceptible to some subtler form of this, at times.... My antidote has been to never settle for just one interpretation, one reality tunnel, but to always seek alternatives and ponder things through for myself.

  4. Hi BCth. I've never been drawn to that dynamic either. I know someone who is. He is hoping that some one else will hand him enlightenment on a plate. He asks the same questions over and over and over... and never listens to the answers. He doesn't really care about truth or wisdom. What he wants is to feel good, get attention, and build a "spiritual" identity. I've known him for almost 20 years and he's gotten worse with age. I'm rapidly approaching the end of my patience and he knows it.
    I've found that experience itself and it's multitude of reflections can be the best teacher if one is sufficiently attentive and intuitive.

  5. Hi there

    Great blog!

    I really enjoyed reading this post as well.

    And the responses too.

    I am also highly sceptical of anyone who claims enlightment as an attribute.

    I think the notion that awakening implies an absence of a sense of “me” (ego) is correct – as the Buddha explained in the Diamond Sutra.

    Now. This makes the guru / disciple relationship very interesting, especially when the disciple’s path seems to focus on bhakti (devotion). I assume, your path will be more of a raja (meditation) / jnana (gnosis)? They say, all three has its place in the universe...

    An example of a seemingly functional guru / disciple (bhakti) relationship was that of Ram Dass to his guru ...

    Think about it in this way: if “my” goal is to get over the “me” (enlightment), then if “my” guru takes “me” for the proverbial ride, isn’t that perhaps a good thing for “my” ego?

    Huge can of worms here... LOL

    Excellent topic!!!

  6. Hi Tertius. Thanks very much.
    You said: "I think the notion that awakening implies an absence of a sense of “me” (ego) is correct". As I understand it, the sense of "me" can coexist with awakening, provided one is also aware that it is an illusion.
    I can't really speak to the dynamics of the bhakti path since it is not mine. I consider my path to be of the Jnana type. (Well spotted.) I'm sure the Guru/disciple relationship can be a profitable one when it is authentic. I suppose one's strategy for reducing the influence of ego would have to depend on what is meant by ego. (See next post for my present take on that.)

  7. Excellent post! You nailed the pitfalls of becoming a spiritual 'teacher' brilliantly.

    I've got a sort of rough rule of thumb to winnow the list of potential spiritual teachers. Those that refuse to acknowledge the darker side of reality I can dispense with right away: either they are part of a conspiracy or their enlightenment is a sham. Either way they will have nothing of value to teach me (save perhaps in the mirroring sense of 'this is what not to do'.) That right there cuts the list down to a handful.

    Then I look at that handful ask, "Is he/she just fucking with me? Or working for the 'other side', even?" And I ask that of every single one of them, and not just once. There's some I think are pretty genuine, but what they mostly seem to say is, "Don't believe me, don't take my word for it, I'm just a person like you!" So, taking them at their word on that at least, I listen to what they have to say, ponder it, and move along.

    The closest thing I've ever had to a guru is probably V, whom I've never met, but who I know quite well to be human, all to human, and not shy about reminding people of it, either. He just wants to do his thing, alone, in peace, and he's good enough to speak his piece about that and everything else and share it with us and that's that. He doesn't want or have followers and that's why I trust his voice more than any other I've encountered in this electronic wilderness.

  8. Thanks Psychegram. It seems like the convenience of one-stop-shopping for spiritual teaching is hard for many people to resist. I really don't think it's a very wise method though. No one knows everything and anyone who claims to is lying. Also, even the greatest fool may have something to teach.
    Les Visible does share a lot of really valuable insight and experience. I admire his humility and restraint. It's obvious from reading the comments on his blog that he has to deal with a fair bit of energetic projection. It must be really difficult for him. But he never lets it get out of hand, as so many others in his position would. You don't often see that level of integrity.