Dear reader

Why do I write about pitfalls of spirituality?

My purpose with this blog is to crystallize and share my thoughts and experiences, in the hope that you and I may benefit from them. From 1993-2005 I practiced a so-called spiritual method (Sahaj Marg). Ultimately I realized that this method - and especially the organization around it (Shri Ram Chandra Mission or SRCM)- was contrary to some deep spiritual layer in myself. I came to some clear conclusions, and also to some still developing insights.

One still developing insight is that almost everybody is looking for some form of spirituality in their life. Therefore there are many spiritual methods and movements, often with similar pitfalls to the ones I experienced.

Many people follow a well-trodden path which is defined by the group in their immediate vicinity. Others are prompted by their heart and/or head to look for spirituality that makes sense on a personal level. Spirituality gives fulfillment -humanity as one, universal love growing, one with the buddha- as well as direction through life's tough questions.

I write about the pitfalls of spirituality because so many others seem to write mostly about the bliss of their own approach to spirituality. This bliss to me actually seems a pitfall.

Understanding the pitfalls I deem essential to gain more spiritual insight. For me this actually translates into a lighter and more loving heart. I do not believe that understanding is the key issue in spirituality. But I do believe that misunderstanding can block key issues (although to which degree probably varies with each person).

Please bear with my frequent use of I feel, seems to me, in my not so humble opinion and so on. It is to emphasize that I do not consider any of my opinions to be more than that. I cannot bring you universal truth. In my not so humble opinion [imnsho] universal truth is a major pitfall in spirituality.

Dear reader, I hope you find something worthwhile on these pages. Friendly reactions, which may be as critical as you like, are always welcome.

Tips how to read this blog

* Please start with the closing remarks (click on the link), they should provide a balanced perspective on this blog.

* There is a list of 20 pitfalls in the sidebar. Clicking on a pitfall will provide a number of posts in which that pitfall is discussed to some extent.

* If you have time, consider starting with the oldest post, and simply going through to each next post. This probably gives the most faithful ;-) reading...

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year's wish to all

new year's wish 2013 ~ frank waaldijk

(click on the image for an enlargement)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New year's wish to all

new year's wish

(click on the image for an enlargement)

`zin' is an essentially untranslatable dutch word, it means as many things as:

1. sense
2. meaning
3. mind
4. point
5. spirit
6. feeling
7. signification
8. inclination
9. gusto

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Spiritual damage caused by false gurus and their spiritual movements

This year I haven't written much on this blog myself (notwithstanding andrew p.'s long article I just copied in three parts last week).

But there is a subject that has crystallized lately which I want to write about: participation in a spiritual movement isn't always beneficial, and can even cause real damage to people. For this reason, one can now find several avenues of counseling available to former members of cults and sects. You can find some links in the sidebar of this blog, but there are many more sites dealing with the fall-out of bad experiences in a spiritual movement or cult.

It would be beyond my reach to address all the types of such damage (which involve a large range, even from psychological to physical violence). But there is one type of damage which as far as I can tell hasn't been extensively described on the internet, and which on the large scale of things perhaps doesn't weigh quite so heavy, yet which can affect individuals profoundly enough to merit a mention on this blog, I believe.

Perhaps it is appropriate to call this type of damage `spiritual damage'.


One might well wonder why I still devote time to writing about the pitfalls of spirituality [and truth be said, this past year I didn't write so much ;-)], having left my former guru and his movement Sahaj Marg already more than 5 years ago. After all, a negative experience usually takes some time to overcome, but often people come to terms with it and move on.

This goes for me too, I think, mostly...but I also observe a difference in my outlook on spirituality and my expectations in this field, perhaps especially with regard to the capacity of people to organize and/or promote spirituality.

After my negative experience with Sahaj Marg, I find myself largely incapable of simply believing in any organization proclaiming lofty goals. Often I have the feeling that I see similar patterns of marketing and deception, or that I would see these patterns if I was more in the know about a certain organization.

This is not limited to spiritual movements or organizations with a definite `spiritual' signature, but reaches as far as NGO's tackling hunger, disease, poverty, environmental issues, human rights, etc.


So the one word which describes the feeling I am left with from my former spiritual movement is...deception. And I think that the damage that I feel from this deception goes deeper than damage from being deceived by say a conman or even by a dear friend.

Somehow, if I must make some sort of analysis, it seems that what is so discouraging about this deception is that this deception is helped being maintained by very good-willing people, many of whom kind and oriented towards a spiritual way of life.

In the end, I believe it comes down to this: in order to maintain a rosy feeling of well-being and a false sense of `special purpose' in our existence, many benevolent people will willingly help maintain the deception that a false guru / spiritual movement offers. The attraction of life-as-in-some-spiritual-fairy-tale wins out, at the cost of truthfulness and real betterment, in my not so humble opinion.

Thus, instead of building for a world where true spirituality thrives within and between people, we add to to the conglomerate of religious / spiritual divisions and falsehoods and deceptions.


So what, nothing new under the sun...right?

But regarding my 12 years of participation in a spiritual movement, what if I had devoted my time and energy to a worthwhile cause instead? And why can I now no longer bring myself to organize something for people like me, who still wish to see this world becoming more spiritual, and who also look for spiritual development in themselves?

So that last question somewhat describes the spiritual damage I feel. Because although I still believe that most people look for spirituality on some level, I no longer believe it possible to organize something that will help speed up spiritual development in this world. And I used to be a person who devoted a lot of time and energy to trying to organize such things, both in my work and in my free time.

In any such organization, how long before we start flocking around a new false guru?

On the other hand, without organizing something, without making some sort of difference in numbers, the many voices of the many people like me will likely be drowned out by the clamour coming from all sorts of organizations with less spiritually oriented objectives, religions and spiritual movements included ;-). And also, in this way the many positive aspects of spirituality will come less to the fore.


Therefore, a challenge seems to rise up: how to maintain a spiritual outlook on life, how to see the good in people, how to endeavour for a better world, and yet not be drowned out too much, and yet not add to some deceptive set-up coming from an organization with lofty goals....

So far this challenge has been too heavy for me. How would it be to have an organization with no members and no ideology too...and certainly penniless, which would nonetheless bring people together in a spiritual atmosphere and which would make a voice heard petitioning for spirituality instead of materialistic gains...?

Such an organization might see me at its meetings, from time to time. Because nowadays, I find less opportunity to exchange on spirituality, and to work together with a focus on this common goal of a better world. Not out of lack of goodwill in the people around me, but because there is no facilitating `structure', few facilitating `occasions'.


I hope to have described some sort of spiritual damage which may (or may not, we are all different) occur from participating in a spiritual movement. Summarizing: having put one's true faith in a so-called `Very Spiritual Person' and in the often good-willing followers of the accompanying spiritual movement, it can be a serious let-down if this VSP and his/her movement are finally perceived as untrustworthy.

This let-down often has serious emotional fall-out, for which nowadays there are many counseling options. But even when this emotional fall-out is not so bad, or when it has subdued, there can well be residual damage. This may, I believe from my own experience, well result in a subsequent distrust of other initiatives for the benefit of mankind, and a lack of enthusiasm to join groups with even just a slight spiritual orientation.

Seeing this damage for what it is may, I hope, form part of the cure.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Spiritual marketing techniques 3: Techniques for promoting spiritual teachings

I recently came across a wonderful article called `Spiritual marketing techniques', written by Andrew P on Energygrid.

It is quite lengthy for a web article, but I will reproduce it in 3 parts. (Kind permission is granted by Energygrid)
Part one: So you want to be a spiritual teacher
Part two: Techniques for promoting spiritual teachers
Part three: Techniques for promoting spiritual teachings

[This post is part three.]

Spiritual Marketing Techniques
Andrew P—10/2009

An examination of methods used to market spiritual teachers and teachings. Whether you are an authentic spiritual teacher or just playing the guru-game, there is good money to be made in active spiritual marketing.
[Part three:]

Techniques for Promoting Spiritual Teachings

The other focus of spiritual marketing is on the teachings themselves. Here are a few of the characteristics of successful teachings (again, these are difficult to separate from the above so there is a certain amount of overlap):

  1. Conceptual Spiritual Path: This is the number one rule in successful marketing of any spiritual teaching: present it in such a way that your customers can bring along their minds and their egos on the spiritual journey. This allows them to maintain the illusion of control, so that their concepts of a spiritual person can be acted out. Any system that encourages the development of the spiritual ego is going to be very popular, because it maintains the psychological status quo by not challenging the ego. (Ironically, such ego-centric systems are increasingly being presented as ego-dropping systems so that we egotistically learn to simulate being ego-less. Brilliant marketing!) Ego-centric spiritual teachings are very popular in a modern, ego-obsessed society. They usually involve a story about the world and our place in it, giving us a purpose and a special significance, and has the benefit of triggering attachment to both teacher and teachings, which of course leads to dependency.
  2. Promises Immortality: Death is a big fear for most people so any system of spirituality that promotes some kind of immortality (even if it is just the immortality of the soul) is going to be attractive to potential customers. Most people fear death for obvious reasons, so you must ideally not only allay their fears but adequately describe how they will continue after death — give them a road-map into the unknown. There are even some spiritual teachings that promise physical immortality, but this is more difficult to justify over time, but in the short term can be a very lucrative approach.
  3. Focuses on the Teacher: Okay, so you have nothing original to teach, but at least you yourself are original. So if your teaching keeps pointing back to the teacher as a key component in the awakening process (perhaps by direct transmission) then you end up with a unique product, one that customers do not feel that they can get anywhere else. So, in effect, by putting yourself squarely in the centre of your teaching, you end up with a monopoly on a unique product.
  4. Teachings Offer Certainty: In a world which presents uncertainty around every corner any belief system that offers certainty is naturally going to be very popular. This goes hand in hand with conceptualisation (without conceptualisation there can be no certainty). The certainty that is promoted can even extend to the future in prophecy and prediction. The more areas of mystery conceptually expelled from people's lives, the less fearful they feel and the more attached they will become to you and your teachings.
  5. A Promise of Bliss, Health and Happiness: Most like to believe that the final destination of the spiritual path is a state of eternal bliss, perfect health and sublime happiness — enlightenment. This means that there is a huge payback for following the spiritual path, which can be a strong motivating factor. After all, many people start following the spiritual path when they become disillusioned and unhappy with normal life. Maybe they are unwell or maybe they have been through traumatic experiences.
  6. Special/Secret Teachings and Techniques: Try to associate yourself with a special type of teaching or meditation/fantasy technique that is kept secret (like any trade secret) and then convince your students that they will only find awakening if they follow these particular teachings/techniques. This locks them in to you very strongly. The increasing problem with this is that, with the internet, nothing remains secret for long, so you are advised to also use some concept of "direct transmission" so that the teachings/techniques are only "activated" if given personally by the teacher or appointed student, not just "stolen" from the internet. You can also claim that each student needs a unique revelation and so stolen secrets are meaningless.
  7. Promotes emotional expression: Modern society can be very rigid in how it allows individuals to express certain emotions, more specifically sexual emotions and loving emotions. So any teaching (or community based on particular teachings) that encourages free emotional expression can be very attractive and freeing. This can be a strong component of hijacking feel-good techniques (see "i" below). But be careful if you do this to make sure that if free sexual expression is practiced, for example, that safety measure are also taken. After all, the spread of STD's through an organisation is not good publicity for it!
  8. Strict Codes of Conduct: People love to be told what to do. In fact, the impulse for bondage is stronger in most people than the impulse to freedom. So having a strict codes of conduct and attire can be very attractive to many people. This may seem contradictory to g) above but they actually go hand in hand. After all, the excitement of free sexual expression is actually the excitement of letting go to (being controlled by) bliss and ecstasy. Having strict rules also also fits in with the spiritual ego that wants a formula to do everything right.
  9. Copyrighted and Trademarked Issues: Even if what you teach is not unique, you can call it a special name and then copyright/trademark that name. This way you end up being able to own and control the teachings that that name represents. Copyright must be added subtly: too in-your-face and you won't look spiritual. And if you are ever questioned about copyright and trademark you can just blame it on your organisation so that it looks like the master wasn't the one with the attachment. Another successful approach if you are questioned about the legal restrictions you have placed on your teachings is to claim that you are only trying to protect them from being bastardised by a third party.
  10. Teachings have Material Outcomes: This can be a good customer puller because it means that those who follow them will find many of their material needs and wants met (including physical health issues). So rather than spiritual awakening being seen as a subtraction of what is not real, it is seen as an addition to our powers, potentials, wholeness and bank balance. This is attractive to customers egos and also justifies any opulence that the teacher may have relative to his customers. (Quantum physics is often used to justify this position.)
  11. Hijack Feel-Good Techniques: Most of the more successful systems of teaching will hijack tried and tested feel-good techniques such as meditation, mantras, relaxation, dance, tantra, fasting and breath control to make customers get associate a feel-good fix with you and your teachings. The key is to control the inner process enough for that feel-good fix, but not let customers get carried away with inner focus so that they awaken and leave you. (This should ideally be coupled with copyrighting/trademarking the feel-good technique if you can.)
  12. Testimonials for Teachings: Spiritual marketing is like any other kind of marketing, you need testimonials and case-studies for the media to promote a particular spiritual teaching and teacher. Fortunately, with the rise of social networking, this often happens spontaneously. For book covers, publishers will often get endorsements for a teacher from their other clients, making sure that even the dullest of spiritual manuals has rave reviews from someone other than the author who is also regarded as a teacher.
  13. Make Teachings Self-Validating: By making the sublime value of the teachings part of the teachings themselves, you help to validate them in your customers' eyes, especially if they are in their heads. It is important to describe your own teachings in the very highest terminology, and make it clear that anyone who does not understand this is just "not ready" for them yet. This goes hand in hand with marketing yourself as the very highest spiritual master.
  14. Present the Teachings Sequentially: Don't give it all away in one go — there is less money in that. Instead, spread out the teachings in a series of courses that goes from beginner all the way through to advanced, a journey that might take a number of years to complete. That way your students remain your students for the whole duration as many on the spiritual path believe that the journey to enlightenment is a long and arduous one. And by the time your students have "graduated" they will have invested so much time, money and effort with your system that they are unlikely to quit due to both their investment (the so called sunk-cost fallacy) and the fact that their spiritual ego will be reinforced by feelings of achievement. And you should also tweak it so that when your students reach the final hurdle, you let them know that they still need just a tad more direct transmission to lift them into enlightenment, so they still need to stick around.
  15. Give a Pseudo-Scientific Justification: Link your teachings with modern physics as it really does increase credibility of what you are saying to anyone who is not scientific literate (which is most people). And remember that those who are scientifically literate are less likely to be seeking "spirit" anyway. So you are relatively safe. Key terms to use in your teaching are: "quantum", "relativity", "scalar waves", "quantum entanglement", "Bell's Theorem" and "photons". And you might constantly allude to the fact that what you are saying has been "proved" by quantum physics. (Nobody is likely to have any real understanding of quantum physics to challenge what you are saying.)
  16. Exotic and Foreign Words and Phrases: Students are always more impressed with teachings that are sprinkled with foreign words and phrases. For example, rather than vaguely speaking about the consequences of actions, use the word "karma", and instead of describing the world as illusion, use the terminology "maya", and so on. This makes your students really believe you know what you are talking about as you will sound very impressive, and using ancient terminology like this helps to strongly validate your teachings by throwing the whole weight of an exotic religious tradition behind them. And as the student learns this spiritual vocabulary, she will feel that she is becoming increasingly spiritual herself. This also serves to link groups together by having an "insider" vocabulary and phraseology. (This is similarly to the name-change technique used by both teachers and students to reflect their new spiritual selves or egos.)
  17. Associate Teachings with Exotic Places: As mentioned above, offering holiday and Mecca-type retreats in exotic places not only gives you an opportunity to make more money than local retreats, but whatever you teach is far more likely to be cherished because customers outside the confines of their everyday lives tend to be much more relaxed and focused. Your teachings also get to be associated with feel-good "holiday" vibes, not to mention the fact that you will get a free holiday out of it.

* * *

The above is not meant to be an exhaustive list of methods, but rather an outline of some of the main ways that you can successfully market yourself as a spiritual teacher. What is important to stress is that the use of any combination of these methods does not necessarily indicate the value or authenticity of you and your teachings. After all, even an inauthentic teachers hiding behind slick marketing can be useful for some people at some point in their spiritual awakening (if only just to learn not to be so gullible).

However, although both authentic and inauthentic teachers have successfully used many of the above marketing strategies, the type of teacher you are and the type of teachings you teach will determine the emphasis you need to put on the different methods of spiritual marketing.

As a general rule, the more authentic you are as a spiritual teacher, the more you have a tendency to be putting yourself out of a job, which is not good business practice. Authentic spirituality is non-conceptual, and this presents a serious dilemma for spiritual marketing for most of what attracts people is conceptual. Therefore, most authentic teachers strike a balance between marketing and non-conceptual teaching, so that there is enough conceptualisation to hook people (the more you hook the more people you can potentially help), but not too much so that conceptualisation is badly interfering with the awakening process. Inauthentic teachers, on the other hand, let rip with the above marketing methods, hiding their ineptitude behind concepts and dogma.

So whatever type of teacher you are, spiritual marketing can really help you succeed, increasing both your customer base and your income. I wish you every success. Namaste

Spiritual marketing techniques 2: Techniques for promoting spiritual teachers

I recently came across a wonderful article called `Spiritual marketing techniques', written by Andrew P on Energygrid.

It is quite lengthy for a web article, but I will reproduce it in 3 parts. (Kind permission is granted by Energygrid).
Part one: So you want to be a spiritual teacher
Part two: Techniques for promoting spiritual teachers
Part three: Techniques for promoting spiritual teachings

[This post is part two.]

Spiritual Marketing Techniques
Andrew P—10/2009

An examination of methods used to market spiritual teachers and teachings. Whether you are an authentic spiritual teacher or just playing the guru-game, there is good money to be made in active spiritual marketing.
[Part two:]

Techniques for Promoting Spiritual Teachers

Here are some of the main spiritual marketing techniques that are used if we want to become teachers ourselves. The general idea is to present a spiritual image of the teacher to the customer so that the authority of the teachings is not doubted:

  1. Psychological Transfer: Encourage followers to psychologically transfer divine qualities and goals onto you, so that both you and your customers are locked into a dynamic system of projection. This way the teacher maintains his or her role as an awakened one, and his or her students maintain their roles as the unawakened ones. You must always keep your students in line by dismissing any show spiritual autonomy as this will only encourage others to believe that they can do without you. The other approach is to inflate yourself to the top end of the spiritual master spectrum — to a full avatar or God's right hand wo/man — which will forever lock your clients in the student role (apart from the odd one that thinks that he or she actually is God).
  2. Fashion and style: First impressions are everything in marketing and so your presentation as a spiritual teacher is very important. The first thing a potential customer is going to see is the outer package, so this has to fit with the image expected by the target audience. So if you are going after more alternative lovely-dovey followers, non-conventional attire is required such as white, yellow or orange robes, or a purple, blue, black or white silk shirt; long-hair/shaved head; crystal jewellery; and bare-feet or simple sandals or walking shoes. Alternatively, if you are going after a more corporate audience then you might consider dressing in bespoke dark suit, tie and white shirt, black dress shoes and an expensive watch. It is important to get into the minds of the target audience and really understand their expectations and what they are comfortable with and, more importantly, not comfortable with. Get it wrong, and you could end up with just your cat as a follower; get it right and a whole lucrative organization will form around you.
  3. Name change: Changing your name to an exotic sounding one is very important in presenting yourself as a spiritual master. After all "John Smith" does not carry the same weight as something like "Shivananda" or "Mountain Blue Ray". Names should ideally be reflective of the the type of spiritual teaching that you give. So if you are teaching concepts that originated in India, it might appear more authentic to your followers to have an Indian name, whereas if you are teaching concepts that come from South America, using an appropriate South American name is important.
  4. Nationality: If you originate from a country far different from the one in which you plan to teach, you have an important advantage in being a successful spiritual teaching. For Westerners, this means that any connections with places like South/Middle American, India, Tibet, Africa, the Far East or any Pacific Island can be very important in your marketing campaign. Having indigenous roots (no matter how tenuous) could mean the difference between success and failure. This is because, to most people, spirituality is seen as something special that comes from outside the confines of their society, so trading on any heritage that places you as an outsider can be very effective. And if you don't have those roots, don't worry, you can always upgrade your spiritual resume by traveling to India or South America and getting adopted by some traditional or native teacher/tradition. (If you can't get any one's attention, just throw around some money. It works a treat in poor countries and you will soon find yourself revered as a spiritual master.) This marketing angle can also be aided by a name change mentioned above. Alternatively, you can claim that you are from far outside this culture but then incarnated into it to teach (a "walk-in" perhaps). Alternatively, you can keep giving retreats in exotic places: not only will you make a greater profit, but some of the exoticness of these teaching locations will rub off on you and your teachings.
  5. Behaviour: Spiritual people are generally regarded as very peaceful and loving, so ideally, you have to behave this way all the time, at least in public. The problem with constantly trying to be peaceful and loving is that you end up with a huge unexpressed psychological shadow of all those qualities you try not to express, and so you can often have episodes of acting like a complete jerk (preferably behind closed doors). Fortunately, if such behaviour becomes public it can be justified by presenting it in the context of "crazy wisdom", presenting imbalance and erratic behaviour as a valuable lesson in non-attachment to expectations regarding the teacher. One marketing technique that is becoming increasingly popular today is to just sit and stare at the audience way beyond what is considered comfortable in modern society, and in this way you give maximum space for your audience to project the inner spiritual images onto you, catalyzing a strong attachment. It is amazing how wise we can appear if we just keep out mouths shut!
  6. Vocabulary and Phraseology: Most people listening to you will be listening from the heart and not the head (usually with a wistful and/or far-away look in the eyes). Therefore, when speaking to audiences you don't have to actually say anything particularly meaningful because the message itself is not actually that important. For example, you could be talking about your dog and how important it is to give him the right food, and your students will be nodding their heads in thinking that it is somehow an analogy about making sure they give themselves the right spiritual food. So the story itself is not important and does not have to make sense. Even contradictions are okay because they illustrate the paradoxical nature of the spiritual path. Words and phrases that are important to drop into your presentations, to keep the audience impressed, include: "oneness", "infinite love", "loving ourselves", "loving what is", "we deserve", "meditation", "quantum ******", "non-duality", "opening the heart", "letting go", "being yourself", "finding what is true", "authenticity", "opening the chakras", "touching the void", "reaching within", "connecting", "opening the heart", "advaita", "it is simple", "everything is inside". You should also sprinkle your presentations with foreign words and phrases to give your teaching an exotic edge, throwing the weight of religious/spiritual tradition behind you. (This is not to imply that these words and phrases do not have profound meaning, only that they can be used merely to pep-up spiritual presentations.)
  7. Self-Confidence and Charisma: Nothing is more attractive to potential customers than if have or can develop an abundance of self-confidence and charisma (a certain amount of narcissism is very attractive). You want your customers to fall in love with you. Egos love these qualities, and most people will choose a confident, egotistical teacher over one that is not so sure of him or herself. You must have the self-confidence not only in yourself as a teacher but also in your teachings. Never show doubt or admit to not knowing something. If you don't know what to say to your customers then just remain silent and let them project their hopes and dreams on to you. If they ask a question you cannot answer, just turn it back to them and tell them to answer it themselves. The benefit of displaying such confidence to your students is that you dupe them into believing that the mind can hold truth. This makes it far harder for them to escape the clutches of conceptualisation, thus trapping them as your students (students with a profound acceptance of their own ignorance can wake up and walk off, so best to bind them in the surety of conceptual truth). A good sense of humour is also very helpful in attracting customers.
  8. Comprehensive Teaching Materials and Opportunities: With* a constant stream of videos, lectures and lecture recordings, guided meditations, books, internet updates and weekend courses and holiday retreats in exotic locations, you can make a very good living. Remember, when you have someone first hooked on your teachings, rule number one is to up-sell, rule number two is to up-sell, and rule number three is to up-sell. This cannot be stressed enough as people can get bored and move to another teacher, or become awakened and no longer need your services, so you need to sell them the complete enlightenment package before they lose interest in you. To do this, constant self-marketing is vital, especially online methods such as YouTube, Twitter, Facebook. A monthly newsletter (both paper and online) or even magazine is also vital to keep individuals in the fold, as well as regular "satsang" meetings and video/audio downloads. Customers have to have plenty of opportunity to become totally dependent on you and your message.
  9. Lineage and Direct Transmission: This is important in order to keep your customers. If they believe that the teacher and the teacher alone energetically transmits spiritual awakening from a long successful lineage of transmitters (an idea that is popular with Hindus and Buddhists) then they are unlikely to take the core of the teaching and run with it themselves. Even secret teachings, after all, can be easily uncovered by a Google search. So if you want your followers to stick around, focus most be transferred from the teachings to the teacher, so that followers will hang around waiting for enlightenment to be bestowed. Lineages can be contrived or genuine: what matters is the perception of them. Whether direct or contrived, spiritual lineages give you the spiritual authority of a spiritual heritage. If you don't have a lineage, a modest amount of money can buy spiritual patronage in any poor country.
  10. Pseudo-Objective Corroboration: If you have the creative nous, formulate a pseudo-objective evaluation systems to "calibrate" levels of truth. This can be applied by something as simple as dowsing or muscle testing. You can then calibrate yourself and your teaching at the highest end of the scale, giving your customers "objective" reasons for buying your books, videos and CDs. In this way, you end up lifting yourself by your own bootstraps — an accepted feat in the spiritual marketplace. It is remarkable how many people fall for these sorts of self-corroborations because they are in ego-mind. The ego loves calibration systems or scales because they justify comparison and judgment — the lifeblood of the egoic mind. And to make these fantasy-systems complete, just calibrate critics of your system as low on the scale so as not to be worthy of attention.
  11. Promoting the Rareness of Spiritual Awakening: This is important for you to do as it will keep your customers customers. After all, if they believe that enlightenment is so rare that it may not happen until the next life, your students will not be disappointed when it does not happen quickly (and it won't because such beliefs are self-sabotaging) and will just keep coming back to you for more teaching. Remember that customers who awaken are customers who are lost, so it is very important to plant the seeds of failure early on. Fortunately, the prevailing belief in spiritual communities is that enlightenment is very rare indeed (but like the lottery which has similar odds, seems to be endlessly captivating).
  12. Extraordinary Powers: You don't have to actually be psychic or a healer to use this marketing tool. All you need to do is have a few close followers spread rumours about your magical and mystical feats — how you healed so and so etc. Everyone is looking for an energetic handout so any chance to be "healed" will be taken. And remember, everyone is going to want you to have magical powers, so you don't actually have to be that convincing to be convincing. Always remember that the guru is the ultimate placebo effect, and the placebo effect can be very powerful indeed. Also, if you can sit in mediation for 48-hours or go without food for a month, if you can administer shakti pot or manifest vibhuti, all that will help to bring in the punters. You may even able to market themselves on the back of extraordinary levels of love, so that just the promise of a simple hug is enough to attract crowds of followers.
  13. Third-Party Endorsements: The New Age / New Consciousness is a close-knit community with different teachers endorsing each others books and teachings. This is usually operated on a tit-for-tat basis whereby endorsements are reciprocated for marketing purposes. This way, even the most contrived of teachers can come with very high recommendations. (One New Age teacher even has an endorsement by Mother Theresa on one of his books, although no proof of such an endorsement has ever been made public.) Another thing that will give you great spiritual credibility is to get a picture of yourself with a spiritual leader such as the Dalai Lama and reproduce it in your book and on your website. This will certainly pay dividends in your spiritual marketing.
  14. Build up a Hierarchy of Followers: Hierarchical access to the teacher is important when the teacher become more successful because it separates the teacher from the bulk of his or her students. This makes it much easier to maintain the spiritual front for the majority. Those in the inner sanctum have so much time and money invested at this point that it doesn't matter if they see the halo slip a bit behind closed doors. In fact, they will often conspire to keep private the unsavoury behaviour of their teacher, convincing themselves that the teacher is beyond normal human morality. Hierarchies are also much better control structures that can lock people into an organisation because "rank" gives them spiritual status, something they are unlikely to want to give up easily. The other advantage of hierarchy is that wealthy customers can buy access by making large donations.
  15. Start an Educational/Charitable Foundation: This allows you to look like a real do-gooder and will really open your customers' wallets. You can talk about the need for a better world and by telling your customer base how your spiritual message can really make a difference, you can use these charitable donations to support yourself as well. These types of money making exercises when thought through properly can offer substantial tax breaks. Ideally, such foundations should be set up in poor developing countries to garner the most sympathy, and perhaps offer off-shore tax status.
  16. Open an Ashram or Spiritual Centre: This adds credibility to your organization by literally placing it on the map. And the good things is that, in league with 14) above, it should be possible to get your customers' donations to cover the entire cost. Once a centre is built, you can then more economically run weekend retreats and spiritual workshops without having to pay expensive hotel/hall rates. And by having a fixed place you really can build up a strong residential core of followers that will bring in a lot more people. And of course the ultimate is to have a spiritual center in some kind of holiday destination or spiritual-mecca destination.
  17. Website: It is now vital for any 21st Century master to have a web presence. The domain name should probably be your spiritual name and should be a ".org", which will associate yourself with non-profits and other do-good organizations. The website should have a lot of close-up photos of you looking very spiritual (you know what I mean) and offer tasters for the different talks that you have given. The full versions of your talks and retreats should be available in the shopping part of your site as either downloads or CDs/DVDs. The website should also sell pictures of you and other related paraphernalia.
  18. Multiply Yourself But Retain Control: The fact that you are just one person limits your ability to directly teach others, especially if you have proprietary/secret spiritual techniques. So it is important, once you have grown your organization and or spiritual teaching, to multiply yourself, so that your trusty inner circle of customers can go and and repeat what you are doing, not for themselves but for the good of you, your centre and your spiritual message. Think of it as a franchising scheme where you cream the profits.
  19. Donation vs Set Price: This is a difficult one, a bit like whether to set a reserve on an Ebay item. If you don't, you could end up with very little, but chances are that donation will outstrip cost. Donations make you look far better as it distances yourself from the world of commerce. In some instances, such as weekend retreats in hotels or centres that need to be booked, set prices may have to be used, but try to generally keep to donational contributions as you will look a lot more authentically spiritual. You can also have a "recommended donation" or "suggested donation" amount to make guilt people into giving more, as well as making sure that someone is always standing right by the donation box to witness your customers generosity.
  20. Supplementary Sales: It is not just your teachings that you can market but also your energetic vibration. Apart from pictures of yourself, you can also flog crystals, energized water, pendants, key-rings and other items imbued with your visage/spiritual vibration. These can can be marketed to help develop devotion, protection, success (in finance and relationships), healing, awakening, or whatever.
  21. Reward Sycophantic Followers: Keep telling your most ardent followers how fantastically they are doing on the spiritual path so that you feed their spiritual egos. This will give them an ego-investment in staying loyal to you and your teachings, and together they will become an effective controllers for the rest of your followers. This way, your inner circle of devotees end up having a huge emotional investment in making sure that, even when your halo slips occasionally as it inevitably will, that you will be picked up and put you back on the guru pedestal.

* * *

[*: the original article writes `without' but I believe this to be a simple error]
[this was part two, part three (final part) is the next post on this blog]

Spiritual marketing techniques 1: So you wanna be a spiritual teacher

I recently came across a wonderful article called `Spiritual marketing techniques', written by Andrew P on Energygrid.

It is quite lengthy for a web article, but I will reproduce it in 3 parts. (Kind permission is granted by Energygrid).
Part one: So you want to be a spiritual teacher
Part two: Techniques for promoting spiritual teachers
Part three: Techniques for promoting spiritual teachings

[This post is part one.]

Spiritual Marketing Techniques
Andrew P—10/2009

An examination of methods used to market spiritual teachers and teachings. Whether you are an authentic spiritual teacher or just playing the guru-game, there is good money to be made in active spiritual marketing.

SO YOU WANT TO BE A SPIRITUAL TEACHER? You want to have your own paying customers who look to you for inspiration and spiritual support? Why not? Always remember there are many people just like you who have done it very successfully, and you don't actually have to be that awakened or enlightened. All you generally need is to understand and apply spiritual marketing. It really couldn't be simpler. Whether you are someone who had a flash of inspiration on a bus, a simple meditation or yoga teacher, or a fully-fledged guru, these techniques will help you to be more successful by increasing your customer base and your income.

Spirituality is something that many of those in the New Age and New Consciousness movements focus upon. These individuals want to be spiritual because they have a yearning for a more meaningful life than the one officially sanctioned by society, and they have a strong disdain for the limitations of ordinary material perspectives. After all, spirituality usually offers inner happiness; unlimited love; physical, emotional and mental healing and wholeness; and even the ability to create our own realities — having anything and everything we want (even that Ferrari). No wonder spirituality is such a popular buy!

New Age spirituality is currently one of the huge growth industries (and has been since the 60s/70s), an industry that is worth countless millions in annual turnover as individuals, reaching the limits of what they feel society can offer them, reach forward into what spirituality can offer. After all, why settle for the house, the car, the TV set, the family and the food on the table when we can add to these inner fulfillment, God's love, a place in the afterlife, a magical ability to manifest things and events, and even physical immortality?

The thing about spirit is that you can't see it, touch it, hear it, smell it or taste it. Spirit is formless and ephemeral, and so just about anything and everything can be said about it and attributed to it (and has been). Because of this, it is a marketer's dream: it costs nothing to produce; it is in infinite supply; a large percentage of the population wants some of it, especially in desperate times; and it can be packaged in any way desired without risk of trade descriptions legislation. Not only that, but what makes it especially valuable is that spiritual awakening is usually considered a one-way process, making it a one-in-all-lifetimes' purchase. In other words, spirituality is the perfect commodity.

Consider the mapmaker analogy: When you promote your spiritual philosophies you are really promoting maps of a mysterious territory called "spirit". The thing about spirit is that it is invisible to the mind, the senses and the emotions, and so the general public are in the habit of buying maps of this mysterious place from the explorers who claim to have been there — and that includes you. The fact that the territory is actually unmappable is an in-house secret; most people just do not want to believe this. Whilst spiritual maps were culturally integrated for most of human history — basically there was no choice in the matter — today with the burgeoning to cultural and religious freedoms, at least in the West, there are numerous maps now on offer. And you want to be one of those people with a successful trade in your particular spiritual map or maps.

The only snag, of course, is credibility. If spirit cannot be experienced objectively because it is formless, how do you convince your customer base that it exists as you have described it, let alone that it exists at all?

Fortunately, there are a multitude of ways to do this that have resulted in the success of many different teachers and gurus. You can't convince everybody, so do not even try, but you can convince those who are open to being convinced (for whatever reason). To be successful, you should market both yourself as the teacher and your teachings.

Below are listed some of the marketing techniques that have been successfully used. Some of these you might feel are too transparently marketing techniques, but always remember that the type of customer you are trying to attract is pushing for a relationship with a teacher — your target audience is more open and gullible than you could imagine — and will actually thank you for hooking them even with the most obvious marketing techniques. Remember, there will always be people you will NEVER convince so don't even try to set your sights on convincing closed-minded, rational people; it is a complete waste of time and resources.

Although there is overlap between the marketing techniques used on the teacher and the teaching, they will be listed separately for clarity.

* * *

[to be continued in part two, next post on this blog]

Friday, April 16, 2010

False gurus and spiritual energy

frank waaldijk, the false guru and his Divine Energy (drawing, 2010)

The false guru and his Divine Energy (own work, 2010)

From time to time, people correspond to me about this blog via email. One of these exchanges, coupled with some comments made by people on this blog, prompted me to draw yet another `false guru' drawing, see above. Because obviously, there are many different false gurus all employing some form of `spiritual energy' to draw followers, and to assert their own Special Status.

In the drawing, one sees the false guru emanating his Special Unique Divine Energy (Cosmic Consciousness, Divine Awareness, whatever). This was somewhat discussed in previous posts on `spiritual energy' (pitfall 16), but I believe I may have left out a certain important angle.


The thing is, certain meditation techniques really work, in my not so humble opinion (imnsho). Therefore, imnsho, it is possible for people to develop certain altered states of consciousness, and I even believe this can be felt by others.

Now, some individuals have more talent in this field than others. And some of those spend a great deal of time to develop themselves in this field. None of this is in any sense reason for precautions.

This changes, when a certain individual who has so developed her/himself, starts claiming that the particular technique used is `Divine' or concerns `Divine energy', and that the only practical way to reach such a Divine State is through the help of this individual, the Guru, and Her/His Technique.

Suddenly, a whole different ballgame is being played. Because now, if we accept this premisse, surely our guru must be as close to Divine as is humanly possible. Therefore, this guru must be a Very Good and Ultimately Loving Person, and have Divine Knowledge as well, and...(fill in any of our human conceptions about `Divine').

Imnsho, a false guru plays upon these expectations, and uses them to enhance her/his Specialness, her/his Moral Authority, the need for Obedience, etc. etc.

Yet how reasonable are these expectations?


One could compare it even to mathematics (bear with me here for a short while). In a sense, one could really make a case for saying that mathematics is a divine language, and that higher levels of mathematics bring about altered states of consciousness. Mathematics is the language used to describe reality and predict events in a way which our long-ago forebears would surely think of as `divine' and `superhuman'.

Some individuals have more talent than most, and in devoting a lot of time and effort, they reach levels of mathematics that mere mortals can only dream of. These are Special Mathematicians.

Does that necessarily make these individuals kind, caring, `good' people? Do they have Divine Knowledge? Should they be obeyed in moral matters, in any matter? Can one of them be the Unique Person from which you can learn mathematics?

Of course not. They have mastered certain mind levels, using certain techniques, applying advanced levels of concentration, and devoting an incredible amount of effort and time. That is all. If one wishes to learn mathematics on those levels, it is probably wise to study their teachings, but history has shown convincingly that there is no such thing as a unique approach for mathematics. Many ways lead to Rome.


Back to our false gurus with the `enhanced consciousness' / `spiritual energy'. Does the mastery of certain meditation techniques, a certain stillness of the mind, a certain `energy' if you like, give any guarantee that the person who has achieved this mastery is indeed `good', kind, caring, wise, spiritual, ...?

Personally I don't think so. Science has shown that meditation affects human brains, and brings about different brainwave patterns. Mastering these `energy' techniques might be not so easy, and some have more talent than others. But still, it is an effect which has been widely observed for different techniques and very different people practicing such technique.

There is in other words, nothing `divine' about it - apart from the `divine' mystery which envelops all of Reality.


Now you might think that I am a skeptic with regard to `enhanced awareness' and `superhuman knowledge' and things like that. You are then mostly correct, but I also allow for `strange' phenomena which might or might not have an explanation in contemporary science.

Even the apparent mastery of or access to such `strange' phenomena does not give ANY guarantee that the person in question is a good, spiritual, loving, ...etc..., person. Let alone that such a person should be `Divine'.

Let me give yet another example.

From scientific experiments, it seems that there is a possibility that humans can look a little into the immediate future. From experiments with cards and other images, it seems that many people can anticipate around 3 seconds ahead of time, what type of card they will be dealt, or what kind of image they will be shown. Not with 100% success rate, but yet with more success than average statistics would predict.

Science as of yet has no explanation for this phenomenon. We could easily call it Mystical. Divine! (if you remember that ` to divine' means to guess correctly...).

No doubt some people are better at this than others. Successful poker players might be found to have elevated potential in this respect...

Does that make these people Divine?


To finish, I am somewhat amazed at how often these pitfall mechanisms occur in many many different spiritual movements. Imnsho, `simple' spirituality suffices for our planet. Anyone can if they wish learn to be kind, loving, connected, concerned for others' well-being and the well-being of nature. We do not, I believe, need any `divine' energy for this. And we certainly don't need false gurus, if you ask me.

&&&&&&[later addition on 17 April:]

There is one more aspect of this which I forgot to mention above. And some might therefore misinterpret what I'm trying to say, and dismiss it out of hand as being altogether biased against all `spiritual' methods.

However, I don't feel biased against all `spiritual' methods. One could say: well, some forms of meditation calm the mind and help diminish the inner disbalance which so frequently leads to unkind/uncaring/selfish etc. behaviour. There is some merit in that statement, I believe.

And of course someone who really strives to develop her/himself as a kind caring connected person, and who does so unsanctimoniously, is bound to become a `spiritual' person, if you ask me.

So, among the many gurus of this world, I have no doubt that there will be quite a number of `spiritual' persons. And this type of spirituality can inspire, and be of help to others looking to develop similar spirituality in themselves.

So when does the term `false guru' start to apply? It applies like stated above, when things are made Absolute. When mind-calming techniques are made Divine, and proclaimed as belonging Uniquely to the Movement, when altered states of consciousness are associated with Divine Energy, when the Guru becomes Infallible, and -whatever She or He does- is Always Spiritual, beyond the criticism and understandig of mere mortals...

And like I said, this happens far more often than one would think likely.