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...

Monday, November 29, 2010

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]

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