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...
Showing posts with label false guru. Show all posts
Showing posts with label false guru. Show all posts

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.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The false guru

frank waaldijk, the false guru (drawing, 2005)

The false guru (own work, 2005)

The above drawing I made in 2005, after seeing a video of my former Sahaj Marg guru Chari. In this video he `gracefully' allowed people to fall at his feet, perhaps to kiss them even. To understand my indignation at this, one should know that Chari repeatedly stated that hís master never allowed people to fall at his feet, because this would be a false and impeding interpretation of the relationship.

This is not a blog about Sahaj Marg, but I do think it very illustrative of the way in which guru worship can take over the real spiritual issues. This I tried to analyze already in the posts on `spiritual guidance' (pitfall 1). But a picture speaks a thousand words. In the drawing, the false guru enjoys the fawning devotion and the illusion of a special light that radiates from `his presence'.

He doesn't display anger, or irritation like:

`Get up, you fool. What are you doing? Don't worship me, tend to your own inner master. By losing yourself in this outer form worship, you are running away from your spiritual self. Do you want to believe in fairy tales, or do you want to work on the real issues which are perhaps not so pretty but have the decided advantage of being real?'

He also doesn't display a single drop of true humility, modesty even. He only acts the part by folding his hands together, and putting on a serene expression.


The drawing to me seems to capture what goes wrong when we start elevating somebody to the position of Guru, Spiritual Master with capital letters, Absolute (Moral) Authority, you name it.

What really happens is that we create fairy tales that `He' will somehow do our work for us. We experience bliss from this fairy tale, because -duh- now we don't have to do any real, likely confrontational, work on ourselves. Plus we are no longer responsible for the outcome!

Another downside to this transfer of responsibility is that the practicant opens her/himself up to a wide variety of manipulation. Not only from the Spiritual Leader, and the Movement's Pyramid, but also from her/his own subconsciousness.


Which is why I believe that a true spiritual guide would abhor any sign of worship. (S)he would relentlessly refuse to be put on any kind of pedestal (dais), be it physical or figuratively speaking.

In fact such a person would in my not so humble opinion most likely not call her/himself a spiritual guide at all (out of true modesty, and insight in the incomprehensibility of our existence). But people would turn to such a person nonetheless, without the elevation -which creates distance- and the worship and the false humility.

But it would not be in large numbers. Because then where to find the time and true attention which is the basis of any true relationship?


Please also check out the false guru test at, which was discussed to some extent in a previous post on fulfillment and spiritual progress.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Fulfillment, spiritual progress, ambition, inner circle, power

I've been reading some other websites on pitfalls associated with spiritual movements. If one reads beyond the difference in style and personalities, it is quite amazing how widespread these mechanisms seem to be. Also, I'm not sure that what I write has anything new to offer. But I suppose that another way of saying the same things is still worthwhile, if it helps people find their own path.

Anyway, first let me point out this link: the false guru test. The strength of this test (to me) lies in the fact that the author doesn't have a particular guru or spiritual movement in mind. This gives a certain neutrality and objectivity, which is similar to what science in its best form can offer. People can `fill in' the details from their Movement, and see for themselves if they might be in a certain danger zone. [Yes, I know, this presupposes that the author (Andrew Paterson) of the test knows what he's talking about...I think he does.]

I take out three elements of this test, since they fit in with the topic here. Let's start with no. 21:

21. Allows his followers to set up a hierarchy of access:
A guru must be accessible. If he is not, or if he allows his followers to block your access, then he is playing the role of a king and not a spiritual guide. A guru is only useful to the process of awakening if you can directly interact with him.

Of course this is directly tied to no. 20:

20. Is not interested in you personally:
If a teacher or guru does not have time to interact with you personally, then you may as well read his teaching from a book, because merely being in his presence doesn't help you find realization inside you. You may model some of his spiritual characteristics, but that often only places you deeper in illusion.


Although I'm all for tests like these, I also get the feeling that many people try to lay blame on spiritual movements for mechanisms that one sees everywhere, also outside spiritual movements.

Because, to be honest, I have seen the above two items displayed in any large organization, if one replaces `guru' with `director', `secretary of state', `chief executive officer' etc.

So what happens if I were to examine my own role in being seduced by these power mechanisms? It might shed light on why other people do what they do, it might help me understand how supposedly `very advanced persons' (let's call them VAPs) allow themselves to become `very important persons', VIPs.


So the whole thing for me (and there are others pointing this out, see the excellent analysis in Inner Circle of SRCM ) starts with the combination of fulfillment and progress. (I feel fulfilled if I progress, especially if I feel this progress is in the direction of a Lofty Goal.)

These two in turn fuel my ambition. Because I see others, who as a sign of their progress, have attained membership of the inner circle. The inner circle of trusted associates of the Leader(s), who are up-to-date on all the plans, who are often in close personal interaction with the Most Advanced/Important Person(s), say MAP/MIP. Who by this association receive special training, special attention,...extra progress therefore, and in this way extra fulfillment!


Now it is easy to substitute some spiritual movement in the above. But it gets more interesting if I substitute my workplace surroundings, for instance. Or politics. Or a large sports organization, like the International Olypmic Committee. Or a large charity, like the World Nature Fund.

Because in each of these organizations, I am convinced that many people are looking for personal fulfillment, which they measure by their `progress' in the organization; the combination of which fuels their ambition to attract attention of the inner circle etc.


So, going back to spiritual movements, I am not convinced that all these VAPs become VIPs because they are powerhungry. This would be too obvious a mechanism, as a pitfall it can be easily avoided by intelligent well-meaning people, and many people seriously interested in spirituality are exactly that.

Power mechanisms come into my existence as a spiritual `practitioner' because I allow myself to be seduced by the combination of `fulfillment' and `progress'.

The very idea of `spiritual progress' implies some form of judgment. It implies that some people are more spiritual than others. To be honest, I still make these judgments myself, but I have come to realize that such judgments are of a personal practical nature, and not in any sense Absolute or True. They reflect on me probably more than on those whom I place in the category `more spiritual behaviour' and 'less spiritual behaviour'.

And the obvious question is: what will happen if I stop judging like that?


Accepting people the way they are...looks very spiritual. But for me it works in the practical sense only within certain limits. I cannot accept people ruthlessly exploiting other people, or worse. However, I have come to understand why some people are driven in that direction.

But mostly, within the (for me) most common situations, accepting people the way they are works better for me than judging their behaviour. And to come full circle, this of course is a reflection of self-acceptance and self-judgment.

Really accepting myself (within certain limits?) means, I think, not judging myself. It also means letting go of the idea of spiritual progress. There is no objective progress. There might be some mellowing out of tendencies which for some reason bother me (and/or others ;-) ). Fine, big deal.


The appropriate element of the false guru test mentioned above is no. 4:

4. Focuses on enlightenment itself rather than teaching the path leading to it:
It is amazing how much false gurus have to say about enlightenment. They argue their points in the same way that the scholars in the middle ages argued how many angels could sit on the head of a pin. Any fool can talk about the end goal because what is said is irrefutable to most of your listeners. What is skillful is guiding those listeners to having awakening within themselves. The real teacher focuses on the path and strictly avoids any talk on enlightenment.

(I don't agree completely with this phrasing, but the point is valid, and is the same I believe as saying: don't focus on progress. Spirituality lies in `being'. Not in `becoming'.)


With regard to my former spiritual movement, I have come to understand a lot of behaviour that I found mystifying and which made me angry. The same goes for my former workplace at a large ministry in my country. I find, in hindsight, that I can accept better that many people are driven by the mechanisms of fulfillment <--> progress --> ambition --> inner circle --> power. And I know I'm not free of it myself.


This being said, I cannot accept that people willingly and knowingly abuse their power positions. Nor can I accept that they refuse to take real responsibility when they have been given power.

But what can I do, in a concrete practical sense?

First of all, I try not to give power to people who are enveloped in some inner circle mechanism. Famous pop artist? Secretary of State? Guru with 3 million followers? Director of Greenpeace? `Pleased to meet you, but if you'll excuse me I need to talk to my daughter about her new sweater'. No disrespect meant, but I have seen an incredible amount of fawning over VIPs. And am ashamed to say that I fawned a few times myself when meeting my former spiritual guide. Against my better judgment, it was a subconscious thing which I later managed to correct because I dislike these mechanisms.

Second, the asking of critical, insightful questions has always struck me as a good way to remind people of their responsibilities when in a power position.

Here often lie real eye-openers, with regard to the issue `heart' vs `mind'. Because most people in a position of power expect a fawning-like agreement from their underlings. Many even demand it explicitly! But if a technical proposal fails to meet its technical objective, and the VIP hasn't observed this and is all for the proposal...then what do you think happens if you ask the critical technical questions that reveal that the VIP has made a mistake?

It can be, I assure you from personal experience, an extremely funny situation!

And so thirdly, what I can do in a practical sense? I believe that making fun of ridiculous situations and opinions and positions and behaviour is a very effective way of puncturing the balloon of self-importance and Absolute Truth etc.

No wonder, that the least tolerant of spiritual movements are so serious. No wonder, that false gurus do not allow jokes about their proposals, theories and behaviour, except if they make them themselves to show off their sense of humour and humility (`Oh, look, He is so humble, He even jokes about Himself!').

Let alone, that they welcome real criticism and critical questions.