The Dark Side of Spirituality: The Guru Papers Unmasks Sacred Cows!

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A Map to Spiritual Empowerment

The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power is essential reading if you are interested in questions of power, shadow, authority, spiritual growth and freedom.

Why do spiritual communities so often go sour? Why has the guru tradition spawned so many tragedies and scandals? What might a sustainable 21st century spiritual philosophy look like?

Originally published in 1993, the book is available for the first time in an e-book format on June 19th, 2012.

Since being published The Guru Papers has been widely acclaimed and is considered the ‘”go to” book for recovering cult members, families of cult members and anyone wanting to understand the shadow aspects of spirituality or the broader issue of hidden authoritarian power.

As a work of spiritual philosophy, the book is a masterpiece of lucid reasoning. It is written in easy-to-follow language and encourages a deep consideration of the path to genuine freedom and self-acceptance.

Along the way, authors Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad insightfully discuss how spirituality has co-evolved as an expression of human culture, and how the symbolic activities of language, symbolism and mythology have given rise to a complex web of symbolic abstractions, psychological maneuvers, moral codes and authoritarian power structures.

But don’t let the heady subject matter discourage you—this is a pragmatic and down-to-earth guide to understanding several of the central spiritual questions with which we all wrestle.

Below is a short trailer for their excellent  interview with Antonio Sausys who featured them on his show Yogi Views as controversy raged over the John Friend/Anusara Yoga scandal:


Authoritarian Power

While Part One of the Guru Papers does focus in on the problems with the guru model in particular, the book is also concerned with how the guru model is a variation of the kind of authoritarianism we can see on every level of society, from politics to religion to the family to intimate relationships.

This provides for potent meditation, genuinely life-changing food for thought, and a real shot in the arm of bracing clarity for the yoga community.

Central to their thesis is that we need to find ways to go beyond authoritarian mental conditioning and systems if we are to truly grow up as human beings and survive on this planet together.

Though there have been many communities organized around the guru-disciple model, and though so many of these have gone horribly wrong, The Guru Papers does not focus on any particular communities. It does not name names, or make any personal critiques. Rather, it seeks to illuminate the underlying problem—that of giving away one’s power to an authority figure.

The book makes a case for authoritarian power structures as explicitly being ways to enforce control over people’s minds. I have never come a cross a more comprehensive treatment of both the various methods of enacting “spiritual” control and disempowerment, and how various belief systems and philosophical strategies make this possible.

The irony of course is that as seekers, we are in search of freedom, healing and personal awakening, but the very structure of the guru-model itself prevents such aspirations from being attained. In their place it exploits vulnerability and the need to belong, and assuages our existential anxiety by using ever more sophisticated forms of abstract belief to create a sense of having found an ultimate spiritual truth.

This “truth,” however, comes at a cost, and the authors masterfully point out how philosophies based on abstract conceptions of “oneness” and “non-duality” are often actually variations on familiar religious themes that encourage in-group identification and psychological fragmentation, while perpetuating an unwillingness to see reality for what it is.

The Dialectic

What then is this reality? Well, it is dialectical. Central to the lucid philosophical analysis here is that we human beings struggle to both comprehend and accept the dialectical nature of existence. In this life, there is always a blend of opposites: meaning and randomness, change and continuity, causation and free will, victimization and responsibility, joy and suffering, individuation and merging, oneness and multiplicity, control and surrender, selflessness and self-centeredness, competition and cooperation, unity and diversity.

Simply put, whenever we deny one side of the dialectic by over-identifying with its opposite, we have lost the plot.

The above statement is not as simple as saying, “Yea man—it’s all one,” or “It’s all perfect.” This would again fall into the pervasive and subtle dualism that denies half of the dialectic. Notice that if “it is all one,” this negates multiplicity, and if it is “all perfect,” this denies imperfection and distorts the reality of suffering. Not to mention the dualism hidden in dividing reality into oneness and illusion (or Maya)—that’s two things: spirit and matter, the spiritual and the mundane.

The point is that we are as much individuals as we are members of a collective, and both matter. We cannot sacrifice our individuality on the altar of the collective, nor should we just egoistically ignore the collective in the name of self-realization.

Likewise, healthy spirituality should be as much about being present to our true feelings of anxiety, grief, isolation, anger or powerlessness as it is about getting in touch with gratitude, communion, forgiveness and empowerment.

In becoming more comfortable with this dialectic —this recognition of the inseparable nature of opposites, we can think more clearly, live more honestly and come to greater self-acceptance.

Life and death are two sides of the same coin, and systems of thought that either deny death or make us yearn for death and deny life are essentially distortions of reality that promise us otherworldly rewards as a way to gain worldly control over us.

Why All The Fuss About Gurus?

The 1970s and 80s saw an influx of supposedly enlightened gurus from the East riding the wave of counter-culture, psychedelic-infused fascination with Buddhism and Yoga.  They promised  direct spiritual experiences to those who would become their disciples.

Though the book doesn’t engage in this kind of specific history, the gallery of gurus included characters like Baghwan Shree Rajneesh (later called Osho), Mharaj-ji (or Prem Rawat) the boy guru from India, Vajrayana Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa, Adi Da Samraj (formerly Da Free John), an American, but a student of Indian guru Muktananda.

Osho had a fleet of Rolls Royces, wore outrageously expensive designer robes and diamond studded hats and bracelets and when asked about his sexual exploits with devotees laughed and said “Yes, it is true: I am the Blessed One!” His group, from behind walls protected by Uzi-toting guards ended up poisoning several people in a town close to their compound in Oregon, contaminating eight salad bars with salmonella infecting 751 people, with plans to infect the town’s water supply, so as to incapacitate voters and swing a county election toward their candidates.


Prem Rawat encouraged complete submission to his divine authority, and had “Premmies” donate their cars to him, because they wouldn’t need such things any more. At his peak he was a multi-millionaire with property all over the world, and flashy sports cars. A massive party in the Houston Astrodome in 1973 announced him as the “Lord of the Universe” as he appeared on stage sitting on an elaborate throne wearing a crown straight out of Star Trek.

Chogyam Trungpa had scandals swirl around him regarding sexual misconduct, alcoholism and drug use. He also appointed a successor who, while knowing he was infected with HIV had frequent unprotected sex with students—one of whom died.

Adi Da Samraj, hailed at times as the most realized being in history by philosopher Ken Wilber has so many court cases pending against him for sexual assault and physical violence that (prior to his death in 2008) he had to isolate himself and a core group on a Fiji-an island, donated of course by one of his devotees.

Adi Da’s teacher, Muktananda, was accused of rape and the sexual assault of young women under the guise of “checking their virginity.” Former students who claimed to have witnessed these acts allege that they were subject to death threats. Muktananda’s successor Gurumayi apparently had her henchmen lock her brother in a room and beat him with a stick until he agreed to turn over the entire multi-million dollar international business of Siddha Yoga to her. Muktananda originally named them both as his heirs.

Ken Wilber, by the way, maintains close relations with and public endorsement of Andrew Cohen, a contemporary American guru who actually blogs on Elephant Journal. Former students of Cohen (including his mother who wrote a scathing book about him called “Mother of God”) accuse him of physical and verbal abuse as well as financial manipulation. William Yenner, longtime friend and student of Cohen has also published American Guru, A Story of Love, Betrayal and Healing —former students of Andrew Cohen Speak Out.

Of course, we shouldn’t leave out the bizarre Christian cult led by Jim Jones that ended in 1978 with 900 followers dead in a mass suicide in the jungles of Guyana. It is from this event that we get the term “drinking the Kool-Aid,” as this was the poisoned drink they all shared as a way to depart what they saw as a spiritually corrupted world.

The opportunism, materialism, sexual manipulation, and cultish dynamics that were so often the rule rather than the exception with these teachers no doubt led thinkers like Joel and Diana to do some serious work on understanding and communicating the dynamics of unhealthy power structures.

But even now after the first few waves of charlatan gurus in the early decades of Eastern influence, the underlying beliefs and conventions of the guru model remain a ubiquitous feature of our spiritual zeitgeist.

In a way, the  The Guru Papers e-book couldn’t come at a better time.

Think about it:

* This year’s John Friend/Anusara Yoga scandal. (Small potatoes by true guru standards, but worth looking at through this lens.)

* The death last year of perhaps the world’s most famous guru, Sai Baba. He called himself a god-man, proved it by doing cheap magic tricks that were exposed by running video footage in slow motion, and spent his free time molesting his devotees young sons. Sai Baba left an estate valued at $9B.

* The ongoing pedophilia charges against the Catholic Church —now adding up to $2.5 B in court-ordered payouts.

* Last year’s sentencing of New Age teacher (famous for being part of the mega-selling Oprah-endorsed DVD “the Secret”) James Arthur Ray to 2 years in prison for negligent homicide.

* The recent tragic death of Ian Thorson involving Geshe Michael Roach‘s Diamond University.

* The new documentary film, Kumare about a man who pretends to be a guru,

* Revelations regarding sexual abuse suffered by boy-monk Kalu Rinpoche, believed by Tibetan Buddhists (but not himself) to be the reincarnation of a venerated Tulku.

* My own friend Shyam Dodge’s harrowing tale of growing up in a guru cult and being declared enlightened himself at 21, only to receive death threats after leaving the group. His ensuing experiences with a Tantric cult that uses teenage runaways as “sacred prostitutes” is also quite sad.

* Most of all, the ongoing threat of extremist Islamic terrorism and its death cult of suicide bombers that has changed all of our lives since 2001.

If these types of events make you feel as unsettled as I think they should, if they create in you the urge to understand more deeply what often goes so badly wrong in spiritual communities, and what the seeds of such rotten fruit could be, then this book is for you.

It is a bracing, illuminating, well-written, comprehensive, brilliant look at what needs to be grasped and corrected in order for spirituality to live up to its promise as a force for healing, genuine growth and responsibility and positive change in the world.

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Julian Walker is the founder of where he supports new and established yoga teachers in living their dreams through business development. He is a writer who has been teaching yoga since 1994, and co-teaches the Awakened Heart, Embodied Mind Yoga Teacher Training in LA with Hala Khouri.Julian’s writing is featured in the book 21st Century Yoga available on

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dawn.sandberg Feb 12, 2019 3:29pm

Tibetan Buddhism has… wait for it….17 hells! 8 hot, 8 cold and 1 permanent. Can we see now why so many recent scandals?

What happens if anything, in the afterlife has not been empirically, indisputably proven by any evidenced based method in any of our great world religions, it’s still very much on the level of faith and culture.

If we are talking about “states of mind” pertaining to this life, well we could indeed say that some people truly suffer and that could be akin, at times to a mind-made hell, but this does not equate to proof of transmigration.

Anyone, even if they seem accomplished spiritually, even my honored teachers, who say they “know” I find dubious, they most likely “know” doctrine that was imparted to them.

What I do know, is that even if there is hell (or in Tibetan Buddhism we have 17 hells!) is that people live very very afraid of themselves and a notion of eternal punishment and their “spiritual” commitments, that for example lead us to offer giant amounts of money or do training “levels” have not mutually consenting affairs with their clergy or teachers or work as monks or administratively for and entire life, against their will.

The threat of hell creates indentured servitude of vulnerable people and children that do get exploited and is not enlightened nor empowering. People then feel owned by a teacher, leader or organization and are threatened with damnation if they leave of speak out, so we are sworn to silence and secrecy.

My heart just can’t bear to see this construct even one more day.

Damnation threatening is *spiritual crime* and egregious and damages people in a very deep way, since they are purporting something that is indisputable. It preys on our deepest fears and longing to “know” what this life means, and many religions have used this tool since time immemorial.

Clergy often believe these stories and traditions and social control methods as they themselves were often born into archaic religious doctrine, so I believe we need to help each other to wake up.

Even if there exists some moral reward or punishment in some afterlife, however implausible, it can only serve to frighten people to discuss it and is the foundation of most deep religious trauma.

If anyone uses the notion of hell to silence women, shun others, hurt, harm, molest small children, take children away from their parents at 6, exploit or own someone, I call, actually for possible legal/ human rights repercussions. Thank you, onward>> #buddhistreformation

anonymous Jun 20, 2015 6:06am

Um, I've just gotten out of a guru-student relationship with Antonio Sausys and he is dangerous.

ANY help you can give on
stripping him of his license
recompense to me to get my life back

and what connections to make to move back into health
would be greatly appreciated.


anonymous May 18, 2015 7:30pm

Osho and Da Free John = most enlightened words I know. Both of course feet of clay. Tradition tells is truth may come through saint or rogue. Why not rogue as saint? May take some intelligence on our part…

anonymous Nov 23, 2014 10:20pm

rajneesh is the true master,,,,

anonymous Aug 7, 2013 8:16am

I came upon your article as I was exploring information for a psychotherapy client who is in a repetitive pattern of being preyed upon by charming psychopathic men. In fact she married two of them. As a psychotherapist and interfaith minister I've been working with her to reclaim her instinctual aggression while accessing her faith as a source of guidance and strength. What I see in her and in so many others is a reliance on new age fundamentalism as a way of spiritually bypassing the dark painful process she needs to embrace in order to ultimately heal. The polarization in 'goodness' to the exclusion of self-preservation and the wisdom of the sensory world is a common theme in spiritual and religious circles. It seems like a dictum that replicates the Stockholm syndrome where the victim makes the perpetrator her redeemer. It's couched in self-delusion. My client reiterates that she doesn't want to be an 'angry' person on the heels of being lied to and incessantly betrayed. The guise of spirituality supports her terror of integrating her rage and keeps her in this splintered state. Very tragic how early trauma bonds establish an indoctrination of power and submission and set people up to defer to perfidious spiritual dogma that instructs them to deny their own humanity.

    anonymous Jun 23, 2014 2:01pm

    Thank you, Sheri. I've been struggling with whether to go or stay in a community that seems unhealthy to me, and this idea of denying the humanity really rings true. You've helped me stay strong in my decision to GO!

anonymous Apr 17, 2013 2:34pm

[…] […]

anonymous Apr 17, 2013 3:27am

[…] Shree Rajneesh (later called Osho) are examples of this – you can read more about this in this book summary on Elephant […]

anonymous Mar 6, 2013 4:02pm

[…] Walker wrote in elephant journal last summer that the 1993 book The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power by Diana Alstad and Joel Kramer, […]

anonymous Mar 4, 2013 4:02am

[…] Listen to the Guru Within. […]

anonymous Feb 9, 2013 11:46am

I recently gave a talk at a cult awareness conference in New York entitled "Making Sense of Post Cult Trauma."
I've posted the text and video of that on my website; I thought you may be interested to see it.
I hope this finds you well,

anonymous Jan 23, 2013 1:54pm

[…] need? In an early draft of my first article I characterized this pressure as “apocalyptic”, but Diana Alstad persuaded me to withdraw the word, in the absence of technical evidence. But I’ll bring it back […]

anonymous Dec 22, 2012 4:32am

Hi/malaya, Julian

You write:
(…) * Most of all, the ongoing threat of extremist Islamic terrorism and its death cult of suicide bombers that has changed all of our lives since 2001 (…)

Read: Solving 9/11 – The Deception that Changed The World by Christopher Bollyn:


anonymous Nov 8, 2012 11:58am

[…] The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power by Joel Kramer & Diana […]

anonymous Sep 28, 2012 3:36pm

Excellent article and discussion! I just ran across this article today, thanks to an e-link sent from Diane Alstad, co-author of The Guru Papers. I read Diana & Joel's book some twelve years ago. At the time I read The Guru Papers the focus of my inner work was processing my shadow, e.g., reintegrating and "eating" or owning the split off parts of my psyche. Having lived in more than one cultish spiritual community, The Guru Paper's was a very useful read and I would recommend it to anyone on a conscious spiritual journey.

There are so many fake guru's around… not just from the east… but homespun American ones — as Julian outlined above with precision. And there is so much New Agey bullshit flying around in the airwaves these days that it makes this book a timeless and exceptionally relevant read.

All that being said, Julian Walker has a brilliant intellect, but in my opinion Julian lives entirely in his head. Maybe Julian lives in his body to — but his perspective is ego or head-centered. I will own that comment as entirely my own judgment.

My long, winding and thorny spiritual path has led me to the realization that to understand matters of the Spirit one must live in ones heart. And honestly, I wasn't able to make the transition from ego or head identity to living in my heart center without my Guru's grace and blessing. What more can I say? I admire Julian, but ultimately disagree with him that spirituality can be successfully approached on a purely rational or scientific basis. Many spiritual truths, in my view, are of a higher science that even the greatest intellects cannot wrap their minds around. Everyone is either God-centered or ego-centered. To center oneself in God one must humble the shrewd intellect and become as a little child (not childish, but child-like) resting at the feet of God (in one's heart center.) That's not the type of scientific fact that I could ever prove to Julian or anyone else, but it is certainly a truth that I have proven without a doubt to myself.

God bless!! 🙂

anonymous Sep 27, 2012 6:49pm

Has anyone had any negative experiences with either Inner Journey Canada, Oneness University (Deeksha Giving) and Swami Shyam in Kullu???? I would appreciate any information you might have… thank you…

anonymous Aug 24, 2012 2:49pm

[…] and group hysteria is not uncommon. many gurus have done this, megachurches do this, and most people who study cults are familiar with the technique called “love-bombing” in which new potential members […]

anonymous Aug 17, 2012 3:37pm

[…] Concern with the self is indispensable for intimacy and creative living, and central to artistic achievements and scientific discoveries, as I (JR) suggest in The Art of Flourishing. And there are unacknowledged costs to religious/spiritual attempts to eradicate or renounce self-centeredness because it is an irreducible part of being human, as Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad illuminate in depth in The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power. […]

anonymous Aug 17, 2012 3:30pm

[…] I have experienced the vicissitudes of elation, letdown and equilibrium. The process first included buying into authoritarian styles where I practiced accepting and absorbing the teachings I received, and then started to feel a lot better. I experienced disappointment with teachers, and have inquired within to try to understand. I think I’m still discovering how to learn and grow on my own terms. “’Guru’ is a metaphor for anyone who manipulates under the guise of ‘knowing what’s best’ for them, whether leaders, mothers, or lovers.” ~ Joel Kramer & Diana Alstad, ‘The Guru Papers, Masks of Authoritarian Power” […]

anonymous Aug 15, 2012 5:01pm

[…] As a work of spiritual philosophy, the book is a masterpiece of lucid reasoning. It is written in….read more on Elephant Journal. […]

anonymous Aug 4, 2012 7:25am

[…] The Dark Side of Spirituality: The Guru Papers Unmasks Sacred Cows! ( Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. This entry was posted in Inspiration and tagged Buddha, Daily Inspiration, Enlightenment, Religion & Spirituality.Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment […]

anonymous Jul 9, 2012 7:44pm

no yoga class can begin without guru prayer invocation – ask yourself why ? experience will answer this question.

who is this guru ? ask yourself this question, may take some time to answer … but persevere – that sounds like an advise a guru will give.

and then maybe you can continue to do yoga classes without the guru prayer, but you dont know what you missing ?

experience will direct the way of understanding – that is science and that is yoga – so what is this science-yoga conflict ?

who says listen to gurus and follow gurus – not yoga – practice, experience and then realize – try it ? every decent guru says that – blind faith is not yoga – that religion i think.

guru – most people dont understand the word itself and use it rather offhandedly …

as a hindu / indian – we are used to fake gurus / babas / sadhus, and really most intelligent people ignore/stay away from the likes of Sai Baba and the bunch of circus political money laundering mafia type of gurus who become popular in the west – why is that ?

and if you meet funny people on the way teaching yoga and being guru, hey as an indian i can laugh at them and tell them off on their face to take their trade somewhere else … its quite simple really.

a thief is a thief … why call him a guru ?

and yes, the west can define their new yoga in any which way they want to – but are you guys really missing the point somewhere ?

anonymous Jul 9, 2012 2:23pm

[…] assertions of absolute authority are a product of his tutelage within the guru tradition. Not unlike competing factions of fundamentalist religions, Indian gurus often like to claim sole […]

anonymous Jul 3, 2012 2:53pm

I just had a piece posted on this same topic today at Huff Post Religion

Perhaps I'm "throwing myself to the wolves" here, but do all the justifiably bad seeds here totally deny the guru-disciple relationship? I know many people in my own tradition and beyond who have healthy, meaningful, enlightening relationships with their teachers.

It goes both ways for sure, but bad seeds don't deny or define the essence of the guru-disciple relationship.
I think a total write-off of the guru-disciple dynamic is intellectually weak unless you've made an honest attempt to see where it has been successful.

anonymous Jun 30, 2012 4:46pm

[…] need? In an early draft of my first article I characterized this pressure as “apocalyptic”, but Diana Alstad persuaded me to withdraw the word, in the absence of technical evidence. But I’ll bring it back […]

anonymous Jun 30, 2012 5:06am

It is really a nice and helpful piece of information.
I’m glad that you just shared this helpful information with us. Please stay us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.

anonymous Jun 23, 2012 9:12pm

THANK YOU – just thank you !

anonymous Jun 23, 2012 8:59pm

Have enjoyed this article and comments a great deal.

In the for what it's worth dept, here's a couple of impressions…

I think Shyam Dodge was mentioned in the main article. He's written contributed some excellent observations to Ele. Also, check out his book on his fascinating true life story of being raised to guru-hood. Very cheap on kindle:

There's a bit of a controversy here on whether magic really happens. My take… At its worst, it's a sham closely tied to fake gurus (leaving aside the question as to whether there are any non-fake gurus). At its best, it's a distraction. It's not important. The point is spiritual advancement, not amazing tricks.

And, in one of the comments, someone wondered whether we need squeaky clean politically correct gurus. That sounds to me like it's edging towards a simple defense of bad behavior. I see tons of political correctness here on ele, but being a decent person is a completely different issue. Anyone who poses as having some level of understanding beyond what most of us have should not be wallowing in the senses and building defensive walls of self-justification the way most of us do. Again, being a decent person is not a question of political correctness, it is simply a question of being a decent person. Guru, at the very least, should be a decent person.

anonymous Jun 23, 2012 8:44am

I just ordered the book. I have always been interested in cults. The story of Chogyam Trungpa is very enlightening, particularly since I've been going through the Shambala meditation program for a couple of years. It explains allot about some of my teachers and the program which has been considerably transformed since his death. I stay away from the more traditional program. I don't have a guru. I don't want one…

I've also studied at Kripalu and watched them hang on after kicking their guru out. They adapted. Eventually allot of the more cultish aspects of Kripalu, even those that were appealing such as wearing white and eating all meals in silence, fell off and it became more of a commercial enterprise.

anonymous Jun 22, 2012 2:36pm

The exposing of full frauds and half frauds is very important, and I'm fascinated by it. From your perspective the supernatural does not exist. But, from other perspectives (such as mine) it has been experienced. Is your perspective the only correct one on this? Thank you.

    anonymous Jun 22, 2012 4:30pm

    bear in mind that experience and interpretation are two different things…

    there are many experiences that many people interpret as being supernatural that are well explained by natural causes.

    i remain confident that if after 400 years of looking scientifically not a single shred of evidence for anything supernatural has emerged that it simply does not exist.

    there are many powerful and elegant explanations for why we are prone to erroneously perceiving the supernatural – and i would be happy to share these with you another time!

    this is in NO WAY to say that there are not meaningful spiritual experiences!

    there are many experiences that have deep meaning, wonder, awe, beauty, compassion, grace, ecstasy, healing, bliss, peace and integration about them – its just that these need not be interpreted in terms of the supernatural now that we know better.

    i would encourage you to ask on what you base the interpretation of certain experiences as supernatural and if there might in fact be other more natural interpretations possible that do not require belief in unlikely and indeed perhaps impossible explanations….


      anonymous Jun 23, 2012 12:10am

      You seem like a very smart, cerebral individual Julian but, many times, our ability to think crowds out our ability to perceive. You seem to make a case for a blanket lack of the supernatural. I myself have spent years traveling to many ancient places (mostly celtic) and have seen and experienced the unexplainable. These experiences are very personal to me and I don't share them with most people, except ones I know well, have history with and trust. You should read a bit more Jung, since you make the argument for psychology. Jung was a very smart man, with a deep belief in the mystical. He was comfortable being unable to explain everything in scientific terms. I believe it is what made him brilliant and revolutionary.

      You make a vehement case against anything remotely guru like or supernatural. Maybe the myriad "yoga teachers" nowadays who have no psychology degrees, massive ego imbalances, lists of issues, whose main goal is to create an image so they can monetize their "product", most more interested in how they look and what they are eating, wearing et-could it be many of them are setting up/imagining themselves to be the next phase of "Guru". I witness it all over LA. Expensive workshops with catchy titles, promote it and promise a life changing experience. People will come. Doesn't matter that there is no shred of authenticity there, its a happening in the yoga community. Its scary to think about individuals in a vulnerable place attending expecting insight, and leaving feeling more disconnected then when they walked in. The yoga world is becoming increasingly creepy, stepford like and fake, yet in our western culture, many yoga teachers claim special access to God/Spirit-and if you go to their yoga class or workshop-there is an illusion you may get some. But most of what you get is like junk food-it fills you up for a minute but you are hungry again soon after-because there is no real nutrition in what you are getting. Its just empty calories. The blind leading the blind.

      Anyone can attend FREE meditation classes every week at Self Realization Fellowship. If you create a meditation practice and commit to it putting your concentration on the point between the eyes, you will have transcendent, dare I say, mystical experiences. It is a result of concentrating in the intuitive center. But it takes work. And doing 5000 yoga asana classes cannot take the place of going inside to the still place and hanging out there. But yet our western world is stimulation addicted and sitting still is hard for most people, so they don't do it-or make excuses why they can't. The only real reason is unwillingness to change.

      anonymous Jun 23, 2012 8:40am

      I don't think experiences of the supernatural can be scientifically validated. They are beyond its scope and world view. So much "evidence" has been overlooked, because science can't explain it–or reduce it to fit within its knowledge system. There is so much mystery to life. Personally, i cannot limit my intuitive knowing to the limitations of the rational mind. Thank you.

anonymous Jun 22, 2012 1:02pm

Julian et al.

If there are no actual gurus, then on what basis does any contemporary yoga teacher assert or presume any spiritual authority to teach yoga – or anything else for that matter?

Once the spiritual trappings – and the presumed spiritual legacy, lineage, and legitimation – are removed , what are yoga "teachers" actually teaching?

Fitness? Wellness? How to stretch and look cute in tight pants?

If there's no spiritual authority, and no sanctioned "intercession," no "ordination" with any credibility, why is anyone teaching at all? And charging money for it to boot?

Once you take away the guru, in fact – his presence in the background, at least – there is no yoga. That's how Hindus would look at it, I believe.


    anonymous Jun 22, 2012 4:28pm

    NO! 🙂

    healthy spiritual authority is based on actual knowledge that can be shared, demonstrated and most important of all, debated, critiqued and evolved in open communities informed by science and psychology.

    yoga teachers, once free of the make-believe legacy of ancient wisdom and exotic mystery are actually teaching something very real, meaningful and effective: body awareness, self-inquiry, tools for psychological healing and well-being, the cultivation of mindful awareness, compassion, courage, resiliency and existential honesty in the face of reality as it is.

    there need not be ordination, intercession or any other metaphysical hoopla! yoga teachers can and should be trained in anatomy, technique, interpersonal ethics, creating healthy supportive community, holding space for the authentic process of self-discovery, healing and growth that happens when people bring awareness and breath to orchestrated and free form movement and stillness.

    beautiful things can happen and they need not be predicated upon magical thinking, supernaturalism or outdated models of monarchical or religious authority based in the old red herring of secret ultimate transcendent knowledge.

    one charges money for a service that ifs offered with integrity, training and transparency.

    perhaps what you say about how hindus may perceive this is correct – but we are not hindus and yoga has been in a process of hybridization and evolution since the 1930's and the beginning of what we now know as "asana practice" in the west. that process has involved danish gymnastics, YMCA routines and a variety of spiritual philosophies, from tantra to classical yoga to new age christian science type stuff from the start.

    it now includes somatic psychology and neuroscience.

    we can understand and contextualize the experience of embodied practices better an better as human knowledge unfolds.

    go in search of "culturally pure yoga" and we find there is no such thing!

    even the guru model underwent a massive transformation when it interacted with the hippie and post-hippie culture of the west.

    lastly, most yoga in the west has done just fine without a traditional guru-model for the last 30 or more years. be not afraid!

    the significant distinction here is probably between healthy authority and unhealthy authority. between qualification based in training and demonstrable knowledge vs qualification based in magical/supernatural claims of ultimate mysterious knowledge and the shell game that usually accompanies such claims.

      anonymous Jun 22, 2012 9:08pm

      I appreciate your thoughtfulness – truly – but I have to say, I respectfully disagree. Once you re-invoke "spiritual authority," you have resurrected the problem in a new form.

      I don't think the "guru model" has died, or simply weakened. It has morphed, gone underground, and become fused with other forms of pathology.

      We are no longer trapped in the esoteric realms of the monastery, with its horny old sages, perhaps. Instead, we are living through the hell of Yoga High School, with its girlish neuroses, cliques and power trips that never found their way into the Old Yoga – for the simple reason, that they weren't allowed.

      Cultural freedom is always a mixed blessing when it comes to spiritual life wisdom.

      I would turn the entire yogic enterprise over to publicly accredited, and highly rigorous training schools, with the emphasis on integrating yoga into a modern professional wellness paradigm that includes all sorts of therapies and modalities that can heal and inform.

      In other words, skip the entire spiritual pretense altogether. I already have a very strong spiritual formation – don't need yoga's? So do most of the Great Unwashed.

        anonymous Jun 22, 2012 11:29pm

        sam – for the most part we are in agreement. not sure if you read my comment carefully. everything i said was basically about demonstrable, substantive knowledge that could be taught and tested as you suggest.

        perhaps you are unaware that there is already a yoga alliance that is attempting to require certain levels of specific education? this formalization will no doubt continue, for better or worse.

        where we may disagree is that i see embodied practices (yoga,meditation, bodywork, ecstatic dance) as authentic vehicles for spiritual growth.

        what i mean by spiritual has to do with inner work, psychological awareness, emotional process and training the brain to be more present, compassionate, metaphorically literate etc…

        yes there has been a spiritual pretense that is about make believe nonsense, but beyond that there is a genuine, deep, meaningful spirituality to be explored – and in some ways it is very recognizable/familiar, it is just that the *interpretation* no longer relies on supernaturalism and the bogus authority it provides.

        i think too you missed my point about the difference between authority based on the mind-fuck of metaphysical ultimate spiritual truths and authority based in genuine knowledge – there is a HUGE difference.

          anonymous Jun 23, 2012 2:46pm

          Well, it's the authentication and transmission of that "genuine knowledge" that is the issue perhaps? I don't see how that is possible without completely revamping the way teacher training is carried out and "accredited."

          Right now we're churning out these narcissistic 20-something monsters at a near-record pace, all because the studios want to make money off their parents, many of whom are also their students. It's incestuous and dysfunctional, and when combined with the ubiquitous "branding" of special yoga styles, it is destroying yoga as a credible wellness and healing movement.

          Yogis are acting and talking like the free market is a self-correcting mechanism? They all sound like extreme Reaganites, or Tea Party apologists. They say that only good teachers will rise to the top because the consumers will gravitate toward them. That completely misses the point of the other dynamics that are at play in yoga studios and their training and tribalizing systems. I'm not even sure Sarah Palin or Michele Bacmann thinks the free market is really that "free"

          Personally, I think teachers like yourself, veterans, with real sensitivity and perspective, should be publicly riding herd on what is going on right now., and pushing to achieve a level of collective self-accountability – and yes, regulation, that the industry desperately needs. Not by posting on blogs, but by organizing yourselves as some kind of "Council of Elders" and insisting that these changes are carried out.

          The Yoga Alliance, as far as i can tell, is a completely ineffectual association of near-nothingness when it comes to setting standards and functioning like a real trade association. If anything by blessing the 200 hour accreditation standard, without any real inquiry into these teachers or their studios, they are part and parcel of the dysfunctional factory yoga system. I personally know of two MISA Yoga teachers – MISA is a front for the European Tantric porn cult of the same name – that have Yoga Alliance accreditation. This is just how much "oversight" there is.

          What I think we need, and I am just one person, is for the yoga elders council, maybe 10 of you, 5 men and 5 women, to become a 6-month National Yoga Study Commission that reviews a whole host of issues that have come up in yoga over the past 10 years, with a vision toward guiding the industry's development over the next 10 years, and setting up some kind of collectively agreed upon regulatory system.

          People like Judith Lasater and Patricia Walden on the female side, perhaps. Maybe Doug Keller. It shouldn't be anyone who is associated with any one yoga brand. And certainly none of the yoga celebrities (Elena Brower, Kathryn Budig etc.) , and none of the blog queens (Carol Horton, Jennilyn Carlson, our beloved Waylon, Recovering Yogi, etc. — no one with demonstrated special economic or PR interests or loud branding bias of any kind).

          The Commission should take testimony for say, 6 months from a host of selected witnesses as well as others who care to provide it – on "reforming" the yoga industry. It should definitely take testimony from 2-3 of the people who were involved in setting up the current regulatory system in India, which, not surprisingly, has received almost no press within the US yoga community. There have been some fairly strong pushes in the UK, Germany and elsewhere also — only in America – typically – is the unregulated free market considered so sacred – even if it is damaging yoga itself, as any industry this large that is so completely unregulated naturally will.

            anonymous Jun 23, 2012 2:46pm


            We really need to cut through this Gordian Knot of "regulation versus no regulation," based on a purely abstract fear of "government," and discuss how yoga can actually clean up its act and start to grow up as a movement and a industry. It is long overdue. I don't see how any of the things that you say should be present in yoga – in teachers and pedagogy – can manifest without a recognized body that can achieve collective accountability, standardization, and oversight – including the power to punish offenders.

            This won't be easy, and it could take a couple of years – it did in India – but even just establishing the legitimacy of the Commission and its inquiry would be a huge step forward. In the end, a self-regulating yoga body, in alliance of some kind with government regulators, could really take a lot of the crazy bugs out of American yoga and protect teachers and students alike. It would also allow yoga to really reach the mainstream consumer in a much bigger way.

            Some will object that "professionalizing" yoga will somehow destroy its essence. At a minimum, we need to strike a better balance. People could keep their brands and their studios and maybe turn them into private clubs, where "members" pay a yearly fee to enjoy that experience, and bond however they see fit, without dragging the broader public into it.. I see nothing wrong with warehousing – and thereby quarantining – the many pathologies at work in so many yoga brand cults and studios today.

            We will have to start with the assumption that what we have now isn't working – or rather it's working, but not for enough people. Once this is set up, just wait and see how much of a "silent majority" comes out of the yoga "woodwork" to speak. It will turn into a loud roar.

    anonymous Feb 26, 2013 7:31pm

    The process of knowledge or experience, is to accept that you never own it,let it go and more returns. With aboriginal world view, who can own your breath or the sky. You are are your own candle in the night,light the world.


anonymous Jun 22, 2012 9:28am

Have read Wilbur and Cohen's publications at times, liked some of the articles, but found their writings to be self-congratulatory drivel. They are not enlighted in the context of having cosmic conciousness and transcendant experience. As a truly enlightened (and humble) master Paramhansa Yogananda said "God is the Guru". He also visited various holy men as recounted in his Autobiography looking for enlightened masters, he found most were not as enlightened nor had more realization than he himself had. He also said that "solitude is the price of realization" Looking for gods in these intentional communities is very dangerous. Yogananda recounted a story of visiting a guru who looked down upon him from his perch and proclaimed "I am God." Yogananda replied "You don't say." and he then took out a small mirror from his pocket and held it up to the guru and said "Look, look there at your god, face all screwed up with sourness." One little brick on the head and your little god will escape." Do not give your power to any human.

    anonymous Jun 22, 2012 11:05am

    i appreciate and agree with much of your comment nikki – thanks!

    what i am questioning and would invite you to question is the very notion that anyone is "enlightened…"

    think for a moment about where you got this idea, what it is based upon… think a bout the idealism and faith present in it and then consider what it is to be human and what the looking for such a perfected human being might really be about.

    after many years looking into this i am pretty sure o-one is "enlightened." its a con job. it is a mistaken literalizing of a symbolic archetype. anyone who claims to be "enlightened" is looking for others willing to allow an authoritarian power grab on their lives.

    yogananda was one of a long line of con men who played the role publicly to amass wealth while making claims of dvinity, paranormal powers etc…

      anonymous Jun 22, 2012 3:44pm

      Never met any Lama from any school of Tibetan Buddhism who has claimed to be enlightened.More often the Guru is a friend, a big brother or sister or father. My Guru is accomplished in anu yoga and ati yoga. His concern for his few students is loving, real, and inspiring. From the old school of Tibet and very disciplined. Married with a family. Far from the cartoon character you are portraying.

        anonymous Jun 22, 2012 4:17pm

        padma again – i am not saying teachers like yours don't exist.

        i am delighted to hear you have one and the relationship works for you!

        the "cartoon character" i describe has wreaked actual havoc in the 3 D world of people's lives because of an outdated, theistic, authoritarian, wishful thinking based system.

        we can do better and retain all of the positive elements you champion while looking honestly at what goes wrong so often and why – surely this is a good idea?

          anonymous Jun 23, 2012 8:29am

          Every good idea is a good idea. But I disagree with your notion the Guru fraud is as prevalent as you say or this book says though I have not read it. I do not understand how you can throw out the Guru knowing full well that without them there would be no concept of a path. No spirituality as we know it. After all we are right now not utilizing the gurus blessing and experience and look what we have…rampant misconception, magical thinking, and commercialism.

      anonymous Jun 22, 2012 11:00pm

      Sorry, can't go with you there. Your summation of Yogananda as a con man sounds like it comes from someone who never read Autobiography nor explored his teachings. Shame since you are in Los Angeles and have access to it first hand. You can visit the rooms where Yogananda lived out his life in Mt Washington. Sparse and simple. Yogananda never amassed any personal fortune. All of the money that was donated (most of it from James J Lynn in the 1940's-Lynn purchased the Encinitas property) was put into Self Realization Fellowship. SRF now has many properties open to the public and free of charge-Lake Shrine being one of them-dedicated to peace and the unity of all beliefs. Yogananda encouraged direct experience of God thru Self Realization. He encouraged a daily meditation practice (real YOGA) as a means of access to the divine. The only know portion of Gandhi's ashes in the world are entombed at the Lake. The ashes were given to Yogananda personally in honor of their friendship. I was going with your article as I agree-most modern day, self styled "Gurus" are ego maniacs and money grabbers (Nithyananda being a prime example). But your description of Yogananda as a con man left me feeling like you have not done your due diligence and maybe your own ability to be objective is in question.

        anonymous Jun 22, 2012 11:43pm

        actually lisa – i read autobiography of a yogi cover to cover as a naive starry eyed spiritual seeker in my 20's.

        i have also been to the self-realization fellowship numerous times.

        also – i am not sure how you could read the above article and get a sense that i have not done due dilligence! really!?

        yogananda attempted to blend christianity and hinduism and yes indeed taught his kirya yoga to disciples.

        yogananda was definitely not in the same category as some of the more obvious power abusing charlatans, but i think if you can put your idealization aside for a moment you might think twice about a lot of the magical claims he made.

        he also had minor scandals associated with him, a possible love child – but small potatoes.

        bottom line though, he was, like most of his generation of gurus, and opportunist who realized he could get rich on america's fascination with exotic holy men. he started off as a classic swami-magician and most likely fabricated his autobiography to create a persona for himself and attain the position he did.….

          anonymous Jun 23, 2012 1:14am

          The two links you are citing as proof are not reliable. The first is connected to Ananda, an excommunicated monk who was asked to leave his position with SRF. Ananda himself has struggled with ego need and impropriety. The rick ross link is fundamentalist christian. Hence why I am saying there is a lack of due diligence. The possible love child you site was proven false, this was done with actual scientific testing with Yogananda's immediate relative-his brother who was living at the time provided dna samples. There was a lot to be gained by the people claiming this relationship. Hence what you are putting up as evidence to prove your position amounts to gossip at best.

          You keep coming back to Yogananda being rich as a way to illustrate a need for him to do the things he did. You did not address anything I mentioned in the above comment about the said riches. SRF is a 501c3. Yogananda himself was never rich-and never really famous. He became most famous in death as AY was published in 1946, Yogananda left the body in 1952. Nor did you address his relationship with Gandhi. I believe Gandhi was thought to be a very good judge of character.

          Yogananda never made magical claims. He cited having experienced things, witnessed things or met others who claimed these abilities. Yogananda was most known for instilling the precept that we are ALL devotees on the path.

          There is a difference between curiosity and interest. It sounds to me while you dabbled in your 20's spiritual seeking as you put it, curiosity was the motivation.

          You keep coming back to ego and money as Yogananda's motivation for doing the works he did-yet there is no proof of this at all. To the contrary, his mission quietly continues to exist throughout the world doing good.

          I don't know if you personally are agnostic or atheist, but if that is the case it would explain why you are so vehemently defending your position that anyone who could be associated with the term Guru must be a charlatan. And that anyone, such as myself, who claims to find direction in their words must be weak. There is such a thing as a shade of grey.

            anonymous Jun 23, 2012 9:01am

            lisa first of all please don't claim to know the depth of my interest. i have been engaged in a life-path of exploring spirituality since i was about 17. autobiography was just one of literally hundreds of books i read in my 20's and 30's on buddhism, yoga, consciousness, mythology, psychology and spirituality in general.

            i have been to india, spent time in ashraams, gone on meditation retreats, and have been teaching yoga for 18 years.

            clearly you love yogananda. i find little harm in this and respect it.

            his book is filled with supernatural claims and he started his career off as a classic magician swami.

            he built a huge empire around himself.

            we can go back and forth on whether or not he was personally wealthy etc – and perhaps you are right about him being a philanthropist.

            at the end of the day i find him dishonest and to have led people astray with a hybridized christian/hindu religious system involving a lineage of magical gurus held up as avatars from a supernatural reality.

            personally i find that this type of model is a dead end and actually doesn't help people do what i see as the real spiritual work of healing, growth and integration.

            you correctly interpret my position that no-one has access to divine supernatural truth because there is no such thing….. my spirituality is one of radically embracing our humanity and finding the sacred in the natural world.

            you correctly interpret that i think anyone who claims what gurus do regarding being themselves divine or having direct access to hidden supernatural knowledge is either a charlatan or perhaps has a brain pathology. in both cases they may still be somewhat decent people with somewhat insightful teachings, they may even do good works in the world and be charismatic, lovable etc….. but at the heart of the model is still an authoritarian claim of secret knowledge that at the end of the day is just a way of controlling people and robbing them of their power.

            the above essay/review and the book it discusses make the case for this way more eloquently than i can in these comments.

            i leave you with one thought: considering everything described briefly in the cases above of osho, adi da, muktananda, gurumayi, maharaj-ji et al what do YOU think has been the common thread in all of these cases that created such suffering and abuse if not an exploitable problem in the guru model itself?

          anonymous Jun 23, 2012 1:45am

          I'd also like to introduce Yogananda's Wiki page.

          There isn't one line here that sites that Yogananda ever claimed supernatural powers. The only thing out of the ordinary was the lack of decay to his body reported after his death, and this was from Forest Lawn Cemetery. Nor anything related to scandal. Wiki is an independent body and if there were something negative to add that they deemed relevant/ fact based it would be here.

            anonymous Jun 23, 2012 9:09am

            as i have said a few times – he was not in the same class of charlatan as the gurus i mention in the article, which is why i didn't mention him,

            my memory of autobiography is that it is filled with all manner of magical experiences, visions, dreams etc that i would argue are a big part of how he created himself as a mythic figure in people's imagination and cemented his position.

            i found this chapter in "stripping the gurus" interesting:

            "Since its initial printing in 1946, Yogananda’s Autobiography has continued to enthrall seekers with its fascinating tales of miracles, saints and astral heavens (Lane, 1995)."

            "The Autobiography contains numerous claims of miraculous healings, levitation, bilocation and raising of the dead by various members in the SRF line of gurus, and others of Yogananda’s acquaintance."

            "Durga Mata (1992) relates that at one point in 1948, when Yogananda was in a very high state of samadhi, he talked aloud to what he took to be a vision of the Divine Mother. The latter would then answer back in Yogananda’s own voice … laying out the flaws of the disciples present and absent, against Yogananda’s entreaties not to punish them."

            "[Yogananda] said that he knew how to walk on fire, and to go without eating indefinitely, but that God did not want him to perform such feats, for his mission was to teach and bring souls back to God through kriya yoga and love (Mata, 1992)."

            "[Yogananda] interrupted his talk to ask if there were a doctor in the audience. A man stood up and Swamiji asked him to come on the stage. He requested the doctor, “Take my pulse and tell me what you feel.” The doctor felt his wrist, looking perplexed at first and then amazed. “There is no pulse,” he answered. Swamiji then told him to take the pulse on the other wrist. The doctor’s facial expression turned from amazement to incredulity. He said, “Swami Yogananda, this is impossible. Your pulse is pounding at an incredible speed.” He quickly tried the other side again and said, “This side is normal.” He came down from the stage into the audience shaking his head and mumbling, “Impossible, impossible” (Charlton, 1990).
            And yet, as the East Indian rationalist Basava Premanand (2005) has noted:

            [The cessation of the pulse at the wrists] is done by stopping the flow of blood to the hands by keeping a lemon, or a small ball or a rolled handkerchief in the armpits and pressing. Doctors do not in the confusion check the heartbeat but check the pulse and confirm that the pulse is stopped."

            "In the SRF Lessons (Yogananda, 1984), we are further informed of the following metaphysical claim:

            In rare instances … a person who has lived a very animalistic existence is drawn into the body of an animal, to learn some lesson. This explains the “thinking dogs” and “thinking horses” which have puzzled scientists who have tested them."

            "Yogananda himself claimed to have lived at Stonehenge around 1500 BC in a previous incarnation, and asserted that Winston Churchill was the reincarnation of Napoleon. (Churchill’s [1874 – 1965] life, however, overlapped with Aurobindo’s, with the latter, too, again claiming to be the reincarnation of Monsieur Bonaparte.) Also according to Yogananda, Hitler was Alexander the Great. In the same vein, Kriyananda (1977) relates Paramahansa’s declaration that Benito Mussolini was Marc Anthony; Kaiser Wilhelm was Julius Caesar; Stalin was Genghis Khan; Charles Lindbergh was Abraham Lincoln; and Therese Neumann was Mary Magdalene. (Neumann died in 1962; Rajneesh’s Vivek, claiming the same reincarnation, was born before then; etc.)"

            it goes on…. he was clearly a very idiosyncratic character who made all sorts of supernatural claims as if they were everyday observations. now, does this come down to whether one is an atheist, or whether one is gullible – i will leave this up to you! 🙂

anonymous Jun 22, 2012 8:06am

The view of a Guru being portrayed here is the view of those who have proclaimed themselves guru and vigorously supported by devotees who proclaim the guruness of their guru publically and frequently. They attract the personality type who wants to blindly support something and the "guru" knows this and relies on this. This is not the intent of an authentic Guru or Lama of course, Nor does the authentic Guru want control over people. There are many more Gurus or Lamas right now than you could imagine who do not fall under the criteria to which you refer. The percentage of "bad" Gurus to authentic Gurus is miniscule I would guess. Most of these Gurus and Lamas you will never hear of. We in the west are targeted for money and sex by charlatans and politicians and corporate CEOs….tell me something new. But certainly your call to be on the look out for false Gurus is a legitimate endeavor. But to throw all Gurus or Lamas as heirs to legitimate spiritual lineages in the trash is forgetting where all of your spiritual ideas have originated. These gurus are responsible for your yoga, the survival of your Gita, the words of the Buddha, and so on. Now we don't need them because you think you completely understand it all?

    anonymous Jun 22, 2012 3:29pm

    Or as we might say it in the West, let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. You make an excellent point. But I think that far from coming off as presumptive, patronizing or having all the answers, Diana Alstead, Joel Kramer and Julian Walker are asking the hard questions.

    True, the evidence presented in Julian's article portrays the dark side, if only because it has become too painful to keep on being the silent witness of the devastating effects of devotees living—and occasionally dying— in denial.

    This begs the question: Can Eastern-style spiritual leaders ever be turned into something squeaky clean, rehabilitated into political correctness? Who's to say?

    Even in the case of gurus you describe as "authentic," and I can tell you of the authenticity of the guru from whom I received initiation 20-some years ago, that doesn't preclude politics, sex and scandal from polluting their infrastructures. To find those "good" gurus and lamas who operate under the radar, maybe it's time to hit the road.

    Valerie Carruthers
    Team Leader
    Elephant Spirituality

      anonymous Jun 22, 2012 4:09pm

      Val…."hit the road" indeed! I can only speak from my experience that there is no need to change anything about my Lama. I am fortunate and I still do not utilize the teachings as much as I should. I do what I can do and raise a family and earn a living and intigrate practice into all of this mix called life.But to present Guru in this negative light can be understood but it is the rare exception. I think that Julian's angst against magical thinking is valid and inkeeping with Buddhism….all of Buddhism. The problem is that most "magical thinking" is usually the result of cultural practices. ie.mountain godesses and gods, etc. Though Tibetan yogis refer to gods and goddesses they also should know and do know their conceptual nature. That they are a result of magical thinking…but…they also know that even if it is only conceptual it still will effect atheir cultural lives.

        anonymous Jun 22, 2012 6:46pm

        again there is a difference between "condemning" all gurus as frauds and pointing out that the very structure of the guru model itself is fatally flawed and lends itself too easily to abuse and charlatanism.

        power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely – and there is no more absolute a power position than that of guru. it is akin to being a kind of spiritual king or queen and is based explicitly on the notion that certain people have almost superhuman qualities and are in special contact with the hidden divine ultimate truth.

        now there may be many, many people working within this model who are sincere, uncorrupted and teaching something very beneficial – i grant you that unequivocally.

        but consider this – if the problems are as legion as joel and dian describe and my examples illustrate – and if the root of the problem is in the structure of the model itself, may we not be able to salvage the good stuff through an intelligent revision of the model in a way that curtails the propensity for abuse?

        would this not be a great thing?

          anonymous Jun 23, 2012 8:12am

          Julian….Your experience and my experience are very different. Where you see fraud, manipulation, and authoritarianism…I see it too. The difference is that I know from my own experience that the Guru is beneficial and crucial for one's progress on the path and the instances of the aforementioned "negatives" are miniscule in comparison to the beneficial Gurus. The problems are not legion. I believe if you look for a particular problem you will find it and not see the benefits as I think Joel and Dian have done. Instances of charlatans are not prevalent. You have great faith in the rational mind as do I. Buddhism uses a rational mind. Your mirror is science. Science determines your falsehoods and truths. But from where does your science come from? Scientific journals? Written by scientisits (Gurus)? To rely on science as a truth source we rely on scientists just as one relies on a Guru because we do not have direct perception of that science. The difference is the Lama can help you experience every aspect of what makes he/she a Lama…a scientist cannot do the same with their particular discipline without access to intellectual barriers.

            anonymous Jun 23, 2012 8:52am

            i think perhaps you miss something essential padma – and that is the difference between authority based in evidence, reason and claims about reality that can be tested and repeated, and those based on authority which one accepts on faith without any evidence.

            what makes science so unique as a way of knowing reality is that it is a method involving hypothesis, experiment and then peer review of data. it does not require that we accept anything on faith or based on supernatural authority.

            to compare scientists to gurus is either a cynical piece of rhetorical tap dancing or a basic misunderstanding of how radically different these two models actually are.

            its like saying "well, you oppose the monarchy and claim democracy is better, but your president is still a king…"

            in any event, i am not invoking science here – i am talking about the problem with authoritarian models based in supernatural claims and the pretense of divine identity.

            i am challenging the myth that having a guru is "essential."

            i am saying that spiritual life is healthier, more grounded, more honest and more integrated using models that are not fraught with the problems that the guru model exemplifies.

            bear in mind again – when i say guru i do not mean merely "teacher," i mean one who claims ultimate metaphysical knowledge of reality via revelatory supernatural experience and/or being themselves divine, who requires complete submission of ego from their followers. i mean one who does magic tricks to demonstrate their divine nature, or who claims to have paranormal/psychic powers or direct access to god.

            my falsehoods and truths are determined by science AND reason AND psychology AND mind/body practices – i just find that when followed diligently there is a fairly straightforward line between truth and fiction, the jewel of reality and the plastic baubles of fantasy.

            anonymous Jun 26, 2012 11:50am

            As I think Julian says below, you're missing something pretty big. As a research scientist, I publish peer reviewed papers all the time. However, I am not a guru, nor are ANY of my colleagues. Each and every one of us submit our work to the review of others in our field for critique. Before doing so, we run exhaustive experiments that we must then describe in exacting detail to ensure that a colleague, should they choose to, can replicate and confirm our findings. Everything we put out into the world is evidenced-based and backed by empirical data. We also readily admit that our understanding is ever-changing and new information could lead us to adapt new ideas. A good scientist will never tell you to rely on him or her…he or she will suggest you run the experiment yourself. The ONLY guru I can think of who did that is Sri K Pattabhi Jois…and now Sharath.

            anonymous Aug 1, 2012 6:58pm

            Padma, I don't need my own personal scientist to learn science. As a student, I can go to a university and become educated through lectures and books. But then I can become a professional scientist with credentials. I can then teach, do research, and write. I now share equal status with my teachers. We become peers. The guru model is not egalitarian. The scientist model (teacher/student) is. The guru model is one of parent/child, whereby the child never grows up or leaves the nest. The scientist model is temporary. The teacher has power/authority over the student for a short time. The child/student grows up, leaves the nest, and continues with their education on their own. They now have the tools for themselves and are no longer dependent on their teachers to do science–they have a direct path to knowledge. The guru model says you can never do spirituality on your own. You will always need a guru–a middle man. They are very different models.

            The authors of the book don't makes apologies for gurus who appear exempt from bad behaviors. Their problem is with all gurus–the guru system itself–authoritarian power.

anonymous Jun 22, 2012 1:07am

Pretty thorough list there, Julian. One guy you didn't mention was Roshi Richard Baker of the San Francisco Zen Center, who was forced to resign in 1984 after it was discovered he had multiple affairs with female sangha members.

Regarding Adi Da, all of the lawsuit stuff had pretty much settled down about a year after it broke (1985). There were private monetary settlements made in exchange for silence and signed confidentiality agreements from the plaintiffs, and although he and his inner circle did relocate to the Fijian atoll of Naitauba partly to escape the erupting legal issues of the mid-1980s, the island was mainly a place where they could do their "thing" mostly unmolested and unobserved by the world at large. Think of Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now. In the last decade of his life, he did make sojourns back to the U.S. in an attempt reinvent himself as a fine arts photographer, complete with exhibits at prestigious galleries in L.A. and Venice. And the core group that survived him still live on Naitauba. What they're up to these days and whether they were able to siphon any of his vast personal fortune that was stashed in Swiss bank accounts is a big mystery, but the organization lives on in the shadows even to this day.

    anonymous Jun 24, 2012 1:45am

    Correct. Neil Luppa, Mark Miller (who lost his centerfold girl friend to the cult) and Sal Lucaino (who was NY mobster Lucky Luciano's nephew) were the principles who brought the suit against The Free Daist Communion after several years planning I'm told. Ford, their lawyer was disbarred in California and died of alcoholism (hit his head falling on a table in his home in Tiburon). James J. Brosnahan (who also represented John Walker Lindh) settled the case for cash rather than have the trial in the media is my understanding.

      anonymous Jun 24, 2012 10:56am

      Yes indeed. They were always very concerned about adverse publicity. Even before the lawsuits hit, there were small payoffs made to some people who left the community in order to keep bad publicity at bay. I personally know of one couple who left in the late '70s who were paid $10,000 just to go away quietly – there was no lawsuit involved in this case, just a "gratuity". And as people got smart and started leaving, there was a very active effort to visit these departees to assess whether they would become "dissidents" or not.

Bob Weisenberg Jun 21, 2012 9:22pm

Powerful stuff, Julian. I've been hoping this critical topic would get grade A treatment on elephant for years now (ever since I read "Stripping the Gurus", a very different kind and quality of book, but about the same topic). I knew I wasn't the right person to do it, and I'm very glad to see this collaboration between you and Diane and Joel.

I hope this will be the first of a series of articles on this book or topic. Many thanks to all of you. I know how hard to worked to make this as good as it is. Will be posting widely tomorrow morning.

Bob W. Associate Publisher
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Yoga Demystified, Gita in a Nutshell

    anonymous Jun 21, 2012 10:33pm

    much appreciated bob – thanks for the support and feedback!

    anonymous Jun 22, 2012 10:01am

    Your precious Gita is the life blood of Gurus. As well the Gita's very existence is because of Gurus. What do you owe these Gurus for their kindness? Often these articles come off as "All or Nothing". Yes we can all understand why some Gurus need to be bashed. But they are not really Gurus or Lamas in the full meaning of the designation "Guru" or "Lama". I find it ignorant and disingenous to bash a "system" of mouth to ear spiritual lineage or mind to mind lineage because a few duped some westerners.I say this because there certainly are thousands of authentic gurus alive right now who only have their students best interests at heart. The very lineages from which all of you draw from on a daily basis are Guru preserved lineages from Native America to Christ and Buddha. Now that we think we understand it we discredit legitimate Gurus with this notion that they are now no longer needed so we can "evolve" these traditions into a higher realm of knowing? This is Ego's grasp. This is precisely why we need a Guru

      Bob Weisenberg Jun 22, 2012 10:22am

      Hi, Padma. I think you make an interesting point that the real gurus get no publicity by definition, because they need none and seek none. I've believe that "anyone who calls themselves a guru is most assuredly NOT one"! If that's true we can embrace Julian's article because he is clearly writing only about publicity and power-seeking gurus.

      The point you make that the majority of holy people and lineages are good and ethical is one that I'd like to see you expand on in a full length article. If you feel Julian's article doesn't tell the full story there is no better response than an article of your own. Please see "How to become an elephant writer"

      Thanks for writing.

      Bob W. Associate Publisher
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      Yoga Demystified, Gita in a Nutshell

        anonymous Jun 22, 2012 10:55am

        i am highly skeptical about the distinction between 'real" and "false" gurus. the central belief is based on the notion that there is a hidden supernatural reality that special people have access to and these you should surrender to completely so as to attain salvation and knowledge of this ultimate reality.

        this is not true for catholic priests (even the "real" ones) amazonian shamans, islamic clerics, tibetan buddhist lamas or hindu holy men.

        there are however spiritual practices that can positively affect our brains, nervous systems, physical structures, emotional lives, relationships, stress management, healing from trauma and dealing with existential reality. these however require zero metaphysical fantasy or supernatural belief in order to attain 100% of their benefits.

        they even less require that we submit to an outmoded hierarchical model that gives inordinate power to any individual based on an old school con.

          anonymous Jun 22, 2012 11:29am

          Julian and Bob…I find no fault in Julian's article other than what Bob clearly points out…"real gurus get no publicity by definition, because they need none and seek none." Julian is on the brink , but not quite, condemning all Gurus. Julian is clearly justified in his ascertion about individual Gurus but his, "even less require that we submit to an outmoded hierarchical model " is disrepectful to those Gurus who have and continue to give us so much including the Gita, Yoga, Buddha, Jesus, and Mohammed. The Gurus I have in Buddhism do not rely on supernatural fantasy or magical thinking…quite the contrary. Julians dislike in the idea of "false" or "real" gurus would place all Gurus under suspicion or falsehood. If Julian does not value all that Gurus have given us then that is his path. Yet he needs to prove to everyone that what he says is correct which no Guru I know ever feels this compulsion. Most importantly, all that we have in regard to spiritual disciplines is due to Gurus…You would ridicule this? This has no value to you?

            anonymous Jun 22, 2012 1:51pm

            padam – let me make on crucial distinction:

            i am not saying that there do not exist some sincere and helpful well-meaning gurus.

            i am saying that the guru model itself is fatally flawed and based on an outdated authoritarian model that locates its hierarchy in supposed supernatural knowledge or ability that simply does not exist.

              anonymous Jun 22, 2012 3:36pm

              I understand your thesis. I am familiar with Buddhism of vajrayana or mantrayana. This is dependent upon Guru Yoga or faith in the Guru. Please give an example of "supposed supernatural knowlwedge or ability that simply does not exist" within the school of Vajrayana. I believe that you are somewhat familiar with Vajrayana. Or give an example of any Buddhist magical thinking which is in conflict with your thesis.

              the guru model is "fatally flawed" and "outdated", "authoritarian". this is based on your experience with what school? I believe that you are mixing general western misconceptions about spirituality and problems with self proclaimed gurus and deciding that it is inherently flawed. Please tell me what is the goal of your spirituality? Why practice spirituality? What do you hope to accomplish?

          anonymous Jun 23, 2012 1:23am

          Um, What about Jesus Christ??????? In your world he's a guru-but he inspired all those catholic priests!!! He turned water into wine, rose from the dead et et. That would make him a guru yes???? Supernatural.

Kate Bartolotta Jun 21, 2012 8:20pm

Thanks for this, Julian. Just downloaded the ebook. I've never understood the appeal of a guru—spiritual or otherwise—or the draw of celebrity, but I've seen a few people close to me wrestle with it. It's something we need to keep talking about, keep being aware and keep questioning and examining. As long as there are people who seek an external guru, there will be people who rise up and take advantage.

    anonymous Jun 21, 2012 10:33pm

    agreed. thanks kate!

    anonymous Jun 22, 2012 8:57am

    Its only been a short time that one can obtain knowledge as easily as we do nowadays. In most of the past it wasn't the case that one could purchase a book, read on the internet etc. Instead, learning relied on an apprenticeship/guild/jati model. This applied not just to spiritual knowledge, but knowledge in general including and especially tradecrafts. There are pluses and minuses to this model, but in the past this was all that was possible. Even today, there are many who partake of this way of learning, prosper as well as get abused. "Buyer beware" is a fact of life.

    anonymous Jun 23, 2012 4:42pm

    Action speaks louder than words! Consciousness -raising means nothing if we don't apply the insights to real change, however painful that may be.

    EJ could play an important role in this process – or you can keep talking about vaginas, clits, boobs, orgasms, losing weight, finding "real" men, and showcasing your favorite yoga celebrities and studio owners. There's a role for that, I realize, especially when 80% of your readership is not only female – but oriented a certain way, in terms of outlook and lifestyle.

    I know Waylon has talked about transitioning EJ from "blogging" to "journalism". Not sure what that means exactly but personally I'd love to see a more serious forum for change-oriented discussion and dialogue — so many posts here read like personal diary entries, and quite a few aren't so much edgy, as just plain TMI, I think.

    Different strokes, of course; obviously there's a real niche for EJ. However, I suspect that a lot of your female readership might applaud some shifts in focus here, too. There's a growing silent majority out there.

    When you make changes, you will lose some current readers – gain others. Keep moving and evolving, organisms – people, companies, organizations – that adapt are the ones that survive – and thrive.

    Cheers YS