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I thought this ashram was going to show me the way. No more politics. Only philosophy and salvation. I should get so lucky. There’s more politics in one Indian ashram than in the whole of the Western Hemisphere! (in Mehta, 1979).
Ashrams are often the heaviest, most neurotic, political settings I’ve ever been in (Dass and Levine, 1977).

Dass himself, recall, was a clinical psychologist at Harvard; his categorization of others’ behaviors as “neurotic” is thus an informed, not merely a colloquial, opinion.

Ashrams, in my experience, are lunatic asylums filled with jealous and needy people.... [M]ost of the ashrams I have known and visited are not sacred environments where people progress; they’re places in which people regress—to blind adoration, spiritual vanity, sibling rivalry, mirroring and parroting of the so-called master—and in my experience, I have to say, sadly, that I have seen very little real spiritual progress made in them (Harvey, 2000).

Note that Andrew Harvey himself is openly gay, and yet was welcomed into numerous ashrams throughout the world as both visitor and resident. Further, there was no apparent “chaos in the male monastic community” resulting from that. His experience thus casts “nineteenth century” policies which explicitly discriminate against his orientation into sharp and uncomplimentary relief.

My life was forever altered by my experience in a [so-called] religious cult. Not only did I abandon my passions in life, I spent fifteen years following someone else’s path. When I finally awakened from my enchantment, I found myself with near-zero self-esteem, a lot of regret for many wasted years, and plenty of anger at my own naïvete, as well as being furious with my former group. I felt that a gigantic chunk of my real identity had been stolen from me without my conscious consent. At the same time, I felt a euphoric sense of freedom and complete delight that I now had my life back in my own hands (Goldhammer, 1996).

ONE MAY JOIN A SPIRITUAL ORGANIZATION for reasons ranging from the childish search for a substitute parent-figure to the mature hope of achieving liberation or enlightenment in this lifetime. And having thus joined, there is a comparable range of reasons to stay. In that regard, one former ashram resident informally estimated that 85% of monks and nuns he had met were there just for power, control or codependence trips, or for fear of the world. Or, for a feeling of belonging to something larger, and for enjoying the stardust falling on their robes. That is, for adulation in their positions as ashram “rock stars,” a respect which they would not receive anywhere else in the world for any reason, much less for so little accomplishment as the color of the robe they are wearing. Or, they were there “just for laziness, for being trapped or were just too ‘short’ of brains to know any better.” (If that estimate of 85% seems excessively harsh, consider that the Dalai Lama himself proposed an even less complimentary figure of 90%. My own independent estimate had been a mere 80%.)

Fond memories of past good times, in one’s early “honeymoon” days with the guru-figure, can also play a role in keeping disciples living in the community (Strelley, 1987).

Other reasons for staying typically include financial constraints and atrophied “real world” skills. Indeed, the more that one’s life has been positively changed in the very early stages of one’s involvement with any spiritual organization, the more likely it is that one will have—big mistake—donated all of one’s worldly goods to the “God-inspired” work. That noble if naïve commitment, however, makes it much harder to leave when the “love” wears off, and you begin to realize what you have gotten yourself into. And then, how to get out of it? For, in the best possible successful outcome, your most recent job reference is still, in the eyes of the business world, from a “cult.”

Doctors who had for years worked as carpenters, cooks, and laborers began [after Rajneeshpuram collapsed] with part-time work in emergency rooms or covering for other sannyasin physicians who had never come to live on the ranch. Architects worked as draftsmen and reporters as proofreaders and copy editors. Nurses who had been in charge of whole medical wards before they came to the ranch worked private duty or part time in clinics (Gordon, 1987).

Of course, there are also positive reasons for staying in the ashram environment, including the energies and love which the residents have felt to be emanating from the guru-figure—whether those energies are real or (far more likely) simply imagined. By contrast, however, weigh the following, where there were demonstrably no “divine energies” whatsoever flowing, yet the effect was substantially the same:

The Beatles [were] such a hit that Life magazine showed a picture of people scraping up the earth and saying: “The Beatles walked here,” as if these young musicians were Jesus Christ Himself” (Radha, 1978).

Indeed, when the Fab Four toured North America, there were girls in the audience not merely fainting, but literally losing bladder control. None of that, though, was from any overwhelming, radiant energies which John, Paul or George—much less Ringo—were giving off, in spite of their best attempts at wearing their fame/divinity well:

Who could think ill of boys who, smothering inner revulsion, were charming to the chain of handicapped unfortunates wheeled in by credulous minders deluded that a “laying-on of hands” by the four pop deities would bring about a cure? (Clayson, 1996).

And yet, suppose that George had been christened as “enlightened” by the Maharishi or the Hare Krishnas, or Elvis taken as an avatar by Daya Mata. (Presley actually “had messianic concepts of himself as the savior of mankind in the early 1970s” [Cloud, 2000].) One can then only imagine the profound “darshan energies” which their fans would have sworn, from their own experience, to be able to feel flowing from them. One can likewise easily picture the miraculous “coronas” and the like which The King might have manifested. (Even as it stands, Elvis believed that he could move clouds with the power of his thoughts, but that is another story. As one of his handlers noted, if you take enough drugs, you can see anything you want.)

Conversely, no small percentage of the disciples vouching for the divinity of their own guru-figures are the same group-thinking ones who can see coronas which aren’t actually there, etc. Understood in that context, their testimonies as to the greatness of any guru-figure cannot be taken seriously. Yet, history and hagiography are filled to the bursting point with exactly such individuals.

The late Swami Radha, for one, again looked askance at the reverence displayed for the “mere mortals” constituting the Beatles. One suspects, however, that had the relevant ground been trodden upon by her own guru, the “miraculous god-man” Swami Sivananda Himself, she would have been among the first to devotedly scrape it up. Indeed, were she to have given that a miss, that irreverence would certainly have placed her in the minority among devoted spiritual seekers, and would in all likelihood have called her own loyalty to the guru into question.

I watched as eager devotees grabbed at [Sai Baba’s] footprints in the sand, joyfully throwing the holy sand on their hair, heads and children; and some, even eating it (Jack Scher, in [Warner, 1990]).
When I attended my Leaving Darshan, I was given a small wooden box with something of Bhagwan [Rajneesh] in it—a hair, or nail clipping, I don’t know what because you are supposed to never open it (in Palmer and Sharma, 1993).
My mind was filled with joy to be able to eat some of Gurudev’s [i.e., Nityananda’s] leftover food. I would rub on my body particles of dust from where he had sat (Muktananda, 1978).
[C]ommon forms of homage to one’s guru include drinking the water with which his feet have been washed (Kripal, 1995).
[A] discarded toilet seat from Jetsunma’s house had been rescued and saved by her students as a relic (Sherrill, 2000).

Likewise, among the sacred objects offered in a recent auction of items which had been blessed by being touched by Adi Da was a used Q-tip “stained with Adi Da’s precious earwax.” Minimum bid: $108 (Elias, 2000). In a previous auction, a half-smoked cigarette butt reportedly sold for $800 (Elias, 2000a).

As Tarlo (1997) then finally noted:

It was embarrassing to see these supposedly serious seekers behaving [around Andrew Cohen] like a bunch of rock-star fans.

Or conversely, as a woman once said to me at a David Bowie concert, with regard to the headliner: “This man is God.” (Cf. “[Adi Da] is utterly God” [in Da, 1974; self-published].)

The psychology of the “believer,” then, is obviously the same, whether the object touched by the “holy sage” is sand, a bowling ball or a toilet seat, and regardless of whether the sacred butt (on toilet or cigarette) in question belongs to Jetsunma, Adi Da or Ringo Starr.

For my own part, I would have more faith and trust in Sri Ringo.

* * *

Frances Vaughan (in Anthony, et al., 1987) gives the following set of questions, which potential new members of alternative religious movements are advised to consider before joining:

Does the group keep secrets about its organization and the leader? How do members of the group respond to embarrassing questions?.... Do members display stereotypic behavior that emulates the leader?.... Are members free to leave?.... Does the group’s public image misrepresent its true nature?

Reasonable questions, all. But where to get an honest answer to them? From the guru-figure? From his inner circle of disciples? From other loyal members of the group, anxious to have you join them? Surely it is obvious that any spiritual teacher or organization with things to hide would never tell the truth in response to those questions, instead giving the potential devotee the “right” answers which he/she wanted to hear in the first place. And is it not obvious that all organizations and leaders keep secrets from the public?

Does the Vatican have secrets? Yes, as every government, corporation, NGO [i.e., non-governmental organization], and other institution does (Allen, 2004).

Is it not equally obvious that all groups (even secular ones) have “pod people” members who mimic their leaders? (Even physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer’s graduate students used to unconsciously imitate his manner of smoking cigarettes. Oppenheimer, for his own group-thinking part, dismissed David Bohm’s work as “juvenile deviationism,” going so far as to suggest that “if we cannot disprove Bohm, then we must agree to ignore him” [Peat, 1997].) And obvious, too, that you’re always “free to leave,” even if being “pursued by disasters” to “drown in the dark sea of ignorance” afterwards ... and that the public image never properly represents the true nature of the spiritual teacher or community?

Were common sense to play a greater role, one might instead do the obvious, in evaluating any particular guru-figure: simply talk to former disciples who have split from the “master,” and ask them why they left! That latter approach, indeed, is the only way (short of published exposés) to accurately gauge the character of the guru-figure and community.

The best way to learn about a specific group is to locate a former member, or at least a former member’s written account (Hassan, 1990).

Minimal thought applied to that subject would further disclose that the amount of perceived validity and “divine love” in the sage being evaluated at the beginning of the disciple’s involvement or “testing period” has little relation to his or her real character. Indeed, such differential would be far greater than the difference in the degree of “perfection” seen in a potential romantic mate on a first date, say, versus after a decade of marriage.

You would not, unless you are a complete cad, hire a private investigator to quietly uncover dirt on a prospective mate, when falling in love with her or him. Neither could you objectively ask (or even covertly research) the intrusive questions suggested above by Vaughan of any “holy sage” and his or her organization, when you are already “falling in love” with them.

And then, where those two ideas cross:

[Paulette Cooper] had in front of her pages of detailed reports from another [alleged] cult operative.... He had, for a short while, been very close to her, and pretended to be in love with her....
The secret agent told his superiors that on the outside he was sympathetic [to her troubles] but inside he was laughing: “Wouldn’t [Cooper’s depressed talk of suicide] be a great thing for Scientology?” (Marshall, 1980).

As to Vaughan’s suggested questions above, then: Even if you did ask them, you would truly have to be born yesterday to think that you would ever get an open and honest answer.

* * *

Jack Kornfield, years ago, penned a landmark exposé for Yoga Journal. There, he presented the results of his own research, disclosing that thirty-four of the fifty-three American yoga teachers whom he surveyed (64%) had had sex with their students. Those indulgences encompassed preferences ranging from heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, fetishist, exhibitionist and monogamist, to polygamist.

How to react to that? As both the people at Kripalu and the Dalai Lama figured out for themselves through simple common sense, the proper response to father-figure gurus and teachers who reportedly cannot keep their hands off their disciples in spiritual incest is quite simple. That is, one must criticize them openly and, if they will not change, pack one’s bags and leave.

Or, even better, wisely send the teacher packing.

Yet, just when we may be thinking that we have finally found a guru-figure, in the Dalai Lama, who can actually see things even halfway clearly ... well, we find the same man musing aloud that it may indeed be possible for great yogis such as Drukpa Kunley to sleep with other men’s wives only for their (wives’) benefit.

Smiling slightly, His Holiness explained that Drukpa Kunley could understand the long-term effects of his actions because he had attained the nondual insight known as “One Taste.” All experiences were the same to him: He could enjoy [eating] excrement and urine just like the finest food and wine (Wheeler, 1994).

Ken Wilber himself, however, has again attained to the One Taste state of which the Dalai Lama speaks so highly, thus allegedly being able to “understand the long-term effects of his actions,” e.g., in endorsing Adi Da and Andrew Cohen. (No word on Wilber’s preferences of fine wine versus urine, etc.) Those endorsements, however, plus his continuing, insult-filled misrepresentations of David Bohm’s brilliant work, absolutely prove that even such a nondual state cannot be a valid basis for one’s allegedly “always behaving appropriately in every situation.” Note also that even the Dalai Lama is thus guilty of romanticizing the spiritual accomplishments of persons whom he regards as being greater than himself. Indeed, he is probably doing that to a comparable degree as his own spiritual state is undoubtedly overestimated by his most loyal followers.

Further regarding Kunley himself:

There is little doubt that Drukpa Kunley would have broken the incest taboo if he had thought that this might serve his mother’s spiritual growth (Feuerstein, 1992).
Drukpa Kunley ... when asked by a follower, Apa Gaypo, for a prayer to strengthen his religious resolve, answered:
Drukpa Kunley’s penis head may stick,
Stick in a small vagina,
But tightness depends upon the size of the penis.
Apa Gaypo’s urge to gain Buddhahood is strong,
So strong,
But the scale of his achievement depends upon the
strength of his devotion (French, 2003).

As prayers go, it’s certainly one of the more interesting....

Kunley’s exploits included claims of his having slept with five thousand women—but evidently no men—“for their spiritual benefit.” So here we have someone who ostensibly drew no distinctions between excrement and urine, versus “the finest food and wine.” That is, he potentially enjoyed both sets equally, for experiencing everything—including his own thoughts, sensations and emotions—as having the same “One Taste.” In other words, he “experienced” them with no division between subject and object, and no recoiling from psychological engagement in those various psychic relationships. And yet, like the strictly heterosexual Wilber, he obviously still distinguished between men and women as sexual partners, only indulging in the female of the species in that regard.

Very fishy, that—to allegedly not distinguish between one’s culinary enjoyment of filth versus appropriate foods, but to still be bound by largely learned/cultural sexual preferences.

Feuerstein gives many additional “fairy tales” of the violent “crazy wisdom” exploits of Kunley and others. None of those mythic stories could possibly be literally true. Yet, all of them have undoubtedly been used, at one time or another, to excuse the behaviors of foolish individuals masquerading as sages, both past and present.


[Adi Da] likes to compare his work to the crazy-wise teachings of some of the great adepts of the East. In particular, he once remarked, “I am Drukpa Kunley.... This is exactly what I am in your time and place” (Feuerstein, 1996).
* * *
Traditionally, in Asia, vows and moral precepts have protected teachers and students from sexual and other forms of misconduct. In Japan, Tibet, India and Thailand, the precepts against harm by stealing, lying, sexual misconduct, or abuse of intoxicants are understood and followed by all members of the religious community....
In modern America these rules are often dispensed with, and neither TV preachers nor Eastern spiritual teachers have clear rules of behavior regarding money, power and sex (Kornfield, 1993).

Yet as we have seen, contrary to the romantic belief that things are different in Asia: In Japan, local girls throw rocks over the monastery walls, receiving ready responses to those “calling cards.” (Such enticement, though, is hardly needed, given the documented propensity of monks there to sneak out over the walls even without solicitation.) In Tibet, while masturbation and oral sex are taboo, whores are okay as long as you pay for their services yourself. In Thailand, with a population that is 95% Buddhist, monks get their names in the papers for having been caught with pornography, sexual paraphernalia, and more than one woman at a time. And that publicity is even independent of their Rajneesh-like collections of vintage cars, some of which were obtained via the misuse of temple funds. (Ironically, Kornfield himself practiced meditation “in the remote jungles of Thailand” under the guru Ajahn Chah in the early ’70s [Schwartz, 1996]. Perhaps the jungles there are simply not “where the action is,” but in any case, the idea that precepts are in general followed there or elsewhere in the East “by all members of the religious community” in no way matches the facts, as we have repeatedly seen. For more of the same purely wishful thinking regarding “Eastern gurus,” see Andrew Harvey’s [2000] conversation with Ken Wilber.)

And things could be different in contemporary India, building upon the constraints “obeyed” by Ramakrishna and the like? Sadly, no:

That little seven year old is a real Lolita. She’s the best lay in the ashram (in Mehta, 1979).

Or, as one five-year-old boy in Rajneesh’s Poona center complained: “Fuck, fuck, fuck, all we ever do is fuck!”

At least one “older and wiser” six-year-old girl in the same community, however, saw things from a more adult perspective; for she

delighted in grabbing men’s genitals through their robes. Another offered to suck the penis of every man she saw in the public showers (Franklin, 1992).

Of course, that situation did not improve upon Rajneesh’s messianic move to America, where one could easily find three-year-old girls sobbing their hearts out to their mothers:

None of the boys will fuck me!.... It’s not fair! Just because I wear diapers they won’t fuck me. They said I’m a baby! (in Franklin, 1992).

To that, the mother’s patient response was simply an encouragement to her child to stop wetting herself at night, at which point she would not have to wear diapers anymore.

“Problem solved.”

With the additional penchant of early-teenage girls in Rajneesh’s America for sleeping with men twice their age, Franklin went on to note:

Scores of ranch swamis would have been considered child molesters out in the world.

Consider also the relevant problem of Tibetan lamas taking private female consorts in spite of their public vows of celibacy—reported by June Campbell on the basis of her own experience as such a consort to a universally revered lama. That rule-breaking was never lessened by tradition, hierarchy or lineage:

[W]hile a lama would, to all intents and purposes, be viewed publicly as a celibate monk, in reality he was frequently sexually active, but his activities were highly secret (Campbell, 1996; italics added).

Further, note again that Chögyam’s Trungpa’s teachings and behaviors, for one, were verified as authentic not merely by the (disillusioned, late) student Butterfield but by the head of his own Nyingma School. Indeed, by that verification, his behaviors were exactly in accord with that 1800-year-old tradition, dating back to Milarepa. Given that endorsement, it was obviously for working within the alleged “checks and balances” of his tradition, not for being freed of them when emigrating to the West, that Trungpa had people publicly stripped and humiliated. From the same “obedient following” of selected traditional rules—i.e., of only the ones which they felt like following, without meaningful censure for violating others—his successor again infected his disciples with AIDS, criminally believing that “God would protect them.”

Likewise, consider the reported non-effect on Trungpa when the Sixteenth Karmapa came to America in 1974:

It had been six years since His Holiness and Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche had last seen each other, and the Karmapa had doubtless heard lots of stories, some true, some exaggerated, about how this former monk had immersed himself in the Western world. But now as they met His Holiness smiled broadly, and it was clear that everything was all right (Fields, 1992).

Additional research, though, discloses that the same Karmapa actually later “non-recognized” Trungpa. Further, the Dalai Lama, too, pointedly canceled a scheduled visit to Trungpa’s community from his itinerary during his first, historic tour of America in the 1970s (Clark, 1980). Part of the motivation for that cancellation no doubt arose from the suggestion, by an officer in Trungpa’s paranoid, submachine-gun toting organization, that (in all seriousness) the Dalai Lama was conspiring to assassinate the Karmapa.

Neither of those quiet lamaic signs of disapproval, of course, did anything to keep Trungpa in check from making additional “mistakes.” But it is still a little bit comforting to know that those two lamas at least had some sense left in them. For, one can easily contrast even that ridiculously mild censure with others who have touted Trungpa’s teachings and sangha as being the first foray of “authentic Tibetan Buddhism” into America (Bharati, 1974).

Acharya Reginald Ray is another of Chögyam Trungpa’s contemporary followers. He is thus undoubtedly familiar with the details of his “principal teacher’s” life. He therefore had this to say regarding the effect of traditional “checks and balances” on the behaviors of gurus and their ilk:

In Tibet, even the tulkus—these very well-trained people—were surrounded by people who were watching them all the time. Even the ordinary village people knew what was appropriate behavior and what wasn’t. If a guy went off, he’d be nailed (in Caplan, 2001).

Yet, in spite of such claimed watchfulness and the supposed punishment for “going off” vouched for by Ray, Trungpa managed to sleep with women “since he was thirteen,” actually getting one pregnant before having left Tibet, while still under a vow of celibacy. He further obviously suffered no discipline in response to that, from “ordinary village people” or otherwise, sufficient to get him to stop that blatantly “inappropriate behavior.” In short, in no way did he get “nailed” for that.

One wishes, truly, that there were a visible correlation between the documented realities of situations like that, and the distortions which are presented to the Western public as “factual” by respected, life-long “experts.”

While I do not know what people mean when they claim that everyone is entitled to his own opinion, I do know that no one has a right to be wrong in his facts (Askenasy, 1978).

It was, further, not merely Trungpa himself who was transplanted into the West. More importantly, the closed communities, feudal/hierarchical power structures and “infallibility of the guru” teachings of his ancient Tibetan tradition formed the basis for his own little spiritual “kingdom” in Boulder (Marin, 1995). And it is those structures, not any excessive partying per se, which create the “superintendent/guard/prisoner” environment which ruins people’s lives just as much in non-“crazy wisdom” surroundings as it does in “uncontrolled” contexts such as Chögyam’s.

It is true that Trungpa (1981), for one, gave at least lip service to encouraging “an attitude of constant questioning, rather than ignoring our intelligence.” Butterfield’s descriptions of the interview process undergone during his own admission as a student, however, show that one could not become a member of Trungpa’s community without buying into the full set of ridiculous superstitions. Consider also Merwin’s fate, when he attempted to question rather than going blindly along with the dictates of the guru and his group-thinking community. It is issues like these, not half-baked, pulled-out-of-thin-air theory, which matter in evaluating the potential for harm present in any “true sangha.”

Note further that, by Feuerstein’s own testimony, Drukpa Kunley’s sexual exploits “did fly in the face of custom and propriety.” That is, his “crazy wisdom” behaviors were not constrained by the agrarian society in which he lived.

Obviously, then, after all that, neither social nor cultural nor psychological-development variations can account for the “difference” between guru-disciple relationships as practiced in the East versus the West. Rather, when it comes to the demand for blind obedience, and to the reported abuse of sex and power, the problems and alleged abuses exist, and have always existed, just as surely “on the other side of the pond” as they do in North America. (Cf. Ramakrishna, and the history of Zen and of lama-sexing, child-torturing Tibetan Buddhism.)

Persons looking to account for a non-existent “difference” between East and West in all this further generally ignore the natural effect of the passage of time on the involved individuals. Someone like Trungpa was going to become increasingly self-destructive as the years went by regardless, for his childhood pains and otherwise. It was his own psychology, not “the West,” which gave him license to drink himself into an early grave.

Further, being worshiped by one’s disciples as a “god” for years on end would go to one’s head in the East just as much as in the West. It would also predictably result in an increasing feeling that one could “get away with anything,” regardless of whether or not the surrounding society and culture had become more liberal at the same time.

If one goes from the East to the West, then, being worshiped equally in both as time goes by, one’s increasing disregard for moral rules in that later West can in no way be reduced to a simple surrounding cultural or social matrix phenomenon. Rather, the bulk of that can be accounted for simply on the basis of the aforementioned grandiose inflation, fuelled by the willing obedience and obeisance of one’s close, devoted followers.

Put more bluntly: Although power corrupts, it also takes time to thus corrupt. If other things are changing simultaneously with that passage of time, it may be easy to mistake them for the cause of the corruption. For nearly every guru-figure one could name, however, there was a time early in his (or her) life when he could have been regarded as exhibiting “impeccable integrity”; a later time when he allegedly began breaking rules which hurt others; and a yet later time when he had hurt so many people that his alleged sins began to “find him out.” Some such figures lived their entire lives in the West, some came to the West from the East, and some spent their entire lives in the agrarian East. For the latter, nothing of the “unconstrained” West can be regarded as the cause of their reported misdeeds; and yet the alleged corruption in the claimed misuse of power and sexuality happened all the same.

Likewise, regarding “tradition”: Aside from Rajneesh, Sai Baba, the Caddys, Aurobindo, Ramana Maharshi, Ananda Moyi Ma and Ammachi (whom we shall soon meet)—plus L. Ron Hubbard and Werner Erhard—every other spiritual leader we have considered herein came from within a recognized teaching lineage. (Aurobindo might even claim Vivekananda as a teacher.) Yet, that has clearly done nothing to “keep them in check,” or even to ensure/test that they were anywhere near as enlightened as they claimed to be.

Sex between clergymen and boys is by no means a uniquely Catholic phenomenon ... it’s been going on in Buddhist monasteries in Asia for centuries.
“Of course, this is against the Buddhist canon,” [Dr.] Leonard Zwilling [said] “but it has been common in Tibet, China, Japan and elsewhere.
“In fact, when the Jesuits arrived in China and Japan in the 16th century, they were horrified by the formalized relationships between Buddhist monks and novices who were still children” (Siemon-Netto, 2002).
* * *

After all that, it is almost a relief to find an actual instance of Eastern rules being “followed by all members of the religious community,” as Kornfield and others claim:

The real temptation many men face when they come here [to a Thai Buddhist forest monastery] is masturbation. You are not supposed to do it. Once you have been ordained, if you break this precept you must come and confess it to the senior monk. It’s worse if you are a bhikkhu [monk]. Then a meeting of the sangha is required and penance must be handed down. The guilty monk has to sit at the end of the food line. For seven days no one can do anything for him. It’s really embarrassing. I remember one fairly senior monk had a serious problem with this. Whenever the villagers came in to bring us food in the morning, they would see him sitting at the bottom of the line and laugh (Ward, 1998).

It is one thing for monasteries to focus on humiliating their residents for such a trivial activity—which surely affects, for harm or good, no one but the individual practitioners in the privacy of their own bedrooms, and should hardly merit a meeting of the entire community to discuss it. It is quite another, however, for them (or their “big city” counterparts) to overlook or attempt to cover up embezzlement, the use of prostitutes, and the indulgence in necrophilia and karaoke, etc., on the part of their other residents. Indeed, the situation is no different, in that regard, than one finds with the horrendous betrayals of trust reported within the Catholic Church, worldwide. Such major alleged abuses are then left to be brought out by muck-raking journalists whose conscience has evidently not yet been completely dulled by blind adherence to a set of archaic precepts.

One further cannot help but note that Buddhism has surpassed even the Catholic Church, here, in terms of the need for confession (to one’s superiors) and humiliating public penance, for even ridiculously minor “sins.” And that Church is by no means an easy one to surpass, in terms of guilt and ignorance:

Even today, the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church holds masturbation to be a mortal sin [i.e., one “punishable by eternal damnation, unless one repented in confession”], though few serious theologians consider it a cause for the loss of heaven (Berry and Renner, 2004).
* * *

Interestingly, had Rajneesh and his inner circle of followers not gone “over a line” with their public bioterrorism activities, etc., his ashrams would still be viewed today as fine models of how spiritual communities should be run—as J. Donald Walters’ Ananda was, for example, prior to his own disgrace. That is in spite of the fact that, as early as 1979, the National Institute of Mental Health had been warned that Rajneesh’s Poona ashram might become “another Jonestown” (Gordon, 1987). (Likewise, the San Francisco Zen Center had “long [been] thought of as the very model of a modern Zen center,” prior to the “Apocalypse” following from the public airing of Richard Baker’s hitherto-private reported activities there [Fields, 1992].)

Until Rajneesh spoke publicly, the only charges pending against him or anyone else on the ranch were related to immigration fraud. If he hadn’t exposed Sheela’s wrongdoings, the authorities would probably never have found informants to testify, let alone obtained convictions on wiretapping, poisoning, and arson. And if Rajneesh hadn’t tried to flee the country, both he and his commune would in all likelihood still have been in Oregon (Gordon, 1987).

The composition of that same ex-ashram is of significant interest:

According to the Oregon University survey, 11% of the [Rajneeshpuram] commune members had postgraduate degrees in psychology or psychiatry and another 11% had B.A.’s in the field (Fitzgerald, 1986).

Thus, nearly one-quarter of the residents at Rajneeshpuram were trained psychologists. That documented fact does nothing to increase one’s confidence in the ability of the profession to spot openly pathological behavior in contexts where its members have a vested interest. For, while most members of the Rajneesh community were not aware of the more grossly illegal activities going on there until after the fact, Sheela’s own “duchy” included suppression of any “negativity.” In her world, further, even constructive criticism qualified as that, and was punished accordingly. Of course, all that one gets out of that, other than an enforced obedience, is a superficially “happy” community of people—as in the Maharishi’s ideal society—reminding one too much of the Python sketch involving an unhappy man sentenced to hang by the neck (or meditate) “until he cheers up.”

The sociological studies of safely distant, academic “Rajneesh watchers,” etc., would fall into the same category of deep concern. Indeed, for such scholars, publishers of exposés, by Milne for example, have been deemed worthy of denigration as “schlockmeisters” (cf. Palmer and Sharma, 1993).

“Idiot sociology.”

Nor were Bhagwan’s sannyasin psychologists merely at the “bottom of the barrel” in their professional abilities or standing:

The “Hollywood crew” [included] the best-known therapists in town—all of them had taken sannyas (Strelley, 1987).

Rajneesh, interestingly, was actually regarded as “the intellectual’s guru”: “[T]he educational level of the followers of Rajneesh was far greater than most of the rest of the population” (Oakes, 1997).

An astounding number of therapists and leaders of the human potential movement are current or former disciples of Bhagwan’s, although few, if any of them, publicly acknowledge it (Franklin, 1992).
Many of these therapists had the sense, before they came to Poona, that Rajneesh was at least a master therapist, that his work might represent the next step in the evolution of psychotherapy (Gordon, 1987).

Those, of course, are the same people who decide, through the peer review process and as a “community of competent, intersubjective interpreters,” what constitutes truth within humanistic psychology. The same peer-adjudication of truth naturally occurs within consciousness studies in general, influenced by Wilber and his colleagues, for example.

Interestingly, from the early ’70s until the collapse of his empire and IRS-inspired flight into Mexico in 1991, Werner Erhard reigned as the “guru of the human potential movement.” Indeed, even in Anthony, Ecker and Wilber’s near-worthless (1987) Spiritual Choices, the interview questions (led by John Welwood) put to Erhard centered only on whether est training granted an “enlightenment” comparable to that purportedly realized through traditional spiritual disciplines. That is, there was not even the slightest whisper of any concern expressed regarding its safety, in spite of those authors’ own later characterization of the interview as being “spirited.” (The interview itself was conducted in 1981—half a dozen years after Brewer’s [1975] exposé of the alleged negative effects reportedly experienced by various est participants.)

Wilber has, in the past, sat on the Board of Editors of The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, as have Ram Dass, Dr. Herbert Zzzzzzzzzz Guenther, Ph.D., and “the best stripper in town,” Chögyam Trungpa. Current members of that board include Michael Murphy, who again genuinely believes (1992) that Ramakrishna’s spine lengthened during his Hanuman sadhana.

Murphy is “the leading integral theorist of his generation,” according to Wilber’s Integral Naked (2005) website. And with “theories” like his, who needs reality?

Also on the JTP board is one Mr. Paul Clemens, whose Blue Dolphin publishing company catalog contains books by authors who can (they believe) literally hear God and Jesus speaking to them, and literally converse with leprechauns—the latter existing, fractal-like, in the “third-and-a-half dimension.” None of those are financially lucrative best-sellers, which could then perhaps have been excused as being published only for their dollar value.

Note further: The above book on leprechauns, by the imaginative Tanis Helliwell, was actually endorsed by Jean Houston, the former president of the Association of Humanistic Psychology. Indeed, she there credited Helliwell with being a “deep seer.”

Houston (1997) has, at other times, functioned as a non-guru to the White House:

For almost a year and a half, I had served as a kind of intellectual sparring partner for First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, helping her focus ideas for the book she was writing.
A report that the First Lady and I had engaged in an imaginative exercise in which we reflected on what Eleanor Roosevelt might have said about building a better society for our children sent the media scurrying for colorful copy. “Séance!” the front pages of the newspapers shouted. “Witchcraft!” And even that most dreaded of all epithets, “Guru!”
Needless to say, the distortions both embarrassed Mrs. Clinton and played havoc with my life and career. Virtually every newspaper and news magazine in the world carried the stories, the facts hugely distorted, and liberally dosed with snickering asides by reporters who never bothered to find out anything about me or my work.
As a result of this public ridicule, I found my reputation for thirty years of good work in the service of human betterment strained so badly that lectures were canceled by nervous sponsors and research grants were withdrawn. I felt that I had gone overnight from being regarded as a respected pioneer on the frontier of human capacities research to a laughable representative of the flaky fringe....
What was it that turned the evening news into an Inquisition?
I suspect that the answer lies in two great phobias—fear of the rising power of women and fear of the power of imagination and inner realities.

A “laughable representative of the flaky fringe” ... as opposed to being a “respected pioneer” in the field of transpersonal psychology. What exactly is the difference, again?

Autobiographical claims on the part of Houston include supposed childhood friendships with both Albert Einstein and Teilhard de Chardin, and a status as Margaret Mead’s adopted daughter. (Mead also served as the President of the Board of Directors of the Foundation for Mind Research [Houston, 1982].) That, in addition to being a descendent of Sam Houston, the founder of the southeast Texas city. She has further asserted (Carroll, 2004e) that “the inspiration for her primary teaching method” was gotten from ventriloquist Edgar Bergan and dummy Charlie McCarthy, when she was eight years old.

Thankfully, Señor Wences played less of a role in the shaping of her philosophy.



As Advisor to UNICEF in human and cultural development, she has worked to implement some of their extensive educational and health programs, primarily in Myanmar [Burma] and Bangladesh (Houston, 2006).

Houston’s own (1982) teachings have included the following “wisdom”:

I have been known to begin seminars by asking people to tell each other three outrageous lies! The resistance that some people experience to such a suggestion may be indicative of the extremely literal mindset that results from an acculturation that worships “the fact” and logical proof.

Yes, if there is one thing of which the world needs more, it is the ability to tell others (and yourself) outrageous lies. But what do you expect, with a cultural conditioning which teaches us to “worship” those pesky “facts”?

Houston’s husband, Robert Masters, by his own “About the Author” testimony, is a “leading pioneer of modern consciousness research,” “one of the founders of the Human Potentials Movement” ... and former director of the Library of Sex Research. Much of his “Work” (always capitalized) in the non-library regard has centered around Sekhmet, an Egyptian goddess possessing the head of a lioness and the body of a woman—ostensible a “Gateway to alien realms” of consciousness via the raising of the kundalini energy. The worldview within which Masters’ (1991) Egyptian metaphysics functions includes the following ideas:

The “Gods” of Chaos ordinarily “ascend” only to the realm of the KHU [the “fourth most subtle of the Five Bodies,” cf. auras], when a “black magic” is practiced. However, some of the most potent sometimes invade the SÂHU [the “highest” of the Five Bodies] so that even the holiest of men or women is not secure from them. Also, the most powerful of black magicians can work with Metaeidolons representing the Ur-Gods of Chaos at this level, thus effecting the most potent evil.

Later in the same book, Masters expounds further on his view of reality:

You can learn to extract from another body a (cf. astral) Double of that body and interact with it. In fact, this is what, at the lowest level of psychic development, a psychic does, whether for healing, for defense against psychic attack, or in an unscrupulous way to attack by psychic means.

But what about the ex-Beatles? Where do they stand on all this?

In 1972, John Lennon blurbed for Masters and Houston’s Mind Games, saying:

I have read three important and revolutionary books in the last three years: Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit, Arthur Janov’s Primal Scream, and now Mind Games. I suggest you read and experience them.

The book itself is simply a series of exercises, done in groups, for entering altered states of consciousness. It does, however, aim for the creation of a “Group Spirit” by “a version of a method known and practiced for thousands of years in Tibet, where such entities are known as thought-forms, or tulpas.”

Again, who needs reality or the (dirty word) scientific testing of such claims, when it is so much easier to just believe whatever you’re told ... and have your own foolish and utterly unsubstantiated claims equally swallowed in return?

What caliber of thought, then, would you expect from a “field of scholarship” whose peer reviewers and leading theorists seem to genuinely believe that leprechauns and their ilk are real? Or, for a group of people among whom Houston is one of the “level-headed, understated, thoughtful ones,” what would you expect the lesser lights of the “profession” to look like? Would it surprise you to find that they seem to genuinely believe that the voices they hear, and the elfish beings they see, are real?

As Clemens and his wife say: “Think like a dolphin!”

You may start out taking transpersonal/integral/parapsychological claims seriously, as David Lane, John Horgan, Susan Blackmore and I once did. And there is nothing so very wrong with that, up to a point. For, each one of us, at one stage or another in our lives, has committed to mistaken ideals and perspectives simply for not knowing any better, and for believing far too much of what we were told by people whom we trusted to have done at least minimally satisfactory research and vetting of their own beliefs and purported abilities. With regard to transpersonal, integral and parapsychological claims, however, if you simply keep reading and thinking widely, beyond the cotton-headed, ninny-bunny-ridden field itself, the transition from believer to skeptic is unavoidable.

Conversely, to exist for decades in those fields as a member in good standing is a sure sign that one is relying more on the part of one’s brain that is responsible for mere wishful thinking, than on the section which is to credit for coherent, rational analysis.

Speaking of which: Dr. Roger Walsh is another respected member of the JTP board. He is also on the Board of Editors of the Journal of Consciousness Studies. Plus, he’s another founding member of the Integral Institute, who has compared Wilber’s Sex, Ecology, Spirituality to Hegel’s work in its scope. Walsh has recently stated, with an absurd-to-the-point-of-being-laughable degree of exaggeration, but at least with no reference to little green Irishmen:

Ken Wilber is one of the greatest philosophers of this century and arguably the greatest theoretical psychologist of all time (IntegralNaked, 2004).

Ah, but is he as great a philosopher as Rudolf Steiner? Or L. Ron Hubbard? The jury is still out.

Walsh actually teaches philosophy (among sundry other subjects) at the University of California at Irvine, and might therefore claim some measure of informed expertise in voicing the above opinion. Still, such puffery surely reminds one far too much of Wilber’s own pontifications as to whom he imagines the top shabd yogis, Realizers, or “strongest dinosaurs” to be. And, given Walsh’s evident complete unawareness of the radical shortcomings in Wilber’s work (and character), and simultaneous touting of the wonderfulness of all that, it would appear that kw’s imperial hyperbole and radically unfounded confidence in his own opinions may be contagious.

And lest we forget Aurobindo in that pestilence: Wilber’s own personal assistant—the “Mini KW”—has him (mini-oracularly) designated as “the world’s greatest philosopher-sage” on the Integral Naked (2005) website. Ya want some syrup to go with that devotion, kid? Or some mature perspective on top of your three semesters of undergraduate philosophy? (Yes, three semesters.) Not that your inflated hero hasn’t declared far more on the basis of far less knowledge and research. But still, a little less mirroring around “the fairest theorist of them all” would surely serve the integral kingdom far better.

Frances Vaughan, incidentally, is Roger Walsh’s wife. Both are close friends of Ken Wilber—and founding members of the Integral Institute—to the point of having introduced him to his second wife. Together, Walsh and Vaughan (1988) edited a book of selections from Helen Schucman’s A Course in Miracles (ACIM)—attempted pithy sermons which were purportedly channeled from Lord Jesus Christ in 1965.

‘Cause evidently the leprechauns were all out.

Wilber, interestingly, had this to say (in Klimo, 1998) about the Course:

I’m not saying that there was not some transcendental insight involved and that Helen probably felt that it was certainly beyond her day-to-day self. I think that’s true [italics added]. But there’s much more of Helen in the Course than I first thought.... It’s not all pure information, there’s a lot of noise that gets in. I also found that if you look at Helen’s own poetry, you’re initially very hard pressed to find any difference between that and the Course.

Yes. No doubt. As they say, “No shit, Sherlock.”

And, why might that “non-difference” be? The answer is obvious to anyone who isn’t desperately trying to find spirituality and paranormality in what can much more reasonably be viewed as simply one woman’s overactive imagination and inability to distinguish reality from her own fantasies.

Or do you believe that Jesus Christ spoke directly to Helen Schuchman in the mid-’60s, dictating over a thousand pages of garden-variety New Age pablum to her?

Regardless, anyone who was actually impressed with ACIM to the point of compiling an insipid “best of” from it that makes Andrew Cohen’s printed drivel look wise and insightful by comparison, should think more than twice before considering himself to be in a position to rank the world’s great philosophers. That applies, I think, even if the person in question is a peer reviewer amongst a field of comparably fine “scholars.”

The same vapid, compiled book was endorsed as “marvelous ... inspired and profound” by Willis Harman, former president of IONS. In a similar vein, Walsh and Vaughan’s (1993) anthology, Paths Beyond Ego, has a foreword written by John E. Mack, M.D.—Harvard’s now-late, laughably credulous alien abduction expert (Carroll, 2004). As if to close the circle, the foreword for Walsh’s (1999) Essential Spirituality was written by the Dalai Lama, and is dedicated to Judith Skutch Whitson—president of the Foundation for Inner Peace, publisher of A Course in Miracles.

Of that same uninspiring book, Ken Wilber burbled/blurbed: “The field of spiritual books has been looking for its own Lewis Thomas or Carl Sagan, and I believe Roger Walsh may be that one.” Sagan, however, was not merely a cogent popularizer of serious science, but also one of the world’s more prominent skeptics, who would not for a moment have taken babble like ACIM seriously. (Interestingly, though, Sagan’s widow and Wilber’s UFO-appreciating friend Joe Firmage are co-investors in the attempt to popularize real “cosmos” science [Phipps, 2001].) Any “Carl Sagan of spirituality” would be one who would keep asking pointed questions and demanding properly conducted research ... at which point even the most hitherto-certain claims of the transpersonal/integral field rapidly crumble into a pile of fairy dust.

As to the psychological profession in general, Storr (1996) has demonstrated that both Freud and Jung created personality cults—initially populated by many other respected psychological professionals—around themselves:

Freud’s dogmatism and intolerance of disagreement led to the departure of many colleagues, including Adler, Stekel, Jung, and eventually Rank and Ferenczi, from the psychoanalytic movement. When his associates remained faithful disciples, Freud gave them his approval; but when they disagreed, he abused them, or accused them of being mentally ill. Adler was described by Freud as paranoiac, Stekel as unbearable and a louse; Jung as brutal and sanctimonious.
What is remarkable about Freud’s leadership of the psychoanalytic movement is that although he quite clearly did not believe in any kind of supernatural creator, he adopted almost without exception the strategies of those who did. In effect he treated his own theories as if they were a personal revelation granted to him by God and demanded that others should accord to them the reverence which the sacred word usually commands (R. Webster, 1990).

And as we have seen, leading professionals in humanistic psychology thought that Rajneesh was “at least a master therapist.” (Likewise, “Fritz Perls, founder of Gestalt therapy, defended [L. Ron] Hubbard’s early work ... and briefly received Dianetic counseling” [Atack, 1990].) Comparably, as we have seen, transpersonal and integral psychologists today regard Ken Wilber as a rare genius and a compassionate bodhisattva.

Think about all of that before you feel obliged to take any of their other ideas or unsolicited analyses seriously.

Think of the tree and water spirits.

Think of the reincarnating computers.

Think of the “unreal” half-wings and the “real” coronas.

Think of Ramakrishna’s “lengthening spine.”

Think of the leprechauns.

Interestingly, Richard Price had actually visited and subsequently repudiated Rajneesh’s India ashram in the ’70s. (Price was one of the co-founders of the humanistic potential Esalen community, that “hotbed of sexual experimentation” located three hours south of San Francisco.) That distancing, however, was strictly for the violence he observed in their encounter groups, not for any stated comprehension of the potential for pathological “problems” which exists inside every closed society.

Price actually noted a style of “manipulating group pressure to force conformity” (Fitzgerald, 1986) in those encounter groups, in his formal letter of protest sent to the ashram staff and to Rajneesh himself. One will, however, find that manipulation in every ashram setting, with or without encounter groups. In any case, Price’s objections were not directed at the ashram in general, which environment he fully enjoyed. Yet that “enjoyable” community is exactly where the real pathologies later manifested.

Price and Murphy’s Esalen, like Findhorn, is itself a relatively safe community. Or “safe,” at least, when not being haunted by future mass murderers:

Esalen was, at this time [i.e., August of 1969], just coming into vogue as a “growth center”.... Obviously [Charles] Manson felt Esalen a prime place to espouse his philosophies. It is unknown whether he had been there on prior occasions, those involved in the Institute refusing to even acknowledge his visits there....
Manson would tell Paul Watkins ... that while at Big Sur he had gone “to Esalen and played his guitar for a bunch of people who were supposed to be the top people there [Murphy? Price?], and they rejected his music” ... just three days before the Tate murders (Bugliosi and Gentry, 1974).

Prior to that, the Beach Boys had recorded (in September of 1968) one of Manson’s songs, “Never Learn Not To Love,” for their 20/20 album. Manson and his Family had actually lived in (drummer) Dennis Wilson’s house in 1968-9. It was Dennis himself who had once taken Manson to Roman Polanski’s house, at which the murder of the latter’s wife (i.e., centerfold Sharon Tate) and others later occurred.

Between that and Mike Love’s interest in the Maharishi, that the Boys managed to sustain any “good vibrations” at all is nothing short of amazing. (The Maharishi actually toured with the Beach Boys in 1968, to the complete disinterest of their fans, causing the tour to be cancelled halfway through, already half a million dollars in debt [Kent, 2001]. Chump change for His Holiness, but still....)

* * *
The inner circle [in Jetsunma’s ashram] was always careful to protect newcomers from the darker side of the center—and the things they would not be able to comprehend correctly (Sherrill, 2000; italics added).

The present book is, of course, exactly an attempt to provide a relatively comprehensive disclosure about what reportedly goes on “behind the ashram gates.” That is, it is a cataloging of the alleged actions which one would not “comprehend correctly” if one were to find out about them too soon in one’s involvement with any group. Informed decisions may then be made regarding one’s participation in our world’s nontraditional and traditional spiritual organizations.

Of course, each new approach which comes along may be the “one clean spiritual path” whose guru-figure is everything he or she claims to be, with an inner circle of disciples who care nothing for their own power or respect, and simply want to make the world a better place by first changing themselves.

And if you buy that, I’ve got an ashram in Florida I’d like to sell you ... because that’s exactly what I once thought SRF was. And yet, even the holy Tara Mata’s attitude toward other, lower members of that compassionate and “God-guided” society embraced the totalitarian ideal:

In an organization, no one has a right even to think except the members of the Board of Directors (in Walters, 2002).

Comparably, as Thomas Doyle (2002) observed, with regard to the Catholic Church:

There is a solid principle in political science that says the governing elite of an organization will eventually think it is the organization.

No surprise, then, that exactly the same principle would apply to our world’s nontraditional religious organizations, in their ashrams and otherwise. How could it not? ‘Tis simply human nature.

Interestingly, devotees who tire of SRF and Yogananda frequently end up following Sai Baba, Chinmoy, or the “hugging avatar” Mata Amritanandamayi (Ammachi).

Many people have called Amma[chi] a saint or sage and believe that she is a great master, a reincarnation of Divine Mother, Krishna, Christ, Buddha, or Ramakrishna.... When asked if she believes this about herself, she responded that she basically did not want to claim anything or that she was any particular incarnation of a god or goddess (Cornell, 2001).

And yet—

“The Mother of Immortal Bliss” [i.e., Amritanandamayi] claims to be the living manifestation of all the divine goddesses of the Hindu pantheon combined (Macdonald, 2003).

In presenting Amma with the Gandhi-King Award for Non-Violence in 2002, the Jane Goodall further reportedly characterized her as being “God’s love in a human body” (in Ammachi, 2004).

Understandably—or not—then,

Amritananda[mayi] went underground in 1983 when the police confronted about twenty-six women who claimed to be possessed by gods and goddesses (Premanand, 1994).

Sarah Macdonald’s (2003) clear-eyed experiences with Ammachi in darshan leave one further wondering:

Amid the push, shove, knee-crunch and head-yank I concentrate on my question.
“What is my purpose, what does God want from me?”
Again, the flash of the nose ring, the gentle hold of the neck and the whisper in the ear. The answer, my purpose in life is: “rootoongarootoongarootoongarootoongarootoongarootoonga.”
My shoulder nearly dislocated by the yank out of the Mother’s midst, I wait for a vision. Is the purpose of my life to root?

Well, you gotta have goals. Or at least a “special purpose.”

Dr. Goodall, interestingly, has had her own “spiritual awakening”:

From her description, her experience seemed to be a pure consciousness experience—a sensate-only experience of the purity and perfection of the actual world. Thinking about it afterwards, she felt the experience must have been a mystical experience or a spiritual revelation—simply because there was no other explanation available to her. This experience proved to be a turning point in her life—she changed from skeptic to spiritualist, from scientist to savior, from feeling lonely to being loved, from feeling hopelessness to having a “reason for hope.” She saw human evolution as the eventual triumph of Good over Evil and began to cement her place as a champion of the good in the battle against evil—a Savior, not only of Mother Earth and “her” creatures, but also of Humankind (Actualism, 2006).
* * *

One can again always find apologists for whom allegedly abusive gurus/teachers are only “a fraction of a percentage” (i.e., less than 1%) of the whole. To the same “compassionate experts,” students attract to themselves the teachers and guru-figures they deserve:

In almost all cases, the sincere student is with a corrupt teacher because he or she has areas of blindness that are either getting fed or reflected by the teacher....
When I encounter someone who argues vehemently against the student-teacher relationship, almost inevitably they are unconsciously trying to heal something still unsettled either in their present life or in some former circumstance....
It has been suggested that false prophets are decoys to deter the masses of less determined seekers so that only those who are serious enough to pay the price for true mastery will discover it (Caplan, 2002).

But did the “true prophet” Ramakrishna’s (or Sai Baba’s) young male disciples, faced with the alleged sexual interests of those gurus, and going along with them because they believed that their “God in the flesh” wanted them to, “bring that upon themselves”? Was David Bohm’s brutal mistreatment at the hands of the “authentic sage” Krishnamurti a necessary price to pay for his own “true mastery”? (In Bohm’s case, that cruelty was the primary component inducing his suicide-considering nervous breakdown. It ultimately led to electroshock therapy, not to any greater enlightenment at the hands of the “World Teacher.”)

The Wilber-admiring Caplan does not “name names” in her evaluations of “decoys” and her spirited defense of the hierarchical guru-disciple relationship in general—though she does consider 95% (her figure) of gurus to not be worth following. However, it is quite obvious from the content of her writings and of the interviews within them that she and her interviewees specifically regard Krishnamurti, Aurobindo, Meher Baba, Trungpa, Muktananda, Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati and Andrew Cohen as being “authentic sages.”

Interestingly, Ram Dass’ experiences with Bhagavati (in her “Joya” days, with “no escape clause”) did not prevent Caplan from interviewing both of them in the same (2002) book. She further did that without giving any indication that “Ma” is anything less than (in Caplan’s own words) “an internationally respected spiritual teacher, as well as a forerunner in the global fight for human rights and religious freedom.” Bhagavati has received equally positive coverage, independent of Dass’ well-known claims regarding her past, in (surprise) Cohen’s (2001) What Is Enlightenment? magazine. Conversely, in Caplan’s view, it could apparently only be other, unspecified “bad apples” who are guilty of messing up their naïve followers’ lives, not any of these “compassionate sages.”

Perspectives such as that are again sadly what passes for wisdom in today’s spiritual marketplace. One then follows such advice only at one’s own peril. After all, if these “experts” are wrong, it is your life that will be at risk of being shattered, not theirs.

Interestingly, Caplan’s largely misled (2002) book has been hyperbolically endorsed by the Trungpa-following Welwood as being “the most comprehensive, lucid, well-argued, utterly straightforward and honest work on the whole guru question that there is.” Caplan herself is a devoted disciple of Lee Lozowick, the latter of whom has a “special relationship” with Adi Da, and is a friend of Andrew Cohen (Rawlinson, 1997). Lozowick himself, however, has been critiqued by at least one former disciple, as follows:

I think he is deluding himself when he claims to be fully enlightened.... During public gatherings he would constantly use four-letter words, ramble on about sex and anal fixations, and generally behave and speak in a totally asinine way (in Feuerstein, 1992).

Of his prolific, if unknown, rock band (“Liars, Gods, and Beggars”), Lozowick has predicted: “LGB will be bigger than the Beatles” (Rawlinson, 1997).

And thus, “more popular than Jesus Christ,” too.

The wise Lozowick is further of the opinion that Sai Baba is a “master [of] the physics of form,” i.e., that the latter’s purported materializations of vibhuti and the like are genuine (Caplan, 2001). It is more than ironic, then, that both of Caplan’s relevant books are concerned in significant part with how to distinguish “authentic” guru-figures from “decoys.”

* * *

After all that, are “delusions of enlightenment” alright? Some would ridiculously say so:

Better these people should think they’re enlightened, which is a wonderful aspiration, than be robbing stores or taking heroin or beating their wives or kicking their dogs. I think that one of the most wonderful things is the delusion of enlightenment, even if it is a delusion. At least it represents an aspiration that is better than an aspiration to be a murderer (Joan Halifax, in [Caplan, 2001]).


Are the “best” of history’s “sages” really better than our world’s bank robbers, drug addicts, wife abusers or animal mistreaters? Are they not arguably worse? For, note that more than one of them has allegedly misused (i.e., effectively stolen) temple funds, or feasted while his most devoted followers starved, thus exhibiting less moral sense than the average bank robber. (Stealing from a church or from one’s friends and admirers, after all, has got to be morally worse than stealing from a faceless corporation or a bank.)

In the same vein, more than one has been accused of physically beating or otherwise brutally oppressing his or her spouse. As the Mill Valley Record (Colin, et al., 1985) reported:

On one occasion during a raucous party at the church sanctuary in Clear Lake, eyewitnesses say they saw [Adi Da] push his wife Nina down a flight of stairs. They also claim that during that party Jones pulled a sizable hunk of hair from her head.

“Concerned physicians.”

[Rajneesh] wasn’t the Master [Deeksha had] fallen in love with. She’d witnessed him beating Vivek once, she swore (Franklin, 1992).

Recall also Swami Rama reportedly kicking women in the buttocks. And further:

Chögyam Trungpa wrote that Marpa, the tenth-century Tibetan guru, “lost his temper and beat people.” Marpa is also considered an incarnate Buddha, the spiritual father of Tibet’s greatest yogi Milarepa. Maybe his beatings were compassion in disguise, but it is hard to understand why the same argument could not be made for the drunk who abuses his wife and children (Butterfield, 1994; italics added).

In terms of the aforementioned (and above-denigrated, by Halifax) use of illicit and abused prescription substances: Included among the usage attributed to various “genuine sages” have been LSD, mescaline, psilocybin, nitrous oxide, and the opium derivatives Percodan and Demerol. Also amyl nitrite, a blood vessel-dilator used to cause a “high” or to improve sex; and, it goes without saying, marijuana. Not to mention Quaaludes reportedly given as a medical treatment in Rajneeshpuram. (That only Percodan, Demerol, Quaaludes and nitrous oxide among all those are recognized as being—like the opiate heroin—physically addictive, seems somewhat beside the point.) And God only knows what the police were expecting to find when they raided Trungpa’s Scottish center. (People with nothing to conceal generally do not feel the need to desperately hide themselves, as Trungpa did, in such circumstances.)

Even metaphorically, the analysis fares no better:

Fred [Stanton]’s final comment on Andrew [Cohen] was, “Andrew creates addicts. It’s like giving people heroin” (Tarlo, 1997).

On top of that, we again have “genuine masters” allegedly building secret passageways leading to the dormitories of young girls in their care. (Caplan quotes frequently and respectfully from Muktananda in her books, thus inadvertently providing a bad, bad example from him of how not to do the guru-disciple relationship properly. Both of her relevant books were written well after the 1994 New Yorker exposé of him by Lis Harris.) Plus, we have the reported pedophilia/ephebophilia of universally revered figures such as Ramakrishna, as an early precursor to the allegations against Sai Baba. Also, holy Zen masters “beating the crap out of” their disciples, even to the point of death, and being celebrated for their macho, “ego-killing” abuse by foolish persons who themselves have obviously never been thus “beneficially” beaten. And all of that is ever done, of course, “in the name of God, for the compassionate benefit of all sentient beings,” by great bodhisattvas and otherwise. And woe unto any “disloyal” disciple who should even think otherwise, and thereby risk his “one chance at enlightenment” in this life.

I myself am again in no way anti-drug, anti-dildo, anti-secret-passageway-to-the-dormitory, anti-whorehouse, anti-orgy or anti-leprechaun. It is simply obvious, by now, that any of those, when put into the hands of “god-men” who have carved islands of absolute power for themselves in the world, only make an already dangerous situation much worse.

We can surely agree with Ms. Halifax in her three decades of experience, though, that the delusion of enlightenment generally “represents an aspiration that is better than an aspiration to be a murderer.” Unless, of course, you’re Charles Manson. For, he borrowed heavily from Eastern philosophy in creating his own pre-rational view of the world, hinted at “deity status” for himself, and believed that “since all is one, nothing is wrong.”

Manson ... called himself “a.k.a. Lord Krishna, Jesus Christ, Muhammad, the Buddha” during a 1986 parole hearing (Agence, 1999).

After all that, it should be painfully clear that the delusion of enlightenment is the most dangerous, not the most wonderful, delusion. (Again, Jim Jones and David Koresh had similar messianic regards for their own enlightenment as does the still-incarcerated Manson. In all three of those “worst” cases, the delusion of enlightenment/divinity undeniably helped create the violent tragedies for which they are each known.) That most-dangerous regard is so if for no other reason than the effect that it has on the ensuing naïve followers. For, those end up throwing their lives and sanity away on persons who, even while laying claim to the highest levels of enlightenment (whether validly or psychotically), grandiosely deceive themselves, and then mislead others, all with the apparent goal of being given the proper obeisance due to themselves as “enlightened masters.”

And as far as the treatment of animals goes, the spellbinding writer Deborah Boliver Boehm (1996) relates her experiences in a Japanese Zen monastery in Kyoto, upon being presented with two stray kittens:

“Will you keep them?” Saku-san asked.
“What if I didn’t?” I asked.
“Then they would be left to die, or to be found by someone else if they were lucky.”
“But why doesn’t the sodo adopt them?”
“Because then we would become a dumping ground for every unwanted cat in town, and they would tear up the tatami [straw meditation mats]. Besides, some monks have allergies.”
“But what about the vow you take every day, to save all sentient beings?”
“It’s a nice idea, but not very practical,” said Saku-san with a wide-shouldered shrug.

At least they don’t kick their dogs, swat bugs, or drain water with mosquito larva in it, though. That, after all, would violate the precept of not doing harm to other creatures.

And yet—

[B]eneath the smiles Tibetans obviously are not perfect. It’s not all loving-kindness here; I see a monk beat a dog, another one smokes and while Buddhist texts forbid meat, the fleshy bodies of sheep hang in roadside butcher boxes attracting swarms of flies and shoppers galore....
I know the Dalai Lama has tried to turn vegetarian but so long as he and other Tibetan Buddhists continue to eat meat, the tinge of hypocrisy will remain (Macdonald, 2003; italics added).

Well, at least they don’t ... at least they don’t, um ... no, wait, they do that too, um....

* * *

Having said all of that, one can still sadly strike a much more negative note, when it comes to the effects of messianic delusions of enlightenment/divinity on both leaders and their followers:

Adolf Hitler had a mystical awakening at Pasewalk Hospital in 1918, following the defeat of Germany; it led to his decision to enter politics (Oakes, 1997).
Hitler by now was possessed by delusions of grandeur.... Convinced that he was Germany’s political messiah, his supporters unashamedly referred to Hitler as a prophet.... After reading Mein Kampf, Joseph Goebbels, later the Party’s propaganda chief, wrote “Who is this man? half plebian, half God! Truly Christ, or only St. John?” For the growing number of “disciples” gathering around Hitler at this time—referred to as the “charismatic community”—Hitler was more than just a politician offering political and economic solutions, he was a messianic leader embodying the salvation of Germany (D. Welch, 2001).

As if to further close the circle, then, we find this, in Goodrick-Clarke’s (1994) Occult Roots of Nazism:

The Ariosophists, initially active in Vienna before the First World War, borrowed from the theosophy of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, in order to prophesy and vindicate a coming era of German world rule....
At least two Ariosophists were closely involved with Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler in the 1930s, contributing to his ... visionary plans for the Greater Germanic Reich in the third millennium....
Ravenscroft adapted the materials of Rudolf Steiner ... to the mythology of occult Nazism.

Nor was that the only relevance of Eastern metaphysics to the Nazi cause:

Savitri Devi, the French-born Nazi-Hindu prophetess, described Hitler as an avatar of Vishnu and likened Nazism to the cult of Shiva with its emphasis on destruction and new creation....
[She] was sure that Hitler had realized he was an avatar while still a youth (Goodrick-Clarke, 2003).

Overall, truly believing that you are “enlightened and can do no wrong”—as every “messiah” and nearly every “meditation master” has role-played himself into believing—gives you unlimited license to mistreat others “for their own good.” Indeed, it actually places your conscience farther out of reach than if you were knowingly manipulating them purely for your own selfish benefit, as a simple con man (or woman).

As Professor J. H. von Dullinger insightfully observed over a century and a quarter ago:

All absolute power demoralizes its possessor. To that all history bears witness. And if it be a spiritual power which rules men’s consciences, the danger is only so much greater, for the possession of such a power exercises a specially treacherous fascination, while it is peculiarly conducive to self-deceit, because the lust of dominion, when it has become a passion, is only too easily in this case excused under the plea of zeal for the salvation of others.

For that primary reason, among many secondary others, the “guru game,” even when enacted by “genuine masters” (such as the swooning Ramakrishna, the Force-ful Aurobindo, the caste-conscious Ramana Maharshi, the non-healer Meher Baba, and the firewalking Yogananda) is more dangerous than is any secular power-play or con game.

Even when performed with integrity and sincerity? Yes. In fact, doubly so:

Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

—Martin Luther King, Jr.

And Lord, have we seen enough of that.

* * *

Most of the “great sages” whose behavior we have touched upon within these pages have been men. Notable exceptions, however, have included Ramakrishna’s wife, Aurobindo’s “Mother,” Muktananda’s Gurumayi, and Yogananda’s Daya Mata and Tara Mata. Also, Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati, Ammachi, Jetsunma, and Andrew Harvey’s Mother Meera. The latter’s original hope, at age fourteen in the 1970s, had actually been to replace Aurobindo’s Mother in the Auroville ashram in Pondicherry, following that Mother’s passing (Minor, 1999):

She had ... received visions of both Sri Aurobindo and the Mother in which they told her that she was entrusted with the work of completing the transformation of the world they had begun. The language of Aurobindo and the Mother are regularly a part of her descriptions of these visions, but often, she said, Aurobindo and the Mother actually appeared to her and in their conversations commissioned her to continue the work.

The entirely non-mystical, twentieth-century, late Russian-American philosopher Ayn Rand (d. 1982), too, apparently managed to create a personality cult around herself. Loyalty there was evidenced to the point where one of her sincere followers reportedly floated (in the late ’60s) the idea of murder as a means of dealing with an unfaithful (and otherwise married) former lover of the homely, yet eminently rational, Ms. Rand (Shermer, 1997).

The endangered ex-lover in question was the dashing Nathaniel Branden—Rand’s “intellectual heir,” to whom Atlas Shrugged was dedicated. (The book itself was the “greatest human achievement in the history of the world,” according to Rand and Branden.) Together, they encouraged followers of Rand to consider them as being “the two greatest intellects on the planet.”

Branden himself was later to host a delightful dinner, in the mid-’80s, for his good friend ... the “intellectually powerful” ... Ken Wilber (1991). Branden is, further, another one of the founding members of Wilber’s Integral Institute.

From the former’s own website (

The name Nathaniel Branden has become synonymous with “the psychology of self-esteem,” a field he began pioneering over thirty years ago. He has done more, perhaps, than any other theorist to awaken America’s consciousness to the importance of self-esteem to human well-being.

One would expect no less, though, from one of the two “greatest intellects on the planet.”

So, it is a small, small spiritual world, after all. And even smaller when one considers what happens when other scholars “go bad”:

[Frithjof] Schuon, blessed by God and the Virgin Mary, [believes that he] radiates grace from his body—at all times but most potently when he is naked; and that this is itself a salvific act....
[His given initiations] consist of Schuon in a state of semi-nakedness at the center of a circle of semi-naked female disciples (Rawlinson, 1997).

Even when fully clothed, Schuon was evidently no ordinary man:

He himself says that “I was from the beginning a person different from the others, I was made from different material.” An unpublished paper, The Veneration of the Shaykh [written by his Da-like fourth “wife”], says that Schuon is “an eminent manifestation of the eternal sadguru ... an ‘avataric’ phenomenon ... a ‘prophetic’ figure ... and a great bodhisattva”; that he demonstrates the qualities of Shiva and Krishna; and has affinities with Abraham, David, Christ, and Muhammad....
One disciple who questioned Schuon’s authority was branded as mad; another was called “a natural swine”; and many others (including these two) were excommunicated (Rawlinson, 1997).

Dr. Schuon, as a recognized expert in the perennial philosophy or transcendent unity of religions, was of course referred to respectfully, in far less interesting ways, in Wilber’s early (e.g., 1982, 1983) writings.

At least kw never contributed childishly gushing forewords for any of Schuon’s books, though. That would be tough to live down.

Should the aforementioned male/female numerical discrepancy in guru-dom still irk, however, consider the revered Bengali mystic Ananda Moyi Ma, who herself claimed to be an avatar, or direct incarnation of the Divine Mother. Indeed, after meeting her in 1936, Yogananda (1946) expressed his evaluation of her degree of spiritual advancement thusly:

I had found many men of God-realization in India, but never before had I met such an exalted woman saint.

Arthur Koestler (1960), however, added the following information regarding Ananda’s character:

[F]rom the age of twenty-eight onward, for an undefined number of years, she was unable to feed herself. “Whenever she tried to carry food to Her mouth, Her grasp slackened and a large part of the food slipped through Her fingers”....
There were ... occasions when, at the sight of an Untouchable eating rice, or a dog devouring garbage, she would begin to cry plaintively, “I want to eat, I want to eat.” On yet other occasions, she had fits of ravenous overeating....
She was prone to weeping, and to laughing fits which often lasted over an hour. She liked to tease her devotees and to display a kittenish behavior, though sometimes her playfulness could more appropriately be called cruelty. When [one of her closest followers] was ill, she did not visit him for several months, and on certain occasions during his convalescence she expressly forbade that food be sent to him.

Ma herself was nevertheless credited with having profound healing abilities, as Yogananda’s (1946) niece relates:

At the entreaty of a disciple, Ananda Moyi Ma went to the home of a dying man. She stood by his bedside; as her hand touched his forehead, his death-rattle ceased. The disease vanished at once; to the man’s glad astonishment, he was well.

All such claimed abilities and exalted realization aside, however, the following incident stands out and rankles:

An old woman came forward, prostrated herself, and begged Ananda to intercede for her son, a soldier reported missing after a clash in the border area. Ananda kept chewing pan, ignoring her. The woman began to shout and sob in near-hysterics. Ananda said harshly, “Go away,” brushing her aside with a single gesture, and the old woman, still crying, was led from the room (Koestler, 1960).

If there is compassion in such behavior, only one not yet suitably shaken from the pleasant fantasy that such actions might be a manifestation of God “working in mysterious ways” could find it.

Consider further that it has been reported that the vast majority of the individuals currently sitting on the SRF Board of Directors are nuns. And those have given no indication whatsoever of any wish on their part to give up the rigidly hierarchical structure of that organization, or their choice positions in it.

To Daya Mata, we and everyone who disagrees with her are—to quote a favorite expression of hers—“pipsqueaks”....
Daya Mata actually said once to Brother Anandamoy and me, “Let’s face it, women are more spiritual than men” (Walters, 2002).

The revered Mata herself has been prominently featured in various magazines, in celebration of her role as one of the world’s first female spiritual leaders, and thus as “part of the solution” to the world’s problems.

Of course, the women in Rajneesh’s ashrams were part of the same “solution”:

True to Rajneesh’s vision of women as “the pillars of my temple,” women dominated the leadership of the movement (except for Bhagwan “Himself”). Braun notes that women controlled over 80% of executive positions in Rajneeshpuram (Palmer and Sharma, 1993).

And Rajneeshpuram, as we know, was the Oregon ashram infamous for its salmonella, electronic bugging and alleged murder plots.

Undeterred, Ma Bhagavati has informed us:

If people don’t accept women teachers, that’s the end of everything, because the men have made a real mess of things (in Caplan, 2002).

Bhagavati, recall, was the reportedly self-professed “incarnation of the Divine Mother” whom Ram Dass, on the basis of his own experiences, totally repudiated in the mid-’70s, in his “Das and Dasser” period, and her days as the gold-bangled “Joya.”

“The end of everything,” indeed.

Mother Teresa, sadly, fares no better in the harsh light of day, as Aroup Chatterjee’s (2003) Mother Teresa: The Final Verdict has demonstrated:

[Mother Teresa] has been quoted as saying that suffering is a means of attaining Christ; to suffer along with the suffering helps one come closer to God. In other words the poor and dying are to her only a means of attaining salvation for herself. Their suffering, which is a replay of the suffering of Christ, gives her spiritual succor. Hence the tremendous funds at her disposal have never been used to set up a state of the art hospital where much of the suffering could be alleviated or pre-empted; to establish schools which would rescue generations from poverty; to renew the slums of Calcutta and eliminate disease and crime. For, she has a vested interest in the perpetuation of poverty and sickness and death.

Nor were those religious issues by any means the only problems with Teresa’s work and character:

She inflated her operations and activities manifold in her speeches to journalists and supporters. Often her statements would have no connection with reality whatsoever. Many times she had been captured on television while telling very tall tales about her work. She prevaricated even in her Nobel Prize acceptance speech....
[W]hen it comes to social issues, even the present pope is much more liberal than Mother Teresa....
Mother was confronted on the issue of pedophile priests by the Irish journalist Kathy Ward. She replied, “Pray, pray and make sacrifices for those who are going through such terrible temptations.” It is not that she was against custodial sentencing per se: a few times she said that she wanted to open a special jail for doctors who performed abortions.

Christopher Hitchens (1995) had earlier written his own less-detailed exposé of Teresa:

[S]he once told an interviewer that, if faced with a choice between Galileo and the authority of the Inquisition, she would have sided with the Church authorities....
“She also touched on AIDS, saying she did not want to label it a scourge of God but that it did seem like a just retribution for improper [e.g., homosexual or promiscuous] sexual conduct.”

And how did Ken Wilber (2000a) jump the gun, in voicing his positive attitude toward Mother “Superior” Teresa upon receiving (media) news of her death, nearly half a decade after Hitchens’ exposé?

Mother Teresa was much closer to that divine ray [than was Princess Diana, who died in the same week], and practiced it more diligently, and without the glamour. She was less a person than an opening of Kosmic compassion—unrelenting, fiercely devoted, frighteningly dedicated.
I, anyway, appreciated them both very much, for quite different reasons.

“Happiness is a warm nun.”

Such opinions, sadly, are again exactly par for the course with Wilber, in his consistent vouching for other people’s high degrees of enlightenment (“opening of Kosmic kompassion-with-a-‘k,’” etc.). For here too he obviously, if utterly wrongly, considers himself to be in a position to intuitively and intelligently separate the reality from the PR, even without having minimally familiarized himself with the long-extant, relevant research materials.

Likewise for his friend, Dr. Roger Walsh (1999):

The few hours I spent with Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama continue to inspire me years later, while films of them have inspired people around the world. Such is the power of those who devote their lives to awakening and service.

Or, rather, “such is the power” of those with good public relations machines and the ability to bury their indiscretions and prejudices. For, they shall be taken as saints and gods, even in the midst of cruel homophobia, bizarre sexual hang-ups, association with known criminals and the receiving of stolen goods. (Mother Teresa accepted over a million dollars in donations from Savings-and-Loan fraudster Charles Keating, and wrote a naïve letter in his defense during his trial. Following his conviction and imprisonment, the deputy district attorney of Los Angeles County contacted Teresa, encouraging her to return those “stolen” funds. He received no reply from the “great saint” [Chatterjee, 2003].)

Anyway, one might even begin to sympathize with such perspectives as Bhagavati’s, above, in the face of nonsense such as Brooke’s (1999) position. For there, he repeatedly expressed the desire to “out” (his word) the “wrangling bitch” and “vain effete peacock” (his phrases) Sai Baba. He also evinced a predictably “Christian” attitude toward female gurus in general:

I had never met [Hilda Charlton] ... and had my own personal barriers and suspicions about women gurus. It just wasn’t my style.

Gender-based “suspicions,” however, cannot be reduced to mere matters of “style,” even in the case of complete flakes such as Charlton. Nor can such dismal attitudes—whether coming from male born-again Christians or in reverse from celebrated contemporary female yogis—be viewed as a valid antidote toward the problems which pervade the spiritual marketplace, or even the saner world in general.

We should not, therefore, attempt to split the power/sexual/psychological issues underlying these poor reported behaviors along male/female or patriarchal/matriarchal lines, as is often done. Indeed, should one even be tempted to do so, one should instead consider Janja Lalich’s experiences in a “soul-crushing” political “cult” founded by thirteen feminist Marxist-Leninists. Eleven of those founders “self-identified as radical lesbians.” (“Marxist-Lesbianists”?) And yet, even under their “nurturing, tolerant, egalitarian” rule:

A well-respected doctor and party theoretician in his fifties said he was so tired he prayed daily for a heart attack to give him some release. A number of others said they secretly wished they would get killed in a car accident because they couldn’t think of any other way of getting out (in Langone, 1995).

You’re thinking of dabbling in something like paganism to slake your spiritual thirst, on the wishful supposition that it might be any less founded on lies, sexism, and unapologetic misrepresentations than is any other religion or form of spirituality? Please first read Charlotte Allen’s delightful (2001) article, “The Scholars and the Goddess”:

In all probability, not a single element of the Wiccan story [of its own origins] is true. The evidence is overwhelming that Wicca is a distinctly new religion, a 1950s concoction influenced by such things as Masonic ritual and a late-nineteenth-century fascination with the esoteric and the occult, and that various assumptions informing the Wiccan view of history are deeply flawed.

Indeed, as Allen further notes, the idea—central to Wiccan belief—that any ancient civilization, anywhere, ever worshiped a single, archetypal goddess, is wholly rejected by contemporary scholars, on the basis of both written records and archeology. (Cf. Cynthia Eller’s [2003] refreshingly insightful and devastating The Myth of Matriarchal Prehistory.)

Likewise for the purported superiorities of past Native American societies, or the like, to “fragmented, patriarchal, European” ones:

The Mayas, whose cities were completely unfortified, were long thought to be “an unusually gentle, peaceful people living in a relatively benign theocracy.” But as the Mayan writing system began to be deciphered and as new excavations were undertaken, a different picture emerged. Archaeologists found depictions of severed heads and bound captives under public buildings. As archaeologist Arthur Demarest concludes on the basis of this new evidence, “the Maya were one of the most violent state-level societies in the New World” (Eller, 2003).

Indeed, the Mayas may have even been comparable to the “peace-loving” (and yet child-torturing) theocracy—which survived into the mid-twentieth century—maintained under the equally “holy and compassionate” native Buddhist lamas of Tibet.

All of which, for respected sagely goose and gander alike, only goes to reinforce the wise observation that “a saint [or a fanciful mythology, or a “Golden Age” culture] is what remains after a person’s sins have been forgotten.” Or, if not duly forgotten, at least prematurely buried by close disciples, as by the sage himself/herself—all of them having no small interest in presenting the best possible public face, for their own welfare in power and glory.

* * *

We have earlier touched on the idea of spiritual incest, in terms of sexual relations usually (but not always) initiated by the guru-figure with his (or her) trusting disciples. The respected theoreticians in the higher branches of psychology and consciousness studies may still be grappling with how to explain away such life-destroying “mistakes” on the part of their “enlightened” heroes—practitioners of “idiot spirituality.” By contrast, others with far less commitment to the field, but far more insight, had already discerned the relevant dynamics and appropriate restrictions over a decade and a half ago:

The power of the pastor over the congregant is tremendously enhanced by his authority, if he wishes to exercise it, to describe to a woman her status with God. A sexually abusive clergyman can easily exploit this authority by telling a woman that her sexual involvement is part of a divinely ordained plan. Even sophisticated women can have difficulty resisting this argument if they are devoted to the religious vision that the clergyman represents.
[So-called religious] cults in which the guru or spiritual leader has sexual relationships with many of his female congregants are more blatant examples of this phenomenon (Rutter, 1989).

Rutter continues:

The [related] issue of sexual relationships between professors and students draws attention because of their frequency, which [high frequency] can be partially [italics added] attributed to a traditional absence of a clearly demarcated forbidden zone [where sexual activities are not allowed] on the college campus. People who argue against such prohibitions usually claim that the women involved are consenting adults and that there is no duty to protect them....
All of these arguments ignore important social and psychological realities. The social dynamic still places the power in the hands of the teacher or professor. The psychological dynamic is based on the underlying reality of continuing dependency issues, which must be taken into account in assessing the ethics of sexual relationships between female college and graduate students and their professors. Recently, some universities have begun articulating clear policies against faculty-student intimacies that do take the unequal power dynamics into consideration.

Chapter 7 of Singer and Lalich’s (1996) Crazy Therapies covers similar topics to the above:

Sex with a therapist or counselor [or guru] is not okay and is not going to benefit the client [or disciple]. If anything ... it will cause new problems and exacerbate previous ones.
Gurus, like fathers, are in a context that gives them enormous power because of their disciples’ needs, trust, and dependency. One reason incest is a betrayal of trust is what a daughter needs from her father is a sense of self-worth not specifically linked to her sexuality. Sex with the guru is similarly incestuous because a guru ostensibly functions as a spiritual father to whom one’s growth is entrusted. Having sex with a parental figure reinforces using sex for power. This is not what young women (or men) need for their development. When the guru drops them, which eventually he does, feelings of shame and betrayal usually result that leave deep scars (Kramer and Alstad, 1993).

Note that none of the above ideas are puritanical, shadow-projecting or prudish. (In the words of the One-Taste realized Drukpa Kunley, hero to the Dalai Lama: “You like religion and I like cunt. May both of us be happy!”) They are, rather, simply a minimal application of “real compassion” (as opposed to “idiot tolerance”) for the well-being of others, being directed in the spiritual world against the power-tripping and hypocrisy of radically defective individuals who make themselves out to be gods.

When people do not have a clear idea of harm—and it is very hard to talk about sex and get it right—they accuse others of being Puritans. This is going on all over Buddhism today (Lew Richmond, in [Downing, 2001]).

As if to prove Richmond’s point, the tantric initiate John Blofeld (1970) gave a fallacious defense which could have been applied to the vast majority of our world’s guru-figures:

[A]dvanced adepts are permitted to do what seems good to them, regardless of the normal [e.g., social] rules of conduct. To consider abiding by the rules as necessarily good or transgressing them as necessarily evil would be to tie themselves down with the dualism they have set out to transcend....
Sordid people judge others by their own standards, reading crude motives into every sort of action. Hypocrites will be likely to see their own vice in every unconventional act of a man sincerely seeking spiritual advancement. It is hard to convince them that others may act from lofty motives. A true adept, however, will not be put out by misguided criticism.

Ah, but to what extent, if any, have our world’s guru-figures ever really acted from “lofty motives”? And might not any associated “hypocrisy” perhaps apply more to the teachers themselves than to their “puritanical” critics?

Further consider the twenty-five virgin girls who surely had their lives messed up by one deluded old man, Upasani Baba, regardless of what component of their marriage may have been only symbolic or spiritual. (For the young girls sleeping with Mahatma Gandhi, too, it was merely a “spiritual” arrangement. Yet, had his lust ever risen to the fore, the likely outcome would have been rape. How well would you sleep, with that lurking over your shoulder?)

That same Baba was again convinced that he could distinguish the “Avatar for this age” from the mass of spiritual seekers, which avatar just happened, by coincidence, to be one of his own disciples. (“What are the odds?”) That is indeed “sordid,” but not in any way which the apologetic Blofeld would ever have imagined. If one wishes to see the effects of “traditional agrarian” society on allegedly constraining what guru-figures are allowed to get away with, one need look no further than celebrated “spiritual discipline” like that.

To state the obvious, again: Any set of “rigid constraints” which grants a greater degree of latitude in allowable behavior to its god-figures than does Western society’s own healthy permissiveness (among consenting adults, here) would, in practice, create an even more unconstrained society for those so fortunate as to be the “kings” of it. Indeed, in the same West where a “lack of social constraint” is regularly blamed for the excesses of its “crazy wisdom” practitioners:

[Few] crazy-wisdom masters today are afforded the privilege of making use of their full bag of tricks. They are well aware that a single lawsuit brought against them ... could result in their losing the opportunity to continue their teaching function (Caplan, 2002).

Since those lawsuits arise predominantly from alleged sexual abuses (cf. Swami Rama), one cannot have it both ways. That is, one is welcome to state, with Ram Dass (in Caplan, 2002), that previously “impeccable” gurus fall from their lofty ideals because of the greater freedoms and promiscuity (in alcohol, drugs and sex) in the West. One would be hopelessly wrong—cf. Dass’ own “seventeen-year-old jock,” Neem Karoli Baba—but one is free to close one’s eyes and propose that. Having stated it, however, one cannot then turn around and assert that “crazy wisdom” is practiced with more freedom in the East, where “the guru-principle is understood,” and lawsuits need not be so feared should “Da Shit hit Da Fan”!

Note further that while even educational institutions have acknowledged the existence of relevant psychological dynamics between teachers and students, from which the students need to be protected, things are much worse for guru-figures and disciples. For, a student receiving unwanted attention from a professor or graduate supervisor might, at least in theory (i.e., notwithstanding “old boys’ networks” and the like), transfer to another class/supervisor, or go “over the prof’s head” to the dean, etc. There are no such courts of appeal, however, for wronged disciples. Rather, there is merely the fear that in saying “No” to anything that the guru-figure asks of you, you are being disobedient and egoic, and thus retarding your own spiritual growth. Further, to break with the guru at any stage of that may, one believes, cast one into “Vajra hell,” or result in one “wandering the Earth for incarnations” before being given another chance at enlightenment, should you “waste” this one.

More obviously, no mere professor, graduate supervisor or employer could believably suggest that sleeping with him (or her) is part of a “divinely ordained plan.” Guru-figures, on the other hand, can and do routinely advance exactly that idea. Thus, whatever constraints may be placed on secular classes should apply even more to guru-figures. For, in between the “voice of God” speaking through them, the constraints to obey, and the lack of any court of appeal, the power imbalance is far greater in the spiritual world than in the academic.

Sex between the father-figure guru and his (or her) disciples is again widely recognized as being of a comparable psychological status to incest or child abuse. One need not be stuck in any “puritanical” worldview, then, in order to feel the need to object to such activities, whether they are occurring in spiritual or in secular contexts. Nor can proponents of “idiot tolerance” for the same (alleged, spiritual) abuse safely hide behind the idea that such objections arise merely from followers wanting their sages to be “dead from the neck down.”

Encouragingly, the California Yoga Teachers Association Code of Conduct (Lasater, 1995) admirably spelled out the minimal relevant constraints on the behavior of its members a decade ago, even though concerning itself only with imperfect teachers and their students, not “divine, infallible” gurus and their disciples. There, they recognized that “all forms of sexual behavior or harassment with students are unethical, even when a student invites or consents to such behavior or involvement.” They further instructed:

We do not make public ... statement[s] implying unusual, unique or one-of-a-kind abilities, including misrepresentation through sensationalism, exaggeration or superficiality.

One wishes that the frequently “one-of-a-kind” and “best,” “enlightened avatars” in the world could see things as clearly—i.e., with such elementary, common-sense psychology and integrity—as its “unenlightened, mere mortal” teachers have. There would be far less garbage (“and the goddess”) littering the long and winding spiritual road.

* * *
Leaving a [so-called] cult is like experiencing a death of a loved one. There is a grieving process which will take time. Time to process the feelings of confusion, loss, guilt, disillusionment, anger, and lack of trust engendered (Bailey and Bailey, 2003).

For first-hand accounts as to the difficulties involved in disentangling oneself from spiritual and emotional commitments to enlightenment at the feet of any “great sage,” plus personal descriptions of the power games and manipulation which are alleged to occur within the ashram environment, I have found the following books to be excellent:

  • Michael Downing (2001), Shoes Outside the Door—San Francisco Zen Center, Richard Baker (this book is worth reading for the keen wit alone)

  • Stephen Butterfield (1994), The Double Mirror—Chögyam Trungpa

  • Peter Marin (1995), “Spiritual Obedience,” in Freedom & Its Discontents—Chögyam Trungpa

  • Satya Bharti Franklin (1992), The Promise of Paradise—Rajneesh

  • Hugh Milne (1986), Bhagwan: The God That Failed—Rajneesh

  • Kate Strelley (1987), The Ultimate Game—Rajneesh

  • Andre van der Braak (2003), Enlightenment Blues—Andrew Cohen

  • Luna Tarlo (1997), The Mother of God—Andrew Cohen

  • Martha Sherrill (2000), The Buddha from Brooklyn—Jetsunma

  • Barbara and Betty Underwood (1979), Hostage to Heaven—the Moonies

  • Deborah Layton (1998), Seductive Poison—Jim Jones

  • John Hubner and Lindsey Gruson (1990), Monkey on a Stick—the Hare Krishnas, exposed as the reportedly murderous, drug-running, wife-beating, child-molesting apocalyptic “cult” we were always reflexively warned to avoid. Yet, we chose instead to liberally tolerate and defend them as an “alternative religion,” which should not be discriminated against simply for being “different.”

    “Live and let live,” right?


    When I first started to speak out about [alleged] cults approximately ten years ago [i.e., around 1982], I was one of an extremely small group of lawyers who were willing to address [so-called] cultic groups’ broad range of challenges to individual freedom and personal liberty. The podium had in fact been largely forfeited to a strident, well-organized clique of “civil libertarian” experts who discoursed at length upon the inviolability of the First Amendment and the rights, vulnerabilities, and vitality of so-called new religious movements (Herbert Rosedale, in [Langone, 1995])
  • Amy Wallace (2003), Sorcerer’s Apprentice—Carlos Castaneda, another “world’s savior,” who was every bit the tragically equal fool in cruelly disciplining his followers as any of the other “Rude Boys” we have seen herein have been. The details Wallace gives of an insane community founded on a “skillful means” of reported lies and unspoken, rigid rules are nearly enough to cause one to lose one’s faith in our sad, conforming, manipulative, power-hungry species. Nor did Castaneda’s own famous writings featuring the purported Yaqui sorcerer Don Juan fare any better in the light of truth:
    As sociologist Marcello Truzzi was the first to say, Castaneda’s books were the greatest hoax since the Piltdown Man (Gardner, 1999)

Anyone who has ever lived in an ashram/monastery environment, and recovered enough from that to see how much less “evil” the “real world” is, will find numerous significant points of contact in all of the above first-hand accounts—including Underwood’s days with the Moonies, and Layton’s gripping story of her narrow escape from Jonestown. For, as we have seen, the techniques used to keep residents in line and loyally “living in fear” of what will happen to their bodies or souls should they leave are constant across all paths. That is so, regardless of the specific beliefs involved in each case.

Butterfield went into his experiences under Trungpa with the most skeptical attitude of the above thirteen. He thus seems to have suffered the least in the inevitable realization that a lot of what he was being fed there was “excrement and urine,” as it were. There is a lesson in there somewhere.

The total insanity underlying the use of “skillful means” of teaching, and the easy descent of followers into a chilling mob mentality, further come across frighteningly in Sherrill’s book. Selected chapters from that text are available online, at Sherrill (2000a). The “Great Blessing” chapter there is an especially enlightening/sickening documentation of the madness too often allegedly perpetrated in the name of “purifying compassion.” (For the difference between reality and hagiography, compare that exposé against the chapter on Jetsunma in Mackenzie’s [1995] Reborn in the West. And then apply the same demythologizing proportionately to each of the other tulkus covered by Mackenzie.) That “purifying compassion” came, again, from a tulku whose spiritual greatness was formally recognized in the mid-’80s by Wilber’s own Penor Rinpoche.

Also coming across clearly there are the jaw-dropping rationalizations created by disciples, in absurdly viewing such alleged violent abuses as being for their own benefit. That occurs within the context of ridiculously skewed ideas about merit and karma—including tulkus reincarnating as houses, wooden bridges, and equally wooden actors. Also, one cannot help but note the laughably superstitious interpretations of natural phenomena, and an equally hideous, “Cathoholic”-like insistence on the confession of any broken vows to one’s superiors. For, the consequence of not confessing is that such breaks remain allegedly forever unmendable. That is, they supposedly create obstacles and produce more suffering “for countless sentient beings” by one’s having failed to come forth quickly and voluntarily to admit them.

In any case, a primary idea to glean from all of the above-listed book-length testimonials is that, if you’ve once decided to leave a spiritual community, follow through on it, and don’t ever go back, even if the community begs you to stay or to return. (Corollary: leaving in the middle of the night, without saying “goodbye,” gives them less chance to talk you out of that.) Things won’t get better by staying longer, and the nonsense which caused you to decide to leave in the first place will only get worse. None of those problems, further, are ever simply “tests sent by your guru” to see how loyal you are, regardless of what the guru himself or his committed disciples may try to tell you.

Leaving such a community after any meaningful length of stay of course means being ostracized by the remaining members, and being regarded as having left for “not being able to take” the discipline in that relationship. Or, being the subject of far worse allegations and/or reported violence. That, however, is a small price to pay for one’s freedom and (literally) one’s sanity.

Indeed, as to the treatment which one may expect upon leaving the average “divine guru”: Andrew Harvey (2000) and his partner broke with and publicly repudiated Mother Meera shortly after having declared her to be “the avatar who would save the world” (Blacker, 1996). They then claim to have encountered the following set of horrors:

A vicious, callous, and sophisticated system was set up by a group of ex-“close friends,” that included anonymous letters, death threats for nearly a year, horrible telephone harassment, visits to New York publishers to discredit Eryk’s and my work, attempts to have me thrown out of my job in San Francisco, relentless public and private calumny—the complete cocktail, in fact, of [so-called] cult violence, demonization, and attempted destruction....
I know of many cases of terrible abuse where ex-disciples of this or that “master” are too terrified to speak out.

Former members of Rajneesh’s (Milne [1986]; Franklin [1992]) and Muktananda’s (Harris, 1994) ashrams, to name but two more, have claimed to fear for their safety in comparable situations.

“Concerned physicians.”

Interestingly, Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati (Joya) apparently regards Andrew Harvey’s claims of harassment and homophobia against mother Meera as being “baloney.” She also, however, has reportedly recently defended Trungpa and Rajneesh, and spoken highly of Muktananda (Bostock, 1998). Simultaneously, she has evidently “forgiven” Ram Dass—the “fighting puppy” at her regal, parading “elephant feet”—for speaking out against her in the ’70s. Again, the website offers a valuable corrective to her public face and to any claims that she is doing “selfless, compassionate” work.

Comparably disturbing details as to the alleged treatment of ex-members by Adi Da’s community are available online at Jewel (1999). A good summary of his reported behaviors in general can be found online at ThisTruth (2001).

See also the preface to Wakefield (1991) for her claimed frightening experiences, including alleged death threats, after having left Scientology. Plus, Chapter 9 of Wakefield (1996), and the epilogue of Malko (1970), for comparable allegations.

And yet, even after all that, the Muktananda-quoting Caplan, as recently as 2001, could still write:

There is the occasional Jim Jones, Charles Manson, or Marshall Applewhite (Heaven’s Gate) who comes into the spiritual scene and presents a physical danger to the very lives of the students whom they claim to be saving. But these instances are negligible in comparison to the majority of spiritual schools and teachers, who present no danger of physical harm to their students.

The hard data, however, available for over twenty years by now, argues exactly the opposite. For, as Conway and Siegelman reported in 1982, based on a survey of over four hundred former “cult” members from forty-eight different groups:

Incidences of physical punishment, reported by approximately one in five respondents, included beatings, starvation, physical bondage, cold showers and dousings and long hours of humiliating and degrading labor.

Nor were those the only alleged negative effects to be disclosed by Conway and Siegelman’s study. Rather, nearly 20% of their respondents battled long-term health problems, while two in every three faced lasting emotional difficulties. Further, 14% claimed to have suffered from psychiatric delusions (e.g., hallucinations) for up to eight years after breaking away from their respective organizations. Also, more than one out of every five former members in the survey had suicidal or other self-destructive feelings during the rehabilitation period after leaving—a time which averaged more than sixteen months.

Interestingly, beyond the first three to six months, the impact of “cult ritual” and indoctrination did not correlate with the difficulties faced by the member after leaving the group. That is, “most of the damage appears to be done in the first few months” of (esp. residential) membership.

* * *

The “fury of a savior scorned” is generally not limited to former members of his “world-saving” group, but extends even to those third parties who dare to speak in too much unpleasant detail about our world’s “spiritual” organizations. The aforementioned late “cult psychology” expert Margaret Singer (2003) apparently found that out for herself the hard way:

Since the first edition of [Cults in Our Midst] came out, various [so-called] cults have sent people to ring the doorbell of my home at all hours of the night, often leaving menacing notes in my mailbox, then scampering away in the dark like mischievous kids on a Halloween night....
In addition to this childish level of harassment, a lawsuit was brought against me and the book ... which I am sure was designed only to intimidate and to attempt to silence me and my work. The litigation was also, I believe, an attempt to dissuade my academic and clinical colleagues from publishing similar research and analysis of [so-called] cults in the United States and from testifying against [so-called] cults, as I do, in the many current criminal and civil court cases under way between [alleged] cults and their former victims.

Steven Hassan (2000) reported his own comparable experiences:

When Combating Cult Mind Control was first published in 1988, I became one of the most visible targets of [so-called] cult disinformation campaigns. There are [alleged] cult leaders who lecture their members on the evils of speaking with me and even reading the book. Scientology has a “Dead Agent Pack” about me. This folder contains material designed to assassinate my character—to “neutralize” me in members’ minds as a respected person. Countless times, I’ve been threatened with lawsuits and have even received death threats from [alleged] cult members. Several groups, such as the Moonies, tell their members that I am Satan’s agent.
For the past twenty years, [David] Lane’s books and articles exposing the [alleged] plagiarisms, lies, inconsistencies and scandals of a number of new religious movements have raised a fury among true believers. Members of various [alleged] cults have [reportedly] made death threats, written him letters with skeletons on them, broken into his apartment, threatened lawsuits, and generally harassed him....
“They sent letters about me claiming I was the negative force, that I was predicted from the beginning of mankind” [says Lane] (Bellamy, 1995).
It was easy for Theosophists to conclude that anyone who disagreed with them, however well intentioned, was working in the service of the Dark Forces (Washington, 1995).

(For the disillusioning story of the Sufi “master” Idries Shah—“the West’s leading exponent of Sufism” [Hall, 1975]—see the “Conclusion” chapter of the same excellent and wide-ranging [1995] book by Peter Washington: Madame Blavatsky’s Baboon. Gurdjieff, daftly described by the architect Frank Lloyd Wright as being “the greatest man in the world,” appears throughout, as well as in Evans’ witty [1973] Cults of Unreason. Washington’s Chapter 21 further covers the epileptic Elizabeth Clare Prophet and her apocalyptic Church Universal ‘n’ Triumphant—which, contrary to the juicy spirit of its near-acronym, reportedly limits sex to “not more than thirty minutes, twice a week” for its members. Ross [2004c] has materials online regarding the same channel-happy group.)

As has been noted previously, it would be inconsistent for SRF to not view the present author as being, like the above “Dark Forces,” quite literally a deluded tool of Maya—the satanic cosmic delusive force, or devil.

I’m baaad.

Chapter 9 of Singer’s above-mentioned (2003) book contains many examples of the reported litigious, legal and illegal tactics utilized by our world’s “truth-seeking” spiritual organizations to prevent the (alleged) uncomplimentary aspects of their activities from being publicized.

Singer herself unfortunately downplayed the real and legitimate search for Truth in her list of reasons why people join and remain in spiritual communities. Instead, she focused on those joiners simply being vulnerable to proselytizing in “looking for meaning” after a personal loss, depression, loneliness or insecurity, etc. For my own part, however, I have lived that “seeker myth,” with no proselytizing whatsoever on the part of any of Yogananda’s followers. I therefore cannot take Singer’s broad debunking of that principle seriously. Nor does one encounter anything in the first-person accounts of Butterfield, van der Braak, Milne, Franklin or Strelley which would match Singer’s assertion of “active, sophisticated and unrelenting proselytizing” on the part of the relevant organizations (re: Trungpa, Cohen and Rajneesh). The Gurdjieff Society and his eponymous Institute likewise “never advertise and never recruit” (Washington, 1995).

The same is true even of Adi Da’s group, at least with regard to non-celebrities: “[S]o far as I know, the community has never gone in for active recruiting, preferring to let people be drawn by Da Free John’s writings” (Lowe, 1996). Layton’s experiences in being pulled into the People’s Temple, however, did include flattering attention/pressure from Jones himself. Underwood’s (1979) and Hassan’s (1990) reported experiences in becoming involved with the Moonies likewise fit much more closely with Singer’s assertions.

In any case, for those nontraditional organizations which do actively recruit, university campuses remain the primary area of focus:

University students are often vulnerable recruitment targets for potentially harmful groups (R. Smith, 2004).
College campuses are the chief recruiting centers of most [alleged] destructive cults, and virtually every college campus in the country has been and continues to be visited by these organizations....
At the University of California—Berkeley, for example, it is estimated that at least two hundred different religious sects on and off-campus are recruiting from the 30,000-student campus (in Rudin, 1996).
In a survey done in 1980 by Zimbardo of more than one thousand high school students in the San Francisco Bay area 54% reported a [so-called] cult had attempted to recruit them and 40% said they had experienced multiple attempts (Ross, 2002b).

Indeed, in one survey (Singer, 2003) it was found that 43% of former “cult” members were students (in high school or college) at the time when they became involved with their respective organizations. Further, of those students, 38% dropped out of school after joining their groups.

Some ... observers echo Richard Delgado’s call for an intensive public education campaign about the [so-called] cults.... Dr. Lester Rosenthal ... believes ninth, tenth, and eleventh graders should be required to take courses in school on how the [so-called] cults recruit and operate (Rudin and Rudin, 1980).

Beyond the sorely needed education of young people in particular, the following reasonable suggestions have also been made:

Federal funds should be appropriated for research and treatment of [so-called] mind control victims (Hassan, 1990).
[T]he government might launch a campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of [so-called] cults, just as it has done for smoking, seat belts, and drunk driving (Hassan, 2000).
Professor Richard Delgado asserts that the legal status of [alleged] religious cults should be analyzed within the context of the Thirteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution—which forbids slavery—rather than within the First Amendment alone. He believes the conditions of some [so-called] cult members do in fact constitute a state of slavery (Rudin and Rudin, 1980).
U.S. courts have repeatedly ruled that the First Amendment provides only unqualified freedom of religious belief, not unlimited freedom to practice those beliefs in ways that may violate existing laws or pose a threat to the health and safety of individuals or society (Conway and Siegelman, 1982).

The means of getting into the organization may differ between non-proselytizing “true sanghas” and recruiting-based nontraditional organizations. Still, once one is inside, working long hours for minimal wages, in a “state of slavery” to a master whose orders you cannot disobey, leaving is just as difficult. That is true whether departing from the oppressive environment means “falling into Satan’s power,” being “pursued by disasters,” or simply risking showing oneself to be a “bad disciple”—a weakling who “can’t take the heat.”

* * *

In my own case, after leaving Hidden Valley, I happened to get in touch with the monk (from a different order) who had taken over the position and workspace which I had vacated there. I then attempted to inform him as to the problems with that organization, as reported in Russell (1999), for example.

His response?

“If anything were going really wrong, Yogananda would step in and intervene. Until then, the Master was probably just looking down and laughing at the foibles of his disciples. In the meantime, we should just focus on changing ourselves, and not worry about things like that.” Or words to that effect.

Oy vey. With “wisdom” like that, one does not need ignorance. With “compassion” like that, one does not need callousness. For, at what point in the slow descent into insanity of any of our world’s guru-figures and organizations did God or the relevant line of “ascended, omniscient” Masters ever “step in” to stop alleged pedophilia, spiritual incest, intense psychological and physical abuse, or worse? When, even, did Jesus ever step in to stop the sodomizing of altar boys in the Catholic Church? And other guru-figures will then have more interest in, or ability to stop, abuses done in their name? And if they do not step in, “everything is going as it should, for your own benefit,” so “bend over, here it comes”?

That I was apparently poisoned and/or deliberately overdrugged [in Rajneesh’s ashram] was the furthest thing from my mind....
I took everything that happened at face value. The only ulterior motives I looked for were spiritual.... Everything was happening the way it should. It always did (Franklin, 1992).
[T]o be a disciple [of Rajneesh] you had to believe that everything that happened was literally or mystically the guru’s doing. If something appeared to be wrong or unjust or foolish, that was your myopia; it was otherwise in the guru’s encompassing vision (Fitzgerald, 1986).

That attitude, of course, was nothing peculiar or pathological to Rajneesh, but is rather the essence of the guru-disciple relationship, in agrarian India and Tibet as in the postmodern West.

Yet, as the humorist Al Franken (1996), displaying far more insight than one is used to encountering in these matters, reasonably summarized the real-world situation:

If God can allow genocides to occur on a more or less regular basis, if God can stand by while famine ravages large parts of the Third World, if God can permit Sonny Bono to sit on the House Judiciary Committee, why should we figure He’s going to get off His Butt to stop Union Carbide from leaking polychlorinated biphenyls into the groundwater underneath Piscataway, New Jersey?

You think that your “divinely loving, omniscient” guru-figure is watching over you, and “everything is always working out as it should, for your own greatest good”? Tell that to Lisa McPherson.

Oh, you can’t: She’s dead.

* * *

We cannot take refuge in the idea that any of the individuals discussed herein are simply “false teachers,” and that genuinely enlightened individuals would not behave so poorly. Nor is the problem simply with “naïve Westerners” following guru-figures who would not be taken seriously in the “spiritual East,” as is sometimes wrongly suggested. For, if there is such a thing as a “genuine guru,” who would ever have doubted that Vivekananda, Trungpa, Muktananda or Yogananda would qualify as such? These are not the worst of gurus, they are rather among the widely recognized best!

Ramakrishna, likewise, was ostensibly one of

the few indubitable Indian saints and sages amidst the veritable plague of so-called swamis, gurus, “enlightened masters,” maharishis, “bhagvans” [sic] and the like of recent times (Oldmeadow, 2004).

After all that we have seen, then, it is easy to sympathize with the perspective of the insightful and democratic 1984 author, George Orwell (1980):

Saints should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent.

The bottom line with each of these figures is thus not whether one or another of their visions may have been real or imagined. Nor is it whether their actual degree of enlightenment is even one-tenth of what they and their loyal disciples claim it to be. (It is not.) Nor can our concerns be allayed by the suggestion that any reticence in approaching one or another of these figures is based merely in “fear of ego-annihilation” or in a “misunderstanding of the nature of obedience” to the guru. Nor is the problem with “projection/transference onto the perfect father/mother figure,” or “intolerance for human imperfections” in evaluating the teacher’s character and behavior. (Again, none of those issues were present in Zimbardo’s prison study. Yet, he still could not avoid creating a toxic environment which exactly parallels ashramic society.)

Nor need we even worry about which of these organizations should be designated as a (prepersonal or transpersonal) “cult,” or whether the alarming/alarmist term “brainwashing” should be used to describe any of their means of control. (Anyone who wishes to intelligently compare the tactics reportedly utilized by our world’s ostensibly “safe” guru-figures and spiritual communities, against those in recognized “problematic” environments, however, will find many significant points of correspondence. For that, Denise Winn’s [2000] The Manipulated Mind and Len Oakes’ [1997] Prophetic Charisma are excellent.)

Rather, the root question to ask with regard to even these “best” figures is simply:

Would you trust your mental and physical health to any of them?

* * *

“Your spiritual teacher’s an Enlightened Master? Join the club, buddy.”

Maharshi. Trungpa. Muktananda. Swami Rama. Gurumayi. Chinmoy. Jetsunma. Andrew Cohen. Werner Erhard.

“Your spiritual teacher’s an avatar? Impressive.”

Vivekananda. Sivananda. Aurobindo. The Dalai Lama. Babaji. Lahiri Mahasaya. Sri Yukteswar. Yogananda. Ramakrishna’s wife. Aurobindo’s Mother. Ananda Moyi Ma. Mother Meera. Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati. L. Ron Hubbard.

“Your spiritual teacher’s the Avatar (Messiah, Teacher, etc.)? Hey, so’s mine!”

Ramakrishna. Jiddu Krishnamurti. Meher Baba. Yogi Bhajan. Satya Sai Baba. Da Avatar. Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Carlos Castaneda. Sun Myung Moon. David Koresh. Jim Jones. Charles Manson.

Jesus Christ.

“Guru, schmuru.”

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