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Saturday, 11 May 2019

The Guru Syndrome: When Spirituality Turns Sour

[Wake Up World]: "Some gurus may be narcissists who are attracted to the power and privilege that guru status brings. Others may be self-deluded individuals who believe that they are spiritually awakened, when in fact they are psychologically damaged – and who leave a trail of further psychological damage behind them"

The guru tradition has been a part of Indian culture since time immemorial. In that context, it is seen as an important way of transmitting spiritual teachings, and a way of supporting aspirants along the spiritual path. Spiritual development can be a tricky process, with all kinds of pitfalls and dangers, so the guidance of a guru is helpful. According to Indian tradition, the guru can also ‘transmit’ his spiritual radiance to his followers, providing them with spiritual sustenance. In addition, the devotion of the disciple to the guru has an important role. Indian spirituality places a high value on bhakti (devotion), as a way of transcending self-centredness.

However, when the guru tradition is transplanted into western culture, it often becomes problematic. (I’m sure it is sometimes problematic in Indian culture too, but probably not to the same extent.) There are countless reports of American or European-based spiritual leaders who have exploited and abused their followers, had promiscuous sex with their female followers, become addicted to alcohol or drugs, and so on. In fact, there are so many cases of ‘gurus gone wrong’ that it is not easy (at least outside traditional Indian culture) to find examples of ‘good gurus’ who have avoided excess and immorality.

Some gurus may be narcissists who are attracted to the power and privilege (and perhaps the money and sex) that guru status brings. Others may be self-deluded individuals who believe that they are spiritually awakened, when in fact they are psychologically damaged – and who leave a trail of further psychological damage behind them. But some gurus do seem to start off with good intentions. Perhaps they don’t even intend to become gurus. However. followers gradually gather around them, and eventually they become the center of a ‘spiritual community.’

The key to understanding the guru syndrome is the psychological need of disciples. Although many disciples (at least initially) may have a genuine need for spiritual growth, this is usually combined with a much more unhealthy impulse: a regression to a child-like state of unconditional devotion and irresponsibility. This is a very appealing state to be in. Think of how wonderful it felt as a young child, to believe that your parents were in complete control of the world, and could protect you from everything. There was nothing to worry about; your parents had it all covered. And you worshipped them so devotedly that you unquestioningly accepted everything they said and did. Guru worship takes his worshipers back to that infant state. As long as the disciple is in the care of the guru, all is well in the world. They feel safe and secure, just as children do in the presence of their parents. They give up responsibility for their own lives and pass it on to the guru, just as children do...read more>>>...

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