Guruphiliac: The Blade Hits The Bone

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Blade Hits The Bone

File under: Gurubusting

Just in case some of y'all haven't figured it out yet, this blog has an incredible complement of gurubusting pundits who post in the comments and on the discussion board. This morning, "David The Blade" cuts to the quick and drops some serious knowledge about the guru/chela dynamic:
In the typical guru-culture, a magical view of the guru's power is cultivated. It is AMAZING on the one hand, and very much seen as the guru him(r)self on the other. The truth is that it isn't that amazing, and the state of the 'chela' plays a huge part in it. It's ordinary, human internal processes that the guru may play a part in catalyzing. The kinds of experiment that Stuart proposes would prove that the chela's belief and expectation is playing an enormous part in this phenomenon that is called 'guru shakti'. The experiments will not be done (or made well-known) because the typical guru culture is not interested in this fact, because the very knowledge of that fact shifts the power in a way that is not wanted in that, excuse me, somewhat parent-child or even narcissistic-codependent way of life.
Stuart Resnick's experiment was as follows:
Set up a screen, so that such people can't tell whether or not [the guru is] behind it. See if they still feel strangely stimulated when they only think [the guru] might be there, as they do when [this guru is] actually there. Can they tell the difference between [the guru's] presence or absence if they can't see or hear or smell [him/her]?

So simple, huh? Doesn't require million dollar grants or white lab coats. A space-daddy/mommy like Gurumayi etc could set up this experiment so easily, and settle once and for all whether there's any truth to the devotee's claim that they can feel the guru's energy.

Yet strangely, the gurus never allow this simple experiment. Reasonable people can draw conclusions.
Reasonable people. Our collection of these is eminent. It's a value-add that makes this blog so much more than we'd ever be able to provide on our own.


At 12/14/2006 10:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Look, I admire the way you, Jody and the Blade have answered the questions. Very adroitly, but you have just reframed my original question without answering it. (Note: I am not taking a position for or against, but I am interested in ensuring that we answer a question, rather than indulging in verbal masturbation)

OK, Blade - I agree with everything you say, so the question then is - What makes some people the focal point of all that adulation, more than other people.
Everything you ascribe it to - media manipulation, hype etc etc - are the result of one man's efforts. What is it about his efforts, about him, that makes him successful?
In some fields ( and I consider spiritualityas much a profession, in some ways, as any other) - the answer is obvious - look at Shakira - she's hot, she can dance, she can sing. No wonder she's a huge success. etc. etc.
But look at Ravi Shankar - no obvious start quality - what makes him tick?
Years ago, I went to see Sai Baba in action. What was all the fuss about, I wondered. I went to Puttuparthi and actually had a brief darshan with the guy. Most unimpressive. I was not moved at all. Didn't understand why or how a boy from a small village had the guts, the gumption and the ability to generate the kind of enthusiasm and hysteria and adulation that had built up about him.
Long post, so I apologize
But, here are the questions:
a) Whatever the reason you ascribe their successes to - why these guys? What makes them better at it?
What do you think Charisma is? (I have read all the books, and there has never been a coherent answer)


At 12/14/2006 12:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with you about the value of this blog, Jody. In and of itself it's very informative and entertaining, but in the short time I've been here I have also read some thought-provoking (dare I say amazing?) insights in the "comments" section.

I also agree that "The Blade" is right about the reasons none of the "space-daddies" (and mommies) would subject themselves to Stuart's simple experiment. I imagine it's pretty much the same reason that the self-help hucksters Steve Salerno criticizes in his book, SHAM, have so far not made good on their threats to silence him. (I think they're talking about silencing him by legal methods, but ya never know. :-)) They know their crap would not stand up to real scrutiny. And like the chelas, many followers of the SHAMsters are not interested in truth as much as they are in feeling good.

At 12/14/2006 1:32 PM, Blogger jody said...

in the short time I've been here I have also read some thought-provoking (dare I say amazing?) insights in the "comments" section.

That's what I'm talking about!

Y'all just stick around and keep making me look good.

At 12/14/2006 2:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous is asking about charisma. And yes, it is mysterious.

Charisma is so complex that it can be productively studied from many different vantage points, the way a complex play like Hamlet can be staged or done on film in many different ways.

One attempt to study charisma has been from a sociological/psychological development perspective. For this, go read Len Oakes' terrific book Prophetic Charisma. He makes a persuasive case that many charismatic persons start out with impairments in psychological development. They are intelligent, even brilliant, but fail to master some basic steps in learning empathy, the ability to play with and enjoy ordinary intimacy with peers.

They can only feel comfortable in relationships where the power structure is imbalanced. To conceal their incapacity to enjoy ordinary human relatedness, they work like hell to master social manipulation skills.

That's Len Oakes' approach. He was able to interview 20 charismatic leaders, and his book is well worth a peek.

Another person I once corresponded with suggested that physiological factors can affect charisma. She said she'd met a number of new age entrepreneurs and was intrigued that so many of them had bipolar affective disorder. Some members of her family had bipolar, so my correspondant could identify it fairly accurately. She said that persons in early stage manic phase are full of energy, can energize others, are innovative and can get by on very little sleep. When such leaders are in high energy states, they want to surround themselves with other people who are high and intoxicated too. They surf on the energy of the excited followers--and turn viciously nasty if anyone blocks the happy surge by expressing doubts or giving valid warnings about logistics--or that the proposed action is hurtful or illegal.

(Ever notice how many domineering leaders keep us awake at marathon meetings and events?)

A leader who keeps pushing for huge numbers of followers may be trying to surf on thier energy--not just money.

Yet another friend of mine who barely survived a 10 year stint in a group led by a charismatic psychopath, is convinced that some very charismatic persons have a physical component and that perhaps it may even be hereditary.

His charismatic leader served time in prison, then got out and set up a business. He was profiled in a newspaper and the journalist was totally blown away by him. She'd apparently forgotten all she'd ever learned as a journalist and was so intoxicated by this man's charm that she never thought to run his name through Lexis Nexis.

My friend sent the journalist a packet of material detailing that this man had been jailed and served time for an assortment of lurid crimes.

Charisma can apparently affect our brains much the way speed can--it may give a temporary and vivid boost to neurotransmitters that tickle the pleasure centers. That may be why some people get enraged and desperately defend their charismatic leaders--they are addicts defending thier own high.

One may generate charismatic effect if one studies how to induce trance or manipulate subtle energy. In his memoir The Sun at Midnight, Andrew Harvey alleged that he met a Tibetan lama who offered to teach him some methods from kashmiri shaivism (which BTW is not part of Tibetan tradition at all) that would have enabled Harvey to attract disciples!

Harvey was enthralled by a guru at the time, and refused the offer. But he remembered feeling a chill when confronted with the possibility that the bliss he felt from his guru could be produced by mere technqiue. Later in this same book, Harvey wrote that another friend claimed there were places in India where one could go and learn various methods of undue influence.

It is worth noting that in the Indian traditions, one can go 'off the grid' leave mainstream society, wander for years as a mendicant and become untraceable.

It is entirely up to the wanderer whether he studies with honest and holy people, or quietly decides to slip off and learn methods of trance induction and later re-surfaces to set up as an intoxicating guru.

Once you emerge from this wandering apprenticeship and set up as a spiritual entreprenuer, you can make up any story you want to conceal taking lessons from some seedy charlatan's academy.

Finally a friend drew attention to the possibility that one can access some regions in spiritual practice where it is possible to gain genuine powers and at the same time remain ego-deluded.

The moral of the story is, one has to exercise intelligent discernment and critical thinking to learn whether a spiritual teacher

1) Actually knows what he or she is talking about

2) is capable of reciprocating the loyalty of devotess--can see you as persons, not as objects to toy with.

3) Has the maturity, training and skill needed to oversee a spiritual community and ensure that it remains grown up and does not turn into a regressive and competitive cult. One can be spiritually quite wise and yet not have the skill needed to keep a group adult and on-track.

Finally, a charismatic leader must know to take care to ensure that students remain adult and are capable of functioning autonomously after the leader is gone. I have known ordinary family situations where a charismatic matriarch or patriarch died and the adults left behind were unable to resolve squabbles because they never had the incentive to learn ordinary conflict resolution--the charismatic one had done it all for them.

The best leaders, whether spiritual or secular, arrange thier succesion so well that people have little time to remember they are gone because things are going well.

At 12/14/2006 6:20 PM, Blogger TheBlade said...

Jody, thanks for the (implicit) compliments. I am honored to be quoted on Guruphiliac.

Interesting post on charisma, anonymous.

Charisma is certainly part of the story. Interestingly too, though, it is not the whole story of what makes a fake guru 'big'. Just as charisma, or stage presence, is not the whole story of what makes a successful rock star, say.

Some of the factors involved are of another kind -- it can be a matter of finding a successful forumula and perfecting it. (A good example of this is Madonna, who is noted for not being particularly charismatic.)

I reckon these people are good at building a system around themselves. Just like the 'best' mafia dons. They surround themselves with the 'right' kind of henchmen as well as the 'right' kind of suckered masses, and know how to play them both in different ways.

At 12/14/2006 9:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous - Excellent post on narcissism and charisma.
Another great book is the one by Anthony Storr - Feet of Clay: A Study of Gurus.
Narcissism is no doubt the driving force, but again, what are the precise qualities of charisma - concretely, can it be replicated as a physical/behavioural phenomenon.
I read another book (and when the name comes back to me, i will post it) that explained the interaction of societal forces and individual personality with scholarly precision.

Meanwhile, here is a link to a synopsis of Len Oakes' book


At 12/15/2006 5:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


The following article has some interestig reasons for these people's fan following:
"GDP? That's Guru Darshan & Pravachan!"

At 12/15/2006 8:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blade has a point.

Along with charisma, it is very, very important for an operator/guru to know whom to select to invite into a group and those persons NOT to recruit.

Healthy groups have psychological diversity. Unhealthy groups have psychological homogeneity--shared gullibility or a shared capacity for tolerating abuse, or a shared tendency to be addicted to bliss and deny unpleasantness.

Its also important for a manipulative leader to know when to kick people out--preferably after they've given lots of time and treasure, but throw them out just before they start to get tired, or begin to see so much they they start having misgivings.

The best way for a leader to kick people out is to do it when they are still consciously loyal but begin showing signs that they are to do it while they are still getting worn out, that unconsciously they are getting bored.

It is most effective to kick them out suddenly and brutally just before they wake up and question the whole set up--and find a way to do this so the rest of the followers fall into line and shun the ejected person.

Often long time members get thrown out precisely because they've been around long enough that they've seen things that increase the likelihood that they'll start recognizing corrupt features of the organization. One thing to look for is a pattern of rapid, mysterious depature among the oldest and most exprienced members, while the group constantly looks for a fresh supply of newcomers who dont yet know enough to connect the dots.

Meanwhile, booted victim/s will spend years wondering what they did wrong. IF the rest of the group shuns them, they never get information that will help them understand what really happened.

A guru with a nasty and abusive temper will want followers who are willing to put up with abuse,
just the way violent people look for prospective partners who are unsure of themselves and willing to take the blame for everything.

A violent person, whether guru or looking for a partner, will NOT want to hang around with self confident types who are capable of fighting back--they'll avoid assertive people.

If brutal people happen to be gurus, they often find a way to claim that healthy self respect is a sign of 'ego' or of being spiritually inferior, while tolerating vile treatment is the sign that you're 'serious' about being a real disciple.

Others may not be violent but would want to attract or at least keep followers who are eager to feel blissful and just as eager to avoid painful emotions.

Still others want 'visionaries' and screen out folks who concern themselves with niggling details like whether something's legal, illegal or financially responsible. Folks who care about logistics and real world limitations will be written off as 'negative.'

(Whenver I hear or read the word 'visionary' I always ask 'Who is going to pay the bills--the visionary, or someone else?'

Finally a spiritual entrepreneur has to figure out which niche market to target. Oakes uses different terminology but mentions how this works.

Someone from a Christan background has to master scripture and the oratorical/theatrical skills that go over well with Christians. A personal story that legitimates one's claim to authority has to be constructed and fine-tuned.

Someone coming from a Hindu background would need to appropriate elements from that tradition and find ways to manipulate bliss and know how to use vedanta-speak. As Sahdivi put it, folks in this venue will commonly display the picture of some famous and often deceased guru who will, by being deceased, be in no postion to protest.

At 12/15/2006 10:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's nothing to do with charisma of him/her over there.
It's all to do with the gullibility of the me right here.

Whether it's nature or nurture, some of us are just plain gullible. Instead of using the faculty of discrimination we just fall over and get our tummies tickled, like guddled trout.

But as the song says... "Hey! It can only get better..."

At 12/15/2006 11:07 AM, Blogger Stuart said...

TheBlade said...
>Charisma is certainly part of the
>story. Interestingly too, though,
>it is not the whole story of what
>makes a fake guru 'big'.

Yeah, I think it's simplistic to focus on the traits of the guru alone. In groups I've seen, it has seemed that a certain critical mass has developed of people supporting each other in a particular belief. The group dynamic can develop without anyone intentionally trying to create it, but rather because human beings are naturally herding animals.

Vinny Cooch said...
>It's nothing to do with charisma
>of him/her over there. It's all
>to do with the gullibility of the
>me right here.

There's a belief in many anti-cult groups that people who fall to groupthink are completely innocent victims, it could happen to anyone. Much like the "disease" model of alcoholism in the religion called "AA."

I don't think this is entirely right. While a wide variety of people do end up in cultish groups, it does seem like an understanding of and respect for critical thinking does make some people more immune. Which is why I can't seem to get away from the idea that scientific method has a key role in seeing through the groupthink.

In short, it doesn't seem to be that anyone can become a mindless follower. A certain type of religiosity seems inversely corrolated with a certain type of intelligence. In the population as a whole, though, I expect there will never be a shortage of people lacking critical thinking.

And I'll reiterate that part of the dynamic is that so many of us grow up with a particular view of the world, that the goal or direction of life is entirely about getting nice things, feelings, and situations for myself. When someone points us to the very possibility that how I keep my own thinking is more powerful than anything in the "objective" world... it's such a stunning revelation that we tend to embrace whatever different perspective is offered, even if the new perspective is deeply flawed also.


At 12/15/2006 7:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Yet strangely, the gurus never allow this simple experiment."


Is this really true? How many that you know have refused?

Most gurus, whether real or not, are not trying to poove themselves to be givers of transformational experiences.

At 12/15/2006 10:50 PM, Blogger TheBlade said...

Anon said: Most gurus, whether real or not, are not trying to poove themselves to be givers of transformational experiences.

They are certainly trying to cultivate the perception of themselves as givers of transformational experiences, so many of them. And the point is here, so often cultivating the perception of that transmission as being based on a power of theirs which is magical (in a way that it is not actually).

And the type of experiment that Stuart proposes would prove it not to be magical in a way so many think it is. That experiment would be a tool of a kind of education that they aren't interested in supporting.

That summarizes it. Is that clearer?

At 12/15/2006 11:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The "Blade" said: That summarizes it. Is that clearer?

Now you are beginning to sound like my old college lecturer...
Chill, my man...


At 12/16/2006 8:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am wondering if any of you find any value in sharing time with a spiritual guide/teacher? Would someone actually be willing to discuss what qualities you find worthy of respect and appreciation...if any. Give some examples of spiritual guides/ leaders past and present that you find balanced, useful, etc...
I appreciate the dialog here...though sometimes quite narrow...thank you.

At 12/16/2006 8:51 AM, Blogger TheBlade said...

Mouse, here's a good tip to help the reading experience on Guruphiliac -- try to have a good reason to post, even something funny. But unfunny picking at people's posts is old even when it's new.

At 12/16/2006 9:39 AM, Blogger jody said...

Would someone actually be willing to discuss what qualities you find worthy of respect and appreciation...

The most important quality a guru can have is the ability to convey the truth that self-realization does not put anyone any higher or lower than anyone else. To know oneself as the Self is the great leveler of the human condition. Pedestals being pushed indicate the guru is on an ego trip or s/he is just too lazy to protect the truth at the expense of their comfort and their being adulated.

At 12/16/2006 9:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you jody....

Can anyone pay respects to any teachers past or present that actually was able to maintain equanimity with the teachings, student/teacher relationship etc..


At 12/16/2006 10:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mouse, here's a good tip to help the reading experience on Guruphiliac -- try to have a good reason to post, even something funny.

Yes, Sir, Mr Blade, Sir...

yours humbly


At 12/16/2006 10:26 AM, Blogger facedog said...

Stuart said, "Can they tell the difference between [the guru's] presence or absence if they can't see or hear or smell [him/her]?"


From the point of view of a guru bhakti type, I can tell you that I would not draw a line in the sand between my Guru and the thought of my Guru, between his body and a photograph of him.

This does not mean I find fault with this blog and the excellent job Jody does to expose the false gurus, which accounts for almost every one out there. But as Stuart also pointed out, we have to look at the followers. There can't be a false guru without false followers. It is not enough to feel sorry for ourselves when we have been tricked, or more truthfully allowed and participated in our being tricked. There has to be a pay off or we do not fall. Having been burned by a guru and badly hurt, I did not choose to blame all gurus. Well, I maybe did for a while... For me it was similar to marrying the wrong person and being divorced. In that divorce I lost most of what I had financially and all of my self esteem--for a while. I condemned all beautiful women and the idea of romantic love. After a few years of anger and resentment I started seeing not only how I actively participated in the "wrong choice" of a mate, but also just how bad a mate I also was.

In my mind, the same is true of all relationships including the relationship with God and Guru. If we are false, not fully commited to truth, they are false. When we are ready for a true teacher, that teacher will be there and he/she will not likely be constantly changing our diapers and try to keep us bound to them like a parent.

That has been my experience.

At 12/16/2006 11:29 AM, Anonymous durga said...

Stuart said:
While a wide variety of people do end up in cultish groups, it does seem like an understanding of and respect for critical thinking does make some people more immune. Which is why I can't seem to get away from the idea that scientific method has a key role in seeing through the groupthink.

I think this is an importnat point. Most of the people I know who get sucked into cultish groups do not have good critical thinking skills, or decide to put those skills in the basement so they can live with more of a sense of certainty. I know one woman , very intelligent, who was a missionary for an Indian guru for many years. there was loads of evidence that he was screwing around despite his vow of celibacy but she opted to deny it. It took me about 30 days after hearing about this guru to find out most of what I needed to know. The information is usually there, especially now with the internet. Whether people choose to believe it or not is another story.
There's a good article by david lane about why people in leadership positions in these cult/organizations will deny the truth when it is in plain view. Mostly it has to do with not wanting to lose status. in the real world, they may feel like nobodies, but in the organization, they are somebodies. Still, I think any one with a sincere desire for truth will leave despite the sense of belonging the group gave them.

At 12/16/2006 12:53 PM, Blogger CHUCK said...

AnonyMouse said, "Years ago, I went to see Sai Baba in action. What was all the fuss about, I wondered. I went to Puttuparthi and actually had a brief darshan with the guy. Most unimpressive. I was not moved at all..."


You must have been too old and unattractive to receive Sai Baba's transformational touch. Otherwise it's guaranteed.

Or it could have been that when you gave him a "brief darshan", he
found you most unimpressive and was not moved at all.

At 12/17/2006 12:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Facedog said - "For me it was similar to marrying the wrong person and being divorced. In that divorce I lost most of what I had financially and all of my self esteem--for a while"

Good point and well said, Facedog..I agree with you...

chuck said: "Or it could have been that when you gave him a "brief darshan", he found you most unimpressive"

Dude, don't be casting aspersions on my manhood here...all well on that front, but I don't play for the Baba's team

A Mouse

At 12/17/2006 10:59 PM, Anonymous chuck said...

A Mouse said, "Dude, don't be casting aspersions on my manhood here..."


You are right. That was unkind of me. Gradually I will mature with your good example, Mouse. But I couldn't pass up the "brief darshan".


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