Guruphiliac: Rushkoff On Gurudom

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Rushkoff On Gurudom

File under: Gurubusting and Notable Quotes

One of the ways the Mother has blessed us is to put us into orbit with some exceptional bodies of influence. Doug Rushkoff is one of these. He's the cultural critic we've always wanted to be, if we'd written over 10 well-received books and lectured all over the world about them. A few years ago he offered his comments about gurus in Arthur, worth repeating today:
The path of devotion offered by gurus is also a natural fit for those of us who are fed up with the relativistic haze of a world where there are no discernible rules, yet equally disillusioned by institutional religions that appear to have sold out to American consumerism. The guru offers absolutism. Certainty. A point of focus.

As one slick guru, chronicled on Guruphiliac explains on his website: “When you meet a master, you have two choices. Transform or walk away. You cannot be in his presence and remain the same.” Uh, yeah. In other words, conform to his reality or scram.

The guru is the starting place from which all other decisions are to be made. You start with the guru as the one perfect point in the universe, and from there everything else can fall into place. If the guru has instructed you to eat a certain food or do a certain practice, then – according to the logic of gurudom - everything else you have to do for this to happen is part of the perfection. Slowly but surely, surrender to the guru requires you to reject pretty much everything that doesn’t fit whatever model of the world he’s offering you.

But, honestly, that’s what the devotee was after in the first place. An excuse to do or not do all that other confusing stuff in life like encounter people with different ideas, wrestle with the questions of existence, and accept that nobody really knows what happens when we die.

Most of us who have had gurus eventually see something awful – like sexual exploitation, financial abuse, or faked magic – that turns us off. (If we see the guru as perfect, then those blowjobs and false claims get justified: perhaps the guru is testing us, or breaking our hang-ups, At least for a while.) Or we decide that this guy is just too much of an asshole to really be enlightened. Or we simply tire of the idea that “enlightenment” is around the corner, and decide that life is just fine without enlightenment. And getting to that point is a beautiful thing in itself. If an experience with a guru really teaches one the futility of aspirational spiritual quests, then it can even be worth the time, money, and humiliation.

The biggest spiritual victim in the equation is the guru, himself. He’s just a person, after all, who probably had a profound spiritual or psychedelic experience and began to speak or write about it romantically. Charismatically. And this invites admirers and would-be devotees. The guru-in-waiting may not even mean to attract this sort of attention – at least not at the beginning. It’s just the kind of positive reinforcement that naturally comes to a person who speaks passionately about something.
Thus is described the beginning of the end for almost every big-time guru who has ever seen his/her sense of self inflated to the size of a football field. It's that constant supply of positive reinforcement – being blindingly mirrored by hapless devotees convinced you are God – that hooks you to the buzz like it was the purest heroin. Big-time gurus are addicted to your adulation, making you as complicit in their addiction as they are in yours.

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At 4/26/2008 3:31 PM, Blogger stuartresnick said...

Through the Guruphiliac link, I discovered Rushkoff's work a few months back. I enjoy lots of his stuff: his thoughts on Judaism have been fascinating and helpful for me and friends who practice Buddhism while ethnically belonging to The Tribe.

Rushkoff writes, "The guru offers absolutism. Certainty." And we start out with so much less than certainty. I find myself in this world, having no idea at all where I come from, where I'm going, why I'm here, or what I am. One simple strategy for feeling some comfortable foundation in the midst of all this uncertainty... is to follow whoever appears to know the answers, and pretend that that's enough.

An oft-neglected alternative is to get profoundly honest and just understand that I don't know, and then take it from there, moment to moment.


At 4/27/2008 6:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

while I do agree with the basic tenent in this, it also seems to me that many of the Gurus are not ohnest enough.
They conciously and skillfully use deception to lure people in to there game. While the psychological weakness definetely is in the devotee, I do not agree that the Guru is as inocent in the exploitation of this as Rushkoffs says.
Putting people in situations where they have spiritual experiences, and then hooking this experiences on to oneself seems to me to be spiritual theft.
And while I am happy for the insights I gained travelling on the path of gurudom, the number of years spent seems a bit to much today.
But hey, maybe I should just follow Stuarts advice and come back to the moment ;)

At 4/27/2008 11:18 AM, Blogger gregory said...

nope, cannot agree with a lot of this...

first, the LAST thing a guru offers is certainty, (ok, maybe the folowers have some sort of corporate culture), a guru is blowing every concept you have about yourself, life, consciousness, context, reality completely to pieces .... and this is not about surrendering to him/her, it's about getting rid of self-limiting conditioning, suppressed emotional shit, entrenched ignorance, because we would all rather be right than be enlightened... in the end, it is about surrendering to yourself, and this is why the need for a guru has been talked about in the traditions for a few thousand years ...

buddha's supposed last words, be a light unto yourself sums up what a guru is teaching .... if you can do it yourself, cool, but dont' settle for some self-satisfied concept that, hey, i am already that, like all the satsang boys and girls are teaching, because that is simply self-delusion and escapaism from self-transcendence/expansion, whatever you want to call it...

it is precisely to get you to the state of living in the mystery of not-knowing that the whole guru drama has its value...

plus, we rationality addicts don't know how to talk about this, but there is a lot of undercover support that happens in the company of saints, hard to produce oneself....

ok, other than that, hard to be negative about somebody who acknowledges guruphiliac, and hass written a shitload of books... cool

bottom line, a guru kils you, at least, your idea of who you think you are .... it ain't fun

At 4/27/2008 1:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A perfect description of not only the guru game but any cult movement based around a leader or a leading idea (like the "The Secret"). I agree with Viveka though that these would-be leaders to enlightenment are not so innocent--there may be a few, but most are cons, plain and simple. I don't consider getting away with money and swanky living conditions as being "victimized."

I love this blog--keep bustin'!

At 4/27/2008 2:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

(jodi -sorry if I'm sending this same message to you -- I'm have trouble reading the word verification, so I'm not sure my messages are going through)


I appreciate this article right on the coattails of the news of another sex abuse accusation related to one of JKP's two gurus.

From my experience, Rushkoff has nailed the problem with gurus perfectly, in particular, these points:

1. It's a "slow, but sure" process of indoctrination. Yes! You take one small illogical step after the next. The small baby steps by themselves don't seem too bad, but then one day you look behind you and wonder how the hell you got to the point of being completely brainwashed by a person who is all too worldly.

2. Most people feel empty and are searching for years for something meaningful. Something in a guru's usually charismatic teachings attracts their devotional heart. Before they know it they are "surrendering" more than they had planned and when they don't achieve their spiritual goals, they believe its due to some fault in themselves -- an idea most false gurus promote.

3. "... then those blowjobs and false claims get justified ..." This is particularly prescient comment following an article on JKP (based on allegations made last summer related to the main dude)!

As you've said many times, we all want a "spiritual daddy" to take care of us. The problem is, no such being exists. Only when you realize this are you free and only then can you become one with God. Oppression is never a good approach to God realization.

I learned the hard way not to let a middleman stand between my soul and God. It was the most valuable lesson I learned on my spiritual journey.

At 4/27/2008 4:45 PM, Blogger stuartresnick said...

viveka said...
They conciously and skillfully use deception to lure people in to there game.

If I fall into a ditch, it can be an interesting academic exercise to ponder whether the ditch was conciously and skillfully dug to trap me. Maybe a devious person dug the ditch to exploit me. Maybe someone dug it for another reason, and it trapped me incidentally. Maybe the ditch is natural, caused by erosion or geological shifts.

This academic exercise has little bearing on how I should get out of the ditch... or better yet, avoid falling into ditches in the first place.

I simply cannot crawl into a guru's head and know whether or not he's consciously and intentionally deceiving anyone. Even if I were a mind-reader and could determine such things, there'd be little I could do to control the guru's mind-state.

Crawling into my own head to see whether I'm deceiving myself is at least possible (with some effort and intention). And if I perceive my own deceptive intentions, I've got a much better shot at changing my own thinking than the guru's or anyone elses.

When Ruskoff refers to the guru as a spiritual victim... maybe I can just consider that viewpoint as a skillful means, as a way of reminding myself that looking into my own mind-state may be more fruitful than speculating about someone else's.

BTW: I don't know about Ruskoff's history (what guru was he with, how deeply, how/why he left, etc). I'm curious about his specific experiences, in light of his general statements about gurus quoted here. If anyone knows somewhere that Ruskoff has written about his particular experiences in the guru sub-culture, kindly point me to it.


At 4/27/2008 9:40 PM, Blogger stuartresnick said...

gregory said...
a guru is blowing every concept you have about yourself, life, consciousness, context, reality completely to pieces ...

we would all rather be right than be enlightened...

If you've really blown every concept, then why still hold this concept of "enlightened"? If you have ideas about what being enlightened means, then you haven't blown every concept, but rather just exchanged some old concepts for some new ones.

in the end, it is about surrendering to yourself, and this is why the need for a guru has been talked about in the traditions for a few thousand years ...

Countless beliefs have been talked about in some tradition or other for thousands of years. If you rummage through old traditions, no doubt you can find support for anything you want to believe in.


At 4/29/2008 12:53 PM, Blogger nathan said...

"If you've really blown every concept, then why still hold this concept of 'enlightened'?"

Did Siddhartha G. endure migraine headaches and die of dysentery to blow minds? never ends here, does it? Where does the idea of "blow[ing] every concept" come from? That's not anywhere in the texts. I'll say this, though. If you think you just need to get rid of concepts and then you can be enlightened, and that all you need to do is think the right things, good luck, but the Big E probably isn't in the cards for you. The only "concept" to be "blown [away]" would be the experiential filter of having a permanent, separate, pre-causal self. The permanent loss of that illusion: that's enlightenment. Not "blowing minds."

Beyond that, how degenerate does a society have to be that it permits spiritual teachers who have somehow encouraged some ethos of "open your mind, dude" above and beyond basic ethical examination and conduct?

Now, maybe you are confusing "enlightenment" as in awakening ("buddha" as in "awake") with a c. 18th Century ideal of "enlightenment" (as in not exposing your factory workers to toxic compounds out of "enlightened self-interest") as having some special, superior, correct rational viewpoint. It is truly a foul conceit that Westerners have mis-translated a word (that, mercifully, their own forgotten contemplative tradition never labeled save as "god") and confused its meaning and even nature with a period in their own recent history.

At 4/29/2008 4:36 PM, Blogger stuartresnick said...

nathan said...
Did Siddhartha G. endure migraine headaches and die of dysentery to blow minds?

You'll have to travel back in time and ask him. Meanwhile, each of us can ponder and communicate about what our own intention is.

Where does the idea of "blow[ing] every concept" come from?

Gregory introduced it into this discussion; it's in the 3rd comment from the top.

That's not anywhere in the texts.

You can believe in a text, follow what it says, and get your life direction from what the text tells you. In that case, there's always the question of why you believe in that text.

Believing in a text, or following a Guru or authority, is a different path from examining one's own mind and experience. We can each decide which way we like.

If you think you just need to get rid of concepts and then you can be enlightened, and that all you need to do is think the right things, good luck, but the Big E probably isn't in the cards for you.

What's this "Big E"? Is it your own experience you're talking about, or something you believe because it's in a text?


At 4/30/2008 5:25 PM, Blogger nathan said...


Well, my appeal to the texts was based partly on my own surprising discovery of there accuracy at least with regards to my own experience--it wasn't until just a little while ago that I had written it all off as hokum (and for that matter just a game of self-delusion) that I was listening to some interview where someone was relating his own experience, and it sounded awefully familiar--and then he pointed to the texts. And by "texts" I also mean traditions.

Don't get me wrong, there is plenty bad in books and teachers. Much of what is written and said is responsible for encouraging impossible expectations, like some state of permanent emotional unshakability or limited thought or psychic powers or something. I'm just saying that much of it also stands the test of time and can, despite all that, prove grounding, as well as providing a valuable map.

but texts and reflection on practice can be helpful as well, no moment is static so no practice can be so static that it doesn't require adjustment etc.


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