Guruphiliac: The Cult Guru Playbook

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Cult Guru Playbook

File under: Satscams

A commenter named "h" just graced us with what we're calling the cult guru playbook:
  1. Have a set of group rules they expect the followers to adopt and self impose
  2. Be charismatic leaders who self-proclaim enlightenment
  3. Have a drive to recruit as many people (especially westerners) into their organization as possible. Recruitment is often labeled as sadhana, or spiritual practice to help the devotee
  4. Enjoy tax-exempt status—hidden behind charitable works without any proof where the donations go
  5. Insist upon dropping the mind and ego with full surrender to the leader
  6. Brag about their devotees spiritual progress, as if in a marketing campaign for more souls
  7. Employ chanting to Hindu deities in their meditation practices
  8. Employ questionable breathing techniques, usually some form of hyperventilation, inducing mental foginess mistaken as altered level of consciousness
  9. Use contracts, or fear, to ensure their meditation techniques are kept secret from the outside world
  10. Charge money for programs while insisting they do charity work for the less fortunate. If someone can not afford to pay for the program, they are not allowed in
  11. Encourage followers to share their experiences—a form of group control
  12. Have their own group lingo or slang terms
  13. Perform rituals, chants and devotional songs to not only deities, but to the guru him/herself
  14. Questions regarding the group or leader are not allowed
  15. Devotees all insist that their master is the true master and has the only path to enlightenment. These devotees use vague personal experiential stories as proof
  16. Devotees believe and accept everything the guru says
  17. Donations encouraged. A way of giving back to the guru who has given so much to the devotee
  18. Guru quite pleasant and jovial with the newcomers. Yet easily angered and volatile in closed quarters or with the inside group
  19. Group meditation practices, clothing styles, food choices, music, books, knick-knacks, etc, gives the group cohesion. Establishes an us vs. them dynamic
  20. Fictitious anecdotes of the leader to ensure devotees see him as holier than them. Stories are based in myth and beliefs with no way to prove they are true
  21. Have crazed devotees that worship them
  22. Encourage (or don't discourage) families to break up to persue spiritual advancement under the guru
  23. Instill a form of fear to discourage devotees from abandoning the guru/group. The devotee is basically told that to abandon the group means losing all his/her spiritual progress made under the guru
  24. Have some form of meditation on the guru or his photo
  25. Start with an affordable entry level form of meditation practice. Benefits of which are usually peace and health
  26. Insist on additional meditation levels for spiritual advancement—often with higher costs
  27. Volunteerism is considered spiritual practice and often costs money to volunteer
  28. Have lots of stories of enlightened devotees, but you never seem to meet one
  29. Have ties to politicians, high ranking officials and authorities. Celebrities are a bonus
  30. Put followers through intense physical, emotional and mental challenges (i.e., sitting in painful positions for extended time, emotional sharing with strangers, fancy words with quick witted tongue), thereby lowering normal judgment process
That's a fairly comprehensive list that reeks of ex-insidership. Pranams to h for sharing his or her insights here.



At 11/12/2009 12:34 AM, Blogger Expose Nithyananda said...

Wow, I was about to guess that this person has been through the Life Bliss Program or Nithyananda Vedic Temple, etc. Then I turned to the Nithyananda comments, and there was that post!

But, sadly, I'm sure that these Truths could apply to many fake gurus and their cults. Thanks for creating such a complete list!

At 11/12/2009 2:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautifully said. Thank you "H" for articulating a great deal of what I experienced. I would add -
31. The guru is The Avatar (or second coming of Jesus). We have been together and seen him as such in many life times and if you are not aware of the you are simply defective.

At 11/12/2009 4:22 PM, Anonymous Nitya Bose said...

Have a drive to recruit as many people (especially westerners) into their organization as possible. Recruitment is often labeled as sadhana, or spiritual practice to help the devotee. ------>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Dude, its bit of narrowing down the scope of cultish nutbags only to India. To show westerners like some precious commodity and indian gurus are after them is plain stupidity. Barring the dozen gurus which are most likely featured in this blog, many gurus from east or west have displayed cultish signs without actually looking for any westerners.

Let me add a couple more to the play book to make it really universal.

1-A guru from west must have once "traveled" or "spent" time in India
to be some cult character back in united states.
2-The american wanna be cult guru changes name and accent and behaves
and talks like indian either with a saree or or some indian traditional robe.

I wish this site remains constructive and unbiased in criticism and not just a site for India bashing or try to prove all westerners are innocent poor victims etc. It may lose credibility among the indian readers on those lines.

At 11/12/2009 8:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sure, there are American gurus. And they play by the guru playbook just the same. 'H' didn't restrict the gurus to being Indian, or even say recruitment is restricted to westerners.

But how often do you see American gurus recruiting non-westerners? Not often. Why? Because the money and potential is in the west.

Plus, it makes good business sense. The more western followers, the more likely to attract non-westerners to a group. The rest of the world often adopts western clothing, food and belief systems. Sad, really.

At 11/13/2009 1:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nitya Bose ,

There is no need to look for moral equivalence.

As America's investigative agencies are independent. The culprits cannot evade punishment or deportation.

Is there any need at all to write about the state of affairs within India?

At 11/13/2009 11:39 AM, Blogger oneperson said...


Great list! Even to ex-Bible culties or true believers. Folks sometimes forget that the Bible writings, etc., took place in the East, not West!

Thanks to H!!!


At 11/13/2009 3:54 PM, Blogger Expose Nithyananda said...

I want to chime in again. As you might recognize, I am one of the contributors to the nithyananda-cult blog.

Thanks, Nithya Bose, we really do agree with you, and thanks for keeping our awareness up. Indian traditions, or more specifically Sanatana Dharma including Vedic Truths, should not be abused as vehicles of exploitation, but respected for what they are, Divine Gifts.

There are plenty people of all types of creeds and nationalities who have plucked these Truths, distorted them, and exploited them. We do have problems with this. This is not right.

As I'm sure we all agree, these Truths that were developed mostly in what is now part of modern India and are gifts to the world, and should be respected.

So, although we would like to unmask the charade of others who abuse these for their own self gain, we, as grandma always said, "Shouldn't throw the baby out with the bath water."

Cult tactics, as outlined by "H" seem to be universal, and plenty of Westerners have exploited others using these tactics. Most infamously Rev. Jim Jones, the Shining Path, to name a few.

Of the lot of westerners who specifically have abused Sanatana Dharma Truths (and there's a long list), probably amongst the worst offender was Hitler. Where did you think he got the idea and name for Swastika? And, just as Hitler has tarnished the Swastika, we cannot stand quiet when others, regardless of race or nationality, do the same.

Finally, we fully agree with Nithya Bose that this use (or misuse) of Sanatana Dharma is not an Indian issue, but a gift from India that should be respected, loved, and most of all practiced.

Anyway, these are our thoughts..., and I'm sure there will be plenty of lively discussion to follow. Enjoy, and good thoughts to you.

At 11/13/2009 8:45 PM, Anonymous Nitya Bose said...

The rest of the world often adopts western clothing, food and belief systems. Sad, really.

Its not about east and west but its about old and new, ancient and modern. Third of one billion plus people in India do not follow any trend or fashion or adopt to any western life style even remotely. The rest of Asia (japan, korea, singapore, malaysia, dubai,hongkong and other chinese run nations) tries to keep pace with "development" and "progress" and invariably have to imitate the western lifestyle.

India is never part of any "progressive" western ideas in reality despite the successive governments here may hogwash with fancy words to appear "developed".

Most of the gurus from India are representing this mythological Bharat(India) of some ten thousand years old. They peddle this baggage everywhere they go. There are takers for this age old BS in the west, who can get flipped for anything ancient. Its a conspiracy that works fine between these mutually convincing totems of primitive and modern minds.

At 11/13/2009 10:55 PM, Anonymous kamal said...

wow this summary is nt only for nithyanada but incorporates many other cults right frm osho rajneesh to putthapardi baba to sri sri (only some)to the swaminaryan sect.

At 11/14/2009 12:30 AM, Anonymous Nitya Bose said...

Consciousness is timeless and eternal, but has been processed through humans for several thousand years. It certainly has gathered enough interpretations over this long period. Indians take pride in their caste and culture because they have been taught to preserve old things like every other culture.

Most of what is disagreeable to western minds are a every day living reality for many Indians. Basically its a cultural conflict of minds that we see between old eastern ideas and western acceptability.

Not just in US or any western region, but right here in India there are many who don't agree with mythology. There are gurus in India who know the advaitic truth in a direct manner without fuss than most of these mythological gurus addressed here in the blog. In India a guru is always a cult hero. But that's what the culture is.

Aside that, there are spiritual groups which do not consider westerners as qualified to be spiritual and the followers in such groups do not grant their guru the cult hero status because of some westerners seen hanging around. They do not welcome the westerners or their money as it brings a lot of "bad karma".

Cult figures in India are never cosmopolitan but only local and meant for closed groups, almost sacred or secret. There may be thousands of such spiritual groups exist in India. you may never even locate them in the Google.

At 11/14/2009 5:53 AM, Anonymous Nitya Bose said...

Direct teaching of the truth or covering it up with self aggrandizement, the spiritual guru in India is always a cult hero, without the word 'cult' spelt any time. The cult is the culture here, be it a guru or a movie actor or even a politician.

Infact the gurus that visit west are usually rebels who decided to break free from the cultish atmosphere of their personal home or ashram. Their intention is to step beyond the boundaries and carry the "wisdom" outside India to strangers and 'untouchables' around the world. But unfortunately they could not leave behind their mythological baggage at home and tell the truth as it is.

The westerner presence is never a need for any cult in India. But only a cosmopolitan guru needs to project he is universal, ends up recruiting non Indians to show his universality.

Many temples in India do not allow westerners to enter the sanctum sanctorum of a temple. Others charge certain amount as if to discourage the westerner from entering. These temples worship cult gods.

Nithyananda grew up in a small village (thiru annamalai) where myths are abound in every nook and corner despite good old Ramana's presence.

Nithy is a rebel but a disgraced one not as much out of greed but out of ignorance and immaturity,
despite deciding to break free, still wanting cult status outside makes him look imbecile. Its just a plain bad habit.

He is not so much a universal guru because not many Indians know him yet. He is popular only in the south and perhaps a bit in mumbai and aside south india his only outlet is west and not northern India. That is a severe handicap.
He is crippled when it comes to speaking the "national language" which is Hindi.

The cult guru status attained in India so naturally is not left behind but smuggled through immigration into other countries too. Perhaps there are enough cult worshippers even in the west.

Sorry about my tidbit comments, no thanks to my work which does not permit to send a comment in single piece.

At 11/14/2009 2:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This isn't about east vs. west.

Gurus around the world use strategies within the playbook with or without the recruitment of outsiders. Like 'oneperson' said, you can find many of these tactics in non-indian based groups in backyard usa.

The groups who want to conquer the world (or save it), amass large amounts of followers and/or wealth will invariably seek outside recruitment to grow.

The smaller guru groups who don't recruit may be considered sacred in India. But it doesn't mean the group is any more 'true' or uncorrupted.

Consider there are thousands of western cults (or groups) that are also deemed secret or 'sacred'. Many of them don't seek recruitment yet follow similar guru/group dynamics. And you won't find these secret western groups in google either.

At 11/14/2009 3:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kamal, what do you mean "to sri sri (only some)"? It describes Sri Sri and his organization so much I thought H was a former AoL devotee!

At 11/16/2009 5:06 AM, Anonymous Gurucool said...

This is wonderful. I was initiated into the art of living cult by a gay couple in Mumbai and was in it for two years. I can vouch for every point in this list. It is so true. The guru business runs on a very standard blueprint.

At 11/16/2009 8:42 AM, Anonymous quackers said...

how to be a guru in the modern age:

1. laugh, grin and then laugh some more. no reason, just to show everyone how unaffected and "pure" you are.

2. if someone criticises you, well grin some more smugly and then cackle smugly. to dismiss the critics and to keep the flock blinded.

3. always quote something "profound" from the scriptures. though now its been quoted by the vile, the scriptures have been defiled. but who cares?

4. release a song, preferably a take that song. remember "everything changes but you"? change it to "everything changes but me"

5. because in a cult, everything changes: the truth changes, the rules changes, to fit the insane but strangely wonderous but evil leader, but he never changes.

6. everything changes but the big fat blob on the throne. ie the big fat HIPPO in a suit.

7. i used to think no-prem twat used to look like a toad but now he resembles a greasy toady hippo in a suit.

8. nice: a toady face, fish mouth, hippo in a suit.

9. say its not a religion but then quote from every single religion going....

10. and follow the rules of every single religion going, all the while say "this is not about religion"

11. and when all else fails get up on stage with an insane grin and start flapping about and call it your divine dance...

12. and if that fails to impress the ladies start crooning in a high pitched squeely voice...

13. and if that doesnt impress, go back to declaring yourself the "lard of the whole puniverse"

14. more later....

At 11/18/2009 12:26 AM, Anonymous Swami Fruedananda said...

This is about the phallic warfare between Jaggi Vasudev, Paramahamsa Nityanannda, Sri Sri Ravishankar and Subash Patri. They all suffer from the 'Small Penis Syndrome'. A constant anxiety about the small penis size. They make up for it by trying to outdo each other by constructing non utlitarian tall buildings and structures.

See the following links and you can see the disorder:

Jaggi Vasudev's huge shiva lingam, the dhyanalingam or meditating lingam- 76 feet in diameter and 33 feet high. Thick and long.

Nityananda's ananda lingam is 21 feet tall.

He makes for the smaller size (in comparison with Jaggis lingam) by creating 1008 lingas called jyotir linga and 108 shiva lingas. People can sponsor the lingam by paying $2200 or $1000 for each and people can have their small little lingam installed in their own sweet name.

Nityananda's sales strategy is a direct lift from the successful Kotilengeshwara (10 Million Linga project) temple started in the 80s near Bangalore. Of course installing lingam cost money.

Sri Sri Ravishankar built the seven floor circular Vishalakshi mantap to prove his is no small venture:

Then we have the pyramid meditation guru Brahmarishi Subash Patri who also believes fiction of Lobsang rampa to be true. He
wants to prove that he is no small guy and built a huge pyramid for meditation in the outskirts of Bangalore:

Folks in Bangalore and South India are waiting for the next Guru on the block to flash his lingam. Can they outdo the sizes of well established gurus.

At 11/20/2009 8:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great list! I agree with Jody that you seem to be an insider. Or, a very astute observer.

So, do we get to find out what you based the playbook on or what your background is? Because your list makes me think Isha/Sadhguru group. But, I guess the point is, the playbook is quite successful in the guru game. (As proven by different opinions listed here of the guru you may be referring to).

Maybe people who are in guru cults will look at this list and realize they are mere pawns in the game? Sure, why not? (shrug)

At 11/20/2009 8:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Swami F for pointing out the gurus' Linga envy.

I've always wondered why the guru often preaches to the follower to rise above the desires of physical pleasures. Brahmacharis are required to be celibate.

Yet you see the guru/linga followers bowing down to an upright penile structure penetrating an oval structure. Often immersed in water. C'mon, lets call a spade a spade. You can't call this spade a spiritual form of pure consciousness.

Hmm.... OR, maybe this explains Krishna Pattabhi Jois "Hands where they don't belong" in this website's earlier feature.

At 11/23/2009 11:32 PM, Anonymous Nitya Bose said...

Yet you see the guru/linga followers bowing down to an upright penile structure penetrating an oval structure. Often immersed in water. C'mon, lets call a spade a spade. You can't call this spade a spiritual form of pure consciousness.

Where do you think the "one billion plus" explosion of India happen from? unless it was all erect and upright?

Nevertheless, the upright phallic penetration through the oval shaped wet thing describes the point of creation in tantra. A point where creator separates from creation or unites where creator and creation are no more different from each other. Simply speaking, thats the breaking point of dual and non dual nature of Universe.

But the obsession of the phallus by the gurus cant be anything to do with transcendence, it could be about mostly the fund raising. Jaggi Vasudev is going to install something inside his remarkable phallus temple this "mahashivrarti" and thats going to cost you in six digits, if you are one of the chosen 80 pax, who will be present during those two hours inside.

At 11/26/2009 11:47 PM, Anonymous Achyutananda said...

Swami Freudanandaji, Thats an intresting analysis of penis envy among the Gurus. Freud is arcane and redundant and the small penis syndrome might not be right explanation for these long pointed and circular structures built by Gurus. It is as the other commentator suggested a means for gurus to solicit donations. I remmber art of living foundation asking for donation for their building all in the name of social work and welfare. After collecting huge sums and when these folks build these huge structures the followers get a vicarious gratification of being part of something big.

At 11/27/2009 1:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

More than 20 years ago I was a student of Sant Keshavadas and he had the tallest Sri Vishwa Vijaya Vittala statue carved, 36 feet high. So it is not only lingams in the competition.

At 11/30/2009 2:42 AM, Anonymous Chandra Kumar said...

Jody this is a funny exchange of views in an Art of Living blog by one of its cult leaders. This cult leader has used the word 'Screw' in one of his articles and AOL people are debating about it:

S says:
November 30, 2009 at 11:59 am

Don’t you think you can do away with “SCREW” and your frequent reference to “the act” to bring in humour?[remember the peacock joke?] May be you want to connect better to the youth and you think that these are the jokes they would appreciate. That could be true…especially with people who have interacted with you personally…they just love you! But I can not imagine Guruji using these words to make people laugh in Satsang. Then why should his disciple frequently refer to such words to bring in humour? Just a thought ! I am writing because I feel that you are a person who would be open to feedback to improve this blog! JG

Nidhi Says

Mr S,
Guruji is very pure in thought and will never use words like screw, fuck, shit. Sri Sri Ravishankar is not like osho rajneesh who used to tell all kinds of dirty jokes. That is because osho knew that there is no such thing as bad words or thoughts. And osho taught people to go beyond thought and words and exercised complete freedom in expression. Guruji also knows this and guruji wants us to go beyond thoughts and words but he is very restrained. Guruji is very diplomatic because many people will run away if he starts telling dirty jokes. Guruji has to portray himself as saint. Also you should understand that Guruji's main audience is socially respected individuals and he has to play this leela as a holy man. This is very much required because Guruji has to win Nobel Prize so that Guruji and art of living can become very popular. It is just leela and Guruji knows about this as he is a witness. We should also understand that Guruji has never had sex in this life (in previous lives yes and he has all knowledge of all his previous lives). But this life not even once Guruji has fucked(about ejaculation and wet dreams in his early days i dont know, but Guruji is urdvavretha now). So that is why these words he can never related to except by going to previous life, which is a bothersome process. Of course the word 'Shit' he can relate to because guruji also shits like everyone else but still he has never used this word. Although many art of living people do not believe that Guruji never shits, I know it first hand because when Guruji visited london once to my Uncles house and used the bathroom, I was lucky enough to go immediately after. So I know firsthand.

Now what bawa is doing here is his own nature and he is giving a finishing and holistic touch for art of living by using words like screw. Bawa is not going to get Nobel Prize like guruji and nobody wants to give him also. Bawa is also targetting young people like me as sometimes I can never understand Guruji as he never uses the language we young people use. Bawa is a bridge. Hope this clarified your doubts.
Jai Gurudev

At 12/03/2009 5:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bawa is seriously screwed up! And his answer says everything about the truth behind Ravishankar! I would not worry so much about words whether Ravishankar says bad words or not. You don't need to say screw, shit, fuck in order to be, think, act evil. He actually screws, fucks, and shits people. Him having no sex this lifetime and needing to go to a previous life time ... please! he is sexually molesting men in this lifetime. Molestation is not considered sex by Bawa, right? Or as he'd put it, an act of love to release your karma. And worse is they want to grab young people. Is this not screwing society just for his Nobel Peace Prize? Can one be so blind to not see through Ravishankar? Could Bawa and Dinesh please come out of the closet once and for all?

At 12/23/2009 10:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All of them can apply to any corporation/organization or bollywood or hollywood or research institution. So what's new ? Even wal-mart has their chant !! Try criticizing your boss tomorrow on his face an see the result at year end may be before that !! What's up with Hindu ? Basically its very easy to criticize from comfort of chair and internet. What's the qualification/accomplishment of writer anyway ?!! Try do something and you will get criticism. What's new ? Infact its status symbol to criticize :). If somebody does criminal thing law will take care. So all parents will stop sending kids to convent school because of catholic church scandal :)?

At 1/12/2010 10:09 PM, Anonymous True Seeker said...

Could any of you suggest a good "believable' and followable Guru for me please ?

At 1/12/2010 10:14 PM, Blogger guruphiliac said...

Could any of you suggest a good "believable' and followable Guru

Why not try the Inner Guru?

At 2/19/2010 10:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear True Seeker,

The true guru is inside you. Don't let the comments of the ignorant people ruin you.

Its it for you to judge which person is right for you to guide. Nityananda may be that person or may be some other guru. But it is for you to judge with open mind. Don't let opinion of others to be the judge. Trust yourself.

For i again insist don't let yourself be the victim of others opinion.

At 1/26/2011 5:16 PM, Blogger Fil Losofo said...

man, i wised up and realized i dont need a fanatical, tyrannical, authoritarian to run every aspect of my life.. i am 35. it took me 32 yrs. i was born into it.
now how do i tell my dad? .. *sigh*

At 1/26/2011 5:17 PM, Blogger Fil Losofo said...

the Rick Ross Forums on cults helped a lot. and Agent Orange.


Post a Comment

<< Home