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Narcissistic Spiritual Gurus
We find narcissists everywhere—in our boardrooms, with spouses, ex-spouses, family members, bosses, coworkers, and friends. Most of us don’t expect to discover them among spiritual mentors and gurus. Several years ago, the great sociologist Christopher Lasch prophesied: “In a dying culture, narcissism seems to embody, under the guise of personal ‘growth’ and ‘awareness,’ the highest achievement of spiritual enlightenment.” Many of us assume that if a person has theological credentials or training in spiritual disciplines, they are authentic. Some of the most insidious forms of narcissism are perpetrated by spiritual teachers and gurus.
There are as many styles and levels of narcissistic spiritual gurus as there are spiritual movements. They range from itinerant preachers a la Elmer Gantry to the most educated and highly trained individuals who create worldwide movements and success through their foundations, seminars, numerous books, DVDs, CDs and media appearances. Being respected in the world does not mean that one cannot be a narcissistic spiritual guru who causes psychological and financial harm to others.
A narcissistic guru (male or female) is often dynamic and charismatic. He draws people to him with an irresistible personality that conveys that he has unique spiritual gifts and access to secrets that lead to higher levels of consciousness. A skilled narcissistic guru assesses which people are receptive to joining his spiritual circle. He focuses on the prospective member, letting him know that he is special and irreplaceable. These gurus use riveting eye contact. Their gestures, tone of voice and all their non-verbal cues are focused on their target. Narcissistic spiritual gurus are great actors (who often believe their own performances). They appeal to that part of us that is emotionally vulnerable, needy, or unworthy. Some of us are looking for a magic key or formula that will take us beyond suffering—that voice of the ego that wants to feel like the most powerful, without limits—God. Not all those who fall under the spell of a narcissistic spiritual guru are ignorant or naive. A high-level narcissistic spiritual teacher has dynamic and intuitive abilities that seduce and fool many people. Despite their allure and alluring promises, there are warning signs that a spiritual master is more committed to making himself powerful and wealthy than helping his devotees:
1. Pay attention to the money barometer. Does the guru charge exorbitant fees for his services?
2. Are members under continued pressure to enroll in expensive ongoing programs? Here’s the not-so-hidden message: the more courses you take with us, the holier you become. It can be called a reward for prayer or a sacred spiritual scheme.
3. Another observation is that devotees often revere the guru by reflexively obeying him. Having been deceived by their charismatic leader, they are no longer capable of independent thinking.
4. A narcissistic spiritual guru often uses his closest followers as servants who do free work: running errands, cleaning their homes, organizing public events. A loyal devotee considers these requests a privilege and proof that they have an honored place in the guru’s hierarchy.
5. Narcissists play favorites. They pit one member against another to maintain ultimate power and control over their members.
6. Devotees are often mistreated. Even the smallest mistake can cause ugly scenes of humiliation in front of other group members.
7. Followers who question the spiritual leader or are considered dangerous rivals will be expelled from the group.
8. A narcissistic guru behaves quite differently in his personal life than he does among his devotees. He is often extremely self-indulgent, materialistic, greedy, and in some cases abuses drugs and alcohol. He may engage in sexual exploitation of consenting devotees who are emotionally dependent and vulnerable and psychologically fused with him.
Becoming more spiritually awake and heart-centered doesn’t cost money. It requires dedication, discipline and perseverance despite all the obstacles that come our way. It’s not a short trip; it’s an adventurous trip.
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