Torii

Gurus and Cults

This was my cynical reply to someone who challenged the validity of enlightenment:


Enlightenment is nonsense. Enlightened masters are people who have experienced some kind of mystical ecstasy and subsequently told themselves they got enlightened. And once they have their own followers they turn out to be corrupt and cause all kinds of scandals.

The (enlightened) mind is nothing but a bunch of biochemical processes in the brain and after you die the lights just go out — no more spiritual fantasy stories.

So just stay alive and reproduce.


Unfortunately I have to say that the content of this reply is probably not too far from the truth. At a certain point, after hearing one ‘corrupt master’-account after another, I even got the impression that being corrupt is a prerequisite to becoming a renowned master, because most of the famous masters seemed to indulge in immoral behavior.

How can it be that so many gurus have been involved in scandals, while the enlightenment they claim to have attained has to do with becoming less selfish and more compassionate and wise? One answer is of course that some gurus aren’t enlightened in the first place.

The mystical experience may well be a valid experience, in which perceived boundaries fall away and the individual discovers his universal ground of existence. But we should not overestimate the effect of the mystical experience. Evidently the individual remains an ordinary human being, with all his weaknesses.

Maybe some corrupted gurus who actually are enlightened didn’t start out with bad intentions. But when an ordinary human gets into a situation where people worship him every day, power can easily corrupt.

So an important indicator of guru corruption is in how far the guru portrays himself as a near perfect human being. This reinforces the projections the students have about the guru and so enhances the power trip of the guru.

Another fundamental inconcistency that I noticed is that although a lot of gurus claim to have attained great enlightenment, those gurus often have completely opposing views on essential spiritual matters. These are matters like the necessity for ethical conduct, the importance of spiritual practices and the existence of free will.

How can their views be completely opposing when they all have the ‘right view’ through their great enlightenment? Their views are obviously more about personal beliefs than about universal truth.

So when you go out shopping for enlightenment in the spiritual supermarket, remember to keep the ability to think for yourself...