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The Ambiguous and/or Abusive guru phneomenon

"Real Masters never charge for their services, nor do they accept payment in any form or any sort of material benefits for their instructions. This is a universal law among Masters, and yet it is an amazing fact that thousands of eager seekers in America and elsewhere, go on paying large sums of money for "spiritual instruction.". Masters are always self-sustaining. They are never supported by their students or by public charity."
Julian P. Johnson, The Path of the Masters (original url)


The Abusive Guru is an all too common phenomenon in the "spiritual supermarket".

Abusive gurus are almost always highly charismatic, and often have a lot of charisma and personal power, but little insight. They may be emotionally immature (although this is not necessarily the case), and the very worst ones (although fortunately a small minority) are parasitic sociopaths. The better ones are sincere and genuine in trying to help their devotees. The problem is, they believe thmsleves to be "Enlightened", when they are not. They may suffer from some degree of inflation and Narcissistic personality disorder, and having a tendency to sadomasochistic co-dependency with their disciples and devotees. They justify their abusive treatment by in terms of pseudo-spiritual psychobabble like "crazy wisdom" and "breaking down the ego", and, I believe, they genuinely sincerely believe that this is what they are doing, and do it with the best intentions, albeit with unacknowledged selfishness determining their actions.

It is important to understand that no truly Realized being, no True Guru, is ever abusive, ever. There is no exception to this rule, because abusiveness is a result of narcissism and ego, nothing else, and the primary definition of a true guru is they no longer possess ego. Thus any (and I mean any!) abusive behavior of the sort described here immediately and absolutely defines that so-called teacher or so-called master as being of at most partial or limited realisation.

Basically then, the definition of abusive guru is that they either consciously or unconsciously manipulate the trust placed in them by their devotees for personal sexual or financial gain, or play emotional mindgames on them, while for the most part genuinely believing they are helping their devotees and disciples by doing this. In the worst cases, they may also ecourage or incite violence or abuse against ex-devotees. Once this happens you know that whatever good was there at the start has pretty much been lost. Some cult leaders like Sun Myung Moon are as far as I know sincere, and while I may disagree with their religion, there do not seem to be instances of deliberate and conscious abuse on their part.

This does not mean that such gurus are completely negative. For some they provide great spiritual inspiration and genuine help. They themselves may have profound genuine experiences, and can transfer these experiencxes to their devotees. That is the paradox of the Intermediate Zone.

Two types of abusive guru

There are two types of abusive gurus - those who are at the level of avidya and have only a superficial realisation, and those who have attained the intermediate zone and hence have genuine experiences and enlightenments, but still the persistence of samskaras like desire, egotism etc. These two categories do not constitute a hard and fast distinction, since each shades into the other, and it may even often happen that an abusive guru may equally belong in both categories. All these categories are after all purely mental, and shouldn't be taken too rigidly.

Avidyan gurus may have some genuine experiences, and even in some cases occult powers deriving from the subtle regions, but lack anything corresponding to real or even to partial enlightenment. They may and probably do genuinely believe their own claims, and that they are helping people. And they may even help some emotionally dependent or insecure people who need a authority figure, through giving them something to believe in. But through normal ego and desire they cannot help but take advantage of this, and abuse and manipulate their devoteees, often not out of wickedness (genuinely evil or psychopathic fake teachers are very rare), but simply because power corrupts.

Intermediate zone gurus have genuine enlightenment experiences and powers, which they derive from the intermediate zone, which is the developmental level at which they are stuck. It is important to understand that not all Intermediate zone gurus are abusive. There are some, perhaps many, with partial realisation who are neverthelesss genuine. The effect of the intermediate zone experience is nicely described by Ken Wilber as "One Taste sufficiency that leaves schmucks as it finds them". In other words, people who were spiritual and selfless before, become genuine gurus; those with lower desires and selfishness and egos become abusive gurus. But in keeping with the paradoxical nature of the intermediate zone, even abusive intermediate zone gurus genuinely do help some people, just as they harm others.

Regardless of their attainment or lack thereof, abusive gurus always behave in some sort of cultic fashion, and their followers (many of which may suffer from excessive naivety or low self-esteem) tend to have an uncritical attitude of rationalisation towards the ill-treatment handed out at them.


It is suggested that abusive gurus can be recognised by at least several of the following characteristics:

(this list is from external link part 2 of my essay on Integral World)

Or as the Fourth Way teacher external link Selim A´ssel puts it:

Types of Abusive Behaviour

There are a number of categories of abusive behaviour. Most abusive gurus will tend to specialise in only one or two. Also the degree of abuse will vary greatly, from mild to extreme. The following list is probably not exhaustive:

Sexual abuse and manipulation - more

Financial abuse and exploitation - more

Emotional abuse and manipulation - more

Antagonistic attitude towards, and sometimes even encouraging their devotees in harassment of, Critics and Ex-devotees. This is one form of abusive behaviour in which the devotee fully partakes, and is the doer, rather than the receiver or victim - more

Authoritarianism and Thought Control - more

Cultism. Again, here we see loyal devotees willingly participating (with the belssings of their guru); indeed such activities would be impossible without their help. In general Cultism isn't something apart from the above categories, but rather their synethsis. - more

See Also: The Guru Test | Intermediate Zone

Child Nodes: breaking down the ego | crazy wisdom | the guru test | sadomasochism


external link The Cult Test (includes detailed commentary) - by A. Orange

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page by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 4 July 2006, last modified 20 September 2009