Sex, Lies and Guru Ploys: Insights from The Guru Papers
by Corey Donovan Corey@sustainedaction.org
One of the books that some of us have found useful in analyzing and putting in perspective the pattern of behavior on the part of Castaneda and his concentric inner circles that has been coming into sharper focus in recent weeks is Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad’s The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power (1993). Excerpts from the book that help put Castaneda’s behavior in context with that of other "authoritarian" figures appear below. First, however, it might be helpful to review some of the aspects of Castaneda’s behavior that may be relevant to this analysis.
In abstract terms, what we are dealing with is a man who held himself out as a teacher with a unique position and unique abilities: he claimed to be the last of an ancient lineage that supposedly held the secrets not only to traveling bodily into other worlds or dimensions, but which also offered the promise of a form of immortality--evading death by keeping one’s awareness intact. He claimed to have a unique "energetic configuration"—one that he and his colleagues purportedly had not seen in any of the thousands of people they had interacted with over the past few decades—that gave him special abilities and capacities as the "Nagual." He also had an inner circle that included women who could supposedly corroborate many of his stories about his own mythic, ideal teacher, and who also characterized the current teacher as "egoless," "empty," "not a man anymore," and "very much like don Juan was."
Due to his unique position and abilities—which supposedly included being able to "see" others?true natures and innermost secrets—this teacher was virtually unquestionable as an authority on the teachings he claimed to have received and the ways in which people needed to change and act in order to experience the phenomena his lineage had supposedly experienced. It was also suggested-- to some degree in public workshops, but even more in small groups and by members of this teacher’s "inner circle"--that this teacher’s "special powers" included the ability to accelerate the development of similar abilities in his "students," and that he could even "fix" various "energetic" problems, holes and obstacles, especially in women, through what would be described in other contexts as casual sex.
Because one of the prime directives of this supposed lineage was to "erase personal history," the questioning or investigating of the bona fides and "facticity" of the accounts of this teacher and his closest colleagues was harshly criticized and condemned, even though this teacher himself told endless stories about what had supposedly happened to him and his colleagues at various points throughout their lives. And because "stalking"—acting certain roles designed to evoke particular reactions, or "assemblage point shifts," in oneself and others—was supposedly a prized technique of this teacher’s lineage, it was simply an aspect of their "skill" that their interpersonal relations and activities were shrouded in layers of secrecy and false stories.
Because of this teacher’s unique position, abilities and "lack of ego," it was also not "abuse" when he regularly attacked, publicly humiliated, falsely accused or initiated the "shunning" of his "disciples" and colleagues. On the contrary, all such behaviors were passed off as examples of the teacher’s selfless and "impeccable" teaching techniques.
I guess that’s enough of a review for the moment. Before turning to the excerpt, however, it is important to note that the term "guru" is used in the book solely in a functional sense, i.e., as someone who has attained some special ability or level of awareness that he holds himself out as being capable of being able to generate in others and on which he is the sole or primary authority. Likewise, the term "cult" is used in the book "in a specific way to refer to groups with an authoritarian structure where the leader’s power is not constrained by scripture, tradition, or any other ‘higher? authority." P. 32.
The authors distinguish between "cults" and "religions" as follows: "Probably all religions with an individual founder started as cults, becoming organized religions when, through widespread acceptance, the structure itself and its symbols became more important than the individual leaders who succeeded the founder. Cults become religions whenever they build up traditions, a body of myths, parables, scriptures, and dogmas that are interpreted and protected by specialists (priests, etc.) who see themselves as the guardians of the truth, not the bringers of it." Id. In a cult, by contrast, "absolute authority lies in a leader who has few if any external constraints. This means the leader (who is usually the founder) is not merely the interpreter but is also the creator of truth, and thus has free rein in what he proposes." P. 33.
The following excerpts are taken from Part 1 of the analytical portion of the book, entitled "Personal Masks":
"Like religions, cults offer meaning, purpose, identity, and community. But the feeling of unity is more intense in cults as their internal cohesiveness depends on protecting the purity of the group from outsiders. Thus there is relentless group pressure for loyalty and conformity. As social animals, many of our strongest feelings come from group alignment. Cults offer a powerful matrix that breaks through individual boundaries and amplifies energy. Often what grabs the person is not a specific leader or ideology, but rather the configuration of emotions that is part of the state of surrender itself. Gurus can arouse intense emotions as there is extraordinary passion in surrendering to what one perceives as a living God. . . . . Should the guru become paranoid, greedy, or merely bored, as many do, they can get their disciples to do most anything.
. . . . Most gurus present themselves as being beyond the foibles resulting from ego." (Pp. 33-34.)
"Surrender to a guru, though a way of filling a spiritual vacuum, is also one of the most powerful forms of mental and emotional control on the planet today. Especially insidious are the images of superiority tied to the presumption of greater wisdom, moral purity, or an enlightened state. Whether or not there is any reality behind these projections can be endlessly debated. The issue for us is not who has more wisdom or insight, but rather how this presumed wisdom is used. Asserting that one human being fundamentally knows what’s best for another is authoritarian. If this is accepted, it sets up a chain of inevitable relational patterns that are detrimental to all players of the game.
. . . . We do not question the need for people to connect with something more profound than their own personal dramas. We do question the viability of religions that present this world as a stepping stone to some other more important realm. Once this occurs, it is inevitable that religious experts delineate how to reach this other realm, and what must be sacrificed in this world to do so. This always includes renouncing self-centeredness—an endless task.
. . . .
Because the power of traditional religions comes from furnishing unchallengeable answers about the unknown, they are inherently authoritarian. Religions deflect examination by ordaining faith and belief to be sacred, while maintaining that no ordinary person can know enough to take issue with the beliefs they put forth. A further hindrance to the intelligent examination of religious tradition is the social taboo against doing so." (pp. 36-37.)
"The need to appear right when presenting oneself as a spiritual knower is greater than in any other arena because knowing is what makes one essentially different from seekers. Admitting any fallibility not only removes one from that exalted place, but makes it difficult to compete with other presumed knowers who do claim infallibility. Part of being a knower is knowing that seekers are searching for certainty, and that if you don’t offer it someone else will.
. . . .
Replica Watches Replica Watches
. . . .In the traditional guru/disciple structure, disciples are expected to surrender their will to the guru. This is presented as necessary for the guru to lead the disciple to realizations that can only be achieved by giving up the mundane attachments previously accumulated. This, of course, includes material attachments; but more importantly, surrender is presented as the means of letting go of the more deep-seated psychological attachments, which include the very structure of personality and identity (what is called ego).
As surrender to a guru is an integral part of being a disciple, this offers a paradigm for examining the needs surrender fills, the emotions it generates, and why it appears to offer quick access to change. In our view, deciphering the mechanism of surrender can only be done by viewing it in tandem with control." (pp. 47-48.)
"Surrender is one of the most powerful forces and emotional states that a human being can touch into. Passion literally means abandonment, letting go; thus surrender is a way to passion. It is possible to surrender to many aspects of life: a person, an ideal, one’s art, a religion, a political system, the revolution, and even the living moment. Surrender is so potent precisely because it shifts control to an arena that is free, or more free, from one’s inner dramas and the conflicts involved in personal decisions. If I surrender my heart to you, then being with you becomes central in my life. . . . . Surrender is a basic part of life, as is control. What is being examined and taken issue with is surrender as part of authoritarian control.
In the East a guru is more than a teacher. He is a doorway that supposedly allows one to enter into a more profound relationship with the spiritual. A necessary step becomes acknowledging the guru’s specialness and mastery over that which one wishes to attain. The message is that to be a really serious student, spiritual realization must be the primary concern. Therefore one’s relationship with the guru must, in time, become one’s primary emotional bond, with all others viewed as secondary. In fact, typically other relationships are pejoratively referred to as ‘attachments.?Once the primary bond with the guru is established, a powerful configuration of factors comes into play.
The ostensible reason for fostering surrender is it detaches followers from certain deep conditionings presumed to be obstacles on the spiritual path. But it does not detach them from one of the most insidious and powerful conditionings of all—the predilection to look for an authority that one can trust more than oneself. On the contrary, gurus happily leave intact that basic conditioning. To be someone’s authority is to be firmly implanted at the very center of their being. So although most gurus preach detachment, disciples become attached to having the guru as their center, whereas the guru becomes attached to the power of being others?center. These reciprocal attachments are ignored because attachment to the guru is considered spiritual; and the guru, who is presumed enlightened, is by definition supposed to be beyond attachments." (pp. 49-50.)
[The authors then proceed to list some of the types of scandals that tend to arise under these circumstances: (1) sexual abuse, (2) material abuse, (3) the abuse of power and (4) self-abuse. Under the category of sexual abuse, they note "the deceit that is seemingly innocuous to some people, involving a pretense of celibacy or monogamy while having clandestine sexual activity." Under the category of "self-abuse," they note the common contradiction that, although the message is that "the body is the temple of spirit and must be so treated; a healthy body is the result of a healthy mind and spirit; tranquility, compassion, and emotional control are signs of arrival"?quot;many leaders display the opposite: drunkenness, obesity, vindictiveness, rages, and physical ailments that in others would be called psychosomatic, such as allergies, ulcers, or high blood pressure. In fact, a close examination of the history, past and present of many religious leaders shows a high incidence of what might be termed self-destructive indicators." P. 51.]
"When abuses are publicly exposed the leader either denies or justifies the behaviors by saying that ‘enemies of the truth?or ‘the forces of evil? are trying to subvert his true message. Core members of the group have a huge vested interest in believing him, as their identity is wrapped up in believing in his righteousness. Those who begin to doubt him at first become confused and depressed, and later feel betrayed and angry. The ways people deny and justify are similar: Since supposedly no one who is not enlightened can truly understand the motives of one who is, any criticism can be discounted as a limited perspective. Also, any behavior on the part of the guru, no matter how base, can be imputed to be some secret teaching or message that needs deciphering.
By holding gurus as perfect and thus beyond ordinary explanations, their presumed specialness can be used to justify anything. Some deeper, occult reason can always be ascribed to anything a guru does . . . . He punishes those who disobey him not out of anger but out of necessity, as a good father would. He uses sex to teach about energy and detachment. . . . . For after all, ‘Once enlightened, one can do anything.?Believing this dictum makes any action justifiable.
People justify and rationalize in gurus what in others would be considered unacceptable because they have a huge emotional investment in believing their guru is both pure and right. Why? Why do people need images of perfection and omniscience? This goes back to the whole guru/disciple relationship being predicated on surrender. Surrender of great magnitude requires correspondingly great images of perfection. It would be difficult to surrender to one whose motives were not thought to be pure, which has come to mean untainted by self-centeredness. How can one surrender to a person who might put his self-interest first? Also, it is difficult to surrender to someone who can make mistakes, especially mistakes that could have a significant impact on one’s life. Consequently, the guru can never be wrong, make mistakes, be self-centered, or lose emotional control. He doesn’t get angry, he ‘uses? anger to teach." Pp. 52-53.
. . . . Surrender to Christ and to a guru have similar dynamics, as they both bring about feelings of passion, a sense of purpose, and the immediate reduction of conflict and tension. It is difficult for disciples to avoid the trap of using their new-found good feelings and relatively peaceful emotional state as verification that the guru and his worldview are essentially correct. As many do, they use ‘feeling better?as their litmus test for truth.
The power of Eastern religions and the gurus that represent them is that they offer a living Christ-like figure to worship [e.g., "don Juan"], and also hold out the promise that anyone who does the proper practices could conceivably reach that high state, too." P. 54.
To Sex, Lies and Guru Ploys part 2