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The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power

The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power

by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad

Frog, Ltd., Berkeley, California; 1993

The following quotes are taken from Part One of the Guru Papers
and are deemed by ex-members to be strikingly accurate in describing
the dynamics of a cult guru.

“If an authority not only expects to be obeyed without
question, but either punishes or refuses to deal with those who
do not, that authority is authoritarian.” (p.15)

“Gurus can arouse intense emotions as there is extraordinary
passion in surrendering to what one perceives as a living God.”
(p.33)

“In ‘spiritual’ realms fear and desire can become
as extreme as they get. When a living person becomes the focus
of such emotions, the possibility of manipulation is correspondingly
extreme.” (p.41)

“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
prime emotional bond, with all others viewed as secondary. In
fact, typically other relationships are pejoratively referred
to as ‘attachments.’” (p.49)

“So although most gurus preach detachment, disciples become
attached to having the guru as their center, whereas the guru
becomes attached to having the power of being others’ center.”
(p.50)

“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: The guru is said to take on the karma of others, and that
is why his body has whatever problems it has. The guru is obese
or unhealthy because he is too kind to turn down offerings: besides,
he gives so much that a little excess is understandable. 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.
He lives an opulent life to break people’s simplistic preconceptions
of what ego-loss should look like; it also shows how detached
and unconcerned he is about what others think. 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.”
(p.52)

“That interest in one’s own salvation is totally
self-centered is a conundrum rarely explored.” (p.54)

“So disciples believe they are loved unconditionally, even
though this love is conditional on continued surrender. Disciples
in the throes of surrender feel they have given up their past,
and do not, consciously at least, fear the future. . . Feeling
totally cared for and accepted, at the universe’s center,
powerful, and seemingly unafraid of the future are all achieved
at the price of giving one’s power to another, thus remaining
essentially a child.” (p56)

“It is not at all unusual to be in an authoritarian relationship
and not know it. In fact, knowing it can interfere with surrender.
Any of the following are strong indications of belonging to an
authoritarian group:

1. No deviation from the party line is allowed. Anyone who has
thoughts or feelings contrary to the accepted perspective is made
to feel wrong or bad for having them.

2. Whatever the authority does is regarded as perfect or right.
Thus behaviors that would be questioned in others are made to
seem different and proper.

3. One trusts that the leader or others in the group know what’s
best.

4. It is difficult to communicate with anyone not in the group.

5. One finds oneself defending actions of the leader (or other
members) without having firsthand knowledge of what occurred.

6. At times one is confused and fearful without knowing why. This
is a sign that doubts are being repressed.” (p.57)

“Traditional gurus teach what they were taught. Most gurus’
training in dealing with disciples is through example –
watching their own guru. They learn to recognize, reinforce, and
reward surrender, and to negate non-surrender. Aside from the
more tangible rewards, they reinforce devotion with attention
and approval, and punish its lack by withdrawing them. Though
some gurus say that doubts are healthy, they subtly punish them.
Doubt is not the way to get into the inner circle. Believing surrender
is essential for transmitting their teachings, some gurus could
be aware they are manipulating people to surrender, but think
they are doing so ‘for their own good.’ (If this were
in fact true, it would mean that deep truths are only accessible
via an authoritarian mode.) This can not only justify manipulation,
but also justify dissembling in order to eliminate people’s
doubts – all this being done in the name of fostering spiritual
growth.” (p.62)

“The power of conversion experiences lies in the psychological
shift from confusion to certainty.” (p.65)

“People whose power is based on the surrender of others
develop a repertoire of techniques for deflecting and undermining
anything that questions or challenges their status, behavior,
or beliefs. They ridicule or try to confuse people who ask challenging
questions.” (p.66)

“Is experiencing intense energy a sign of spirituality,
or is the experience in the same vein as young ladies who swoon
in the presence of rock stars?” (p.68)

“To be thought enlightened, one must appear not only certain
that one is, but certain about most everything else, too.”
(p.70)

“Gurus undercut reason as a path to understanding. When
they do allow discursive inquiry, they often place the highest
value on paradox. Paradox easily lends itself to mental manipulation.
No matter what position you take, you are always shown to be missing
the point; the point being that the guru knows something you do
not.” (p.74)

“Their stance toward outsiders is of benign superiority.”
(p77)

“As long as the guru still sees the possibility of realizing
his ambitions, the way he exercises power is through rewarding
the enthusiasms of his followers with praise and positions in
his hierarchy. He also whets and manipulates desire by offering
‘carrots,’ and promising that through him the disciples’
desires will be realized, possibly even in this lifetime. The
group itself becomes an echo of the guru, with the members filling
each other’s needs. Within the community there is a sense
of both intimacy and potency, and a celebratory, party-like atmosphere
often reigns. Everything seems perfect; everyone is moving along
the appropriate spiritual path. The guru is relatively accessible,
charming, even fun. All dreams are realizable-even wonderful possibilities
beyond one’s ken.” (p.78)

“A particular form of seduction that the group participates
in with those flirting with joining is similar to sexual conquest.
The group pours an enormous amount of focused energy and attention
into potential recruits until they surrender to the group’s
authority, which of course has the guru and his belief system
at its center. When someone does surrender, everyone celebrates
the new bonding. This is a bit like a new marriage, and for the
recruit, it is the honeymoon phase. This lasts as long as it does,
and then the focus of the group shifts elsewhere. (This also happens
in romantic love, for after the conquest the wooer’s interest
and focus often move somewhere else.) When the honeymoon is over,
the new converts must shift roles – from being the wooed
to being the wooer.” (p.79)

“But a cult in decline has more trouble selling itself.
. . Members and the guru become withdrawn and the focus gets more
internal, insular, and isolating. . . The fun is over. The rewards
are now put into the distant future (including future lives) and
are achievable only through hard work. This not only keeps disciples
busy and distracted, but it is necessary because the flow of resources
that came with expansion has greatly diminished. This glorification
of work always involves improving the leader’s property
(the commune or ashram), increasing his wealth, or some other
grandiose project.” (p82)

“People are especially vulnerable to charismatic leaders
during times of crisis or major life change.” (p.87)

“People don’t want a second-rate guru; they want the
one who seems the best. Since purity is the standard measurement
– the gold or Greenwich meridian time of the guru world
– each guru has to claim the most superlative traits. This
is naturally a breeding ground for hypocrisy, lies, and the cultivation
of false images of purity. Gurus are thus forced to assume the
role of the highest, best, the most enlightened, the most loving,
the most selfless, the purest representative of the most profound
truths; for if they did not, people would go to one who does.
Consequently, it is largely impossible for a guru to permit himself
real intimacy, which in adults requires a context of equality.
All his relationships must be hierarchical, since that is the
foundation of his attraction and power.” (p.88)

“Since adulation from any one person eventually becomes
boring, gurus do not need any specific disciple – they need
lots of them. Gurus do give special attention to those with wealth
and power.” (p.89)

“Gurus likewise do many things to ensure that their disciples’
prime emotional allegiance is toward them. In the realm of sexuality,
the two prevalent ways control is exerted are through promulgating
either celibacy or promiscuity. Although seemingly opposite, both
serve the same function: they minimize the possibilities of people
bonding deeply with each other, thus reducing factors that compete
with the guru for attention.” (p.92)

“. . . sex scandals go with the occupation of the guru because
of its [the position’s] emotional isolation and eventual
boredom. Disciples are just there to serve and amuse the guru
who, after all, gives them so much. The guru’s temptation
is exacerbated by the deep conditioning in many women to be attracted
to men in power.” (p.93)

“Gurus, like fathers, are in a context that gives them enormous
power because of their disciples’ needs, trust, and dependency.
One reason incest is a betrayal of trust is what a daughter needs
from her father is a sense of self-worth not specifically linked
to her sexuality. Sex with the guru is similarly incestuous because
a guru ostensibly functions as a spiritual father to whom one’s
growth is entrusted. Having sex with a parental figure reinforces
using sex for power. This is not what young women (or men) need
for their development. When the guru drops them, which eventually
he does, feelings of shame and betrayal usually result that leave
deep scars.” (p.94)

“Fostering promiscuity, impersonal sex, and interchangeable
sexual partners accomplishes the same agenda as celibacy. It trivializes
sexual attraction and undermines coupling. Casual, disconnected,
modular sex eventually leaves people satiated, jaded, and often
hurt. They become fearful of forming deep relationships, which
fits neatly into the guru’s need to have disciples detached
from everything but him.” (p.99)

“Many gurus and spiritual authorities negate, make light
of, or even ridicule the use and value of Western psychotherapy
because its concepts of the unconscious undermine their authority
and power. To acknowledge that unconscious factors may be operative
in oneself means that one cannot be totally sure one is selfless.”
(p.102)

“A primary goal in therapy is to free clients from their
need to transfer unresolved issues onto others. This need makes
people particularly susceptible to authoritarian control. Good
therapists aim at being very conscious of how they deal with transference.

Because of the nature of the relationship which demands total
surrender, gurus do exactly the opposite. They cultivate and reward
transference, for a parental type of authority is at the very
core of the guru’s power over disciples. The power to name,
arrange marriages, and dictate duties and behavior are ultimates
in parental authority, especially in traditional societies like
the East. To give someone the power to name or marry you is to
profoundly accept their parental role in defining who you are.
The ostensible motivation behind this has to do with an attempt
to break the ties of the past so the person can become ‘new.’
A deeper reason is that this aids the guru in becoming the center
of the person’s emotional life, which facilitates surrender.”
(p.105)

“The person most at risk of being strangled by the images
demanded by the role of the guru is the guru. This includes the
great danger of emotional isolation. . . At the heart of the ultimate
trap is building and becoming attached to the image of oneself
as having arrived at a state where self-delusion is no longer
possible. This is the most treacherous form of self-delusion and
a veritable breeding ground of hypocrisy and deception. It creates
a feedback-proof system where the guru always needs to be right
and cannot be open to being shown wrong – which is where
learning comes from.” (p.107)

“Successful gurus, rock stars, charismatic leaders of any
sort, experience the intensity of adulation amplified beyond most
people’s ken. This can make ordinary relationships pale
by comparison. Being the recipient of such adulation and devotion
is exceedingly addictive. Here addiction is used in its loose
sense to mean mechanically needing an on-going ‘fix’
of adulation to where it becomes the central focus of one’s
life. Adulation has powerful emotions for the sender as well,
and can be easily mistaken for love. It is likewise addicting
for the sender, as it is an easy route to feelings of passion.
Since adulation is totally a function of image, should the images
crack, adulation disappears, demonstrating that it is essentially
empty of real care.” (p.112)

“As long as &91;people&93; have unlivable ideals, they are manipulable.”
(p.156)