In the wake of the Anusara-, Kausthub Desikachar-, Bikram-, and Satyananda lineage scandals I am asking myself why so many gurus in the last 40 years have been deconstructed? Does this mean that gurus have always behaved like this or has something fundamentally changed? And why are spiritual teachers now possibly needed more than ever before?
Throughout writing this series of articles I have been bombarded with new reports of gurus behaving badly. I wasn’t quite aware of how bad the situation was. There are quite a few website and databanks out there recording the odd behaviors of many gurus. It might be a worthwhile work to combine them all so that we would have a one-stop shop where any of us could check in to find out what their guru gets up to after dark. But I don’t consider that to be my job. I also have to admit that I found it challenging to sight some of the information as it involved some of my favourites.
The first question I want to enquire into is have gurus always behaved this badly? Doing a brief quantitative scan over all the material that I sighted I see that there is a bit of bad behavior in the first half of the 20th century but then it rapidly worsens once we enter into the 2nd half. Almost every guru in the 2nd half of the last century has a file on them although some of the claims sound insubstantial or just make the guru sound silly. Once we go towards the 1990’s and into the 21st century criminal and court proceedings and serious allegations are now commonplace. One argument would be that this sort of thing has always gone on and it is only now that they all emerge due to widespread communication ease over the internet. It is of course true that everybody who has been hard done by can put up a website and attempt to discredit their former guru. In some cases these claims may not be true.
A different hypothesis would be that the behavior of gurus today has fundamentally changed (along the lines of “this is the Kali Yuga, what do you expect?”). Such an explanation would save the honor of the ancient authorities (phew!) and would show that not all religion/spirituality is bad (again phew!) but it would need to show with convincing arguments what exactly has changed and why and where do we go from here? It is exactly this path that I will take here.
I think that the rules of the spiritual game have changed entirely in the last 50 to 70 years and will continue to do so with accelerating speed. I will argue along similar lines as civilisation critic Charles Eisenstein did in his article ‘Why the age of the guru is over’ but will put a yogic spin on it and bring in some more essential information.
The first important piece to the puzzle I found in the writings of Alfred North Whitehead, a British mathematician who, although he had never attended a single philosophy lecture, wound up teaching philosophy at Harvard. That’s how significant his writing were. Now this is going to get heady for a few sentences but I’ll soon touch again the floor. In his epic ‘Process and Reality’ Whitehead came to the conclusion that God is a process. Yes, read that again: a mathematician teaches that God undergoes change! From his teaching a new branch of theology emerged that is called ‘process theology’. This only superficially contradicts the statement of many scriptures that God is unchangeable. The unchangeable, eternal, permanent aspect of God in philosophy is called the God transcendent and most statements of religion relate to this aspect of the Divine. In India it is often called Shiva but also goes by a lot of different names. The part that Whitehead mainly refers to and what Indian thought calls Shakti or prakrti, in philosophy is called the God immanent. The God transcendent is pure consciousness but consciousness needs something to reflect itself in to be conscious, so the God transcendent leads automatically to the God immanent. The God immanent is the 14-billion year old history of this cosmos and the evolution of all life in it. Aurobindo already stated in The Synthesis of Yoga that prakrti is nothing but nature’s billion-year long act of yoga to make all matter and life god-like.
In my book Yoga Meditation I have shown the evolution of life on Earth from a yogic and chakric perspective. The chakras are nothing but expressions of the Divine (i.e God immanent) as stages of evolution of life on Earth. I have shown the base chakra (Muladhara) to represent reptilian brain circuitry, the lower-abdominal chakra (Svadhishthana) to represent mammalian life and the power or navel chakra (Manipura) to represent primate consciousness, our current social paradigm. The threat of ecocide, global warming, terrorism, school shootings and the rise of disorders such as depression, ADHD, PTSD, etc. are symptoms of humanity’s struggle to move up to the heart chakra (Anahata), i.e. to become truly humane. Noted qualities of the heart chakra are love, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion and relatedness. Notice how these qualities have a more feminine flavor to them while the qualities of the power chakra are distinctly male. The power chakra is about leadership quality, certainty, coercion, manipulation, etc. During the era of the power chakra spiritual teachings like any other teachings where disseminated in a linear top down fashion from a strong leader to an awed lot of followers, who were looking for a leader to save them. And how often have we done that and not only in the spiritual arena but also in the social, political, scientific, sporting and all other arenas.
What we are currently witnessing is a transition to the coming era of the heart chakra. I’m not being a dreamer here. This change is a necessity otherwise our planet Gaia will pull the curtain on humanity and this is not something that leaders will be able to do for us as leaders themselves are still part of the outgoing power chakra paradigm. During the era of the heart chakra the Divine will be less expressed by strong leaders who deliver one truth in a linear top-down fashion but it will express itself as what happens between us, how we interact with each other, how we treat each other, what and how we communicate. The Divine revelation during the heart chakra phase will come as interrelatedness, as what Charles Eisenstein calls ‘inter-being’. And that’s why the old linear ‘one-strongman-to-teach-them-all’ -type gurus are falling over. The new guru is not a person but it is what emerges as we teach each other as we are TOGETHER taking the next step of human evolution, the awakening of the heart chakra.
These thoughts are to be further developed in the upcoming posts.
Here’s to the dawning of the era of the heart chakra. May we make it through the transition. All blessings.
I truly appreciate your posts on this subject. There is so much focus on asanas that it’s refreshing reading something on the other limbs of Yoga these days. Your thoughts seem to arise from deep meditation and they coincide with what I feel about Guru and God.
Thanks for sharing!
I enjoyed your article! What you are saying reminds me of Thich Nhat Hanh teaching that Maitreya Buddha will not be a single person but the emerging consciousness of the Sangha as a whole.
Yes, Thich Nhat Hanh was speaking exactly about this very same phenomenon. Humanity is in the process of spiritual awakening. Compared to that the awakening of individuals is relatively irrelevant.
Guru problem is not restricted to spiritual industry. I bet there are more diet, fitness and lifestyle gurus now than ever before. There are even life coaches now.
Perhaps the common drivers are industrialisation and consumption growth driven economies?
May be, you have human apes far removed from the habitat they are evolved in and for and suddenly they are complete misfits and they are alientated and scared. They seek others to show a way out. Heuristics are always more sought after than analytically thought over solutions. The latter are taxing and costly.
One question to Gregor. From your personal experience in India (and China or other parts of Asia) and the research you have done for these series of posts, do you see a marked differences between guru growth stats in the west and the east?
Yes, and after all what about all the business guru, real estate gurus, sex gurus, etc.
The spiritual guru trade is certainly something that is being taken up now in the West. On the other hand in India in the wake of Mahesh Yogi’s, Osho’s and Sai Baba’s billion dollar successes there is now in India a new generation of gurus hitting in big time. I hear that there is now a female Indian guru who is counting 32 Million followers worldwide. That’s 50% more people than there are living in Australia.
I do believe that the cause is not one but a combination of many different one. Indeed the broad communication allows news (especially “bad” news to travel faster than light around the globe) and money has not the power of buying even spirits. But there is another fact I think it is really interesting while talking about sex scandals and similar issues.
In the past the conception of what was allowed and what was not in sexuality was drastically different from today’s world. In ancient Greece for instance an adult could have a sexual intercourse with a teenage if the latter was favorable. That society of that time would consider this completely normal when now we would denounce another case of pedophilia. Even in what is now India of the Vedic period the sexuality was differently perceived, brhamacharya is now seen as mere celibacy when most of the risi of the past had wife and family. I do believe that was after the Victorian influence that much of the Indian culture became much more conservative and close. In remote villages of India sexuality is still perceived differently.
So not to defend or to judge these gurus but just to raise also this point, because we always look at the past with the eyes of today but the societies and way of thinking were like the language they spoke, completely foreign to us.
Keep going and thanks for your inspirational works,
Thanks for your thoughtful comment. And it is timely indeed seeing the Valentines row in India with ultra right wingers trying to force couples which hold hands in public to marry on the spot, because apparently its the Indian thing to do. You are right, the attitude towards sexuality that we witness in India today is produced by a. 300 year of Mogul rule and b. another 300 years of Brittish Raj that brought victorianism. This interpretation of brahmacharya is relatively new, It used to mean to see the brahman in everything and everybody.
If you look at the mythologies around Shiva and Krishna they paint an entirely different picture than victorianism. There was at some point a council organised by the moguls where they forced Hindu scholars to excommunicate their own God Krishna !!?? because apparently his morals were too loose.