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Real Spiritual Teachers vs. Super-Gurus

krishna quote-qualities of a real super-guruAn excerpt from The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

“The Holy Lord said: When he leaves behind all desires emerging from the mind, and is contented in the Self by the Self, then he is said to be one whose wisdom is steady” (Bhagavad Gita 2:55).

Nothing could be easier to understand: an enlightened person wants nothing, finding total fulfillment in the Self–both individual and Universal.

Therefore when we see people with even “spiritual goals” such as “serving God in others” or exhibiting a veritable passion about a “world mission” or “saving” or “enlightening” others, we can know they are not illumined, and therefore incapable of doing any of those things in a real manner, however fine the exterior machinery might appear.

Qualities of a true spiritual teacher

A true spiritual teacher has no expectation of others whatsoever, much less foisting demands on them. Knowing that all growth comes from within, never from an outer factor–including him–the worthy teacher knows that it is his duty to teach, and that is the absolute end of the matter. From then on it is up to the student to either follow the teaching or not.

If he asks for help or advice from the teacher, it is the teacher’s duty to give the requested assistance and then leave the matter alone. (Swami Sri Yukteswar was a perfect example of this, as was Paramhansa Yogananda. They loved and cared deeply, but they also respected the freedom of those they taught.)

In spiritual life as well as material life there is a division of labor that should be adhered to. Under the guise of “love” or “devotion” there should be no violation of spiritual law. And no authentic teacher will ever break any law.

In contrast

It is virtually impossible to find any popular “guru” that does not live like “the jewel in the lotus”–both materially and socially. Although there is a pretense that their disciples are insistent upon it, it is really the guru that demands continual adulation and material accouterments that would have been considered extreme even for a Di Medici monarch.

One guru in India has himself and his wife weighed every year and given their combined weights in gold. And the palatial living quarters of the gurus are like overdone satires of the houses of the most vulgar nouveau riche.

At the bottom of this outrageous aggrandizement on the psychological and material levels is a profound sense of insecurity and discontentment–and often self-loathing–on the part of the super-guru. I have had experience of this firsthand when visiting their ashrams and conversing with them. The pathology is very evident. Let me give a single example.

My experiences with a super-guru

Once I was the guest of a super-guru after having spent several days at a yoga retreat sponsored by his organization. I had spoken to the retreatants several times during those days, and was being rewarded by being invited into the August Presence. (I had already been asked to sign a legal document stating that I would not be asking the institution for money in the future as payment for my speaking. I had refused to sign–and never asked them for money.)

As we sat at the table, being served by anxious, hushed, and devoted “gopis,” Super-G began to tell me about the well-known rock groups that had asked him to come speak during their concerts both inside and outside the United States. Since I disliked all popular music (especially rock music), and being aware of the negative character of the groups he was naming, I was listening with a mixture of amazement and disgust.

And then I got the idea: he was trying to make me jealous! Did he really think that, having lived with great masters in India and having received the grace of so many other great saints, I would be impressed by a listing of these aberrant drug-addicted pandemonium peddlers?

More was to come. Since I did not swoon at the listing of the rock groupies, he passed on to speaking tours. He had been invited to speak in the Soviet Union! And also in a host of other gruesome places where there could not possibly be genuine spiritual interest. This list was peppered with the names of celebrities who would either be sponsoring or accompanying him.

Luxuries and real estate

That left me unaffected, so he moved on to the subject of living accommodations. First I got a recounting of what centers of his organization were engaged in providing luxurious apartments and houses for him, even stocking a complete set of his tailor-made silk clothes so he would never need to travel around the country with luggage. I dislike travel and being away from our ashram, so that moved me not.

Finally he resorted to real estate. First of all, a road for his exclusive use was being made into a local forest where some disciples had managed to purchase a large tract of land so he could be totally isolated.

Bhagavad Gita for Awakening cover

The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: A Practical Commentary for Leading a Successful Spiritual Life
is now available in print and ebook format at Also available at Amazon in India.
You can also read it here or download a PDF in our eLibrary.

(No matter how “loving” and “giving” the super-gurus are, they like to have inaccessible retreats away from their disciples, some of them–usually the Americans–even doing some kind of “early retirement” so they will not have to maintain contact with their adoring devotees. Some of them claim to need solitude so they can “write,” though little or nothing is ever published. However one super-guru emerged every week from his state of retreat to travel some hours to a major vacation-playground to take saxophone lessons from a well-known jazz musician.)

After the road was put in, a renowned architect was going to come and study the land and design a house specifically to fit in with the landscape and (of course) the ecology of the forest. Then the house would be built by “the devotees”–or at least by their money.

Memories of the Real

He had come to the end of the line. I was not impressed. I was appalled. He was miffed. I was glad to get out of there to never return. Fortunately I had many memories of simple, even barren, rooms in which I had sat with great saints in India, rooms where they stayed in joyful contentment, living the simplest of lives. Before going to India I had seen the two tiny rooms in which Paramhansa Yogananda, head of a world-wide spiritual organization, had lived for over a quarter of a century, as well as the simple little kitchen where he had so often cooked for his beloved students.

“Contented in the Self by the Self, then he is said to be one whose wisdom is steady.” I had seen Krishna’s words verified in the lives of the true yogis.

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