"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.’’ Matthew 7:15-16
As described in the first part of this article, modern culture has given way to a variety of false spiritual teachers in our time. These misguiding leaders display a diversity of faces, from televised experts to Indian yogis. Continuing our examination of the various promoters of false teachings brings us to discuss Integral Spirituality Gurus, Christian Televangelists, and ‘Enlightened’ Gurus of the East.
Ken Wilber is often referred to as the ‘Einstein of Consciousness’, that is, one who is a breakthrough pioneer of understanding the deeper mysteries of the mind and the universe. The philosophy he represents, Integral Theory, neatly categorizes all human ‘developments’ throughout history, arguing that just as an infant progressively advances its mental capacity with each developmental stage, so do we humans as a collective advance through various, progressively advanced stages of consciousness. In Ken Wilber’s perspective, all of humanity’s traditions, beliefs, and revolutions have been a long, continuous swing upwards to ever new, ever wiser levels of awareness; therefore, the ancients are placed on the very bottom of the hierarchy, followed by religious traditionalists, while the rational, scientific group are placed at a respectable higher tier, trumped by the pluralists, who manage to find value in all the previous ‘stages’ found below them. The consecutive stages and values defined by Wilber are magic (egocentric, red), mythic (ethnocentric, amber), rational (multiplistic, orange), pluralistic (relativistic, green), and integral (global view, turquoise), with each color representing a level corresponding to each chakra.
According to Wilber, anyone who believes in myths and miracles and holds rigidly to religious traditions is simply not as advanced as the rational-minded positivists, who deny the existence of the supernatural, owing to the lack of ‘proof’ gained through empirical study. Furthermore, Wilber elevates the pluralists to an even higher status, due to their capability of tolerating all views which differ from their own. While a tolerant viewpoint may seem preferable to that of a narrow-minded bigot, this approach fails to address any possibility of absolute truth, instead clinging to the tenet ‘Your truth is just as valid as my truth’, resulting in a relativistic compromise where all beliefs are muddled together in one confused heap. To remedy this, Wilber claims that his Integral approach is the king of worldviews, because it not only incorporates the best ideas from all ‘lower’ stages, but it also finds degrees of truth in all of them and neatly ranks them according to Wilber’s own prejudices.
Wilber perceives himself to have risen above the ‘mythic’ aspect of religion, and purports that any surviving remnants of ancient traditions still have a place in our ‘advanced’ society, simply due to the rich selection of myths available, which provide a functional role of ‘evolving’ mankind.
‘Religion alone, of all of humanity’s endeavors, can serve as the great ‘conveyor belt’ for humanity and its stages of growth. And religion alone can do this, for several reasons. The first is that the world’s religions are the repository of the great myths. The early stages of development are archaic and magic and mythic in flavor. And these great myths, laid down 3000 years ago, could never be created today, not because humanity has no imagination, but because everybody has a video-camera. Just let Moses try to claim he parted the Red Sea today and see how far he gets.’ (Integral Spirituality, 2006)
‘Realization today is not Freer than Buddha’s (Emptiness is Emptiness), but it is Fuller than Buddha’s (and Fuller and Fuller down the road).’ (Integral Spirituality, 2006)
‘Fullness is evolving and becoming Fuller and Fuller and Fuller, and thus your enlightenment today is less and less and less than tomorrow’s. And you can’t explain that away as not really counting unless you violate nonduality in a fundamental way (by implying that only half of the equation really counts). This was not a problem for the great wisdom traditions, because they didn’t know that the world of Form was evolving, and so this problem never entered their radar screens. The world of Form held still for them, but today we know that it actually unfolds, it actually evolves… So the union of Emptiness and Form is somehow the union of the Unborn and evolution.’ (Integral Spirituality, 2006)
‘If evolution occurs, how can enlightenment have any meaning? Enlightenment is supposed to mean something like being one with everything, but if everything is evolving, and I get enlightened today, then won’t my enlightenment be partial when tomorrow arrives? Do I become unenlightened with the sun’s dawn? Is there any definition of enlightenment today that will not rob me of it tomorrow? A typical response is to say that enlightenment is being one with that which is Timeless and Eternal and Unborn, but all that does is create a massive duality in Spirit. The timeless and eternal versus the temporal and evolving. and so what I am really saying is that enlightenment is being one with half of Spirit.’ (Integral Spirituality, 2006).
‘The less intelligent people do not understand My higher nature, which is imperishable and eternal. They consider Me, who am unmanifested as having being manifested.’ (7:24)
‘You find [transcendent practices] essentially in the mystical schools of religion and spirituality around the world. You don’t find that, for example, in virtually any forms of psychiatry or psychotherapy in the West. So, what we’re looking at, the West has come up with other forms of help for individuals and what an integral approach wants to do, of course, is combine the best of both of those so that you’re working with shadow material, which the West has specialized in -- shadow material being unconscious, dissociated, repressed material that was once part of yourself, but that you split off and is causing symptoms, causing pain, causing suffering, causing uncomfortableness [sic] and there are some fairly simple techniques for reintegrating the shadow. And so that’s one of the techniques that we certainly recommend in our Integral Life Practice Starter Kit.’ (Interview with Bill Harris: Mastering Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, 2008)
‘Painful experience -- emphasis on painful –has demonstrated time and again that meditation simply will not get at the shadow.’ (Integral Spirituality, 2006)
Speaking of emotionally scarred followers leads us to the unconventional guru, Andrew Cohen, whose ‘rude boy’ tactics, so favored by Ken Wilber, have resulted in repeated emotional abuse of his collection of followers throughout the years.
Here is Wilber’s foreword to Cohen’s (2002) Living Enlightenment:
‘[Rude Boys] live as Compassion—real compassion, not idiot compassion—and real compassion uses a sword more often than a sweet. They deeply offend the ego (and the greater the offense, the bigger the ego).... Andrew Cohen is a Rude Boy. He is not here to offer comfort; he is here to tear you into approximately a thousand pieces ... so that Infinity can reassemble you.... Every deeply enlightened teacher I have known has been a Rude Boy or Nasty Girl....Rude Boys are on your case in the worst way, they breathe fire, eat hot coals, will roast your ass in a screaming second and fry your ego before you knew what hit it....I have often heard it said that Andrew is difficult, offending, edgy, and I think, “Thank God.” In fact, virtually every criticism I have ever heard of Andrew is a variation on, “He’s very rude, don’t you think?”’
Like Wilber, Cohen preaches ‘evolutionary enlightenment’, rejecting the ancient notion of cosmic cycles, and instead believing the manifested realm of endless change to be the birthplace of consciousness and that the cosmos is undergoing an ever-improving evolution, in which humanity plays a central role in the creative process.
‘When you awaken and suddenly recognize your own place in the evolutionary process, you realize something BIG: that it's all up to you. Consciousness is not going to evolve by itself. If the evolutionary potential inherent in consciousness is going to be activated, you have to be responsible for it. Why? Because it is only through the human vehicle that the creative principle, the God impulse that initiated this whole process, has the capacity to know itself. God does not exist as a separate dualistic entity, the great conductor on high to whom we pray for help. If we transcend the dualism that has permeated so much of Western tradition, we begin to see that now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, God, in fact, needs our help.’ (It’s Up to You EnlightenNext website).
Unlike most American self-proclaimed gurus, Cohen actually received spiritual training from a teacher in India; however his training lasted a mere two and a half weeks before his master, Hari Wench Lal Poonja, sent Cohen back to America to ‘create a revolution amongst the young in the West’ (Enlightenment Blues, van der Braak, 2003). Poonja’s own integrity is questionable, as he claimed to have been the enlightened disciple of Maharishi Ramana, who in fact never confirmed the enlightenment of another person or even had any official disciples (Stripping the Gurus, Falk, 2005). Poonja even intimated to Cohen,
‘I’m only jealous of one man,” [Poonja] said. “Who was that?” I asked. “The Buddha,” he replied, “he’s the only one who surpassed me’ (Autobiography of an Awakening, Cohen, 1992).Having his own narcissism boosted by a self-proclaimed enlightened guru from India fueled Cohen’s war against ego – that is, everyone’s ego but his own, as he believes himself to be a perfected being. Here is an excerpt of one of Cohen former disciples, Andre van der Braak, who suffered 11 years of abuse under Cohen before finally leaving the group.
“But I thought enlightenment meant the end of all the old karma, the end of the road?”
“Well, yes, if you’re lucky. That’s how it happened for me. But apparently it’s not that way for everybody. It’s not like that with most of you, or so it seems, unfortunately. So then you just do what you have to do. You take responsibility for all the karma that’s still there.” (Enlightenment Blues, 2003)
[V]ery few people like me exist in the world. I can destroy a person’s karma....If you trust me, I have the power to completely destroy your past…Anyone who loves me ... is guaranteed enlightenment. (Mother of God, 1997)
Cohen’s personal definition of the ego is a twisted interpretation of the traditional concept of the human individual’s sense of identity. According to Cohen, the ego is ‘the part of you that has no interest whatsoever in freedom, feels victimized by life, avoids anything that contradicts its self-image, is thoroughly invested in its personal fears and desires, and lives only for itself. Ego is an anti-evolutionary force of powerful inertia in human nature—attached to the past, terrified of change, and seeking only to preserve the status quo.’ (EnlightenNext website). Cohen instructs others that the ego is not the invidualized identity, but rather, a part of one’s identity, and a prideful one at that. Cohen states that the ego is not the ‘self-organizing principle’ of modern psychology, but rather the ego
'is arrogant self-importance; is narcissistic self-infatuation; is the need to see oneself as being separate at all times, in all places, through all circumstances—and that ego is the unrelenting enemy of all that is truly wholesome in the human experience. When this ego is unmasked, seen directly for what it is, finally unobscured by the other expressions of the personality, one finds oneself literally face-to-face with a demon—a demon that thrives on power, domination, control and separation, that cares only about itself and is willing to destroy anything and everything that is good and true in order to survive intact and always in control. This demon lacks any capacity for empathy, compassion, generosity or love; delights in its perfect invulnerability; and, worst of all, will never ever acknowledge that which is sacred.' (What is the Ego? What is Enlightenment magazine, 2000)
‘A man with a temper is called Raging Bull; an immature student is called Q the Clown, a woman who tends to space out is called Dizzy. Later on this is followed by names like Unreal, Sincere, His Greatness, etc. The names are meant to bring about humility by continuously reminding the student of the vicious patterns that he’s unwilling to let go of.’ (Enlightenment Blues, 2003)
'During each prostration, we have to repeat to ourselves the following mantra that Andrew has made up: to know nothing, to have nothing, to be no one. This is the message he wants engraved in our brain.' (Enlightenment Blues, 2003)
‘When I arrived at this retreat I remember feeling that there was something really strange about all of the people that were there. There seemed to be this look on their faces of exhaustion. They all seemed to have dark circles around their eyes. I just remember having a really bad feeling. As the meditation sessions progressed, I was appalled as he not only embarrassed and ridiculed people, insulted biblical scripture, but made fun of people who had had emotional breakdowns and even some who had killed themselves after his retreats. I remember calmly sitting directly in front of him feeling very torn as to whether I should leave or not. Looking back it was as if I was drugged or hypnotized or completely nuts...It is all too common for modern professionals to label someone as schizophrenic than to admit to the reality of low-level entities and the influence they subtly exert on humans, especially humans who hold an influential role over groups of susceptible people. Hypnotic control over others is a siddhi that is developed by the more unscrupulous practitioners of yoga in India; it is possible that Cohen received a transmission of this ability from his master, although the only way to verify this comes from statements such as the one listed above.
One of the strange things that I also remember about the retreat is the way the meditation sessions always began. We would be sitting in the meditation tent and about ten minutes to the time it was to start you could actually feel this heaviness come over the entire group of 100 or so people. It was eerie like this blanket kind of descended over everyone and it felt like I was rooted to the floor...
As the meditation sessions went on I began getting weird flashes of light behind my eyes, strange sounds in my mind and confusing thoughts..sometimes I felt as if my head were between vice grips and incredible pressure was on my head, I would get extremely uncomfortable and increasingly more often I would jump as if startled finding that I had been asleep or passed out or something for who knows how long. All extremely weird for me. In the Five years I had been meditating I had never experienced this...and it wasn't only me...
The strangest thing of all happened when I actually tried to leave the retreat. I came to a firm decision that I was leaving and that I didn't want anything more to do with him. I went to tell one of his higher level students in order to be polite, and before I knew it I was up in his room sitting before him on the floor. He insulted me telling me that I was a big problem and that I had a very destructive nature. He told me that if I wanted a relationship with him that it was going to be on his terms and that I wasn't leaving the retreat. All of a sudden I felt something hit me right between the eyes, as if struck by some invisible blast. I shook my head and remember being sort of stunned. He then said I was not to say anything to anyone about this and that I should concentrate only on studying his teachings and keep my mouth shut. I stood up wobbling as if I was stunned or intoxicated and had incredible trouble simply opening the door to leave his room. They laughed as I stumbled out of the room. I sat down on a log outside of the building for about an hour, confused and extremely dazed…
Within an hour of leaving the retreat it was almost as if a dark cloud descended upon me and I began having wild thoughts that Andrew was draining people of their spiritual energy and that he was somehow controlling people. It continued to get worse and worse and I kept having images of him in my mind. Very strange, dark, horrifying images of him…
My family took me to a psychiatrist whom I told what had happened and that I felt as if I were possessed by a demon or supernaturally controlled by some outside force... They called me schizophrenic.’ (Freedom of Mind website, 2003)
All malefic psychic abilities aside, the bottom line is that those who believe themselves to be perfected beings and qualified teachers often fall into a trap of narcissistic self-importance and self-proclaimed all-knowing, as in the case of Ken Wilber and Andrew Cohen. A true guru is one who embodies humility and effectively empowers disciples to discover the Divine Mysteries, without developing a dysfunctional relationship of dependency between teacher and student. Perhaps some Integral Spirituality teachings offered by Wilber and Cohen provide some truth, albeit distorted versions of the truth; however, it must be considered that a half-truth is still a lie in the end.
So far only New Age/progressive ideologies have been covered in the current study of false teachers; however, there are hordes of false prophets found in the religious institutions of today, especially within the Christian Church. While there are many scandals involving sex and abuse of power among Christian clergy, the present study will focus on a growing vice exacerbated by the presence of the mainstream media: that of the greed for money and material possessions.
Joel Osteen is pastor to Houston’s megachurch Lakewood Church, converted from an old NBA basketball stadium after paying roughly 100 million dollars in renovations. The church houses over 40,000 congregation members, with millions of television viewers each week. The megachurch is a growing phenomenon in America, as smaller, traditional buildings are losing popularity to the super-sized, concert hall-styled 'churches' that have been springing up in recent decades, and Osteen’s television ministries are now broadcast in over 100 countries worldwide, including travelling ‘worship’ services in which audience members are charged admission to see Osteen evangelize in person.
Osteen is keen on preaching the ‘prosperity gospel’, that is, the belief that if one is a good Christian, God will send rewards of material success and possessions.
In Osteen’s own words:
‘You are growing. You are maturing. You are being prepared for promotion. Simply remain faithful and fight life through. In due season, in God's appointed time, He will promote you to new levels of victory, and you'll live that abundant life that He has promised you!’ (30 Thoughts for Victorious Living, 2003)Reminiscent of the teachings of The Secret, Osteen encourages positive thought and gratitude to God in order to reap rewards of an ‘abundant life’ to acquire such things as the long wished for car or the ideal partner.
On Osteen’s blog, he encourages followers to choose friends and partners wisely, as associating with ‘unsuccessful’ people is detrimental to attaining one’s God-given promotional success.
‘If your friends are all negative, tend to compromise, or settle for mediocrity, it’s time to get some new friends. The Bible tells us in Proverbs 13:20 that if you spend time with wise people, you will become wise. In the same way, if you spend time with victorious people, you will become victorious. If you spend time with successful people, you will become successful. So choose your friends carefully so you can set yourself up for success and be equipped to move forward in the destiny God has prepared for you!’Osteen receives roughly 12 million dollars in advance for each major book he writes (which read like any other shallow self-help book, only peppered with occasional mentions of God and Jesus). He claims never to ask for contributions to his church, that his congregation is just naturally generous. However, he does indulge in telling parables of prosperity dealing with rather large contributions, with equally large Divine compensation:
Interestingly, there is not a single cross on display in Osteen’s church, as he sees religious symbols to be ‘stumbling blocks’ for many people receiving his message; instead, he displays a large golden globe onstage. In an interview with Forbes magazine, he admits to being very cautious not to have his sermons sound ‘too religious’, so that the message is appealing to the ‘everyday person’.
‘I heard about this lady whose church was in a building program. One Sunday the pastor announced that it was going to cost $2 million dollars to finish the project. He was encouraging the congregation and challenged them to do their best. In passing he said, "If God were to give you the funds to pay off this project, how many of you would do it?" He wasn't putting pressure on them, but just trying to get them to open their thinking. He said, "If God were to supernaturally provide, would you make a commitment to give?" This lady raised her hand. Well, several days later, she got a call from a friend who had just won a multimillion dollar settlement in a legal matter. The friend said, "I just feel like I'm supposed to give you $2 million dollars." The lady was so excited and overjoyed. She said, "You are an answer to prayer! I know exactly what I'm going to do with those funds. I'm going to give it to my church to help finish that project."
A few days later, the same friend called back. She said, "You know, I really feel like I'm supposed to give you personally $2 million dollars. So if you're going to give those funds away, then I'm going to give you an additional $2 million for yourself."
Friend, that's far and beyond favor. That's God outdoing Himself. When it was all said and done, the friend got blessed, the church got paid off, and the lady was not out one single penny.’
Convinced of the benefits of mainstream media evangelizing, Osteen even remarked, ‘If Jesus were here today, he wouldn't be riding around on a donkey. He'd be taking a plane, he'd be using the media.’ In fact, it is the recent surge in number of megachurches that has Osteen convinced that we live in a time of ‘spiritual awakening’, as he expressed in an interview with Larry King:
KING: Many evangelists feel that the church, the church itself, the religion, has failed. You share that view?
OSTEEN: Well, I think in a sense when you see certain things in society you would think that. But in another sense I see faith in America. Faith in the world. At an all-time high today. When I was growing up it was a big deal to have a church of 1,000. Now there's churches of 10,000. So many of them. So I think in one sense I can agree with that point. But in another sense I see a real spiritual awakening taking place.
Osteen is but one example of the growing number of money-making television evangelists, who distort the teachings of Christ into mere tips for living an enjoyable life. Of course, this is only the most recent chapter in the long history of corruption of the Christian church, but it must be remembered that perversions and atrocities acted in the name of Jesus are due solely to human corruption (generally from unknowing involvement with negative entities, no less), and that acts of heresy should not discourage one from seeking the true teachings of Christ. As Christianity has long-ago lost any of its esoteric elements, so the exoteric practice has lost nearly all its integrity, becoming susceptible to any act of corruption, whether it be in the form of sex, money, or power. Put into context of the current spiritual dark age we are facing, we should remember the tradition itself for its original teachings, not for its long history of travesty; otherwise, it becomes all to easy to reject religion entirely on the basis of its modern corruption, and fall victim to the ever-spreading anti-traditional movement of the times.
'Enlightened' Gurus of the East
After discovering the many faces of dishonesty and false teachers in the world, one may feel that the only true teachers reside in places where tradition is still upheld, in countries such as India where unbroken lineages of gurus still exist. This, unfortunately, is yet another pitfall, as India has long been tainted by modern corruption and has now given way to the ever-increasing popularity of the mega-guru, one who travels the world to transmit enlightenment to the masses.
Many of these gurus have arrived in the West, only to be exposed in a variety of scandals. Others, however, have managed to continue to thrive in their cult activities, in particular, Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi, leader of the Sahaja Yoga group.
Shri Mataji claims to transmit the ancient knowledge of Self-Realization by activating the dormant kundalini energy located within every person.
‘This inner awakening is called by many names: Self Realization, Second Birth, Enlightenment, Liberation, Moksha, Satori and it is the goal of all religions and spiritual traditions of the world. This knowledge is ancient, but for a long time it was available only to a few souls, being kept secret and transmitted from guru to disciple, since Self Realization was extremely difficult to achieve. In these modern times, through Sahaja ("spontaneous") Yoga ("union with one's Self"), this experience has become effortless and available to everyone, for the first time in the history of human spirituality.’ (Sahaja Yoga’s official website)Like all the other so-called gurus discussed in this article series, Shri Mataji shuns the traditional view of an esoteric journey of awakening and embraces the idea of a collective, evolutionary shift of consciousness worldwide.
And the evidence for Mataji’s profound gift of transforming others? She claims one can feel a cool breeze on either one’s head or hands as they meditate upon her. This alone is her assurance that the process of Self-Realization has indeed begun for those who follow her.
Throughout Shri Mataji’s public talks, accusations of false gurus abound, as she claims to be one of the few (if not the only) qualified gurus of our time. On her website, Shri Mataji lists seven qualities which distinguish a true spiritual group from one that is deceptively led astray by a false teacher:
1. Is money taken at any time? (the truth cannot be owned, nor can it be bought or sold).
2. Do your teachers pressure you like salesmen? (you should know the value of their path by your own conviction, not by the number of books you read, classes you attend, or pledges you make. Truth is not dependent upon salesmenship).
3. Can you, yourself, feel the effect of the technique? (do not be satisfied that you will be in an "inner circle" at some time in the distant future).
4. Do they clothe you in unusual dress, seat you in strange postures or submit you to wild chanting? (the truth is not something that has to be attained through strenuous efforts. It is the strength of your desire that counts, not the harshness of their tests).
5. Is the new path you've chosen dharmic? (that is, is this a the path of the center, similar to that followed by the sages, yogis, and great men and women of the past, or will it lead to frightening experiences of a subconscious or super-conscious nature ?)
6. Are the members of the organization, especially the leader, founder, or guru, people you can trust? (are you comfortable with them? Do they display love and joy? Is their warmth genuine? Is the value of what they are teaching evident in their eyes?)
7. Do you have the freedom of choice to leave or continue? (follow your heart, not your ego. If you have fears or misgivings, give them heed. If you are in doubt or under duress, leave. Do not be bullied.)
The Sahaja Yoga group gives the public impression of being a harmless meditation group, as no entry fee is charged to attend the mind-body workshops administered in hundreds of cities worldwide. In fact, Shri Mataji and her grandiose plan for the world is rarely, if ever, mentioned to newcomers, who typically believe themselves to be taking part in a simple weekly meditation group run by locals in their own city. But as one becomes more involved, a different side of the group emerges.
All Sahaja members are strongly encouraged to meditate in front of a photograph of Shri Mataji, as they believe the image emits powerful and transformative vibrations. In fact, their dependency on Shri Mataji to bestow spiritual knowledge, whether remotely or in person, quickly grows into a pathological devotion. The meditation groups often turn members paranoid of each other, as practitioners tend to suspect that everyone around them can read their vibrations and detect any faults or negativity. This belief stems from Shri Mataji’s personal quirks, such as compulsive fanning of herself and mouth-wiping whenever present in public -- obsessive behaviors which she claims purify her from the overwhelming negative vibrations emitted by those in the audience. In fact, all Sahaja yoga members are discouraged from looking any non-members directly in the eye, to keep contamination of negative vibrations to a minimum.
As the Sahaja group incites prejudice of those on the outside, the newly indoctrinated are gradually instructed by veteran devotees the true nature of their leader: not only is Shri Mataji a wise, compassionate guru, she is the physical embodiment of the Mother Goddess herself. In fact, Shri Mataji claims to be the embodiment of a wide variety of God’s forms, including the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary, Adi Shakti, Durga, Moses, Abraham, and Buddha. (sahajacult.com)
As she declared during a puja held in the UK in 1979:
"But today it is the day I declare I am the One who have to save the humanity. I declare I am the One who is Adi Shakti (Holy Spirit) - who is the Mother of all Mothers, who is the Primordial Mother, the Shakti (i.e. power) of the Desire of God - who has incarnated on this Earth to give meaning to itself, to this creation, to human beings, and I am sure that through My Love and Patience and My Powers I am going to achieve it. I was the One who was born again and again. But now I have come in My complete Form and with complete Powers. I have come on this Earth not only for salvation of human beings, not only for their emancipation, but for granting them the Kingdom of Heaven - the Joy, the Bliss - that your Father wants to bestow upon you." (From ex-members' website www.sahaja-yoga.org)
Shri Mataji not only believes herself to be the Supreme Goddess, but also the savior of the human race, and claims her Sahaja Yoga group is destined to rule the world in a new enlightened era.
In her book, Meta Modern Era, Mataji calls for a ‘higher house for U.N.’, in which a new world government is established by means of a Supreme Council.
‘[T]his Supreme Council should be constituted by the election only of excellent Sahaja Yogis. They have all the requisite qualities in abundance - they are selfless, they are compassionate, they are devoted to public interest without the slightest bias on grounds of race, religion or nationality. They will thus always make sound and proper decisions. Most importantly, the Supreme Court consisting of Sahaja Yogis, will spread the message of Sahaja Yoga throughout the world not merely by words but by deeds which will inspire all the people and thus ensure a new peaceful and just world order. Sahaja Yoga is thus the only solution to world problems because it will ensure the transformation of all human beings and thus create a new highly evolved human race.’ (1997)
Along with her megalomaniacal claims, Shri Mataji displays the typical manipulative qualities of a deranged cult leader, arranging marriages between group members, and even ordering divorces on a whim. Members’ children are routinely taken away and sent to one of Sahaja Yoga’s schools in either India or Italy for nine months at a time, with no contact with parents allowed. Anyone who attempts to leave the group is threatened by Shri Mataji, who claims that any apostates will contract incurable diseases as a result of their treachery, not to mention the frequent verbal abuse the group gives to its ex-members who try to expose Shri Mataji as a fake.
But not even devout followers are immune from verbal attacks made by their Goddess. One ex-member relates how members of her group once greeted Shri Mataji in New York:
‘The Goddess emerged from her chariot, smiling and waving. She walked slowly into the ashram. Garlands of flowers were placed around her neck. A swarm of bowing yogis parted like the Red Sea as Nirmala passed by. She was seated on a throne-like chair. It had been decorated earlier with silken saris. Rose petals led the way to her royal perch. "Mother, would you like a cup of tea," one genuflecting yogini offered. "Yes, ok," said the Goddess. Hot water was poured, ever so carefully, over a teabag and into a lovely cup, which had been placed on a lovely matching saucer. The tea-bearing yogini stepped gingerly forward with the offering of tea. The Goddess accepted the tea and saucer but immediately put it down. "What sort of improper cup is this to give to your Goddess?!?" she demanded. "And this is not the way to prepare a cup of tea!" "Take this away!" And with a wave of her arm, she dismissed the saucer, the cup and its contents. The poor yogini who had given such a wretched offering to her Goddess was beside herself, pulling at her earlobes, walking backwards with the cup and saucer while simultaneously bowing and trying not to trip over her sari. Meanwhile the Goddess, angry now, gave the rest of us a lengthy lecture on the proper protocol associated with serving a Goddess. Upon my next visit to that ashram, I was relieved to see that an expensive, exquisitely made sterling silver tea service had been purchased, along with a large, bone china teacup and saucer. These were to be used by Nirmala and Nirmala only, and they were given a place of honor in the ashram dining room. We had learned our lesson.’(www.sahaja-yoga.org)
Apart from the verbal abuse and wild demands, there is also the issue of financial extortion practiced by the group. Sahaja followers are encouraged to regularly attend puja retreats in which Shri Mataji is adorned and worshiped at such places as her medieval castle located in northern Italy, where the 240 euro admission fee grants shared sleeping arrangements on the floor of an old airplane hangar and daily portions of rice for the weekend. Mataji reportedly earns between 2.3 to 5.5 million dollars annually from fees and donations collected from her followers.
Reviewing Shri Mataji’s own seven warnings of a false guru demonstrates her acts of hypocrisy in each criticism she gives:
1. Is money taken at any time? Yes, members are required to pay for puja retreats, ashram rentals, and frequently encouraged to donate to Mataji (e.g. an estate in England, a castle in Italy, and other, vague ‘projects in India and elsewhere’).
2. Do your teachers pressure you like salesmen? Besides the monetary pressure of the group, the tactics used by group leaders are subtle and manipulative, disguising the group as a harmless mind-body workshop until gradually members are pulled deeper into the cult of Mataji worship.
3. Can you, yourself, feel the effect of the technique? The effect most commonly promoted by Mataji is merely a ‘cool breeze’ felt either on the head or hands, and this is to be taken as evidence of self-realization!
4. Do they clothe you in unusual dress, seat you in strange postures or submit you to wild chanting? Not only are members who attend Mataji’s puja worship retreats required to prostrate themselves before the Mother Goddess’ feet, the entire week preceding the ritual is spent in small group meetings, in which members are required to chant the names of hundreds of Hindu gods, in order to prepare the way for the goddess Mataji.
5. Is the new path you've chosen dharmic ? There is nothing traditional in the practices of Sahaja Yoga, as the very notion of a global guru endowing self-realization to the masses is a completely modern deviation.
6. Are the members of the organization, especially the leader, founder, or guru, people you can trust? Sahaja leaders are notorious for constant deception, manipulation, verbal abuse, and even threats of physical violence, not to mention the pathological demands of Mataji herself.
7. Do you have the freedom of choice to leave or continue? Sahaja members who doubt the integrity of the group are threatened to be cursed with horrible disease and other misfortunes if they leave.
As Andrew Cohen’s attacks on the ego can just as easily be directed toward himself, so can Shri Mataji’s criticism of the characteristics of a false guru reveal her true nature and the devastating effect her delusional organization has had on its hive-minded followers for more than 30 years. It is unfortunate that the ancient wisdom of India is given a bad reputation by false gurus such as her, as many who turn away from Shri Mataji also tend to reject the practices of meditative yoga that she instructed, despite the long-standing tradition of such practices, which existed long before Shri Mataji developed her counterfeit version.
Having examined the distorted practices promoted by such teachers as New Age Gurus, Mainstream Media Pandits, Anti-Religious Conspiracy Theorists, Integral Spirituality Gurus, Christian Televangelists, and ‘Enlightened’ Gurus of the East, we find a common thread in their sermons.
- 1. All bear anti-traditional testaments which harbor modern notions of the spontaneous ‘evolution’ of human spirituality, as it seems to be a strong selling-point to claim that spiritual realization is accomplished more easily today than at any other era of human development.
- 2. All emphasize the material realm as being superior to all other domains, either in the concept of the physical realm as being the grounds for a never-ending ‘evolution’ of humanity, or the idea that we should place our efforts on enjoying a worldly life, ‘as God has intended for us’.
- 3. All followers seem to place enthusiasm mostly on the teacher instead of the teachings themselves, as an otherwise ordinary leader is elevated and displayed on a pedestal as soon as a crowd desperate for guidance believe themselves to have found a perfect being who brings a message of hope.
This last characteristic may be the most dangerous, as many fall into the trap of guru-worship. Swami Rama articulates this situation well in his book Living with the Himalayan Masters:
‘Don't ever believe anyone who comes to you and demands, "Worship me." Even Christ and Buddha did not ask that. Never forget that guru is not the goal. Guru is like a boat for crossing the river. It is very important to have a good boat, and it is very dangerous to have a boat that is leaking. But after you have crossed the river you don't need to hang on to your boat, and you certainly don't worship the boat.
Many fanatics think they should worship a guru. A guru should receive your love and respect -- that is different from worship. If my guru and the Lord both come together, I will go to my guru first and say, "Thank you very much. You have introduced me to the Lord." I will not go to the Lord and say, "Thank you very much, Lord. You have given me my guru."’ (1978)
When walking the spiritual path, one must always be mindful of the fact that truth and fulfillment do not originate from the material realm, and any attempt to create heaven on Earth will be fruitless as long as a solid connection with the Absolute is not realized. Many teachers claim to be providing a Divine message, but the distortions they encompass manifest in the characteristics of their followers and the fruit of their actions.
Unfortunately, our times are marked by the presence of many false teachers, with many different faces. After coming to know the discouraging reality of this modern spiritual crisis, one may easily become disheartened and believe there to be no genuine teachers left in the world. But it must not be forgotten that truly wise and benign beings do exist, though are often overlooked or hidden from public awareness. One must recognize that true gurus are not to be found onstage preaching behind a microphone, but are to be found in places where humbleness and tradition are still honored. And even if the majority of us do not have the privilege of receiving personal instruction from such rare teachers, we can at least leave our hearts open to the traditional spirit which they embody and transmit.