The following is a repost of an article first published on Integral Options on May 29, 2013.
Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad wrote The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power back in 1993, but it’s still an important book for anyone who is considering entering into a student-guru relationship (or who has survived one). While I think the book is good, I also think that those using the traditional techniques of hypnosis, NLP (neuro-linguistic programming), subconscious suggestion, and other techniques of mind control have become much more subtle and sophisticated in how they manipulate their victims.
The perfect example of this trend is Marc Gafni. By employing “integral” ideas and concepts, he creates an illusory “plausible deniability” when accusations begin to fly (and they always do). But most people are easily cowed by a charismatic spiritual “teacher” who is also quite educated, intelligent, and verbally proficient – and quite possibly a sociopath (based on objective behaviors – a definitive label would require a psychological examination).
His grooming of potential victims is also subtle, seducing the women into willingly entering into sexual relationships with him. But once they are snared, the control and manipulations and demands for silence (“protecting the sacred vessel of our love”) increase, while he also becomes less kind and generous. Classic abuser patterns.
Anyway, expect more on this topic. I am currently working with two “cult” survivors of ritual abuse, and two other ritual abuse survivors where there was no religious content at all, but multiple forms of mind-control were applied.
For now, here are some quotes from The Guru Papers assembled by Steven Hassan at Freedom of Mind. I did not repost all of the quotes, so check out his site for additional material and a lot of other interesting articles and videos.
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.
“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)
“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)
“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) [ME: Or physical beauty in the case of many male gurus.]
“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 that 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)
“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)
“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 people have unlivable ideals, they are manipulable.” (p.156)