This piece covers all kinds of territory, including gurus and Transcendental Meditation.
Lorin Roche, Ph.D.
a zesty, life-affirming approach to meditation
"All power corrupts, absolute power is even more fun"- Simon Travaglia, The Bastard Operator From HellPower Corrupts
Gurus have immense power over their disciples, just by the definition of what a guru is – greater than God. Or if you want to say the guru is a Master, then Masters have slaves. They do not have equals. Meditation multiplies the power dynamics because then the guru is inside your head.
Keep in mind that I personally have never had a negative experience with a guru. I am entertained by gurus, by the whole archetype, and I have had many great teachings from gurus. I am just reporting here on what actually happens to people, my friends and students, in their interactions.
Most gurus have a circle of attending lackeys, bureaucrats, bankers, devotees, and thugs around them, who wield power in the Guru's name. The power dynamics get extremely complicated, as each person is on their own unique arc in terms of seizing power, using it, abusing it, and then learning from their mistakes or blaming others for their mistakes. It is a major problem in guru-dom that the "enlightened" cannot admit to any mistakes. By definition, the Master has to be perfect. But who then gets blamed for all the mistakes that inevitably happen in any organization? The disciples, either the ones closest to the guru, or low-ranking ones, have to get blamed. There is a transference of shame along with the shaktipat.
The guru's entire circle of lackeys is in your head, spanking you while you meditate.
A guru's ashram can change almost overnight from a loving group of meditators to a kinky cult, as the guru and his disciples start to believe literally in the fantasies they are attracting, and as they wallow in all the power, money, fame and sex they have. This is just basic group dynamics, same as anywhere.
Here is a benign example. The Transcendental Meditation movement, which I was a part of from 1968 to 1975, changed dramatically over the course of several years in the mid 1970's. In the early 70's, there was great good humor in the movement. Jerry Jarvis was the head of the organization I taught for, called the Student's International Meditation Society, or SIMS. Jerry, as I have described elsewhere, was one of the most relaxed people I have ever seen in action. He was often surrounded by a dozen people trying to get his attention as he walked into the lecture hall, and he would just stand there at ease and deal with each person fairly, and if he had to walk on, he would glance at you with an "I see you," look and would make sure to talk to you at the next opportunity.
Somewhere in the middle 70's, Jerry was sacked. I don't know what happened, but suddenly he was in disfavor. Simultaneously, the tone of the language of TM began to change and become darker, more fearful. People were constantly beginning sentences with the phrase, "Maharishi says . . . " and then completing the sentence with something cruel, disguised in spiritual language. There was a continual fear that if you spoke out of turn, that you would be "kicked out" of the movement, no matter how long you had been a member.
The TM movement went from being a collection of quite creative, lively individuals, to a herd of people who agreed to be tyrannized. Simultaneously, the TM movement went from a lively, dynamic, growing national organization with a center in every major city in the United States, to a shrinking organization that no one was interested in anymore. The number of people starting TM dropped dramatically.
An old friend of mine, who started meditating around the same time I did in 1968, has given millions of dollars to the movement, and labored on their behalf for years. He is as pure as the driven snow, just a fantastic guy. And he has a house in Fairfield, Iowa, near the campus of Maharishi International University. One day some people visited his house who were not obeying the dress code - from what I gathered they were wearing jeans and rock band t-shirts - and so my friend was berated for hours and was threatened with being banned because of this. Someone at the TM world headquarters in Europe called my friend for several days in a row, scolding, threatening, dumping on him. My friend groveled and apologized over and over and over. I have seen this happen many times, in different ways, and it breaks the spirit of the person doing the groveling. They are never quite the same once they agree to be dominated and humiliated in this way.
I am picking on the TM movement here because I know it the best. I lost my entire circle of friends when I left TM in 1975 – and because it is safe to criticize TM. They don't send thugs to beat up people who point out their flaws. In TM-think, the worst possible thing that could happen to you, ever, is to not be part of TM. There is no worse punishment that could befall you. And if you are criticizing TM, then you are by definition damned. Everyone knows that Maharishi is the Master of the Age, and if you even imply, by attitude, gesture, or noncompliance, that anything his henchmen or lackeys do is less than perfect, then, well, see you in a billion years, when you get finished working off your karma. The TM teachers of the middle 1970’s are some of the most thoroughly fearful and superstitious people I have ever met. But in a unique way - a combination of relaxation, passivity and fear.
The TM organization is amazingly benign, kind of like Quakers. (Basically, all their destructive energy is directed at suppressing the lively essence of Transcendental Meditation, which is by nature spontaneous, surprising, and revolutionary.)
It is not safe to criticize some gurus, cults, and meditation schools. The people are very touchy and irritable. You’ll notice that I do not mention ANY specific guru on this site. That is partly because the information I get from my students is confidential and partly because the principles at work are universal and there is no need to pick on anyone specific.
When you are checking out groups online, be especially wary of any group that has no negative information about them. This may mean that they hire lawyers, private detectives, and thugs to sue, harass, gaslight and bankrupt people who post critical feedback or comments about them. Some groups scrub the web of any critiques. Other cults will set up their own fake "anti-cult" sites to attract disgruntled ex-followers, then gather dossiers on each person in the name of "counseling."Power Attracts the Corruptible
"Liberty is not a means to a higher political end. It is itself the highest political end...liberty is the only object which benefits all alike, and provokes no sincere opposition...The danger is not that a particular class is unfit to to govern. Every class is unfit to govern...Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
- Lord Acton. link
There as also a saying, "Power attracts the corruptible." (I think this thought comes from Paul Herbert's DUNE series of science fiction novels.)
Wikipedia on Power:
"POWER: The ability to make our fellow humans squirm, sweat and stammer on command. Often regarded as an aphrodisiac; actually a potent laxative that, whenever ingested by people in high places, causes everyone below to run for cover."
- Rick Bayan, The Cynic's Dictionary
Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.
- George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four
"All power corrupts, absolute power is even more fun"
- Simon Travaglia, The Bastard Operator From Hell, 1997 Part 2, "The PFY scores top marks in the all important 'how to be a Bastard Operator From Hell' test"
"Power corrupts, PowerPoint corrupts absolutely."
- Ed Tufte, "Wired Magazine 11:09 September 2003"
Frank Herbert Quotes - link.