Because of the outrageous abuses and exploitation by some yogis, gurus, and self-proclaimed masters, many students (especially here in the west) don’t know who to trust.
If more than a few of the following descriptions describe your spiritual teacher, then unfortunately they may not be as enlightened or good for your progress as you would like to believe:
- They proclaim their own enlightenment: The wisest masters tend to be reluctant to state their own enlightenment because they know that it is both unhelpful to their own spiritual evolution as well as their students’.
- They’re unable to take criticism: False teachers have a strong resistance and dislike for either personal criticism or any criticism of their teaching. On the other hand a true teacher will continue to learn and oftentimes from their own students.
- They often act as if they’re omnipotent with unlimited powers but show little to no accountability. Some may go so far as to use Gestapo like tactics.
- They may focus on their own self-proclaimed enlightenment itself rather than teaching or demonstrating the path leading to it. The true teacher focuses mainly on the path and generally avoids any talk about enlightenment.
- They don’t practice what they preach. For instance, if they demand their devotees adapt a plant-based diet, they should provide them with a living example.
- They take credit for a certain asana or a particular meditative or healing technique, trying to “own” any major benefits from the practice. They often do this solely to attract new followers.
- They choose to live in total opulence. Money is collected from followers most commonly in the form of donations, and those donations should be used to lessen the suffering in this world, not to provide a luxurious lifestyle.
- They encourage (or even permit) adoration from their followers. Worshipping the teacher will draw the student outside of themselves and will be a hindrance to their own self-realization.
- They demand love and absolute devotion from their students. Real love and devotion is earned by recognizing their ability to teach and relate spiritual truths, not their public image.
- They run expensive workshops and courses promising spiritual development. Authentic teachers are rarely interested in selling anything or proselytizing people.
- They take sexual advantage of their followers. This happens much more often than many students realize. This can be, and often is, psychological scarring to the victim.
- They try to get you to feel special to “hook” you; and although each student is unique, making people feel exclusively special and part of a particular teacher’s “important,” “universal” mission is one of the best sales pitches ever. Once they get people on board, they can quite literally, sell them anything. A real master will allow the student to make their own decision whether to accept his or her teachings by simply presenting them without trying to influence the process.
- They may give themselves an outrageous title. Some going as far as to claim they are literally God-Incarnate, or the “chosen one.” Others may continuously change their names in order to keep pace with their burgeoning egos.
- They are not interested in you personally. If a teacher, yogi or guru does not have time to interact with you personally, then you may as well read about their teaching in a book; you may model some of their outward spiritual characteristics, but oftentimes that only places you deeper in illusion.
- They allow “special” followers to set up a hierarchy of access. A true teacher must be accessible, if they are not, then they are playing the role of a king and not a true spiritual guide. With a false guide, more often than not, the more you donate the greater your access to them will be.
- They make false claims of a lineage, or the latest in a line of self-realized masters. Another pseudo form of "lineage" is to recount a miracle that may have once happened to them, which infers that they are "the chosen one" and therefore have the authority to set themselves up as a master.
- They generate a large number of angry ex-followers. This is an indication that something is seriously wrong. If they have used kindness and love in their interactions with students, then it is possible that some might drift away and feel they have wasted their time, but it is highly unlikely that they would exhibit great anger.
In closing: The above descriptions are a good overview of what makes up the difference between self-important narcissists in love with (and trying to boost) their self image, and those who simply see the truth and want to share it or teach it to others without any dire need for superstar status. A good reputation and nobleness of character are much more important than fame and celebrity.
Rae Indigo is ERYT 500