(Our Good Doctor told me I ought to share this on the front page. Some musings from the last comment thread. Doctor’s orders.)

My mother has told me stories of when she was in her guru group, how she and others would drunkenly dance in the streets and play in traffic, in her heart believing her guru was protecting her– and she wasn’t alone! This kind of literal thinking is obviously very, very dangerous. People in Art of Living have a mystical belief that no harm can come to them as long as they’re in RS’s presence in a similar way. Again, it’s the inability to think metaphorically that kills the sense in most scripture I think.

In a very short amount of time I came to think and believe that Guruji was always looking out for me. Indeed I sometimes felt he knew everything I was thinking. It’s the kind of confusion that occurs when the metaphor of the guru as the gate becomes confused with a literal idea of Him as Godhead— which Sri Sri encourages constantly. If he didn’t, I would have been more than happy to take the blame myself for getting carried away with magical thinking and would have worked hard to discipline myself into remembering the myth as metaphor not as literal Truth– but when I realized just how completely central to that myth-making he was, I couldn’t pretend it was my fault anymore.

The more I read up on cults the more shocking it is to me how little the content matters at all. I’m reading Alex Stein’s book now, “Inside Out” — her story of getting sucked into and breaking out of a political cult in the midwest, and if you substituted “revolution” for “enlightenment”, and “cadre” for “seeker” it’s basically all the same stuff!

Cults in general evolve over time into the same formula, because it’s the same ingredients going into the same oven. I honestly believe that most gurus start out as mostly genuine, hoping to help others and also enjoying the attention. But the likely sociopaths among them start believing their own hype, believing in themselves AS The Attainment, The Godman, IT– and slowly the cult mentality grabs hold of them as deeply as their followers.

I feel sorry for cult leaders. it might seem like they lead the high life but can you imagine never being able to be completely honest with anyone, even yourself? Having to perpetually perform, to receive mindless adulation and call it love, to remove yourself from all real intimacy and crown yourself king of your deluded band and call that eternal glory?

I feel sorry for him, I truly do. I see pictures of him when he first started out and my heart still leaps into my throat– I still think he was astonishingly beautiful. Maybe that’s just his charisma, I don’t know– but maybe he had something precious and delicate, and maybe it died when people first called him “master”.


About theartofleaving

Former devotee and member of The Art of Living organization reflecting on the process of joining and leaving cults, abusive relationships, and sundry obsessions. Trying to draw the line by connecting the dots.
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2 Responses to Musings

  1. The Doctor says:

    There are some interesting things mentioned in this post which I thought might warrant their own discussion.

    I’m guessing that your mother’s “guru group” was a cult of some description, and given that you refer to it in the past tense this would indicate that at some stage she saw it for what it was and left. If I have read you correctly, then I would have to wonder if you have some kind of genetic predisposition to become involved with a cult and/or follow some charismatic leader.

    I say genetic rather than memetic since I would have assumed that your mother’s experiences with a cult most likely would been transmitted to you and you may have seen the red flags early on. Of course, it can also be argued that Art of Living is very clever at disguising its cult-like nature, which only really starts to become apparent once one goes a lot deeper into the organization.

    You also touch upon the belief one has that they are protected by their Guru, even to the extent that he is aware of one’s thoughts. As well as giving a false sense of security, it also has the potential of allowing one to exhibit questionnable and in some cases highly abusive behaviour, all the more so if their Guru does nothing to prevent it. Guruji will protect me whatever I do, so that I believe what I am doing is right. Look at many of the comments left on the other blogs by AoL extremists for examples of this.

    My point here really is that this protection from the Guru seems to be such an overriding factor that it causes these extremists to completely ignore many of the teachings, as is clearly evidenced from their behaviour.

    I want to believe that most Gurus do start out with good intentions, and somewhere along the way they essentially fall from grace as appears to have happened to SSRS. However what I do find interesting that you touch upon is something similar to what I read recently in an interview with Vikram Gandhi, director and star of Kumaré, where he mentions:

    Also since I am a non-actor, the deeper I got into the production, the further I got into character. You can call it method acting, but I was just transforming myself into someone else by living like it. As a swami I grew up knowing used to teach, ‘fake it till you make it.’ Inevitably, the character of Kumaré began changing the person Vikram. I had to be ready to be humbled by the experience, and allow myself to be consumed by the monster that I had created.

    I would imagine something like this happened to SSRS, and in fact is still happening to him.

    A friend of mine recently told me that in India, anyone purporting to be a Guru is almost obliged to make his followers believe he is God-incarnated otherwise they won’t be accepted as a Guru. I don’t know how true this is, but it would explain quite a lot about SSRS and the amount of pressure he must be under to maintain this facade.

    • Ok. Hmm. Where to start.

      I have to admit I find the idea that I have a genetic predisposition to joining cults pretty preposterous. As I mentioned in my earlier post ( ) indeed my parents met in a “guru group”– and what my mother now considers a cult she is glad she got away from, my father is devoted to completely as a minority religion. (This is sticky territory even for an Artist of Leaving and an ancient celtic warrior-queen.) So, ok, if you think one generation is a marker for genetic predisposition… but then you’d have to take into account that
      1) my sister has never expressed any interest in any group of the kind, and
      2) acquired characteristics are not passed on, and
      3) *ANYONE* and *EVERYONE* is vulnerable to cultic groups at various times in their lives, according to scholars on the subject like Margaret Singer, Janja Lalich, Robert Lifton, etc.
      4) that’s kind of like saying that because my parents met at a psychology conference and they’re both psychologists, I have a genetic predisposition to becoming a psychologist. I think that’s a little silly.

      HOWEVER, what it does suggest is that I was raised without an “organized faith” but with a lot of eastern principles floating around, which did leave me wanting more from my spiritual life and not knowing where to get it. But…lots of people who get disaffected with their churches/temples/synagogues/mosques are in the same boat.

      And finally, as I also mentioned in “What a CU*T”, I was on the lookout for lots of red flags– just the wrong ones. Finally I did see them but only as I approached TTC and spent more intimate time with lifers at the ashram.

      I also don’t really think that the idea of guru protection is why a bunch of commenters on BAoL are assholes. It’s not so much, “guruji will protect me SO what I’m doing is right”– I think it’s really more the opposite, “everything guruji does is right SO I must protect him at all costs.” People like Harshal somehow delude themselves into believing hurling insults and derailing discussion is a way to do this. “I’ll get my hands bloody to protect my Master”, like the devotees of krishna sending dirt from their feet for his headache, though they would be sent to hell for it–I think this is more where that behavior comes from.

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