the Wanderling

Although guidelines have been proposed by several religious groups to help would-be seekers decide which path or guru is the highest, almost all of them suffer from a clear case of what sociologists and anthropologists now call ethnocentrism (the tendency to see other people, cultures, religions, solely in terms of one's own world view). Surely, no critical guide will be exempt from a certain amount of prejudice or bias, but it can be minimized if the template we employ to appraise masters and new movements is drawn from transcultural sources and is interdisciplinary in scope.

To accomplish this aim, the following test was complied from five distinct "schools:" 1) Transpersonal Psychology (Ken Wilber, John Welwood, et al.); 2) Advaita Vedanta (Sri Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta Maharaj, et al.); 3) Sant Mat (Sawan Singh, Julian P. Johnson, et al); and 4) Christianity (Mother Teresa, Nicholas of Cusa, et al.); 5) Shamanism (various North American indigenous and related cultural sources, et al). Naturally, not all of these schools are in exact agreement with each other, but taken together they do provide a substantial framework with which interested practitioners can measure the claims of their respective guru, mentor, spiritual leader, and path. Each of the headings will contain examples of individuals or groups who have either embodied the ideal principle or who have gone far astray from it. All of the examples cited are based upon documented research.

1. Does Your Guru/Path Charge Money For Membership or Particpation?

Perhaps the easiest question to ask and have answered by a spiritual guru/path is whether or not their organization charges money for membership or participation. If the answer is yes, it is a clear sign for the "buyer to beware," as almost all groups which assign a fee for their teachings are suspect. Although Self-Realization may entail many requirements, such as giving up ego, greed, lust, and so forth, offering up your wallet or life savings is not one of them.

In America there is a tendency to make a commodity out of anything, even spirituality. Not only is making salvation a marketable item absurd ("Sorry, you don't qualify for the highest, blissful heaven." - "Why not?" - "You forgot to pay last month's subscription dues for soul discourses"), but it allows for a number of unscrupulous individuals to make huge sums of money off naive seekers.

Although money is necessary to keep movements functioning (the publishing of books, etc.), there is a distinct line between obligatory payments -- even if they are disguised as "love offerings," and unsolicited donations; the latter has justifiable reasons behind it, whereas the former makes religion a business enterprise, with a very lucrative tax shelter.

"Real Masters never charge for their services, nor do they accept payment in any form or any sort of material benefits for their instructions. This is a universal law among Masters, and yet it is an amazing fact that thousands of eager seekers in America and elsewhere, go on paying large sums of money for "spiritual instruction.". Masters are always self-sustaining. They are never supported by their students or by public charity."

---- Julian P. Johnson, The Path of the Masters (1939) ----

"Papaji was famous for refusing all financial support, and refusing any ashrams or formal spiritual communities, but warning against them repeatedly. He repeatedly taught that any spiritual teacher who charges money for their Darshan and instruction was a fraud, with no exceptions. He learned this by example from Ramana Maharshi, who would never allow people to solicit money in his name."

--- Conrad Goehausen The Broken Yogi ---

"A Wise One like me should not charge for her services....The one who charges is a liar. The wise one is born to cure, not to do business with her knowledge."

---- Maria Sabina, Curandera, Shaman ----

"Real Enlightenment definitely is not on sale at the corner store, it doesn't contain preservatives, and isn't wrapped in plastic. Absolute surrender to God, or the Universe, is the greatest gift, the 'pearl of great price,' and it will never be cheap. That is why one should question the ersatz gems that pseudo-spiritualists so readily sell in their fancy packages. If one wants the real thing, one must learn about counterfeits; otherwise, one is showing off a rhinestone to God, convinced it is the Hope Diamond."

---- Mariana Caplan, Halfway Up the Mountain (1999) ----

"The Guru usually gives the disciple a mantra and a puja (prayer accompanied by a ritual) to practice daily. The healer, instead, recites some mantras, performs divination, or some pujas on behalf of the patient, who has nothing to do but to believe in them. Both guru and healer have learned their art by assisting and watching their teachers for years, and often give their treatment free of charge. Typically healers think that if they accept money from their patients, they will also have to take their bad Karma. Because of this belief, it is not rare for the healers who take money to stop practicing after some years. They interpret some personal or family problems in which they got involved as a consequence of their breach of the rule of not charging for their services."

---- Jacques Vigne, Guru, Shaman, and the Crazy Man ----

All of the above quotes are well and good and all those quoted are of high standards, but almost any promoter or advocate of their own pocketbook belief could search out some reason to circumnavigate their reasoning. However, even the most ardent skeptic would be hard pressed to dismiss the Buddha's own words on the subject as recorded in Anguttara Nikaya V.159, Udayi Sutra, THE BUDDHA AND THE FIVE QUALITIES OF A DHARMA TEACHER:

"The Dharma should be taught with the thought, 'I will speak not for the purpose of material reward.'"

Interestingly, there are comparatively few spiritual groups which do not charge money for membership. Thus, this first criterion is a rather simple way to ferret out the possibly genuine guru/path from the less valid ones. Check out the movement's financial situation closely, keeping a close eye on where and to whom most of the money collected is going. If the particular organization is resistant to giving out such monetary information, then it can be safely assumed that the guru/path in question is more concerned with fiscal matters than with upliftment of the mind and spirit.

2. Does Your Spiritual Teacher Have A High Standard Of Moral Conduct?

"Once I was coming to India from Bagdad on my annual leave. At Makina Camp, I was waiting for the ship for my homeward journey. As there was yet some time for the arrival of the ship I thought I would have some puffs of 'huqqa' (tobacco). So I went to the kitchen of some labourers to collect fire from their place. The workmen had left for their earnings after finishing their meals. A four anna coin was lying near the fireplace. I looked all around (to confirm that nobody was seeing me,) and picked up the four anna coin, collected the necessary fire for my 'huqqa' and returned to my bed. When I reached my place, I thought, 'you receive 500Rs. per month. Why have you picked up this coin so stealthily?' I repented upon my foolish act and gave away that coin to someone. It is very easy to preach and sermonize others, but most difficult to be practical in one's life."

---- Baba Faqir Chand, The Unknowing Sage ----

A truly Enlightened master is by virtue of his attainment a moral human being. For, unlike most of struggling humanity, the realized sage has transcended the ego and its limitations and become consciously aware of his real relationship as an indivisible part of God's Being. As such, an Enlightened master would exhibit ethical qualities far beyond those manifested by even noble worldly souls. In light of this, it is particularly distressing to note that a large number of so-called gurus are quite unethical in their behavior. This ranges from improper business deals, to sexual misconduct, personal violence, and even criminal activity. As Julian P. Johnson correctly observes:

"If I were looking for a Master, I would first of all make the most critical inspection of the man's life to determine if he had any of the ordinary imperfections of character usually manifested by the average man. If I found him to be a perfect man, when studied as man, I would then begin my study of him as a Guru. But if he failed to pass inspection as a man, I would at once give up the search of him as Guru, or Master."

However, though some teachers have been known to engage in immoral actions, naive followers try to find ways to justify such behavior. The problem with attempting to give metaphysical explanations for what would otherwise be considered "ordinary" events is that it enables ambitious masters to bypass standard morality in the name of a 'higher' authority. What is needed in appraising spiritual claims is a religious version of 'Occam's Razor' (the scientific/philosophic rule which requires that the simplest of competing theories be preferred to the more complex, or that explanations of unknown phenomena be sought first in terms of known quantities), wherein seekers have a predisposition for the more logical, common sense interpretation of allegedly transcendent actions. Is it really necessary to "explain away" a guru's lust or misdirected practices as being motivated by the Holy Spirit, God, or Mother Shakti? Gurus don't hesitate to point out their devotees' weaknesses, nor should disciples be hesitant in criticizing their teacher's faults when they appear. Critical exchange is crucial and healthy for any type of relationship including teacher/student ones.

SEE ALSO: PATIMOKKHA: 227 Rules Observed by the Buddhist Order

-----------------How To Turn the Three Poisons Into Three Pillars

3. Does Your Master Make Claims About His/Her Spiritual Development, Powers, or Attainment?

"If any man claims to have attained the highest in spiritual development that claim of itself may be taken as conclusive proof that he has not attained so much."

---- Julian P. Johnson, The Path of the Masters (1939)----

"Good masters might indeed be divine, but they are also human. Even Christ was said to be one person (Jesus) with two natures (human and divine). Further, the fact that a guru has been thoroughly educated in soul and spirit does not mean he or she has been thoroughly educated in body and mind. I have yet to see a guru run a four-minute mile with his 'perfect body' or explain the Special Theory of Relativity as laid out by Albert Einstein with his "perfect mind."

---- Ken Wilber, Eye to Eye ----

"It is common to demand entry into Enlightenment through someone else. This renders it needful to make clear that NOBODY, not even the best of gurus, can bestow final and lasting realization--a glimpse is the most he can possibly pass on and there are not many with that capacity. Even in such cases, his disciples must work diligently and win it themselves."

---- Paul Brunton, The Guru-Disciple Relationship ----

Almost all of the world's great religious scriptures universally acclaim that humility is one of the chief virtues of an Enlightened human being. Yet, many of the most popular gurus today speak out quite stridently about their spiritual attainments. Some, like Sathya Sai Baba of South India, even claim to be God incarnated. Others, perhaps less absolutist but nevertheless confident, allege that they have access to the Supreme Being on a day to day basis. It is roughly estimated that there are over a million gurus in India, most of whom claim to have direct contact with the highest Reality and Truth. What is the seeker to do? Whose statements should he/she believe?

None of them. Spirituality, according to true mystics of all ages, is an experiential science, one which demands not blind faith and belief, but rigorous practice and application. Indeed, as Ken Wilber points out, authentic mysticism is a provable discipline since it enables a practitioner to see directly higher, transpersonal regions of consciousness. Therefore, the necessity for "belief" in a teacher's claims is uncalled for. Rather, what is needed is experimental verification of the path he/she advocates. All to often, religious seekers become armchair speculators versus actual practitioners, thereby basing their judgements on a mere intellectual appraisement of the master and not on direct interaction with his/her teachings.

If any guru demands belief in his/her status it is obvious that what they are teaching is not spirituality/mysticism but dogma and conversion. Truly, unless the would-be disciple is already God-Realized, how is he/she to know the spiritual capabilities of his/her master? Mere allegiance will not suffice, nor will any amount of propaganda about the guru's greatness, only daily spiritual practice will do.

Transculturally and throughout the ages, there have been a select number of saints who have embodied the very highest qualities of enlightenment which, contrary to our notions of "other worldliness," can be manifested in their everyday lives. "By their fruits, you will know them." Some beautiful examples in the 20th century are: Ramana Maharshi, Sawan Singh, and Mother Teresa, each of whom in their own way have expressed an aspect of the divine (knowledge, awareness, and love). Such rare individuals serve as reference points with which to measure the claims of emerging gurus in North America.

It should be remembered however, that even though it is claimed otherwise by thousands and the above notwithstanding, the Buddha himself, in one of the most overlooked Sutra and passage, but one of the MOST IMPORTANT SUTRAS you will ever read, said flat out in clear, plain language that he was indeed Enlightened:

When the Buddha was walking along the road to Benares following his post-Enlightenment pause he was approached by a wandering ascetic. According to the custom of the time the ascetic greeted him and asked who his teacher was or what doctrine he followed. The Buddha told the wanderling that he was 'the Victor and Conqueror of the World, superior to gods and men, an All-Enlightened One beholden to no teacher.' The wanderling ascetic could see no hint of anything of the Buddha's nature and wandered off as wanderlings are oft to do, mumbling under his breath something like, "If it were only so!"


It is important to note carefully the above meeting with the Buddha. Here was a wandering ascetic, a religious person in his own right it would seem, coming face to face with a truly Enlightened One, but he did not realize it. Even when the Blessed One openly confessed that he was indeed a Buddha, the ascetic remained skeptical because he was holding fast to the wrong beliefs. In those days as well as today, there are people who follow wrong paths, refuse to believe when they hear about the right method of practice. They show disrespect to and talk disparagingly of those practicing and teaching the right method. Such misjudgments arising out of false impression or opinion should be carefully avoided.


4. Does Your Guru/Group Proselytize Vigorously For New Converts?

"Any group "out to save the world" is potentially problematic, because it rests on an archaically narcissistic base that looks "altruistic" or "idealistic" but in fact is very egocentric, very primitive, and very capable of coming to primitive ends by primitive means."

---- Ken Wilber, Eye to Eye, (1983) ----

Regardless of how the proselytization is disguised, any guru/group which advocates a vigorous program of recruiting new converts acts as a dividing force in the society, cutting directly into family and relationships. Such conversionary emphasis has a tendency to create factions where none had existed before: "I am saved; you are still lost." - "I found it; you haven't", and so on.

Undoubtedly a certain amount of advertisement goes on in every religious movement, even the ones which are adamantly opposed to spreading their teachings publicly (e.g., Soami Bagh and Dayal Bagh in Agra, India). Just the publication of books, texts, and articles is itself a form of advertisement, albeit a limited avenue. The fine line, however is where giving out the message becomes consciously pushing the truth, as not only an alternative but as a required necessity. Wilber points out the danger of such a development:

"Such obsessive drivenness is always open to problematic occasions, not the least of which is the fact that if you have the way, then that end will justify virtually any means, up to and including holy war. And holy war, of course, isn't a sin, it isn't murder, because the people you are killing in order to save aren't really people they're infidels."

If the guru/path really does have a glimpse into the transcendental truth of the universe, then the concern will not be with "preaching" that insight but actually exemplifying it. As is well known in parental and teaching circles, the most accomplished parent/teacher is the one who says the most not with words but with actions. This simple truth, though used as a cliche, should be kept in mind whenever encountering a "new" revelation.

Somewhat different in the scheme of things is Shamanism. It is different than the usual seeking out in that it is considered by followers and practitioners as a calling. How does one know if they have a "calling?" It is not so much YOU that determines such a thing, but the "selection out" that occurs from or by another Shaman that senses an innate ability that is somehow radiated or felt. You yourself may not even know per se' although your whole life you may have had "this feeling." It just needs to be focused and that is what another Shaman can do. A good example is the apprenticeship as outlined by the controversial author Carlos Castaneda writing about the Yaqui Indian shaman-sorcerer Don Juan Matus he allegedly studied under.

"Unlike the medicine man, the Shaman's adoption of his profession is in many cases not voluntary. The future Shaman's experience of being called seems frequently to consist in a compulsive state from which he sees no other means of escape than to 'Shamanize'. It is often clear that the man who is to become a Shaman consciously does not wish to do so at all, but is driven and forced to it by the 'spirits', and finally, in order not to perish, takes the only path open to him and becomes a Shaman. The future Shaman, the young man suited for Shamanizing, cannot escape the demands of the spirits, which drive him deeper and deeper into the illness, although he very often tries to resist. He gets into a situation, into a mental illness, from which he can find no way out but death or the assumption of the office of Shaman (death literally, OR the more fortuitious for the future Shaman, Symbolic Death)"

---- Lommel Andreas, The World of the Early Hunter ----

5. Who Appointed Your Teacher to Be a Master?

"Cult leaders are often self-styled prophets who have not studied with great teachers or undergone lengthy training or discipline themselves. . . Many of the most dangerous cultic figures of our times have no such stabilizing context of tradition, lineage or transmission, but are self-proclaimed gurus who sway their followers through their charismatic talents. . . ."

---- John Welwood, On Spiritual Authority ----

Successorship controversies are some of the most intricate and confusing issues that a spiritual seeker can face. A number of perplexing questions may arise: "Is my guru really enlightened?" - "Did my teacher truly receive the mantleship from his master?" - "Why is my movement's history disputed by outside scholars?" etc. The forthcoming answers are rarely simple and air-tight. There is always a strange twist, an odd fact, a peculiar story, which upturns even the most stalwart of followers.

The only remedy to doubt is not blind belief or dogma, but the ability to allow the mind to question and to embrace the paradoxical nature of the world. This kind of recourse enables the discriminating mind to exist alongside the devotion laden heart. However, certain requirements of historical legitimacy must be met before the seeker can relax into his/her practice with relative confidence. Most importantly the guru must have confirmation for his claim of mastership by outside sources. If this requirement is bypassed then the neophyte runs the risk of having only his teacher be able to validate his realizations. Such single source legitimacy, as Wilber terms it, is open to a series of problems, not the least of which is excessive narcissism on behalf of the guru, who becomes by virtue of his self-appointment the final and only authority for spiritual matters. Verification, therefore, is not only helpful in determining the master's real status, but is necessary in moving religious endeavors out of isolation, where excessed and ethical transgressions are more likely to occur. As John Welwood argues:

"Many of the world's great religious traditions have Lines of Spiritual Transmission, i.e., a person's realization is tested by his teachers before he is allowed to represent himself as a master. This is especially true in all the (major) lineages of Buddhism as well as in other Asian traditions. The process of testing and transmission serves as a kind of "quality control" to insure that a given teacher does not distort the teachings for his own personal gain."

Yet, in the midst of this convoluted myth making, how is the unsuspecting seeker to know? Therefore, it is of particular importance that the historical antecedents of any guru/group be thoroughly investigated. Though the search may not be easy, it is a must if there is to be any intellectual integrity on the part of the disciple.

6. Are The Central Teachings Of The Guru/Movement Trans- Rational Or Pre-Rational?

"The aim and object of all religions and of all ancient seers has been to take the soul, by one means or another, back to its source. Perfect is he who, by practice and meditation, lifts his soul to its real abode, freeing it from all bonds, both internal and external, gross, subtle, causal, and thus detaches his mind from the world and its phenomena. The perfect sadhus, real gyanis, true lovers or devotees of the Lord, are those only who reach the last stage. They who only talk of the Perfect Ones, or read their teachings to others without reaching the stage or practicing towards that end are only intellectuals and theorists."

---- Shiv Dayal Singh, Sar Bachan Prose ----

Contrary to what most secular humanists believe, like Paul Kurtz and Issac Asimov, true religion is a transrational endeavor to achieve higher states of consciousness beyond the verbal mind. Genuine mystics are not concerned with pre-rational forms of behavior, such as mythic logic, group-think, dogma, obedience without insight, and so forth. These types of thinking work against rather than promote spiritual Enlightenment. An authentic tradition centers its teachings on direct, personal contact with the Supreme Reality by engaging in day to day meditation, prayer, or Zazen.

Nothing can substitute for the disciple's own effort and inward progress not vicarious atonement, not the burning of Karmas by the guru, not God's grace, though all of these elements have their part. Individual action, though understood in relationship with the Lord's mercy and grace, is stressed above all else by genuine gurus/movements. No true mystic will ever ask a student to believe in him/her blindly or follow the teachings uncritically. Comments Tulsi Sahib, a renowned saint in the Sant Mat tradition who lived in the 19th century:

  • "When with my own eyes do I behold, then shall I accept what the Sat-Guru saith"

  • Adds Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, "Until with my own eyes do I see, the word of the Guru satisfieth me not...".

  • And finally writes Shiv Dayal Singh, "Know thou thyself by thyself; believe not at all what others say".
What are trans-rational practices? Disciplines which concentrate on higher, not lower, states of consciousness and which enable the student to master the lower tendencies of the mind. Hence, trans-rational engagements do not squelch critical thinking but actually help the reasoning process by allowing it to see more fully the vast potential of human life. As Wilber so clearly indicated, there is a fundamental difference between a sangat of meditating Zen monks and a clan of deluded Jim Jones devotees. The former is trans-rational because the monks take their intelligence with them into Satori; whereas the latter is pre-rational because Jonestown members foresook their individuality for regressive magical-mythic belonging.

7. What Are The Day To Day Results Of Your Interaction With The Guru/Path?

Devotee: "How can one know whether a particular individual is competent to be a Guru?"

Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi: "By the peace of mind found in his presence and by the sense of respect you feel for him."

Questioner: "How can I make out whom to follow and whom to mistrust?"

Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj: "Mistrust all until you are convinced. The true guru will never humiliate you nor will he estrange you from yourself. He will constantly bring you back to the fact of your inherent perfection and encourage you to seek within. He knows you need nothing, not even him, and is never tired of reminding you..."

If the guru/movement is authentic they will help you to better understand yourself, your family, your relationships, and God. Such understanding, however, does not necessarily mean that your worldly life will improve accordingly. For instance, following a spiritual path does not insure one against losing money, facing natural catastrophies, and struggling with domestic problems; it only helps one in coping better with all the various aspects of human existence.

Obviously, the results of your interaction with the guru/path should be apparent to your close associates: more openness, kindness, compassion, selflessness, honesty, and loving devotion. If these qualities are not exhibited it can be due to two reasons: you are not practicing consistently what the guru/path advocates; or, you are following teachings which place more stress on selfish, prerational, and anti-social behavior. Interestingly, it is easier to determine a fraudulent message than it is to own up to your immaturity and lack of discipline.

The effect of the guru on your personal life should be clearly evident, especially if you feel that your teacher is God-realized. Thus, there is as much responsibility on the shoulders of a disciple as there is on a guru. Both must be willing to surrender to a reality higher than themselves; the devotee to his master's instructions; the master to the living presence of God, to whom he has liberated his being. See also The Twelve Year Rule

How To Score Your Answers On The Spiritual Crucible

Scoring your answers on the Spiritual Crucible means, if, after taking all of the guidelines of the above into consideration, and/or including the False Guru Test as well, and you find out that your guru charges money for membership, lives an unethical lifestyle, self-proclaims his mastership, encourages proselytizing, alleges to be God-incarnated, emphasizes pre-rational practices, and demands total obedience, it can be assumed that you're on the wrong path and that your guru is a charlatan.

On the other hand, if your guru/path scores positively in all areas (such an accomplishment, by the way, is rare), then you are very fortunate to have been led to a beneficial and legitimate spiritual movement. The responsibility now shifts to your shoulders, as it is up to you to take advantage of the situation. Enlightenment is a two way process, the outcome of two interacting forces: God's grace and the disciple's effort.

Most of the results, however, will be a combination of positive and negative scores, with some guru/paths meeting the criterions in three or four sections but missing the marks in other parts. In this case, it is essential that the seeker fully weigh the pros and cons to his guru's mission. If one decides to stay in the movement, then it is necessary to discard those elements of the teachings which do not coincide with his/her best interests However, if one leaves the group, it does not mean that everything has to be forgotten. Rather, those features which are beneficial and helpful should be taken along as guidelines for the journey.

Ultimately, following a spiritual master or path requires a tremendous amount of maturity, self-control, and discrimination. To achieve God-Realization is not an overnight affair, or the outcome of feeble effort, it is the culmination of consistent day to day application of transcendent mystical teachings. In the end, the greatest obstacle of all is not the guru or the movement, it is the disciple.

It is often said that when you truly need a teacher --- or that which will function in lieu of a teacher --- one (or it) will appear. This may due to some inexplicable serendipity. It may be due to the fact that the seeker has searched deeply within himself or herself and determined what sort of instruction seems to be required. It could be swept over him or her like the First Death Experience of the Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi, or the Bhagavan's little known Second Death Experience. Or it could be a spiritual desperation on the part of the seeker, or maybe no more than a successful sales pitch by a teacher (sincere or not). It may be a combination of the previous factors, or some intuitive awareness beyond expression. For whatever the reason, the saying often applies and the coming together of the results of inner and outside forces, some within one's control, some without, can be found most eloquently as they all come together in the following:


It should be noted that Adam Osborne, who, as a young boy grew up at the Ramana ashram and the son of one of the foremost Ramana biographers Arthur Osborne, played a prominent role in the Last American Darshan as linked above.


Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.







(please click)





The above excerpted from:

David C. Lane, PhD, Garland Publishing, Inc.(1994).

Lane offers at the bottom of his page Neural Surfer: Copyright 1994 & 1995 & 1996 & 1997 & 1998 & 1999
("Just cite what you see.... Everything is Free")