Thursday, 15 December 2011

How to know a fake guru when you meet one

Ever so often, I meet and talk to some Buddhist friends or strangers who are very concerned about finding the right authentic guru. The Guru is of the most esteemed importance in Mahayana Vajrayana Buddhism as they represent the essence of all Buddhas of the past, present and future.

"When teachers break the precepts, 
behaving in ways that are clearly damaging to themselves and others,
students must face the situation,
even though this can be challenging, 
criticize openly, that's the only way." 
- His Holiness the Dalai Lama 

Most of the time, people do not even know how to distinguish whether their gurus are genuine or fake. And there are some who simply do not have any wisdom and get cheated even if you tell them so. Sometimes it is due to one's karma that one meets questionable gurus. Hence it is with this concern that I put together a 'guideline' from information gathered from different sources (links at the end of this post). It is not an exhaustive list. I hope this list will help you to observe, analyse and have a better idea of how to identify a fake guru when you meet one. Do not get cheated, and heap voluntary road blocks on your Dharma practice and True Path. This is my sincere wish.   


1. States his own enlightenment: A wise guru tends not to focus on his own enlightenment or realisations for he knows this does not particularly help his followers. The false guru often make this claim because he had little else on offer to attract followers. Some claim to be tulkus, the reincarnation of a great yogi or high lama from the past, when it may not be the case. The system of tulkus depends on the re-affirmation of checking from other high lamas connected to the reincarnation through a series of tests. An authentic reincarnated tulku is found and discovered by others, and not merely announced and declared by the 'tulku' himself.  

2. Makes false claims of lineage: Many mistakenly believe that realisation can only happen under the guidance of a realized master. In this belief, gurus are only authentic when they come from a lineage of realized gurus. Some gurus claim a false lineage of enlightened masters to bolster their authority to teach. Another pseudo form of "lineage" is to recount a miracle that once happened to them (maybe they cured themselves of some disease or Buddha spoke to them personally) which infers that they are "chosen" and therefore have the authority to set themselves up as teachers and gurus.  Sometimes, even if one is from a recognised lineage, followers should find out about his growing up years and training the guru underwent to reach this stage. Followers need to examine closely. 

3. Does not like criticism: A false guru strongly dislike either personal criticism or criticism of his teaching; he does not take kindly to ordinary followers questioning him. He and his organisation will even threaten and undertake law suits to stop ex-members from spilling the beans. 

4. Acts omnipotently with no accountability: Some spiritual organisations are run like concentration camps, with the guru and his chosen ones acting like mafia. Unjust or outrageous behaviour by the guru is passed off as what is needed to help the followers grow. These are the dangerous gurus who have often severely damaged their students. A real guru respects your will even if he understands that your particular decisions may not be in your interest, and he will act accountably to an ethical code of conduct and also not be involved in unethical practices harmful to Dharma.   

5. Does not practice what is preached: Contrary to spiritual myth, you do not reach a point of realization whereby you can then start acting mindlessly. If a teacher preaches love and forgiveness, then he should act that way. If he teaches meditation, he should meditate. If he teaches humility, he should be humble himself. If he insists that his followers live in austere conditions, so should he.

6. Lives in total opulence, accumulates lots of possessions: There is nothing wrong with living in luxury or being wealthy. But when that luxury turns to unnecessary opulence using funds that were not explicity donated for that purpose, then you are probably dealing with a false guru. Money is collected from followers usually in the form of donations, and those donations are given as an act of love, appreciation and to help spread the influence of the guru. However, a genuine guru is more likely to use such wealth to lessen the suffering in this world, not to buy another yacht, another house or expensive car. Real gurus do not exhibit greediness. 

7. Encourages adoration from his followers: Avoid any group that focuses on the "guru" rather than the teachings or spiritual practices. This will be a hindrance to your self-realisation for your focus will be drawn outside of yourself, and usually indicates that there is not a lot more on offer than guru worship. Do not confuse guru devotion with guru worship.  Real devotion is earned over time when we begin to really know the whole person and not just their public image. 

8. Presents himself overly fashionably and glamorously: Beware of gurus who present glamourous flamboyant photographs of themselves and dress overly fashionably (whilst proclaiming that they have no ego!).

9. Runs aggressive marketing campaigns and overly relies on slick presentation: Some organisations adopt sassy modern day marketing campaigns to promote their guru's cause, by having lucky draws, parties, free gifts etc. It is important for you to look past the glamour, lovely music and video shows, to see what exactly the teaching is. We are not buying and cannot 'buy' spiritual development. A real guru focuses on only teachings, and not promoting teachings with freebies. 

10. Takes advantage or abuse his followers: This may happen especially when a follower falls under the spell of a guru, he or she is likely to do anything for the great master. It is only afterwards that it may dawn on the follower that his or her openness has been used and abused. This can be very psychologically scarring.  

11. Flatters you and treats you as very special: A false guru may hook a potential follower or to get a current follower to do a particular task by treating him/her as very special. Nothing can be more intoxicating and flattering to the ego than to be selected by your guru (or any high profile person). A real guru will stand back and allow you to make your decision whether to accept his teachings without trying to influence the process. We should always view the guru from our side, and not from the guru's side. 

12. Talks bollocks: When a follower is devoted to a guru, it is not surprising they will accept everything the guru preaches. It is always good to discuss and seek the opinion of a neutral open-minded friend and soon enough, the follower will find out whether there is any real substance to the guru's teachings, or whether he/she is merely being drawn in by his charisma. Beware of the guru who oozes charisma and is worshipped blindly by his students. The best teachers are the most ordinary ones. The true gurus are those who say they have nothing to give you. 

13. Opens and runs organisations like a business: A guru is there to help us find the true meaning of life and to practice the Dharma. This is nothing to do with becoming more successful at work or making more money, although this may or may not follow from being more spiritual. There is nothing wrong with wanting succcess, but if we mistake spirituality for increased business success, then we are guilty of spiritual materialism and we find ourselves deeper in the illusion.

14. More concerned about building fame: A false guru is more concerned about making himself famous, making himself seem connected to other high-profile lamas and well-known personalities through a series of on-going attempts. A  real guru would be too busy transmitting teachings to followers.

15. Allows his followers to set up a hierarchy of access: A guru must be accessible. If he is not, or if he allows his followers to block your access, then he is playing the role of a king and not a spiritual guide. A guru is only useful to the process of awakening if you can directly interact with him. With a false guru, it is often the case of the more you donate the greater your access. 

16. Presents themselves as non-profit whilst raking in the millions: Often, the false guru will present his teachings for free, whilst strongly encouraging her devotees to make large donations. In this way he can appear above money considerations, whilst maintaining his/her greed and opulence. 

17. Growing group of angry ex-followers: This is an indication that something is seriously wrong. If he has used kindness and love in his interactions with his students, it is extremely unlikely that there would be more disheartened students. Many might drift away and feel they have wasted their time, but they are only likely to have felt great anger if they have put their teacher on a pedestal, given him power, and later realized that he was never worthy of such adoration. Contrary to what some believe, it is actually the teacher's responsibility to strongly discourage students from putting them on pedestals, for this is counter-productive to finding realisation inside.  

18. Acts like a complete paranoid mad person: If your guru acts like a complete paranoid schizophrenic or psychotic, then he probably is. Run! Remember that there is no such thing as "crazy wisdom" - wisdom is the art of being balanced. However charismatic they may be, and sane between moments of madness, you will be damaged by them.

19. Having psychic abilities or superpowers: If a guru claims he has psychic abilities or can perform miracles, it does not necessarily mean he is more spiritual or enlightened. Ghosts, demons, and maras have superpowers, so what does having them prove about anyone's state of virtue or spirituality?  As the Surangama Sutra mentioned, the Buddha talked about all the sorts of false spiritual teachers that arise and try to mislead you from the true cultivation path through subtle error. 

20. Forbids students to use mantras or read holy scriptures or attend other gurus' teachings. Reading scriptures increases one's wisdom; reciting mantras helps with personal attainment and purification. If a guru forbids this, you have to ask why they are forbidding time-recognized, proven means for spiritual advancement. Also if the guru or his organisation forbids students to follow the teachings of other recognised gurus' teachings or programs, then the student should also question why, for all authentic teachings come from the Buddha. Pure Dharma is the same everywhere.    
Mara failing to tempt Buddha from attaining Enlightenment

In the Surangama Sutra, the Buddha predicted, "After my Nirvana, the Five Mortal Sins will foul the world and the Maras will flourish exceedingly. The Maras will (guise) as monks, to spoil and wreck my Way. They will wear lay dress and multicoloured clothing. They will drink wine and eat meat, killing livings in their desire for fine flavors.  They will not have compassionate minds, and will hate and envy each other..... The Mara monks will covet nothing but material goods, accumulating them without distribution, not doing good deeds.... harming living things... they will have none of the merit that comes from practicing the Way... The reason the Way will become shallow and weak is all because of that type of person!" 

An authentic guru must be pure, compassionate, not engaged in unorthodox practices, and not be involved in creating disharmony within the Sangha community. If Dharma practitioners are not sure their gurus from their buddhist organisations are authentic, they should take time to observe, analyse, reflect, share and talk to other Buddhist friends within and outside of the circle.

No one can save you but yourself. That is why we need merit and wisdom to succeed on the spiritual path. We need Merit to come in contact with the right teachings/guru, and Wisdom to know it and then practice.

I have been very blessed with the good fortune and karma to be able to meet with authentic gurus in this life, and to witness their exemplary examples. How my gurus conduct themselves are living proof to me that they are indeed the precious authentic teachers of our degenerated times. 

May dubious gurus engaging in false acts of propagating the Dharma, realise and confess their mistakes, and repent. May Lord Buddha tame and subdue modern-day Maras disguised as monks. May all sentient beings who have the affinity with the Dharma, have the good karma to encounter authentic gurus, and not get embroiled with controversial ones who can only separate them further from the path of liberation. 

Om ah hum vajra guru pema siddhi hung!


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