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Gurus and Sects

Gurus and Sects

"God gives humans truth. The devil creates an organization around it."

Several years ago, I quit my work as a computer specialist in a hospital. I received a farewell party where everyone wished me good luck with my further career. My boss never regarded himself as a better man than his subordinates. He saw himself as someone who just did a different kind of work that was more organizational in nature; He regarded himself literally as an employee. That is as it should be. This is the modern civilized world.

People who leave a spiritual organization, such as a cult, fare otherwise. They get no farewell party, do not get to hear it said to them: "Good luck with your further consciousness development." And their boss, their guru, considers himself not at all as an equal. On the contrary, he sees himself as someone who is so developed in his consciousness that he therefore knows much better than the people surrounding him.

When it comes to spirituality, the standards and values that exist in the modern civilized world are not defined in that way. There is no collective commons or council. In one of the largest spiritual organization that we know, the Catholic Church, men and women are fundamentally regarded as unequal and treated as such.

At the management level, in the modern business environment, all kinds of interesting experiments are taking place. Organizations are becoming less hierarchical. Meanwhile, spiritual organizations remain conservatively hierarchical in the way they function. The evolution that is taking place in the regular business world has not become part of spiritual institutions. Whereas in a modern organization, individual ideas and originality are encouraged, in spiritual institutions they are unwelcome and seen as a deviation from the path. In the words of a Dutch Bishop on television some time ago: "People should stop thinking for themselves, and start listening again. I know better than the ordinary believer and the Pope knows even better."

In our practice, we meet people on a regular basis who have had negative experiences with spiritual organizations. Abuse of power, and worse, appear to be the norm rather than the exception. Google the name of a famous spiritual teacher and also type in the word "abuse", and the result is often a huge amount of hits. It seems that being a spiritual teacher cannot go together well with acceptable human behavior. 

How does something like that come about?


This is the way it often happens. Someone experiences failure, trouble, and confusion in ordinary society and he or she feels excluded and inferior. There may then come a moment in his life when he thinks he receives spiritual insights through an intuitive or paranormal way. Now he feels he has received important cosmic information, (I say he, but it can, of course, also be a she1) and he gets the idea he is unique and special. Through this cosmic information he gets a strong sense of self, but all the while his feelings of inferiority remain strongly dependent on this feeling of being exceptional; for that reason, he is no longer capable of being critical of the intuitive, psychic information he received. The information is addictive, in the same way that alcohol is: it gives you a good feeling, but the dependency robs you of self-reflection and the ability to self-critique.

In short, that person starts to derive his self-esteem from the spiritual and psychic messages. When they come through, he can no longer evaluate them critically. Besides, there are enough surrounding energies in the astral world that want to “feed” him.

In the course of this process, an inner shift gradually happens: '"I must be special, because I receive important spiritual insights" changes to "I am so special and unique which is why I get these messages". This person is going to find it very obvious why he, and not someone else, is chosen to receive these “truths”. This creates a state of permanent self-deception. Along the lines of: "Because I am so very special, I receive these messages; they must be unique and always true". Any form of self-criticism has disappeared. The would-be guru feels elevated above his followers; they need to listen to him for their own good and follow him without question. After all, he knows the truth, his followers don’t. Therefore: If they don't listen to him, they are on an erroneous track, they are evil. The attitude is: "I'm here (above) you, and you are there (below) me". The insight that he himself is a man, who by trial and error has to grow and learn, is far removed from his reality. The guru is born.

The psychology of a sect

In their search for meaning, the followers of these gurus are often people who feel that the solutions to their fears, doubts, and uncertainties lie outside themselves. Because of the confident and self-assured way in which the guru embodies his ideas, without any trace of doubt, they get the impression that this guru must be very special. They become convinced that to resolve their problems they have to be with him. They feel that he can take away all fear and doubt. They don't realize that in this way they give up much of their freedom and their human dignity.

While the guru thinks he is further advanced than his students, the followers themselves confirm his false self image by seeing him as their master and approaching him as such. He regards himself as a better person, a guide, an illuminator who is much more developed. The students confirm this self-deception by listening to him as to someone who knows better, and who is able to see what is good for them much better than they can see it for themselves. They are certain that what is best for them is to follow his commands unconditionally. To refuse would be nothing less than to deviate from the right path. To have a personal opinion might lead to erroneous behaviour and is therefore dangerous.

The situation grows progressively more lopsided. As the students believe more and more that to deviate from the guru in thinking and doing is bad for them, the ego of the guru becomes stronger. Gradually, there develops in the sect a dualistic worldview: the sect is good, the outside world is bad. If the guru is given a choice between "there is something wrong with me and my message" or "humanity is bad because they are not listening to me", then he chooses the latter. This is often his central revelation to the sect members: "Humanity is bad, the downfall is near, but I am your salvation".

To emphasize the importance of the sect, the guru proclaims that the outside world is in the grip of evil plots, often directed against the sect. For that reason, sect followers who leave the group are also bad. After all, they choose evil; they leave the light and will sink into the darkness. They are threatened by the others that all kinds of evil will befall them if they dare to leave.

The teacher then sinks down ever further in his own delusions. His ego is getting bigger. He considers himself as holy, and any criticism directed at him is nothing less than blasphemy. He increasingly loses touch with reality. He engages in eccentric behaviours and pulls his chosen ones into it. He only tolerates people who follow him blindly and fully confirm him in his role as all-knowing leader. Any critical comment is perceived as a sign of grave error. Over time he is only surrounded by yes-men who envelop him with flattery. As a result, more and more goes wrong and the very functioning of the sect is compromised. Because the Guru is incapable of self-criticism, he projects the cause of any problems onto others. In his eyes, others do not listen well to him and do not understand his instructions. As more and more goes wrong, he is confirmed in his belief that the people surrounding him are less worthy and do not truly deserve his presence.

The sect members degenerate into people who are anxious and have a poor self image. They are often told that all human ego is bad which then gives the ego of the guru free reign. At some point, they no longer dare to think for themselves and absorb only the ideas of the guru.  And the guru? He is becoming more and more paranoid with the result that the sect as a whole moves toward madness. In an extreme case, as history teaches us, the cult even commits collective suicide. There is no hint of spirituality left. There may not actually have been any genuine spirituality present from the beginning. 

Fortunately, there are exceptions. All over the world people are committed to carrying out their spiritual knowledge in a positive way, to enlightening others in their environment. Of course, they also have their problems, but the difference between them and the gurus mentioned above is that they face their problems with honesty. A true guru will always point to the inner guru that exists in every human being. He or she will never say that, as this person, they are a guru for others. He or she presents themselves as a pioneer, a guide to the one actual guru that is inside each person; to this, he or she will point the way.

How do you find these people, how do you recognize spiritual teachers who have this kind of integrity? Below I describe a few core values of good teachers.

How it should be

A good teacher creates freedom

Every good teacher knows that his teaching is not an end in itself. He or she are in a process of development, and knows that their consciousness will develop further. He or she does not know which paths will open up in the future, what the universe will give him, or how her consciousness will grow further.

He also knows that others are in their own development process and he or she respects that. He realizes that he can never fully understand the process of another and penetrate it. She stretches her knowledge always to help another further. Good teaching is never an end point, a truth that is fixed forever, but the teacher is giving a helping hand. Something that helps you become unstuck, to begin to rely again on the natural flow of life.

A good teacher knows that every living being is a unique part of the cosmos and has to discover his or her own way. No one can tell what the path and the place is of another in the universe. He will never force his own path and vision on another, and never tell another what to do, or what is the path of someone else. He gives true freedom by pointing out possibilities, the divine potential of the other.

For the student, the teaching of a teacher is always only a starting point. Something that helps him in taking the next step, in order to move forward independently.

Consciousness always wants to grow, there is always a next step. There will always be new ideas, new experiences. The ultimate truth cannot be contained within the limits of a language.

Ideas that once brought enlightenment and progress will even become obsolete in the face of progress, the evolution of consciousness. Then it's time to let go of them.

When people claim that "this doctrine, this book, is the absolute truth, we now know how it works", they bring progress to a standstill. They then quickly lag behind people who follow their inner power.

This is what we see happening in our society. Where worldly organizations evolve, come up with new ideas, develop new forms of cooperation with more and more attention for the development and happiness of the individual worker, many spiritual organizations are stagnating.

A good teacher knows that the truth can be found everywhere

The truth can be found everywhere, because everything comes from truth. It can be found in a grain of sand, in a flower, in the stars above us, in the smile of a child, in our hearts. And toward that truth lead an infinite number of paths. If we go along with the flow, we will discover the truth that we seek. There is no need to do anything. Each question creates an energetic flow, a stream that naturally brings us the answer. A good teacher knows this. He will only encourage us to rely on that stream, to go along with that flow, because he knows that flow leads us to the answers that we seek. He will never block that flow with his own teaching, his own views.

She makes her own role as small as possible. He knows:"The more I do, the more likely it is that I disturb the flow".

Every person has his own unique relationship with the truth; that truth lies in the voice of his heart, his conscience, his intuition. A good teacher respects this. He will therefore never claim to have the truth, he will strengthen and nourish the inner bond that a "learner" has with the cosmos.

A good teacher is happy when his disciples surpass him

The evolution of humanity on Earth goes like this. Through the ages all kinds of sincere spiritual people and many other non-human creatures took part in a gradual growth of consciousness on Earth. As a result, the energy on Earth has become increasingly finer.

The distance between the realm of the soul to the earthly realm is getting smaller. New generations are getting better at dealing with the fluid, playful energy of the realm of the soul.

Just look at the spontaneous and cheerful, but oh-so-sensitive, children of the new generation, the children of the new time. They are more advanced than we are, stand with their consciousness closer to the Source. Their energy is smoother, they are less stuck in moral and dogmatic beliefs that have their origin in the past.

In exactly the same way, we have a better connection with our soul’s consciousness than the generations before us.

Spiritual teachers that came before us, people we rightly admire, began their work when the atmosphere on Earth was much heavier and coarser than it is now. That is why we are in some way closer to our inner core than they were. It is thanks to them that we are where we are, but it also means that we have to put their ideas into perspective by placing them in the context of the time and culture that existed then. Everyone, as a child, absorbs the energies of its time, and this also applies to spiritual teachers. It is always noticeable in their work. That is why we must relate everything that comes to us from the past, and place it against the background of that time and culture. Human consciousness is always expanding. The "truth" of yesterday is not necessarily the truth of today.

A true teacher knows this, welcomes further growth, and is happy when his students continue to develop and bring these seeds to fruition.

A good teacher recognizes his or her own process

Here on Earth we go through a process of development; we never reach the end point of this learning process. There is always further growth possible. We all have our difficult times, our problems, our moments of fear, desperation, and despair. There is no one who is above that.

You may remember from school that there were two types of teachers. There were teachers who stood in front of the blackboard and honestly admitted when they did not know something – those were the best ones. There were also those who tried to keep their ignorance hidden – those were not such good teachers. In the classroom, you felt something like that immediately.

The same is also true for spiritual teachers. True teachers acknowledge honestly their problems, their weaknesses, their fears and uncertainties. A teacher who does not do that, who is above the students with an air of "I have arrived where you still have a long way to go", has an ego problem. He derives an identity from being the "guru". Behind this attitude is fear: he is afraid that his students will drop him when they see his weaknesses.

A good teacher makes his teaching relative

Truth carries a certain power; When people hear the truth, something inside them resonates.  What is the truth? What is a true thought or a true idea? It is a thought or idea that helps a human to be in harmony with oneself and the surrounding world. The truth is healing, liberating. It touches something deep within yourself, moves you, excites you, and makes you enthusiastic. You also notice it in others. The truth shines in someone's eyes, and you can hear it in their voice.

What the universe is, the All, in its innermost Being, cannot be expressed in words.  It cannot be confined in language, it transcends our thinking.

A good teacher knows this. He knows that the most exalted and pure words are no more than pointers in the direction of the truth. She will therefore always remain modest, putting her own words into perspective. He knows that at some time the energies on Earth will be higher and more refined than at present, and will be expressed in a language on Earth that approximates the truth more than the words we currently have.

A good teacher does not work from fear, but with love

There are a lot of teachers who work with fear: "Listen to me, otherwise you will fall into error; follow these rules, otherwise you go to hell." We have heard them all before. Behind such teaching hides fear.

A guru who works with fear is afraid he will lose his followers, afraid that he will lose his students, and without followers he will no longer have the right to exist. Someone with inferiority feelings often derives his identity from his faith, and if another does not share his belief, he will experience that as a threat to his identity. Such a person must therefore be bad and be punished.

Fear is the characteristic of a doctrine that is not pure. 

The truth is based on love. A pure teaching bears out that love, together with respect for others and for life.

Every living being is a unique part of the cosmos; there is a place for everyone. Whatever you believe, whoever you are, whatever you do, there is no judgment, there is nothing but unconditional love. A good teacher knows this. He will always treat dissidents with respect and love, he will not judge and condemn. He will never use fear to convince his students to a particular point of view. Any doctrine that is based on fear will eventually disappear.

Finally, a good teacher knows that he is also a student

We all are on the path. As long as we are not everything, are not the only one, we are on the way, we are learning and growing.  We have had experiences, acquired insights that others have yet to learn. And some are further along than we are in their development. Realize that learning things, really living through something, takes time. Therefore, never be impatient, not with yourself and not with others.

A good teacher is someone who is aware of his follies and blunders, and of his human weaknesses. He will accept and not condemn. And when he sees that in his students, he will accept and certainly not condemn them. She knows that she herself is also a student of life.

Gerrit Gielen


Translation by Maria Baes, Frank Tehan and Pamela Kribbe
© Gerrit Gielen 2019
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