Beware of False Gurus: Don't Let Your Meditation Teacher Cheat You ... That Is, Trust Your Inner Wisdom if Something Seems Off and Don't Cheat Yourself!

Someone kindly sent me a 10-page letter written by Earl Kaplan, one of the big financial supporters of the TM, transcendental meditation movement, where he wrote that he one day “woke up” and realized that he had been supporting a load of rubbish.

I'm not going to discuss TM at all. However, I do want to take the following opportunity to remind people of several principles I always emphasize you have to keep in mind when dealing with spiritual things.

I'm always emphasizing that you cultivate your WISDOM but people usually don’t get it. To give you some idea, I'm going to reemphasize again a number of principles you must always follow in your spiritual striving that address some of the 'discrepancies' that Earl finally “awoke to” and mentioned in his letter:

1) Be careful, be extremely careful when a teacher from a 'poor country' comes to a 'rich country' and sets themselves up. It's not always the case they are a 'cheater,' but beware. It's easy to fake spirituality for money, and religion is one of the most popular businesses there is for accumulating money.

In Asia it's common to open up a temple, install a famous teacher to draw in crowds, give him a big salary and collect the money that flows in. Remember that there is more credibility behind someone who's rich who goes to a poor country to do good deeds, even if they are misguided in the charity work they want to do, than the other way around. I’m not saying that makes missionaries credible, just telling you that money attracts all sorts of scam artists.

2) Remember that there are all sorts of stages of cultivation. There are martial arts teachers with 'dirty chi' and no samadhi, there are genuine samadhi masters (usually they have achieved just the 1st dhyana though people think they're enlightened), there are those who've seen the Tao and are at the Bodhisattva bhumis (rare indeed), there are people with semi-samadhi states who can show superpowers (this is just gong-fu but people mistake this for genuine samadhi and mistakenly think the person has the Way or is spiritual), there are gurus with samadhi powers who are actually evil rather than virtuous, and on and on it goes.

In other words, if you cannot discriminate, beware. That's what the STAGES course is all about --- nearly a dozen different ranking schemes by which you can judge your own stage of attainment. You can find the same material in 'How to Measure and Deepen Your Spiritual Realization' which I always encourage people to get. You'll benefit by it in more ways than one.

The short of it is the following: most masters, prophets, gurus, rishis, adepts, initiates, si-fu's and so forth are only “samadhi masters” and never see the Tao even though people claim they are avatars, liberated, fully enlightened and so forth. Even in the Zen school, many that we call 'enlightened' still only attained high samadhi states, but never enlightenment. In short, there are various ranks of attainment which you should study and know--skandhas, samadhi, consciousness, etc. to know that you are not enlightened.

I cannot tell you the number of people I’ve met who think they’re enlightened. Craziness, self-deception, foolishness and ignorance al combined into one! Be discriminating in your selection of teachers because many fall under the same delusions even when they only have the first dhyana. You can read the story of many great Zen masters who in their early career bumped into some samadhi state and thought they had the Tao, and their teacher crushed that notion and just insulted them. Those are people with real attainments and real wisdom and intelligence who made that mistake, far higher than you or I and if they can go wrong think how careful we should be. You must be especially careful of teachers (see “Socrates and the Path to Enlightenment” to see how to select a teacher).

3) If someone tells you their meditation method will produce 'world peace' or some similar such nonsense (such as 'keep the world from blowing up'), think again. Remember that Shakyamuni Buddha could not even prevent his own family clan from going to war because of its karma. Also, despite having hundreds of students with samadhi, this whole group of Shakyamuni's students was unable to create world peace as well. Yes, they initiated a great spiritual movement that was responsible for peace in many situations where we don't see the causality, but that's not the point. The point is not to swallow outrageous claims made by some guru who is preying on your gullibility. Jesus died and we still don't have world peace either, so think about the thickness of karma. If you want world peace, become a politician and take the appropriate actions that lead in that direction. That’s a real peacemaker.

The world continues rolling forward under the influence of powerful karmic threads between people, races, countries, everything. You can only affect what you have the power to affect, so don't buy into the 'thick love' and 'love the whole way around' crowd who think a few prayers will do it. Yes indeed pray, but be pragmatic with actions. That's why I tell you that you must open your eyes, stretch your wisdom muscles, and know everything -- cultivation, psychology, medicine, arts, sex, technology, history and so forth. If you're a national leader, you still need to be wary of people's intentions and pragmatically take all the steps required to protect your people, which is exactly the 'wisdom way.' As my own teacher usually says, when a country injects religion into politics it becomes weak, and perhaps a religious mindset even played a part in the recent thinking of George Bush before his invasion into Iraq.

4) As to sex, if you want it then do it and if you don't then don't, but don't use spirituality or cultivation practice as an excuse for sex and don't get sucked into some teacher's claim that they can help you through sex. Sex has consequences, so don't think any 'holiness' will help you escape them. It’s your own private affair. If you want to have it then do so but don’t use cultivation as an excuse. It has emotional, physical, social and other consequences. If you’re fine with them and your partner is, too, then the rest is up to you, but don’t throw cultivation into it. Becoming involved in sexual relation is up to you but don’t pull in “spiritual cultivation.”

Girls, if some master wants to sleep with you, use your common sense. Men, if some master wants you to lose your semen, use your common sense. Both cases can be found over and over again with 'teachers' from every tradition -- Tibetan masters, Hindu masters, Buddhist masters, and so forth. In the orthodox religions we have the same sexual shenanigans we have in the ordinary world. Recently in New York a prostitute revealed she had a whole bevy of Orthodox Rabbi clients. Many Catholic priests are gay or pedophiles, many other Christian priests and reverends have committed adultery, and so on it goes. It’s not restricted to Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, Judaism, or even Islam. This is the Desire Realm condition, so use your common sense.

If you want to cultivate samadhi, you have to open up your chi channels by cultivating emptiness so that your jing changes to chi. If you lose your jing this will never happen. If you just practice sexual restraint but not meditation so that your jing doesn't transform, that repressive discipline as spiritual practice is worthless as well. You have to transform the root of lust through emptiness cultivation, otherwise whatever you suppress in this life through force has a stronger attraction to you in a subsequent life because you suppressed it in this one. And if you do want to use sex in the way that will help open up your chi channels (see 'meditation for Beautiful Skin' or 'Twenty-Five Doors to Meditation') then follow the rules and stick with your normal sexual partner.

5) If a spiritual movement or practice does not lead to any sort of mental gong-fu or physical gong-fu, then leave it for something that does or just add those practices to your tradition. Whether you're a Hindu or Mormon, Christian, Jew, Taoist, Buddhist or whatever, the principles of spiritual practice are basically the same. If you're not doing intensified spiritual practices (meditation based on the principles of emptiness, mindfulness, cessation and contemplation) then you're going to get nowhere despite your sect's claims of your being saved. Next life you'll just be born elsewhere -- in a different religion or with a different sex in a different country perhaps -- and will just keep being reborn over and over again until you really start to cultivate to free yourself and make it up the ladder to where you can escape being reborn here.

The world is meaningless unless you give it meaning through vows and cultivation (see 'White Fat Cow'), so if you do one thing in this world let it be establishing firm roots of cultivation and changes in behavior that you’ll carry from life to life. And get rid of ideas of racial, national or religious importance as if you keep changing those things due to karma, you’ll realize that you have to blaze a trail through them because they’re not ultimate. What you think is #1 today is exactly the opposite you’ll spurn the next life when born into a different situation, so get over any ideas of superiority.

If the religious path you follow doesn't have meditation then you better get started on it by borrowing the practice from elsewhere. Like yoga, it's non-denominational at its core, but religions grab onto it and wrap religion around it, so don’t be confused on the point. Without meditation practice to calm, purify, empty, pacify the mind (however you wish to word it) then you'll never achieve gong-fu and can only hope to achieve a bit of merit in this lifetime as the only result of your spiritual practice. In this case, your whole life can only amount to a bit of 'wisdom and merit accumulation' (the first stage of the spiritual path) rather than a life of any true progress towards samadhi and ultimately seeing the Tao (enlightenment). What a waste.

6) Always study religious texts, always read sutras but make sure they are transcendental wisdom texts. If a teacher says you don't need them, be careful not to take this injunction out of context, and be careful to determine whether he just wants to make sure you don't discover he's a fake. The more you know, the more you can discriminate because of wisdom.

Even the great Zen masters would study for 2-3 years to get their foundation firm, and then they would go sit in practice. Even then, they'd still return to the sutras for guidance in cultivating wisdom and other matters again and again. Without guidance you’ll go astray, and guidance comes from study. To make spiritual progress, you have to mix theory and practice together like water and flour to make dough, and it's proper to always be studying sutras and advanced religious texts to help guide yourself.

The question is, which ones? For instance, the Bible or Talmud will tell you little about spiritual cultivation, some types of Taoist texts will lead you into all sorts of tumor paths, and the texts of Hinduism have many different degrees of appropriateness. You can study the Talmud your whole life but if you don't cultivate, it's just a bunch of intellectual knowledge (like learning everything about bicycles) and then next life you're born into some other tradition. What was the point if you didn't concentrate on emptying the mind of the Talmud and everything else to realize the original nature?

I am particularly wary of people studying yoga gong-fu texts from the form-based traditions (yoga texts on chakras and asanas, Tibetan tantra, Taoist chi channel circulation texts) for a variety of reasons too much to get into. If you have wisdom then use them but 80% of the people I meet take the instructions for the path and go astray, missing the real path of practice entirely and wasting decades (yes DECADES!) in the process. You have to see the big picture, which is once again why I wrote How to Measure and Deepen Your Spiritual Realization and STAGES. Also, The Insider’s Guide to the World’s Best and Worst Spiritual Practices, on eof our best books, tells you how cultivation changes over time and how it goes astray. Knowing this, you’ll see what’s wrong with your practice. Almost all the people I meet who practice but don’t have gong-fu are because they don’t practice correctly, and this book could help.

7) Be careful of teachers ALWAYS raising money. In history, the Christian monasteries in France were taken over by the state because they had amassed too much wealth. The same thing happened to the Buddhist monasteries in China and Hindu monasteries in India. Some could argue that the Vatican should be selling its art treasures for similar reasons, but that’s not for me to say.

I will say that money only has use if it flows, and if an organization is accumulating it, they will eventually start deviating from their original mission and start focusing on the propagation and safety of the organization rather than the fulfillment of its mission. That’s almost a law of organizations -- the original mission is lost in time. Rather, the goals of the organization shift from truly solving the problem for which it was founded to the goals of perpetuating the organization. To keep it pure, for that reason I believe many organizations should institute a self-disbandonment clause when they first form.

I just recently stopped giving money to one charity I always sponsored (you can check out most any charity at when I found out that their BALANCE SHEET showed hundreds of millions in assets; until then I had only seen that their income statement showed most monies raised going to the projects they sponsored, and yet another individual told me how they 'cooked the books' to even misrepresent these numbers. I like to practice giving on personal projects rather than 'organized' charities, and suggest you think about doing this as well if you really want to see your dollars used wisely. For more information, see 'White Fat Cow.'

8) Don't get sidetracked by form-based practices and form-based traditions. Yoga, Tibetan Buddhism, Taoism, qi-gong and science are examples of form-based traditions that have lots of pretty but deviant paths within. You should focus on cultivating your mind, not your body otherwise you'll get nowhere. When you cultivate your mind your body will transform but if you cling onto the body to cultivate it, you'll likely get nowhere. Don’t set a target such as being able to fly through the air or walk through walls as these fall out of samadhi; shoot for formless samadhi and let the gong-fu take care of itself. Don’t waste your time or efforts or you will waste your life. For instance, if you want to be able to start fire with a thought, just carry around a cigarette lighter instead! Why practice for 10 years to master some gong-fu that I can do for $1.49 with a cigarette lighter or match!

Of all the masters I've seen who cultivate the body, just as my teacher says, they're all stuck around the 1st dhyana and created a problem/plateau in their own practice that they cannot let go of because eof the clinging habits they formed in cultivating their bodies. He says these are the big disasters who will remain stuck for ages. That's why Buddhism and Shankara Vedanta and esoteric Christianity and other formless schools are so great -- because they teach you to cultivate to realize the underlying original nature, and ignore the body entirely. But if you are concentrating on chakras, and breathing methods and chi channels and spinning this and that you're doomed.

I see people who've done that stuff for years and in just a few minutes of correct practice, where they let it go, they finally get started in the right direction, achieve gong-fu, and 'wake up' to the fact that everything they thought was right was wrong. That's what a teacher is for -- he's simply a FRIEND that points out your mistakes and helps with CHARITY (of dharma, protection, fearlessness, etc.), but you have to do the work.

No master can save you; you have to save yourself (in fact, you are already saved because you are basically the original nature). If some master claims he's opened up your chi channels or saved you or changed your karma or whatever, RUN elsewhere. Even if the guy is legitimate, this type of comment shows a very low stage of attainment he's lacking in wisdom. Remember, superpowers prove nothing. Confucius never showed any and yet Confucius had a higher stage of attainment than most Zen masters did!

9) Never be afraid of reciting holy mantras. If a teacher is afraid of you reciting holy mantras that have been used for ages (ex, the Zhunti mantra, Ohm Mani Bei Me Hon, etc.) and blessed by renown lineage masters, you can indeed suspect he's employing black forces that lose their power in front of the mantras. That's one reason I encourage mantra recitation, which is because all sorts of lower beings are indeed afraid of them. If you get into the habit of mantra recitation as a form of spiritual practice, you can even recite them in dreams to help dispel nightmarish situations. The mantras discussed on my website and sutras are rather excellent in this aspect, especially in changing your fortune (see White Fat Cow).

10) Just because a teacher has a “strong presence” or “strong chi” doesn't mean they're spiritual or enlightened. Even actors project strong chi, so what? Just because they have superpowers does not mean they are enlightened either. Remember, even demons and ghosts who cultivate have superpowers. They are just functions of the mind, or gong-fu, and not the real thing. Anybody can cultivate them with time and training and practice. Why bother -- you lose them when you die, and you lose the results of cultivating your body when you die (who says next life you’ll have the same type of body) but what does carry over are the karmic results of merit you’ve done, of behavioral habits you’ve changed and your cultivation roots of a clearer mind/consciousness.

Anyway, remember that Zen masters never reveal superpowers until right before they pass away, if at all because they don't want people thinking this is the Tao or the spiritual path. Academics have it wrong and think they don’t have any or any gong-fu, but what do academics know (see The Story of Chinese Zen for more info). You can have 'strong chi' like certain martial artists but if it's dirty it's not cultivation chi and it's worthless. Also remember that there are lots of samadhi where superpowers come out -- there are 4 pre-samadhi states before the 1st dhyana, and the 2nd, 3rd and 4th dhyana, and anyone who cultivates their chi without cultivating samadhi can attain superpowers. Big deal!

Cultivating a superpower is like learning how to ice skate gracefully or even skateboard. It's just a form of gong-fu that's wasting your time and distracting you from getting the Tao underneath it all. If you don't work at getting the Tao, it's yet another life wasted, and who says next time you'll even be lucky enough to come into contact with true cultivation teachings. If you are born deep into a warring Islamic country or in Africa, do you think it will likely happen? Use your chance now that you have the real dharma to make progress and plant the seeds for fruit to be born.

There’s more I could say based on the letter I read, but I thought you should keep these points in the back of your mind and stretch your wisdom muscles. In general, remember it’s very easy to get confused about spiritual matters. Second, the real dharma is rare and most orthodox religions don’t disseminate it (for a variety of reasons). Third, you have to cultivate yourself as no one is going to save you. They can give you the teachings but you have to make progress yourself because it’s your mind. It all comes down to self-responsibility rather than relying on someone else. Fourth, tricksters are just as prevalent in this field as in any other and just because someone is a rabbi, reverend, priest, monk, nun, teacher, etc. does not mean they are pure, clean, working in your best interest, etc. Fifth, most masters do NOT have samadhi, and if you have samadhi it does not mean you’re virtuous and if you have superpowers it doesn’t mean you are spiritual or have samadhi. Anyone can cultivate gong-fu, which is why it is not a sign of enlightenment (see “Socrates and the Enlightenment Path” for more info on how to tell if someone is awakened or enlightened).

Okay, I could go on and on but I thought I’d interject this little bit of reality into your day because I constantly see so many people go astray. Why? They get sucked into “religious notions” and abandon their inherent wisdom. Folks, in cultivation you must develop your wisdom for progress, effectiveness and survival. The greatest Zen masters mastered their true mind and could equally have been kings or generals, and so must you similarly train yourself to have 100, 1000 or 10,000 arms of capability. As your knowledge and experience and skills grow, so do your skillful means and abilities to help people.

You must learn everything -- science, art, history, persuasion, business, medicine, healing, psychology, technology, cultivation, etc. Everything that exists, whether for good or bad, accords with true reality so you must know it and understand it, including the shadow sides of things (the MAFIA, CIA, drugs, prostitution, political deals, gambling, etc.). Know how things REALLY work in actuality, by taking off the blinders, and you’ll know not only how to protect yourself and others but how to make progress.

In other words, wake up! Become self-sufficient. Stretch your wisdom muscles and work through things with pragmatism. Don't just ignore discrepancies you see or throw sugar on top of everything. That's REAL cultivation wisdom.




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