✨ A special gift on the auspicious occasion of Sant Ravidas Jayanti ✨
Articles
Are all spiritual teachers frauds? || NIT Trichy (2021)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
24 min
104 reads

Questioner (Q): Why do we get so easily convinced by just anything? Few of my family members and friends follow things like energy healing and some fraudulent spiritual teachers just because they sound spiritually, scientifically, or logically convincing. I want to convince them that what they are doing is not right. How to prevent them from getting into such things and make them understand what is right? Why do people get so easily convinced by things like vibrations, energy, and many other superstitious, pseudo-scientific terms and concepts?

Acharya Prashant (AP): See, if we can understand why that happens, we will also know whether to convince, how to convince, when to convince, etc. First of all, let’s go into what that thing really is.

You see, we do not lead lives of Truth. I start from something that is very real, very close, very obvious, and very intimate to us. No theories, please. The first thing in spirituality is: Start from where you already are. Begin from what you already know. Begin from something that is beyond dispute. So, if we look at ourselves, if we look at our lives—and for sure we do exist, otherwise this conversation wouldn’t have been taking place. So, it is beyond dispute that you and I exist, and those who speak to you, the ones you are referring to, they too exist in our frame of reference.

How do we exist? When you look at the life of a common man, how does he exist? Does he lead a life of great sharpness, understanding, acuity, depth, insight? Do we really understand anything? Forget about whether we understand what real spirituality is about. Do we understand why we move in a certain way, why we work in a particular place, why we make a certain decision, why we enroll in a particular course, why we marry a particular person, even why we are fond of a particular color, or a particular trouser or T-shirt or something? We just move about in a haze. And we have become very accustomed to hazy vision and random movement, so much so that it stops bothering us after a point and we lose the very inclination to question it. The urge to know, the very curiosity, the spirit to question is just lost.

Also, after a point in life, we develop stakes in falseness; questioning, then, becomes dangerous. If you question, then the falseness of something that you might be heavily invested in would be revealed to you. And when that falseness is revealed to you, you will be forced to withdraw your investment, or it would be exposed that your investments have gone waste. We do not really have the courage to face that kind of a reality. Who wants to come to know that what he has invested his last ten or twenty or forty years in is just a wastage? So, we let the false continue, prevail, and even pretend to be the Truth, and that becomes our default mode of functioning.

So, we start leading false lives altogether. It is not just that in spirituality we are mistaken; remaining mistaken becomes our preferred mode of functioning. Our very mind, the consciousness itself becomes mistaken at its very center. And the more you stay mistaken, the more you want to remain mistaken because now your world is nothing but a world of your mistakes, and you are attached to your world, right?

You want to proclaim that you are a man of effort and success. If you are attached to your world and your world is one of mistakes, then you are actually attached to your mistakes, your inebriation, your inner haze, your nebulous decision, and you don’t want to call yourself out. You say, “Let the status quo continue. Why rock the boat? Why create disturbance? Why disrupt what is going on?”

So, we become status quoists. We think that we are just letting our haze and our ignorance continue in one aspect of our life, but, as we said, it becomes a default mode of functioning. Irrespective of what we are doing then, we lose the faculty to enquire and question. Even if we are now out to buy bananas, it becomes beyond us to really enquire deeply.

You might be thinking this to be trivial. No, it is not. The one who has lost the sense to enquire, the one who has lost all love for Truth is not going to really enquire in any situation of his life. So, all kinds of lies, deceptions, falsenesses will dance around him, and he will happily entertain them.

This is the ecosystem in which a fraudulent spiritual teacher emerges. Now, this teacher is sharp to an extent, at least sharper than the common man. He gets up, he looks around, and he says, “Ah! All this entire population around me is so ready to be fooled. They are begging to be cheated. In fact, they are already living very blind lives; the moment is ripe for me to ascend and dominate their minds.” And so he ascends very steeply.

He has caught your weak nerve. He knows where to hit you. He knows where your buttons and handles are. He knows that he can get away with any kind of conceptual tom-foolery. Nobody is going to dissent and question. People just don’t have it in them to question something that several others seem to be coolly accepting. In fact, the very norm of truth becomes popularity or general acceptance. If a thousand people accept something, then the thousand and first one need not even go into the veracity of that thing; the thousand people before him who accepted that thing are sufficient. Why enquire?

So, all you need is to tell the thousand and first person that, “See, a thousand people before you have subscribed to what I am saying.” Now you don’t even need those thousand people to actually subscribe to you; you just need to create that kind of an impression, you just need to make it feel to everybody that you are a big man followed by lakhs and millions. The moment you create this impression in the spiritual market, people will blindly follow you. We are sheep, and spirituality by its very distorted definition itself is something beyond logic. So, now you can say anything that is absolutely idiotic and it wouldn’t be questioned. Why? Because spirituality is supposed to be beyond logic.

So, that is how these things pervade, multiply, and become the common culture. But remember that the main culprit is not the one who propagates such falsehood; the main culprit is the common man who is anyway living a life of self-deception. When you are so inclined to deceive yourself, why will others not come and deceive you? The others are to be blamed later; first of all, we ourselves are to blame. Had we had some love for reality, some spine against falseness, then such charlatans wouldn’t have arisen at all in the first place. So, we are the ones who should be blamed.

Also, if you are accustomed to lies and comfortable falsehoods, then you start rejecting the Truth even if the Truth somehow tries to make its way to you. So, then it becomes a public conspiracy against the Truth. We will not allow the Truth to strike roots. It is dangerous for you, it is dangerous for me, so the two of us are united in our fear against the Truth. And then that ecosystem loses whatever little remaining possibility there was for the light of the Truth, and the false becomes all-pervasive. It’s just that the false is false; therefore, it cannot continue for too long. Sooner than later it will crumble under its own weight.

Q: You said that even mature people in the society follow these so-called gurus blindly. Even if we assume that the common people of the society follow gurus, what about the scientists and the intellectuals? What is stopping them from enquiring into such things? Are they afraid of society?

AP: We started from a point—you remember that? We said, because we lead lives of falseness, so it becomes conducive for more falseness to capture us. It doesn’t matter whether one is a teacher or a scientist, an explorer or a researcher—look at how he is leading his life. What do you think, scientists are all inwardly very honest to themselves? No, not at all. If science remains just a thing of employment to you, just a profession to you, then inwardly you can remain very, very unscientific. You will keep researching on the things that you will see around you, but you will never research on the thing inside you.

So, it should not surprise you that even scientists are prone to being superstitious. And you will be amazed at the kind of superstition you might find in the scientific community. It is because of lack of self-knowledge. And self-knowledge is not a necessary accompaniment of worldly knowledge. You might know everything about atoms and molecules and still not know anything about yourself. You might know how the waves function and how the universe proceeds, but you may not know how the mind functions and how your desires and tendencies proceed. I am asking you, does becoming a scientist rid you of fear and jealousy? Not at all. Does becoming a scientist rid you of violence? No, not at all.

So, this is a superstition, that if you are trained in science you will be automatically liberated of superstition. Not true. Being trained in science just gives you a little more ammunition to avoid superstition, but whether or not you use that ammunition still depends on your inner tendencies, and knowledge of those inner tendencies is not contained in any book of science. That has to be done through rigorous self-observation.

So, do not think that these are two ends of the spectrum—science and superstition. No, not at all. In fact, science and superstition can very comfortably coexist within the same person. The opposite of the superstitious mind is not the scientific mind. The opposite of the superstitious mind is the spiritual mind.

Unfortunately, most people do not understand that. Even the framers of our constitution had no understanding of this thing. So, in the Constitution of India, when they have spoken against superstition, for example, in the director principles of state policy, they have said, “We do not want superstition, so we want to cultivate a scientific temper in India’s population.” Now, this is a lot of nonsense because scientific temper will not eradicate superstition. They should have written ‘spiritual temper’. Only spiritual temper can rid you of superstition.

But then, the framers of our Constitution were just too secular to include the word ‘spirituality’ in the Constitution. They thought spirituality is synonymous with communalism, with a partisan attitude or bigotry, so they stayed clear of spirituality. They did not include spirituality even in the school and college curricula after independence. This is a great superstition: to think that superstition can be taken care of by science or by rationality.

You know, we have these organizations and groups in the country who fight against superstition, and they call themselves rationalists or free thinkers. They are superstitious in their own way. Their central superstition is that rationality can fight superstition. You see, you have to understand the superstitious entity. The ego is the first superstition. Why? Because the ego thinks it is, whereas it is not. When you are not but you think you are—that is the fundamental superstition, no? Superstition is to believe in something that does not exist. The first thing that does not exist is the ego itself, but it has a great belief in its own existence. So, the ego is bound to be superstitious because it itself is the first superstition.

But we don’t want to get into these things; we become afraid. The constitution was being framed at a time when religious hatred, passion, tempers, and violence in the country were very, very high. There was a lot of bloodshed. So, these educated people became very afraid of religion. They said, “If we talk of religion, then there will be bloodshed again.” They did not understand the difference between religion and spirituality. They did not know the difference between a belief-system and enquiry.

What you call as religion is just an organized belief-system, belief in this or believe in that; whereas, spirituality is just an invitation to enquiry. There is hardly anything in common between frozen belief and youthful enquiry. Just do not think that by being well-educated or well-read or thoughtful you have liberated yourself of superstition. Most people live in all kinds of superstitions because they have no self-knowledge, and I said the ego is the first superstition.

As long as the false self remains, the mother superstition remains. But it boosts the ego to call that illiterate tribal superstitious. Why? Because he believes in gods and goddesses and magical powers of that great old tree. So, you say, “Oh, he is so superstitious. He believes that the trees can speak. He believes that a particular rock can do some magic.” But look at your own life: you chase a man or a woman, and you think that that rock can do some magic for you. How are you not superstitious? Thinking that a rock can weave magic is superstition, but thinking that a new job can do magic for you is not superstition? The latter is an even more vicious superstition because it is difficult to call it out and remove it.

When something is outside of you, you can easily wipe it away. When the thing is inside of you, it requires courage to pluck it out.

Q: Yes, sir.

AP: Is it an easy ‘yes’ or difficult ‘yes’?

Q: It is a difficult one!

AP: Never say yes easily, never. Your default should be no. I am not asking you to never say yes; I am saying, put a premium on acceptance. Your acceptance must come at a price. Let the other person be worthy of your acceptance. Only then must you say yes, and then your ‘yes’ is solemn; your ‘yes’ has, then, some sacredness.

Q: These days I am listening to U.G. Krishnamurti. In his videos, he says that all spiritual teachers are conmen, and he says that with such great audacity and sureness that when I hear him, my confidence just shatters. I start questioning my beliefs and wonder if I have really ever understood anything. U.G. refers to his liberation as ‘calamity’, and sometimes he sounds very different compared to many other spiritual teachers. Can you please clarify this matter to me?

AP: You talked about U.G. Krishnamurti, and you said that he declared with great assertiveness and confidence that all spiritual teachers are fake. He was not the first to do that; there have been many others before him. In fact, Jiddu Krishnamurti, who mentored him for some time, was saying much the same thing, though in much less abrasive terms.

So, I think I will give him the benefit of doubt. I will take his statement in good faith. He has made a sweeping generalization, but that generalization is not far away from reality. So, what he is saying, I think, if you go to the spirit of it, has to be accepted. I do say the same thing, and I endorse what he is saying: that, in general, spirituality is the favorite ground of fraudulence. Any other place, even if you want to cheat people, you have to make some efforts; you have to know something. You at least have to be a master at the art of theft or robbery or whatever. Spirituality—you just have to yak, yak, and the masses are all just too gullible.

It is not bad to say something or to try to uplift the other by teaching, but then, this other must have the sense to engage in a conversation. Don’t you want to understand what the other is saying? If you want to understand what the other is saying, why don’t you bring some depth to the conversation? Why don’t you ask him questions? But instead of questions, what you have are discourses.

In fact, I face this peculiar problem. People who come to me, people who have been with other teachers before and are used to sitting in sermons and discourses, they just don’t want to talk, they just want to listen. When I started speaking publicly, I faced this problem. They would say, “You come and speak.” I would say, “I have nothing to speak; I can only converse. I can’t talk at you; I can talk with you. Let’s chat.” They say, “But spiritual teachers don’t chat, they sermonize.” I said, “I have no sermons. In fact, there is very little that I have by way of a message or something. If you have a question to ask, I can answer it. If you have a topic to raise, we can talk.”

And it would be an awkward situation many a times. I would be there on the podium waiting for the audience to raise a question, and in front of me would be hundreds of people, but not one person would be willing to say anything. And then I would implore them again and again, “Please, sir, please say something!” And then one fellow, in a feeble voice, would mutter something, and that would give me some stuff to speak on. And having said something heartfully, now I will wait for the audience to reciprocate, and the audience would be mum—again.

And that comes from years of being dumbed down. Your parents don’t want you to speak, your teachers don’t want you to speak, and religious preachers, obviously, are very scared if you speak up. So, you don’t ask even the most basic, logical, or sensible questions, and you keep accepting even the most amusing kind of trash as if it is the word of the gods.

In fact, that is the reason why I prefer the company of students rather than so-called mature people. Mature people are so deeply steeped in beliefs that they can’t engage; they can follow you or they can walk away from you, but they cannot really engage. If you say something that violates their beliefs, they will walk away; if you say something that reinforces their beliefs, they will follow you, but at no point is there an effort to really explore, to want to know. That youth, that vitality, that love is missing, and that is the reason why spirituality has such a bad name today.

Q: I am doing my best to work on myself and follow the path you have shown me, but sometimes all the questioning and doubting causes me to deviate and then I cannot proceed on the path, and then I suffer even more.

AP: It is better to be doubtful than to be falsely assured, is it not? What do you want, false assurance and false confidence? And there are so many people who carry that—very deep and false confidence. You look at their self-assuredness and you will be impressed; you will say, “Wow! This man knows so much. This kind of confidence can come only from deep knowledge, a deep understanding.” No, confidence is a mask you can wear even without having any knowledge or understanding. It is far better to be doubtful.

You said that when you grow doubtful, then you cannot walk speedily on your path. Which path? If the path is indeed important to you, don’t you want to be sure that it is the right path towards the right destination? If your journey is important to you, how is it not alright to question your path a million times? If the path is right, then every successive round of questioning will only deepen your trust in your path, no? Why are you afraid of investigating the path you are treading? Investigate.

And if you are saying that you grow doubtful of me, I welcome that. In fact, doubt is not a bad position to start from. You see, if you are doubtful of me, you will be forced to inquire deeper into what I am saying. If what I am saying is real and useful, then this doubt will result in you understanding me better and developing a little more trust. And if what you are doubting indeed proves to be false, then good riddance! You have been saved. You doubted me and I proved to be a fraudster—isn’t that some relief for you?

So, it is not at all a problem to doubt. I do not know who taught you the virtues of easy and cheap faith. Faith is very expensive, and faith must be final. Only when you have traveled a great distance in your journey must you develop unconditional faith. Before that, remain doubtful, even skeptical.

So, forget about this being a thing of problem. It is indeed a welcome state for a young man to be doubtful. Do you know how long Vivekananda remained doubtful of Ramakrishna Paramahansa? For a long time, and it is alright. Because he remained doubtful, because he was a man of integrity, because he would not compromise with the false, that is the reason why, ultimately, he could get a true teacher. Otherwise, teachers come a dozen a dime. I am sure, even in the times of Ramakrishna, that area of Kolkata and Dakshineswar was infested with all kinds of fraud gurus and the like; we have never had a shortage of them, be it today or any other century in time.

Vivekananda did not fall prey to them. Why? Because he was not going to accept anything easily. When you don’t accept anything easily, then what you accept means something to you. Whereas, if you are someone who just accepts anything, then your acceptance has no richness, no meaning, no significance. Today you can accept this, tomorrow you can accept the opposite of this; a rolling stone gains no mass. And most people are like this—shallow, with fluctuating beliefs, and not having any real center.

Remember that you cannot have faith without doubt. Faith that came to you without being initiated by doubt is just flimsy trust, not faith at all. Let doubt be the interlocutor. Let doubt introduce faith to you. Won’t that be great? You are there, faith is there, and doubt is the introducer. Doubt says, “On my own credibility, I take the pleasure of introducing faith to you.” Now, that is some statement—faith being brought to you by doubt, yes?

See, when I say “yes?” you are not supposed to obediently say, “Yes, sir.” It is my part to say “yes?” and my yes comes with a question mark. I am not asking you to follow me; I am asking you to answer me. That much is alright, no?

Q: These things have happened before and will continue to happen. I have fixed them in the past, and I will continue to do so in the future as well.

AP: How did you fix them? What do you mean by “I have fixed these things”? In the name of “I have fixed the things”, don’t kill your doubt.

Q: No, I am not killing them. I am saying that there have been such doubts in the past, and I have tried to understand the situation, figure out the exact issue, and eventually resolve those doubts. And when those doubts come back to disturb me, I have noticed that their intensity has decreased. I am going through the same situation right now, so I thought I would ask about it.

AP: When doubt comes to you, it is a great opportunity. Use it. Don’t suppress it. Don’t think of yourself as mischievous or disloyal or infidel if doubts regarding even the most commonly accepted things come to you. Doubt the entire world, doubt the gods, and most importantly, doubt yourself.

Q: In one of U.G. Krishnamurti’s videos, he says that the perception of the eyes is not three-dimensional. What does he mean by that? I have never heard anything like that from any other teacher, neither J. Krishnamurti or Osho. Sometimes it feels like there is something else he is trying to point at.

AP: See, I will have to go into that exact excerpt you are coming from. But it is obvious, no? It is not the eyes that see; the mind sees.

Q: His exact words are, “The knowledge says that it is three-dimensional; otherwise, eyes don’t see it as a three-dimensional world.”

AP: That is alright. You see, even if you don’t have knowledge that it is a three-dimensional world, the fact that you live, eat, walk in a three-dimensional spatial reality will remain. Animals don’t have knowledge regarding the dimensions of space; xyz-axis they do not know, and still their entire movement is in the three dimensions and the fourth dimension of time. So, that is a bit regarding naming.

You must listen to the right teachers with some empathy. Because they often speak from a state of meditative depth, so sometimes the words might be a bit incoherent or what they are saying might be opposed to what they have previously said. These things are there. And when such limitations arise, then you are supposed to apply your own mind because words are always contextual. What is being said might be applicable only in one particular context.

So, do not get fixated on that. Read on, move ahead. And as you read on and as you read diversely, the meanings of what you are reading will get progressively clearer.

Have you benefited from Acharya Prashant's teachings?
Only through your contribution will this mission move forward.
Donate to spread the light
View All Articles