How to recognise false gurus?

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
You will know them by their fruits.”
(Mt. 7, 15-16)


I can often be pretty harsh when I talk about certain gurus. I do however, support the the guru-principle as such, for I am convinced that people often need spiritual teachers and that such teachers can bring their students a step further in the search for the depths of the soul. It’s just that the teacher-student-relation is too often abused and that lots of gurus do not make their followers more free but on the contrary bind these followers to themselves in order to become more famous, powerful or rich.

It simply is an undeniable fact that both in East and West many gurus are nothing else but commercial wolves in spiritual sheep skin. Throughout my own experiences I therefore gathered some easy guidelines that can help anyone to expose guru fraud.

One. Start with the earth, not with the heaven. Ask yourself questions about the lifestyle of the guru and the way in which he receives his money. That sounds very unspiritual but the spirituality of it is quite obvious. Like Jesus said: “If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?”

That the most important is not the material but the spiritual, is obvious. Jesus said so many times. But what he brings into memory in this quote, which is seldom referred to, is the fact that spirituality also asks for honesty with the material. He therefore states it quite clearly: the one who isn’t honest with money affairs, won’t be with spirituality either. Thus, when the finances of the guru aren’t transparent, he has something to hide. And the pupil that lets himself be seduced by psychological fabrications or spiritual fictions, will certainly be cheated. Sometimes gurus preach material detachment while making their pupils believe that they can reach it by giving all their money to the guru or the organisation which hides behind it. Yet when followers, out of a misplaced admiration for the guru do so, it sadly enough isn’t a sign of detachment but of naivety and fraud. The fact of the matter is that the one who flutters around blindly is easily caught in a cage.

Two. All which is necessary to attain enlightenment was revealed or said before. There’s no need then to believe a guru when he acts as if he tells ‘something new’. And those that supposedly rediscovered truths that had been forgotten, aren’t any better. In the realm of the spiritual everything has once been told and nothing is secretly hidden. All through history, many prophets and sages explained us more than enough how we can lead a spiritual life. Their insights where passed on through different generations by religious tradition. What one perhaps can do is ‘translate’ those insights so that people today would understand them a bit better – but that is far from unique or mysterious.

In this regard it is actually remarkable that the less ‘innovating’ gurus are (that is to say, the more they simply recycle shallow one-liners), the more they claim ‘newness’ themselves. Today one can find, for example, gurus who take a patent on their yoga-systems because it would be so ‘different’. Yet the only newness about it is their patent and not their yoga. The only novel idea in their teachings is the exaggerated commercialisation of spirituality.

Three. Beware of dualistic non-duality. Many gurus preach the fundamental unity of the divine and they show their students how the duality of the human mind is but an illusion. There is little to remark to that teaching, but the problem is that the guru nonetheless often places himself on a pedestal. The guru thus initially remarks that many people are imprisoned in dual concepts like young vs. old, pretty vs. ugly, rich vs. poor but immediately he adds that he, as opposed to other people, could escape this duality. He then lets his followers believe that because of his immense spiritual guru-strength, he can help his devotees to escape that duality as well. In this way they quickly create a dual dependence between guru and devotee. Yet a true guru understands that both he himself and his students are dependent on God alone.

The most dangerous version of this dualistic non-duality is the idea that everyone and everything possesses a divine essence but that the guru is just this little bit more divine than others. Let it however be clear: no one is fundamentally ‘more’ or ‘less’ God than another. The only possibility is that a guru is less attached to his ego than most other people around us. But the one who is truly egoless does not feel the need to constantly prove how much wisdom he has, how enlightened he is or how many mysterious powers he controls. So don’t be fooled by some charismatic radiance of the guru, by some astral tricks or by some supposed mental influence on the thoughts of others, for spiritually speaking such things don’t prove anything. They don’t show any greater divinity of the guru, for God is just as present in all of us.

Four. What, one can finally wonder, are the traits of a true spiritual master? Ah well, in fact there are very few specific traits, but a little bit of humbleness certainly goes a long way.