“Physical, sexual, and psychological abuse are not teaching tools” – Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche
The first time I heard the term “crazy guru” was when the Gopis (Chokru, Saravati, Ona-Ali) spoke about Sri Donato as the guru whose wisdom was too advanced for regular people to understand (beaming red flag). They called her the Avadhuta master, which is a Hindu term representing someone who is “eccentric and who has achieved a state of being beyond ego-consciousness, duality, and worldly concerns and acts without consideration for standard social etiquette” (Hindupedia). The Gopis did not mention whether Sri Donato lacked basic regard for social etiquette but it was implied that her wisdom was not typical, hence, the label “crazy.” The term “crazy guru” is derived from the Buddhist term ‘crazy wisdom’ which has its own controversies among some Buddhist teachers who couched their unethical actions (I can do whatever I want without consequences because I’m enlightened and above social norms) under a spiritual wrap:
He [Chogyam Trungpa] introduced his recruits to “crazy wisdom,” the practice of using bizarre and sometimes abusive methods to jolt devotees into higher states of being. I’ve interviewed close to fifty ex-Shambhala members. They have told me stories of every type of mistreatment imaginable, from emotional manipulation and extreme neglect to molestation and rape—stories that turn Shambhala’s brand narrative, with its promises of utopia, upside down. (the Walrus, 2021).
As written by several individuals here, Sri Donato used traumatizing clearing sessions, excommunications, encouraging vasectomies, spying on disciples, controlling sexuality, separating couples. Two former members also allege sexual coercion.
Crazy wisdom? I do not see any wisdom in these actions, and I would also not use the term crazy as if Sri Donato was incapable of understanding what she was doing. These are, in my opinion, deliberate actions of a highly controlling and damaging leader.
As I looked online I found a Buddhist teacher who addressed the “crazy wisdom” justifications and explained that real crazy wisdom comes from eccentric, not unethical teaching methods. Wisdom, crazy or not, is rooted in compassion, it benefits the student and does not leave them traumatized and anxious (Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche).
This is another term that ruffles my brain and goes hand in hand with the “crazy guru” justifications. I remember hearing the Gopis talk about the importance of humbling our egos for our spiritual development. Gopi Chokru was referring to something deeply kind and compassionate and for our own good. If I am not mistaken, she was referring to the humbling effects of being humiliated. Any resistance to their guidance meant that our ego was stronger than our ability to submit to the higher will. Chokru explained that God was more visible in them, therefore, humbling ourselves to them was closer to humility before God. We developed complete trust in these teachers who somehow convinced us in the logic and benefit of humiliation. We were instructed to lower our heads in humility and say “thank you.” This is not unlike a child being disciplined by a harsh parent expect that we were adults, and the harsh mentor preached compassion. See the mind f**k? Abusive behavior is presented and taught as an act of compassion!
The worst examples of harming egos in Morningland – in my opinion – took place in the late 70s and 80s during their clearing sessions and purges of undesirable students. In the paragraph below, Sri Donato’s former disciple and assistant, Quota addresses her teacher’s alleged attempt to break her friend’s ego:
After the first night of purges, I asked about the purpose of clearing sessions, and I stuck up for my best Morningland friend, TiOva. I asked why she attacked TiOva. Patricia told me it was to break her, her ego – in order to rebuild it. I told her I did not understand why it was necessary to “break” people or toss them out if they did not break, which she said was what they were doing.’” (Quota, Excommunication)
I cannot imagine how anyone could justify this as spiritually beneficent! It is not uncommon for cultic leaders to try to break people so that they can rebuild them in their image, or in the image of what they require. Dr Janja Lalich in her conversation with Dr Ramani speaks about cult leaders breaking people’s egos to rebuild them into the cult persona, someone the leader can use. There is no space for individuality and authenticity in cults – conformity and complete submission to the leader is a requirement.
LEAVING A CRAZY GURU – TO SPEAK UP OR NOT TO SPEAK UP?
Some spiritual circles seemed to have embraced the contemporary social norms upholding student safety and mental health.
Student safety comes first. Speak openly about unethical behavior.
Leaving a teacher on good terms makes sense when the issue is just a matter of fit between teacher and student. When the issue is people being hurt or laws being broken, the situation is different.
Physical, sexual, and psychological abuse are not teaching tools.
In these circumstances, it is not a breach of samaya to bring painful information to light. Naming destructive behaviors is a necessary step to protect those who are being harmed or who are in danger of being harmed in the future, and to safeguard the health of the community (Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche).
I hope that we put a stop to the medieval worshiping of gurus and giving all our power away to those who convince us that abusive behavior is somehow necessary for spiritual advancement. I hope that we stop justifying our teachers’ unethical behaviors. I also hope that we create healthier spiritual circles where students’ safety is upheld, and teachers’ actions are firmly rooted in true compassion and full accountability, leaving no trails of broken hearts, and wounded minds.
Mantika, July 2023