Guru’s Overinflated Ego

Can someone have strong personal magnetism, even almost tangible spiritual energy, but still behave badly, demonstrating unwholesome, even abusive behaviors? The answer may be shocking to some, but yes, this can happen. A guru can have a strong spiritual energy but still posses ego and personality, with no guarantee that either will be a healthy one.

What is personality anyway? According to the American Psychological Association (APA), personality Refers to individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving.” Therefore, if one can think, feel, and produce behavior, one has a personality. Gurus are no exception.

With personality comes ego. The APA states that ego “refers to all the psychological phenomena and processes that are related to the self and that comprise the individual’s attitudes, values, and concerns.” If a guru has any sense of self, they have an ego.

Group’s social isolation and Guru’s elevated role:

According to Mann PhD, some gurus may have developed spiritual powers or siddhis but have done little work on their personality. In line with that thought, Jack Kornfield, after conversing with many spiritual teachers in the East and West, speaks about four stages of enlightenment, each referring to deeper purification of ego, until there is no identification with self left. Each of these stages, except the final one still contains personality and a separate sense of self (ego).

If such a the guru is already established as a teacher, isolates themselves from society, receives no supervision from their elders, and only adoration from their followers, the entire community including the guru can be in trouble.

When a community sets itself apart from the world, or tends towards cult-like enclosure, there is no possibility for real feedback. Similarly, when teachers are highly elevated and viewed as perfect, they can become isolated and cut off from honest equals, partners, and spiritual friends”

A collective intoxication grows, created equally by teacher and student, each out of good intentions. But within this climate of unreal expectations it is easy for the teacher to get disconnected and out of touch, to feel, like Icarus before his fall, that he or she can fly forever” (J. Kornfield)

Once they have progressed to the point where they feel “so great,” an over-inflation of the ego results, wherein they will predictably give little or no credence to any constructive criticism that may be offered. Quite typically, their “greatness” is mirrored back by a group of loyal devotees in an inner circle who want to stay in good standing and avoid receiving the wrath of the teacher that might result from some personal disagreement or confrontation. The delusion becomes greater and greater, with no one to hold the teacher accountable” (Mann)

Guru’s Lack of Accountability

Even if the guru may have had good intentions and a humble beginning, this unhealthy dynamic has a profound change on everyone. This kind of guru does not fully understand the powerful relationship and transference that develops between them and their followers and does not take any responsibility for managing the situations that occur. It is not uncommon for such gurus to continue to inflate their self-importance while preaching the opposite for the followers. Followers are commonly seen as instruments to further the guru’s work and do not have any other value to the guru. They are treated as tools that the guru can use to accomplish a goal. The guru discards them at will with no accountability to the devotee or anyone.

“It is rare that such a leader can be held accountable by his community. If it is attempted, the overinflated “guru” will distort the facts, deny the truth, and change the rules of the community in order to justify his or her position and actions in order to maintain his or her standing.”

These teachers feel they are behaving correctly and actually feel justified in their actions because of the existing over-inflation of self. Such defensive actions often are accepted by the community members because they must maintain a level of denial in order to maintain their relationship with the teacher.”

Followers’ Denial

In the isolated social system, the followers see the guru as all good, perfect even. They cannot see such a person in their wholeness with good and bad behaviors because that would negate their role of infallibility and higher moral status.

The members’ lack of individuation makes it impossible for them to think clearly and discern finely the full facts of a situation. The members often are unable to maintain “whole object relationships,” in which the “good” and “bad” aspects of the teacher can be openly discussed and integrated (in other words – they see the teacher as only good despite the evidence to contrary, which tends to be denied on the spot). In the end, the integrity of the community becomes sacrificed through this process of splitting and denial.”

This dynamic between the guru and their followers reinforces guru’s ego, and blinds the follower to the reality in front of them. It helps explain why some gurus despite some spiritual attainment engage in selfish behaviors, and why many followers with also some spiritual attainment remain blind to the reality around them.

In the End. . .

If the followers leave, does the guru’s ego deflate or will they look for new supply?

Concluding with Jack Kornfield’s words:

When we first enter the spiritual path, we often speak of the overcoming of obstacles, necessary striving, the purification of defilement, and the ardor of seeking God. But this language, though it may once have served us, can become excessively one-sided, setting one thing against another: worldliness against freedom, self-will against God’s grace, sin against redemption. It is a language built upon exclusion.

With maturity we are released from our initial one sided language. We move beyond the simplicity of good and bad, right and wrong. The world is no longer a battle between black and white, pur and impure; it is no longer a poisonous tree to be cut down or removed. Our vision of the sacred includes complexity, paradox, irony, and humor…..

No teacher or outside authority can give us the truth or take it away. In the end we will find that our heart holds the simple wisdom and unshakable compassion that we have sought all along.”

Mantika 2024


Sacred Healing: Integrating Spirituality with Psychotherapy
©2017 Copyright Ronald L. Mann, Ph.D.

Jack Kornfield, After Ecstasy, the Laundry