Only The Names Change
On the surface there seems to be very little in common between say Chö Trungpa and Jim Jones, between the Maharishi and Andrew Cohen, Between Rajneesh and Prem Rawat but the underlying realities are the same. Rajneesh was in the earlier stages of his career, hypnotic and brilliant. No critic of Prem Rawat has ever used those adjectives in connection with him. They attracted followers by making false claims about their ability to change the lives of people who obeyed their directions. Thye used these people for their own benefit, usually financially.
Spiritual charlatans come in many shapes and sizes and base themselves in different religions and "spiritual paths." Some are very charismatic, intelligent, hard working and focused. Others not so much. There are many ways to become a successful guru but they all tend to merge to a common ground in practice. I was really reminded of this when in November 2019 I read an excellent short article by Marion Dapsance about her investigation of Tibetan Buddhism as taught by Sogyal Rinpoche. Now I "practised the Knowledge" of Prem Rawat then calling himself Guru Maharaj Ji in the 1970s which was a debased form of North Indian Sant Mat teachings. Rawat and Sogyal both had round faces and big fat bellies. The faces were genetically based. Their bellies were shaped by their environment. Their careers had much in common. The article only requires a change of names and some specific details and could apply to either of them. Quotes from Ms Dapsance' article are in smaller font:
Sogyal: My first meditation sessions were faithful to the idea that I had had of them. The students sit cross-legged, with straight backs, and concentrate their minds on a point. Except that, quickly, we were pushed onto a different level. We were recommended to meditate in front of an image of the master, Sogyal Rinpoche, or even in front of a video of him. His presence, even via a television screen, would allegedly bring blessings. We are then told that, in fact, the really effective way is to be devoted to the master, and to attend his teachings.
Rawat: At first the students sit cross-legged, with straight backs, and concentrate their minds on their breath or other techniques.
I attended some of Sogyal Rinpoche's talks at the Levallois-Perret centre. He generally arrives 30 or 45 minutes late, sometimes up to two hours. As soon as he arrives on stage, he addresses the people in the first row and reproaches them for not having done their jobs. The students acknowledge having acted poorly, and publicly confess.
In addition to telling low-brow jokes … I have also seen him get furious because he had only a simple chair. Much commotion ensued in order to find him a throne. Those who had paid to attend his "teachings" were left to suffer in silence.
a whole organisation is dedicated to the master's personal well-being. I had access to the guidelines containing the procedures to be followed to satisfy Sogyal Rinpoche. Among other recommendations, he needs to have a heated pool nearby, a double bed, a special brand of tea, beef-based meals, and a chauffered Mercedes. He also needs access to CNN wherever he goes, and have a cook and masseuse on call 24 hours a day. Rather surprising for a spirituality that rejects materialism.
When I started my thesis, I met Olivier Raurich, former director of Rigpa France and translator for Sogyal Rinpoche, to inform him of my intentions. I told him that I wanted to investigate how Tibetan lamas transmitted Buddhism to Westerners. I also explained that I had heard rumours about sexual abuse at Rigpa centres. I played with an open hand. Several years later, in 2015, Olivier Raurich stepped down and denounced the Group's cultic practices.*
Sogyal Rinpoche's power comes from having spread the concept of "crazy wisdom": his craziness was allegedly evidence of his wisdom. The more violent, unexpected, aggressive and disrespectful his behaviour, the more it proved that he was awakened, omniscient, and beyond social constraints. If you saw him as nothing more than some guy behaving badly and abusing his power, that was because your spirit was "obscured."
You then had two options: either you finally understood that your master was acting with compassion, or you were excluded from the group. It was a closed system, based on total and absolute faith in Sogyal Rinpoche, in which criticism was impossible.