Spiritual Consumerism

“So do you think human beings don’t need guidance? It’s every man or woman to fend for themselves? This doesn’t resonate with me. To me, gurus and teachers play a crucial role in society…”


No, I can’t say human beings don’t need guidance. Guidance can be crucial at certain points in a human being’s development. But guidance, by its very nature, is a double edged sword. And depending on how it is approached, it will either provide just the right kind of support that the person needs or it will greatly hamper an individual’s development.

If you look at a parent-child relationship, this is one that is a guidance-based relationship. As a dad, I guide my daughters at various points of their development, but I have to be careful not to become too involved. If there is too little guidance, they will flounder. If there is too much they will develop an over-reliance on me and won’t learn to trust their own strengths and competencies.

When I guide my children, they always know that they can rely on me if things go south, yet they never feel like they can remain in their comfort zones around me. They know full well, dad is going to push them just that extra bit past where they like to be. However, most parents from my generation tend towards the over-protectiveness side of the spectrum. They are pathologically involved in their children’s lives, guiding and keeping watch over them 24/7. This kind of guidance eventually backfires in the form of a stunted emotional and psychological development of the self.

Next year, my older daughter goes to 1st grade. And she will be required to walk over a mile to school on her own with no parents accompanying her. Japan is one of the only countries in the world where this is still possible and even required. It’s one of the factors that led to me moving here. Children here exhibit an independence from their parents that is virtually non-existent in our hyper-involved western societies. Both my wife and I, enjoyed that sort of independence when we were children. It is what has made us the self-determined adults we are. It’s something that we wanted our kids to experience also.

The reason I appear to take such a hard stance against gurus and spiritual teachers is because the culture, in which these individuals thrive, has a warped idea of what “guidance” is about. They are not interested in empowering seekers, they are interested in developing an over-reliance in them. I know parents who are like this too. They want their kids close to them always, so they pander to their needs and keep them emotionally under-developed and always dependent upon them.

Very few of these so called “teachers” are in the business because they are genuinely interested in contributing something. Most are in it to gain something – fame, popularity, power, authority, adoration, money, stature and so on. Even the ones who don’t have such high ambitions eventually get drawn into it, because the culture itself requires it. The spiritual world is practically infested with emotionally traumatized seekers who claim to desire truth, but really only want their wounds to be soothed.

Soothing isn’t guidance.

When my daughter took off her training wheels at 5 and fell and scraped her knee, I held her and comforted her for all of 15 seconds and then told her that she needed to get back on. After that, I watched her get on that bike, even though she was afraid to, and try again. Within minutes she was laughing madly, not because I had soothed her. But because she had conquered her own fear and mastered that bike.

Spirituality today comprises of comforting, soothing, feel-good rhetoric designed to keep the seeker FIRMLY FIXED within their comfort zones and stunted. That is why people keep seeking for so many years and even decades! They were never pushed into that uncomfortable space and encouraged to negotiate it on their own terms.

Its precisely because spiritual guidance is a “business” rather than a form of “education” that this happens.

In the business world, RETENTION is a marker of success whereas TURNOVER is a sign that your product isn’t in high demand. So, Apple, for example, has built a huge base of loyal customers who swear by Apple products and buy nothing else. It is THESE customers (and not the one-off buyers) who make Apple a successful company. They are Apple’s primary stakeholders.

In the “education” model, however, it is the exact opposite. TURNOVER is a marker of success and RETENTION is a sign that the quality of education offered is substandard. As a high school teacher, I can testify, if even one of my kids was flunking class and repeating the year it would reflect VERY badly on my skills as a teacher. I’d have to answer to the administration for it, no matter how good a job I think I’m doing.

But you look at the world of Spiritual teaching, and suddenly things look wonky.

If these gurus are really here to guide us, then according to the “education model” they must be doing an atrocious job of it. Year after year, the same students keep repeating class and almost NO ONE ever graduates! If a college or university had that sort of abysmal record, no one would ever apply to it.

However, if they are indeed following the “business model” then they are misrepresenting themselves as our “teachers and guides”. They are BUSINESSMEN AND WOMEN and we are their CUSTOMERS. And if you understand that, you will see how “guidance” can’t really be a priority here. To create a high turnover in one’s customers is plain bad for business.

So, you gotta pick.

Either this is a business, which is perfectly fine, but just don’t misrepresent what you are and why you’re doing it. Steve Jobs didn’t create Apple to help people, he did it to make a fuck load of money. Don’t call yourself a “guru or a teacher”. Call yourself an “existential consultant” or a “spiritual entrepreneur”.

Or if this is primarily about guidance, then your focus needs to be about getting students OUT of the door just as fast as they come in through it! There is absolutely no excuse for them to be sitting at your feet, year after year, creating groups and communities and Sunday afternoon tea-sessions around your teachings.

If the size of your alumni-population isn’t significantly LARGER than the number of students currently enrolled with you :

You are a SHIT guru.

Guidance is most effective when it is short and sweet. It comes into an individual’s life right when they are at a crossroads, it adds the weight of experience and insight to the one side that the person is already leaning towards but is second guessing themselves on. And then as the person takes their first step onto that new path, whoosh! The guidance is gone. Completely retracted. Leaving the individual to figure it out on their own two feet, now.

Everyone who contacts me through this page, I say the same thing to: stick around for JUST as long as required but not a moment longer. Even the words on this page, if read for too long, will just become another crutch and comfort zone in which you will end up languishing for the next chunk of your life. I don’t need any squatters.

So, to sum up. I do agree that guidance can be key, when provided by competent mentors with the right intentions in mind. However, in the current spiritual climate, I see neither competency nor right intentions driving the teachings of most of the well known gurus and teachers out there. To me, all I see is a whole lot of hype and very little substance;

Superficiality parading as “depth”…

Narcissism parading as “expertise”…

Mind-control parading as “empowerment”…

Greed and power-hungriness parading as “goodwill and guidance”…

In reality, this culture isn’t about “guidance”. It’s about Spiritual Consumerism.

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