I have been thinking a lot lately about gurus, teachers, and leaders – the people we rely on for wisdom and guidance. We listen to them because they can teach us things, make us better people, or help us make the right choices. But what happens when we take their word as absolute? What if they’re wrong, but we can’t see it because we believe they know best?
I’ve been watching the television show Scientology: The Aftermath, which tells the stories of people who have left the Scientology religion. One thing that stands out, and is true of most cults, is that the followers believe their leader has the final word in all situations. People will blindly follow what the leader says they should do. But why? Because they doubt their own wisdom. They don’t believe in their inner self. They are lost, and looking outside themselves for the answers.
It happens every day. Cult leaders around the world have manipulated their followers into giving up their families, their money, their sense of self, and even their lives. I recently read about the rise of a man named Bentinho Massaro, a spiritual advisor whose tactics seem to allow him to abuse and berate his followers under the guise of spiritual growth. He has amassed a following that believes these tactics will help them find happiness, but it’s misguided.
I’ve had my own experience with a teacher and spiritual advisor, an experience that made me doubt his wisdom. We were sitting in the classroom during a break when I overheard a fellow student ask the teacher a question. The teacher’s response, to me, was sexist and inappropriate. I was shocked, but I didn’t say anything. Partly because he was the teacher, and partly because I wasn’t directly part of the conversation. But I watched the response of the students around me who heard it. The student who asked the question seemed to take it as the right answer. Another student self-consciously pulled her sweater on over her thin t-shirt, eyes downcast. It was apparent to me that the teacher’s comment affected her negatively. That was the day I realized that I would not stay in the program. I don’t fault the other students for staying, but I worry that they believed the teacher’s opinion to be correct. It’s my hope that they continue to think critically for themselves, despite this teacher’s credentials or “wisdom.”
What I want people to know is that true wisdom lies within. Guidance is good. Teachers are valuable. But if there is a little voice inside that questions what your teachers are saying or doing, LISTEN to it. Listen to your own instincts. The only absolute word is within YOU, not outside you. Our leaders are meant to guide us, but they are human, same as us. None of them are divine. Not the Dalai Lama, not the Pope, not L. Ron Hubbard, your priest, or your teacher. Take the teachings of those that inspire you, but never doubt your inner voice.