Readers' comments on
The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power
by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad
"I'm just reading the Guru Papers right now as well, much due to the recommendations from this site. I knew about the book from before, but there's so many books about cults, I did not think it would be much different from the others.
However, it really is a very good book. I like the emphasis on authoritarianism, and the analysis of gurus' personalities.
I'm right now at a point where the authors describe the stages of cults: 'From Proselytizing to Paranoia'.
The authors suggest that the initial stage is messianic, with the message being that the cult & guru is there to save the mankind. During this phase, the guru is confident that he actually will succeed and be the one to lead the world out of darkness. The major emphasis is on proselytizing and bringing in new converts.
As long as the guru still sees the possibility of realizing this ambition, he - according to the authors, at least - exercises power through rewarding the enthusiasm of his followers with praise and position in his hierarchy ( = PAMs). He whets and manipulates desire by offering carrots (does it hold for M? To some extent, for sure - carrots of becoming an initiator, of doing service directly to him, etc. But M also used threats very much, perhaps even more than direct carrots. There were lots of implicit carrots, of course, for everyone, sbove all the carrot of the possibility of realizing K if you did S,S&M).
Quote: 'The energy and excitement of proselytizing, conquest, gaining public attention, and of newcomers flocking to the group are what makes a cult feel vital and prosperous. Cults need a continuous stream of recruits and potential converts to reinforce the belief that they're 'where it's at' - the vanguard of spirituality on the planet.' Soo true!
At one point, though, it becomes inevitable that the guru is NOT going to take over the world, at least not in the immediate future. When the realization comes that, new quote, 'humanity is too stupid or blind to acknowledge the higher authority and wisdom of the guru, the apocalyptic phase enters and the party is over.'
The authors then suggest that either one of two things happens: Either the guru's message becomes pessimistic, voicing something like civilization is going down the drain, only we have the truth, we are therefore wisely withdrawing and we 'will survive as a pocket of light amidst the darkness, then afterwards we will lead forth a new age'. The cult withdraws, perhaps to a farm, perhaps to Amaroo...
The other possibility is that in order to attract more people, the guru makes increasingly extreme promises and bizarre claims, to attract new following. Quote: 'One guru went so far as to promise levitation and invisibility; another group claims that through proper daily chanting, people can achieve their every desire/.../'. Clear addresses to the Maharishi and the Harekrishnas. I would suggest that M had a bizarre renaissance period, too, with his Krishna costume, dancing, foot-kissing phase - that was when 'propagation of K' had been getting more and more problems, and there was time for a new gear of devotion. It worked for some time, but now that doesn't work any longer, in the West. Only among Indian followers, in India, Africa, and so on. There, the cult clearly is in another phase than here.
Now, M has 'withdrawn' in the West in the sense that he keeps a low profile, and his followers never even mention him to family, friends and colleagues. And, he has introduced k-lite, in order to facilitate this strategy.
Gurus at this stage - according to the authors - develop more and more traits of paranoia (so true in the case of M - just look at enjoinglife.org...).
The book suggests that as cults get more and more paranoid, they develop a kind of doomsday mood. It creates a heavy turnover of people. Those not 'serious' enough leave, and others begin to question the leader's omniscience. In order to counteract this, the group becomes more militaristic, demanding even greater obedience, quote: 'One guru had everyone busy building bomb shelters. At this point, cults often have members learn martial arts or begin stockpiling weapons. Fear now becomes the primary mechanism of the leader and the group to maintain power and cohesion'.
Now, this is certainly a possible development of cults, but not a necessary one. Here, the book is at odds with scientific research on cults.
Yes, it is possible that paranoia of the leader and core members force the cult into this stage, and we know this has happen in several cases (People's Temple, the Star of David, the Solar Temple, Aum Shinrikyo). But, the most common development of cults is simply that they loose credibilty, cool down, and fall into oblivion. In some cases, they survive by turning into fairly accepted 'sects', not requiring too much, but not offering very much either. That's what K-lite is all about: No enlightenment, no saving of the world anymore, no guru, just a teacher who shows you how to 'enjoy your breath'! In a few lucky cases, these sects later have turned into world religions.
Some kind of sect development appears to be a likely one for M and EV, if M plays it 'kewl' and manages to keep his nose above the water. However, he might easily loose this Mahabharata (as Roger Drek put it), and go down as Rajneesh did. That's what his paranoia appears to be mostly about.
Just some thoughts, being this far in the book."
(Happy, Thurs, Apr 15, 1999 at 05:10:50 on the Ex-premie.org Forum)