It’s natural for us to seek wisdom and find people who can share it with us.
Sadly, however, there are far too many shady and egotistical people out there who want to take advantage of this hunger for truth.
Fake gurus are all over the place, but they can hide themselves very well.
Here’s how to find out if your guru is a poser…
Are you following a fake? The top 12 signs of a fake guru
1) They’re obsessed with pricing plans and ‘deals’
There’s nothing wrong with making money.
It’s part of life, and it’s a perfectly reasonable thing for any businessperson or spiritual leader to ask a price for his or her services, in my view.
But one of the top signs of a fake guru is someone who’s focused on money and pricing plans a lot of the time.
They don’t just mention that a course costs a certain amount once or twice, they keep threading it into everything they say.
Another common feature is pricing plans that go up as you get “higher” on the enlightenment ladder.
Watch out for this type of nonsense, it will trap you in debt and disappointment.
2) They make you feel like shit
Fake gurus love to act like they’re morally superior and you’re a worm compared to them.
If you want to be a tiny bit less of a worm, guess what? You have to pay them, join their exclusive retreat next month, share their videos to 10,000 people, and so on…
They create a constant atmosphere in which they have all the answers and you’re just a broken nobody who they might decide to save if you can prove you have any worth.
It’s a bad feeling, to say the least.
“The infamous twist the knife tactic goes like this: find a person who is struggling and feeling bad, then make him feel even worse.
“Then, when he is in this horrible, helpless state, tell him that it may never end.
“When you offer a quick and easy solution that has clearly ‘worked for others who were suffering just like you’ the poor schmuck will take the bait.”
3) They keep promising some grand end goal
On the same track, fake gurus love to always hold out the payoff but claim it’s just around the corner.
Whether they’re a get-rich marketing guru or a spiritual guru, they will tell you that the “biggest secret” is something they are ready to reveal at the right time…
Or they’ll promise that a new healing technique from the woods of Siberia has been entrusted to them by elemental forest spirits, but there’s a process to be worthy of it first…
And so on.
“The attractions of being a trickster guru are many. There is power and there is wealth, and still more the satisfactions of being an actor without need for a stage, who turns ‘real life’ into a drama.
“It is not, furthermore, an illegal undertaking such as selling shares in non-existent corporations, impersonating a doctor, or falsifying checks.”
4) They’re all about themselves and their brand
One of the most obvious signs of a fake guru is that they’re completely focused on themselves and their brand.
It’s splashed all over their homepage, they use the same slogans or brand name over and over in videos, and so on…
This guru will also sometimes refer to him or herself in the third person – which can be creepy – and talk about themselves as if they are God’s gift to humankind or the reincarnation of some illustrious saint.
Well, maybe they are…
But by being such an egotist about it and using it to take advantage of people they’ve probably squandered just about all the good karma they started out with.
“The real guru is not interested in himself.
“He is interested in the growth of the disciple,” writes Amit.
“The first few signs of fake gurudom is giving fancy titles to themselves, or proclaiming themselves to be the incarnation or successor of some great master.”
5) They go nuts if you criticize them in any way
A guru with substance and true wisdom takes criticism in stride. He or she accepts some shortcomings, or that others have an issue with them and they reflect on it.
They use that criticism to grow and to embrace more of a feeling of humility.
They’re more interested in the truth than in their own shallow ego satisfaction, in other words.
A fake guru is the opposite. Any criticism makes them go berserk. They will often claim it’s because of the critic’s deranged mental or spiritual state, or even that it’s part of some grand conspiracy against the “truth” they are trying to bring.
“Another sign of a con-man in guru’s clothing is whether the person is able to take criticism or not.
“Those who are not genuine spiritual teachers will get offended and defensive over criticisms made towards them instead of looking inward and taking into consideration what those criticisms are (nobody is perfect, after all).
“How dare an unenlightened mortal criticize them!”
6) They engage in manipulative and reckless financial, sexual and professional behavior
Gurus and cult leaders are famous for abusing their power.
Nobody is perfect, but it’s fair to expect a certain standard of self-control and basic decency, especially among someone you hold in high regard.
If a guru is behaving recklessly in their sexual encounters, financial decisions or career, then you have to ask yourself what it is they’re really teaching you.
Perhaps you can learn what not to do from how they behave, but how are you supposed to grow as a person while watching someone else crash and burn?
Reckless behavior, sexual obsession and financial dishonesty are some of the top signs of a fake guru.
7) They use members against each other and share personal and private information with the group
One of the most disturbing signs of a fake guru is that they weaponize vulnerability.
They take things that group members have told them and use it against them.
Even worse, they sometimes publicly share or “make an example” out of privileged information that was shared with them.
This exploitative and abusive behavior is not something that a spiritually advanced person would do.
It’s just being a dick. You should not pay homage to someone who does things like this, and even if it doesn’t seem like it, sooner or later they’ll do things like that to you, too.
8) They claim they can make anyone ‘enlightened,’ rich or happy with enough time and money
Real gurus look at people and see many different souls on the path of life with varying challenges, strengths and needs.
Fake gurus look at people and see dollar signs and suckers.
To that end, they will make grand promises and tell absolutely anybody they have potential as long as they pay up.
They will claim that their teachings or special secrets will fix your life no matter what your problem is.
Unrealistic promises are the name of the game here. But fake gurus have no shame in lying and do so constantly.
“Let’s say you took an art class in school. The teacher did not promise you that you will become a great artist if you take these certain art classes.
“No, instead they promote the idea that the art classes will serve as essential building blocks for your career as an artist.
“It is up to you for what you do with the information you learn.”
9) They claim to have secret knowledge from a higher source you can’t access
Fake gurus love to hold “secrets” and their high status over followers’ heads.
They will often say that they have access to some higher source that other people can’t access.
Further, they will that their access makes them superior and means you should pay them, worship them and never contradict them.
It sounds like nonsense, but when you’re lost in life this kind of certainty and confidence can be bewitching.
In a world of confusion and relativism, a confident person telling you that he or she has the answers can sound pretty damn good.
Sadly, however, the end result is almost always extreme disappointment and frustration as the fake guru leads you on a wild goose chase to feed their ego.
10) They try to fool your logical thinking with emotional manipulation
When somebody speaks about deep subjects it’s natural to feel emotion.
But when they’re intentionally using strong emotional triggers to pull our strings and mislead us, that’s an awful thing.
Fake gurus do this constantly:
- By making you feel like a bad person if you don’t listen to them
- By making you feel that you’re guilty of wrongdoing or evil
- By telling you that you’ll miss out and feel major regret if you don’t follow them
Dean Seddon has an insightful article on this topic.
“These are proven strategies and methods to convert people into customers. They use persuasive language or a tug on the heartstrings to bring the emotion out.
“It is a great way to get people to buy in and there is nothing inherently wrong with this. It is good marketing.
“But, when it is used to convince people to buy into false promises, it is totally wrong.”
11) They shame you about your diet, appearance, beliefs or background
One of the worst things about fake gurus is that they love to find someone’s weak spot and then poke at it relentlessly.
The whole time, they will claim that they’re doing this just to strengthen that person or make a point about imperfection.
But let’s be honest here:
They’re doing it because they’re a sociopathic bully who enjoys the power and control they get from making someone feel inadequate.
By choosing something about your external appearance and lifestyle or something about you internally, they are singling you out.
Gurus who do this are trash.
12) They’re too perfect and morally flawless
This last point might seem strange. After all, what could be wrong with a guru who actually lives up to what they say and is a morally incredible person?
The problem here is twofold.
Firstly, nobody is that perfect, so they’re probably hiding something (excuse my cynicism).
Secondly, being overly uptight can actually be an impediment to spiritual growth in my view.
One of the things about gurus who are a bit of a mess is that even if you don’t follow them (and you shouldn’t), it is true that sometimes the spiritual world sends us messages from people who look pretty bad.
We think “what could I possibly learn from this person?”
But then you find you could actually learn quite a lot.
If you have a guru who’s too put together and perfect it can be a sign that they’re fake and just living up to some idealized image that won’t ever help you grow spiritually.
Authenticity is key, and sometimes authenticity is messy.
Sadhvi Saraswati on YouTube has a good video on this. As she says:
“God tends to choose very imperfect vessels for very beautiful teachings and we’ve seen it a lot through history so I would say hold on to the teachings if they benefit you.”
What to do instead of following a fake guru
I think that wise and spiritual people do have a helpful role to play in our lives and can help guide and reassure us on our journey.
Nonetheless, with all the fake gurus out there you have to be careful not to get attached to the idea that a certain person has all the solutions and answers for you.
Ultimately, the answers lie within.
Sacred scripture, spiritual leaders and wonderful groups can help guide you to those answers.
But inner peace and empowerment ultimately come from you and your own connection to nature and the divine.
Love yourself first and everything else falls into place
It may sound conceited or narcissistic to focus on loving yourself first. But it’s not.
The point isn’t to believe you’re better than others or to accept things about yourself that you really do need to change.
It’s about developing a healthy and nurturing relationship with… you!
Loving yourself is about committing to who you are, understanding the many different nuances to your identity, and showing yourself a level of care and intimacy that we usually reserve for other people.
Unfortunately, we’re not taught how to love ourselves from an early age. And we end up caring about what others think of us rather than focusing on what we need at a more fundamental level.
This is why we partnered with Rudá Iandê to produce a free masterclass on transforming our relationships through the practice of self-love.
It’s currently playing on The Vessel (one of our partners) but only for a limited time.
Thousands have attended and told us that the masterclass has completely transformed their relationships for the better.
It’s a must-watch and we couldn’t recommend it more highly.