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June 1, 2023

Daily Wisdom: The thing about spiritual gossip…

Daily Wisdom from Mariana Caplan’s “Walk the Talk: The Principles and Practices of Embodied Spirituality”:

Since that first trip to India, a great deal has transpired. I have engaged over a decade of discipleship with my own spiritual teacher, Lee Lozowick, who is a master at revealing the countless forms of self-deception we encounter on the spiritual path, ranging from spiritual narcissism, to erroneous notions of enlightenment, to a collectively mistaken notion of the goal of spiritual life itself (Caplan, 1999). I have done extensive research into the movement of contemporary spirituality in the Western world, and interviewed many of the greatest teachers, mystics and scholars in the field, as well as countless spiritual aspirants. As a result of my research and of working as a spiritual counselor with clients and teaching at several spiritually oriented universities in the U.S., I have found myself privy to an uncommon body of spiritual data—what we might call “the underbelly of enlightenment.” The kind of spiritual gossip that would make any serious aspirant of the path quiver in their shoes if they took it seriously and realized that absolutely nobody, including themselves, is exempt from such spiritual shortcomings, and that anyone, including themselves, can fall.

I have heard harrowing tales of how some of the most admired, “enlightened” teachers of our time have abandoned their children in their pursuit of spirituality; how they have used spiritual practice to avoid human intimacy and mistreat their intimate partners, often using spiritual terminology itself to justify this dismissal (Caplan, 2002b). Scandals of sex, money, and power pervade the contemporary spiritual scene like a lewd virus that spreads undetected until it has caused irreparable damage. Nearly every time I give a public presentation, somebody approaches me and begins, “I’ve got a story the likes of which you have never heard . . .,” at which time they proceed to tell me a relatively common story about how “X” teacher, a self-professed celibate, slept with countless students, claiming they were providing a “tantric initiation”; or how they cheated on their wife and had sexual relationships with the young women and men in the community; or how they forbid women in the community to have children, telling them it would cause too much attachment, or that it was impossible to raise a healthy child before one was enlightened oneself. They tell me stories of how self-proclaimed enlightened teachers manipulated their students to give them large quantities of money, or how their narcissism ran rampant and they ended up lying, cheating, and abusing their students and loved ones—whether the abuse occurred on a physical, psychological/emotional, or spiritual level. As Theravadan Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield is fond of saying, “If you want to know how enlightened somebody is, ask their husband/wife.”

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About Mariana Caplan

Mariana Caplan, PhD, MFT, is a licensed psychotherapist, professor of yogic and transpersonal psychologies, and the author of seven books in the fields of psychology and spirituality, including, The Guru Question: The Perils and Awards of Choosing a Spiritual Teacher (Sounds True, 2011), Eyes Wide Open: Cultivating Discernment on the Spiritual Path (Sounds True, 2010), which won five national awards for best spiritual book of 2010, and the seminal Halfway Up the Mountain: the Error of Premature Claims to Enlightenment.

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