In this day and age, we are seeing far too many examples of abuse of power in the spiritual world. Of course, one example is too much. And, perhaps, this has always been the case - this level of abuse - but the Information age that the internet has brought forth makes it all the more evident.
The spiritual realm is atypical from many others in that there is no societal framework, no outward system of checks and balances, to reign in that abuse. No diploma or certification is needed to ascend to the position of spiritual leader and teacher. And, once arrived, the spiritual leader can have access to almost unchecked power, in some instances.
The student/devotee side of the equation is usually as follows. Once the student has decided to trust the purveyor of spiritual guidance - the teacher - this person can be quite vulnerable and easily influenced by the teacher.
Power differentials exist in many areas of life, from parent/child to teacher (in school)/student to doctor/patient. This is a natural pattern. But there is an attempt, in all these areas, through societal means, to address and check an abuse of power.
But what exists to check the possible power abuse in the case of a spiritual leader? Often they are seen as the portal to spiritual attainment, an innately dependent situation. This can lead to all sorts of abuse of power. And because the spiritual world deals with such intangibles, it is - by its nature - more vulnerable in this way.
Add to this the belief in the infallibility of teachers and this throws gasoline on this fire of possible abuse.
This is not to say there are no spiritual teachers of great integrity and authenticity who are also keenly aware of the ability of their power position to corrupt. Great spiritual teachers who have these attributes exist. These courageous and deeply lovely beings truly wish to help, to serve, their students. They are great lights who wish to illumine the lives of their students.
Additionally, they don’t foster dependency but rather a strong autonomy.
But here I am talking about spiritual teachers who abuse the trust placed in them.
One litmus test could be, is the teacher available for direct feedback? Or, are they considered beyond the pale?
Feedback is a natural part of life. It can reveal and allow for course correction. It can deeply serve.
So here I have offer a brief contemplation on this very thorny topic, but one that deserves much attention and address. An intelligent and compassionate awareness around this can be a first step toward helping with, and alleviating, this issue.
July 16, 2022