Monday, November 30, 2009

Notes from 'Feet of Clay' by Anthony Storr

Since this book is concerned with some gurus who were less than admirable, I want to affirm at the outset that I recognize that morally superior individuals exist whose integrity, virtue, and goodness are far beyond the reach of most of us. Such people, unlike gurus, usually influence other by their examples in daily life rather than by swaying crowds with rhetoric, surrounding themselves with adoring disciples or claiming access to esoteric wisdom which the ordinary person cannot reach unaided.

Many gurus appear to have been rather isolated as children, and to have remained so. They seldom have close friends. They are more interested in what goes on in their own minds than in personal relationships, perhaps because they do not believe that anyone else really cares for them. In other words, they tend to be introverted and narcissistic.

Gurus tend to be intolerant of any kin of criticism, believing that anything less than total agreement is equivalent to hostility. This may be because they have been so isolated that they have never experienced the interchange of ideas and positive criticism which only friends can provide. It is also because revelations are in a different category from works of art, in that they cannot be criticized, only accepted or rejected.

Conviction of a special revelation must imply that the gruru is a superior person who is not as other men are. Gurus attract disciples without acquiring friends.

Gurus must possess charisma...Charisma is closely linked with intensity of conviction. The ability to speak fluently in public and good looks are helpful additional assets. Some of the gurus discussed in this book were so fluent that, without reference to notes, they could hold an audience entranced for hours at a time.

Almost by definition, charismatic leaders are unpredictable for they are bound by neither tradition nor rules; they are not answerable to other human beings. If a leader is accepted as having charismatic authority, he is often accorded the right to direct every aspect of his followers' lives. For example, he may dictate where they live, with whom they form sexual relationships, and what should be done with their money or other possessions.
(Self-note: Same working principle for Astrology.)

A guru's conviction of his own worth depends upon impressing peole rather than upon being loved.

Moreover, it is those who are high in the dictator's hierarchy who are most likely to be seen as threatening. Paradoxically, the 'friends' and allies on whom a normal leader might depend for advice and support during crises, often constitute the greatest threat to the paranoid dictator. Hitler's purge of Ernst Rohm and his Stormtrooper lieutenants in 1934 is a typical example.
(Self-note: Reminiscent of Saddam's approach of keeping 'dumb relatives' in important senior positions for the same reason as above)

As we shall see, some gurus are dictators on a small scale. Although their message is ostensibly religious rather than political, they behave like dictators, thrive on adulation, have no true friends, attempt to exercise absolute power, and are afflicated by the same kind of paranoid suspicions. Let us look at two gurus who fit this description:

On Nov. 18, 1978, over nine hundred people, including two hundred and sixty children, drank or were injected with cyanide in Jonestown, Guyana. This self-annihilation of the members of the People's Temple was ordered by its founder, Jim Jones,...On April 19, 1993, eighty-six people, including twenty-two children, perished in the flames of Ranch Apocalypse, Waco, Texas. This self-immolation was at the instigation of the cult leader David Koresh...Their aim was absolute power, and the ultimate expression of power over others is to bring about their death.

As a youth, he invited an acquaintance for dinner. When the lad said that he must leave before Jones wished him to do so, Jones fired a gun at him, narrowly missing him.

Jones claimed divinely inspired clairvoyance, which he invoked as explaining his knowledge of the personal histories and secrets of those whome he called up. In reality, he employed spies who discovered these secrets by passing on information gleaned from personal enquiries, unauthorized entries to homes, and even from combing through dustbins.

Jones specialized in services of healing, for which he claimed he had a divine gift. Many of his so-called cures were faked. People brought in in wheelchairs would be told they were healed and could walk. In fact, these were disguised members of the People's temple who had been trained for the role. Jones had no hesitation in claiming to cure cancer. An individual would be told that he had cancer of the bowel and instructed to go to the lavatory. Then, a bloody mass of animal intestine would be produced as evidence that the cancer had been miraculously evacuated. Complicity in his deceptions as healer was one way in which Jones gained control over the members of his cult. Sexual confessions were another. Some were compelled to sign confessions to crimes which they had not committed. Members of the Temple had to abrogate anything which ministered to their sense of individuality: possessions, children, spouses, and ownership of their own bodies. Everything was to be held in common. Jones, like many other gurus was good at raising money. By 1975, the Temple's assets were rated at $10 million.

Eugene Chaikin, a Californian attorney who became a member of the Temple, described him as the most loving, Christ-like human being he had ever met. Another law graduate, Tim Stoen, called Jones 'the most compassionate, honest and courageous human being the world contains'. in 1972, Stoen signed a paper requesting that Jones sire a child by his wife, since he himself was unable to do so. Jones acceded to Stoen's request.

In 1977, Jones moved to Guyana, and established a settlement in Jonestown, so remote from the capital Georgetown, that it took thirty-six hours to reach it by steamer and river boat. Guyana was chosen because it had a history of offering sanctuary to a variety of fugitives, including a number of criminals and the black leader Michael X. (A convert to Islam and Black Power, he was expelled from Britain for dope-dealing, fled back to Trinidad, and, after committing murder, fled to Guyana.)

About 70% of those who followed Jones to Guyana were black; about two-thirds were female.

Jones' need to bring everyone and everything under his own cotrol came near to fulfillment in this remote place.

According to Deborah Blakey, a former financial secretary of the Temple, who managed to get out in April 1978, the commune lived under a reign of terror. Most people were required to work in the field for eleven hours a day on grossly inadequate rations. As a result, extreme weight loss, chronic diarrhoea, and recurrent fever affected half. The settlement was constantly patrolled by armed guards. Jones threatened that anyone who tried to escape would be killed, forbade telephone calls to the outside world, ensured that mail was censored and confiscated passports and money. He also told them that the settlement was surrounded by mercenaries of by the Guyanese Army, who would capture and torture and defectors and castrate any males who attempted to escape.

Jones affirmed that heas the only truly heterosexual male in the settlement and alleged that many of the other males had not come to terms with their homosexual feelings. To demonstrate this, he found it advisable to bugger some of them. One such victim is reported as saying: 'Your fucking me in the ass, was, as I see it now, necessary to get me to deal with my deep-seated repression against my homosexuality'. 'Father' could do no wrong, and sex with Father was generally reported as an incomparable experience.

Punishments were generally carried out in public on the stage of the church. Beatings were inflicted with a three-foot paddle, and some beatings lasted half-an-hour. Grace Stoen saw her son John Victor beaten in public, but when she finally escaped from the settlement in July 1976, she had to leave the child behind. Victims of beatings had their cries amplified by microphones held to their lips. A child who soiled his pants was forced to wear them on his head, forbidden food, and made to watch others eating. Children were sometimes tossed into a well near Jones' bungalow and pulled down into the water by aides already swimming there. Other offenders had a hot pepper stuffed up the rectum. Another punishment was to be confined in a crate too small to permit standing for days at a time. Some offenders were given electric shocks from a machine known as Big Foot.

Yet, as Shiva Naipaul indicates in his book 'Journey to nowhere' there was another side to Jonestown. Dr. James S. Gordon, a psychiatrist who interviewed a number of survivors over a period of ten years, was impressed with the fact that none regretted their stay in Jonestown. It is evident that some people who had been alienated from conventional society felt themselves part of a new community in which they were for the first time accepted and valued.

His sexual behaviour indicates that he used sex as a way to dominate others rather than as an expression of love.

Although the People's Temple accumulated considerable funds, he does not seem to have been attracted by conventional trappings of wealth in the shape of Rolls-Royces, yachts, or gold trinkets. What fascinated him was the exercise of power over people.

Jones was a confidence trickster. He once broke a window and claimed that a brick on the floor had been thrown at him. Unfortunately for him, the absence of broken glass within the room...In Jonestown, he claimed that enemies had fired at him, and produces bullets in evidence. In fact, his adopted son Jimmy had fired the shots, and was seen to do so by Vincent Lopez.

Jones began to announce himself as God around 1974. Drugs made him more inclined to claim divine status but how he believed in his own divinity is an open question.

The inhabitants of Jonestown were prepared well in advance for their eventual death. Jones kept on telling them that he expected the settlement to be attacked by a variety of foes, and that if this happened, the only way out might be suicide. Reports by survivors, and examination of the site of injection in the corpses suggest that more were murdered than was originally supposed.

Let us turn from Jonestown to Ranch Apocalypse. Born to a 14 year old girl, who placed him in her mother's care, reclaimed him when she married a merchant, who thrashed him frequently. Did poorly at school, called retard, knew the whole of New Testament by 12. Impregnated a 16 yr old who refused to live with him on the grounds that hewas unfit to bring up a child. This shattered his confidence. Mood swings of pathological intensity, sometimes believing himself to be uniquely evil, sometimes thinking he was especially favoured by God. Soon infatuated with a Pastor's daughter, behaviour became so outrageious that the pastor and his congregation expelled him. His intial periods of depression were succeeded by an ever mounting confidence that he had been specially selected by God; a conviction which may have been reinforced by LSD, which he started using in his late teens.

Koresh started a similar cult similar to Jones' Guyana, but in Waco, Texas.His annual income amounted to $500,000 (financed by a number of rich businessmen who were persuaded) He taught that God would return to earth with fire and lightning and establish a new kingdom in Israel with Koresh on the throne. He persuaded his followers that death was only a prelude to a better life to come, in which they would be among the army of elite immortals who were destined to slaughter all the wicked on earth.

Similar starvation practices as Jones.

Punishments also as savage as Jones'. He taught that children as young as eight months old should receive corporal punishment for misbehaviour. Another punishment was to immerse offenders in sewage and not allow him or her to bathe.

Derek Lovelock, and English survivor of the terminal siege insisted that Koresh was 'a very caring compassionate man'. "We were one big family,"

Koresh was as sexually rapacious as Jones, but his tastes were different. In 1983, Koresh married Rachel, the daughter of an official of the Branch Davidian Church. She was only fourteen years old, but no one objected. She bore him three children. In 1986, Koresh began sleeping with her younger sister, then twelve years old. When Koresh took command of Ranch Apocalypse, he split up families by ensuring that the men slept on one floor, the women on another. Severing family ties was one way of reinforcing allegiance to himself, and also made it easier for him to seduce the women he wanted. Koresh considered himself entitled to have sexual relations with any of the females in the compound, including girls of twelve and thirteen. One child who was too small for penetration was urged to use large tampons in order that her vagina might become able to accommodate him.

He was less obviously a confidence trickster than Jones; "Vernon (Koresh) gets a craving. Then he finds the theology to justify that craving. When others buy into his doctrine, he starts believing it himself.

When Ranch Apocalypse finally went up in flames, seventeen of the twenty-two children who perished has been fathered by Koresh, who claimed that only he was allowed to procreate, and that part of his mission was to fill the world with righteous children.

The final holocaust was initated by members of the cult, who used kerosene lamps to start the blaze. Not everyone who died was burned alive. Twenty-seven cult members, including Koresh, were shot.


There were very few defectors from either camp. It appears that once a guru has convinced a follower of his Messianic status, his actual behaviour, as judged by ordinary human standards, becomes largely irrelevant. Belief in a guru, whilte it persists, entirely overrules rational judgement. Dedicated disciples are as impervious to reason as are infatuated lovers.

There is a well-known psychiatric phenomenon called 'folie a deux.' If two people live together and one is mad, the other may become convinced by at least some of the delusions expressed by the psychotic partner. If the psychotic partner is removed to hospital, the other partner usually recovers his or her sanity. Shared delusions are mutually reinforcing, and membership of a sect led by a psychotic leader reassures both the leader and the disciple who has fallen under his spell of the truth of their beliefs.


Gurdjieff claims our interest because he, or his doctrines as propounded by his disciple Ouspensky, bewitched so many interesting and intelligent people, including the writer Katherine Mansfield, A. R. Orage, Margaret Anderson, Jane Heap, Kenneth Walker, Olgivanna, John Godolphin Bennett, James Young, Maurice Nicoll, David Eder, T.S. Eliot, David Garnett, and Herbert Read.

Gurdjieff claimed to have learned much from a three months' stay in 'the chief sarmoung monastery'...The Sarmoung monastery cannot be identified. His own autobiographical account, in 'Meetings with remarkable men' is contradictory and chronologically unreliable.

Gurdjieff was a dictator. He had the capacity so completely to humiliate his disciples that grown men would burst into tears.

Eugen Bleuler, the famous director of the Burgholzli mental hospital in Zurich and the originatoor of the term 'schizophrenia', quotes a patient who wrote:
'At Apell plain church-state, the people have customs and habits partly taken from glos-faith because the father wanted to enter new f. situation, since they believed the father had a Babeli comediation only with music. Therefore they went to the high Osetion and on the cabbage earth and all sorts of malice, and against everything good. On their inverted Osetion valley will come and within thus is the father righteousness.

Gurdjieff is said to have believed in God, to whom he referred as 'Our Almighty Omni-Loving Common Father Uni-Being Creator Endlessness'.

His theories: "Man, like every other living being, cannot, in the ordinary conditions of life, tear himself free from the moon. All his movements and consequently all his actions are controlled by the moon. If he kills another man, the moon does it; if he sacrifices himself for others, the moon does that also. All evil deeds, all crimes, all self-sacrificing actions, all heroic expoloits, as well as all the actions of oridnary ilfe are controlled by the moon."

Perhaps I have extracted enough to give the reader some idea of Gurdjieff's picture of the cosmos, and to demonstrate that Gurdjieffe's own writings are both voluminous and obscure.

His own account of how he survived his early wanderings reveals how expert he was at deception. Gurdjieff wrote that he coloured sparrows with aniline dyes and sold them as 'American canaries' in Samarkand. He also wrote that he found out in advance which villages and towns the new railway would pass through, and then informed the local authoriteis that he had the power to arrange the course of the railway. He boasted that he obtained large sums for his pretended services, and said that he had no pangs of conscience about doing so.

He became skilled at extracting money from Americans to support his enterprises at the Chateau du Prieure, and he referred to this activity as 'shearing sheep'.

When he and his followers were in danger from the conflict between the Cossacks and the Bolsheviks, Gurdjieff managed to get transport from the Provincial Government by spreading rumour that he knew of enormously rich deposits of gold and platinum in the Caucasus mountains which would fill the Government's coffers.

Fritz Peters recounts an elaborate hoax in which Gurdjieff diluted a bottle of vin ordinaire with water, and the covered it with sand and cobwebs. Two disgintuished women visitors were tricked into believing that Gurdjieff was serving them with wine of a rare vintage, and dutifully pronounced it the most delicious they had ever tasted.

In 1933, he went to New York where he gave a dinner for some fifteen New Yorkers. When the diners had drunk a certain amount, Gurdjieff began to tell them that it was a pity that most people - especially Americans - were motivated only by genital urges. He picked out a particularly elegant woman and told her in crude terms that she took so much trouble with her appearance because she wanted to fuck. The guests were soon behaving in an uninhibited fashion and becoming physically entangled with each other. Gurdjieff then announced that he had proved his point that Americans were decadent and demanded that he be paid for his lesson. According to Peters, he collected several thousand dollars.

Yet confidence trickery cannot be the whole explanation of Gurdjieff's teaching. If Gurdjieff could support himself so easily by deception, why should he bother to invent a cosmogony? All and Everything is enormouly must have demanded considerable dedication to complete. Gurdjieff began his dicatation of the first part of the book in Dec. 1924 and finished only in Nov. 1927. Could anyone devote so much time and energy to something he did not believe himself, with the deliberate intention to deceive? We hover on the borderline between confidence trickery and psychosis.

But he did, at times, show considerable interest in people, and compassion for those who were suffering. He sometimes exhibited a capacity for intense concentration upon individuals, which was certainly one component of his undoubted charisma.

Fritz Peters wrote: "Whenever I saw him, whenever he gave me an order, he was fully aware of me, completely concentrated on whatever words he said to me; his attentoin never wandered when I spoke to him. He always knew exactly what I was doing, what I had done. I think we must all have felt, certainly I did, when he was with any one of us, that we received his total attention. I can think of nothing more complimentary in human relations."...When in the late summer of 1945 Peters suffered from severe depression with insomnia and anorexia, he sought Gurdjieff in Paris. Gurdjieff realized that he was ill, forbade him to talk and at once offered him a bedroom for as long as he needed it. He made Peteres drink strong, hot coffee, and concentrated upon him intesely.

However, not everything about Gurdjieff was so impressive. His personal habits could be disgusting. Peters wrote:
"What he could do to his dressing room and bathroom is something that cannot be described without invading his privacy; I will say that, physicall, Mr. Gurdjieff, at least so I gathered, lived like an animal...There were times when I would have to use a ladder to clean the walls."

Gurdjieff, like many other gurus, was unashamedly elitist and authoritarian.

Gurdjieff's sexual behaviour was unscrupulous, in that he coupled with any female disciple whom he found attractive, and not infrequently made her pregnant. When Peteres went to Paris to visit him, there were about ten children there.

Similar work load on disciples as Jones and Koresh.

However, he did not bring pressure upon followers to stay with him.

Rajneesh is best known to the general public as the guru who owned 93 Rolls-Royces and who celebrated sex as a path to enlightenment. Any guru who promotes technology, capitalism, and free love is likely to win support, and Rajneesh was hugely successful in attracting followers, especially from the white middle class.

Rajneesh, like Gurdjieff, was personally extremely impressive. Many of those who visited him for the first time felt taht their most intimate feelings were instantly understood; that they were accepted and unequivocally welcomed rather than judged.
Hugh Milne said "I had the overwhelming sensation that I had come home. He was my spiritual father, a man who understood everything, someone who would be able to convey sense and meaning into my life.' Ma Yoga Anurag wrote: 'Only a Master to whom you can entrust your very being - physical, mental and spiritual - is capable of taking you on such a journey. Listening to Bhagwan, I gradually came to realise that he knows, he has the power, that if I can only say, "Yes, I leave everything to you," everything will be taken care of'.

He was finally imprisoned in, and then expelled from, the United States. After being refused entry by various countries, he eventually returned to India.

Grandfather terminally ill when Rajneesh 7. Refused to eat or leave bed for 3 days after death.

As a boy, isolated, self-absorbed, and clever.
Suffered from asthma and came close to death on several occasions. He played with death, taking risks in order to come to terms with his fear of it. For example, he would dive into whirlpools in the river Shakkar and let himself be sucked down until, at the bottom of the whirl, he was thrown free.

Read enormously. Eastern and western philosophies. Turbulent, aggressive and arrogant. Habitual liar. Was so argumentative and difficult that he was asked to leave his first college. Got admitted into a second but decided to stay at home. Went into a depression mixed with poor health. Ran up to 16 miles a day in order to try and feel himself again, and started to mediate. His parents, believing that he was mentally ill, took him to see a number of different doctors;

On March 21, 1953, when he was 21 years old, Rajneesh's illness terminated with what he called 'enlightenment'. This was the end-point of 7 days during which he ceased to strive, seek, or struggle, but passively let go and waited. He entered an ecstatic state in which 'everything became luminous, alive, and beautiful,' and he himself felt 'mad with blissfulness'.....This series of events sounds like a psychotic episode.

It appears probably that Rajneesh suffered from a fairly severe depressive illness between the ages of nineteen and twenty-one which came to an end with a hypomanic state in the form of an ecstatic experience.

There are strong hints that he suffered from further depression after he had become established as a guru. In 1974, he withdrew from all activities and went into complete silence for a few weeks. In 1981, he also went through some months in which he failed to respond to those caring for him, and apparently did not even read.

I think it reasonable to conclude that, as in the cases of many other leaders, his personality was both narcissistic and manic-depressive, manifesting itself in actual illness from time to time.

B.A, M.A philosophy. 1960 asst. prof. philosophy at U. Jabalpur.

When the centenary of Gandhi's birth was celebrated throughout India in 1969, Rajneesh seized the opportunity to outrage conventional wisdom by alleging that Gandhi's fasting was masochism, and his abstinence from sex a form of perversion.

His remarkable range of reading ensure that his teaching was a pot-pourri of all the great religious leaders of the past, including Lao Tzu, the Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad. He could quote - not always accurately - from every well-known western thinker from Plato to Freud. When Bernard Levin visited his ashram, he reported that Rajneesh talk for an hour and three-quarters with no pause.

Rajneesh wrote nothing himself; but devoted disciples recorded his discourses and commentaries and made books out of them. Assuming that the edited discourses are accurate, one can understand that Rajneesh must have been a riveting and fluent speaker.

I could understand that his vision could bring new meaning to life for those who were in search of it. The main thrust of his teaching was what he called a 'religionless religiousness'; by which he meant a religious attitude to life without commitment to any particular creed or church.

Rajneesh always hated and despised poverty, and unashamedly claimed to be the rich man's guru.

Live in the moment philosophy. Same as Gurdjieff.

Rajneesh affirmed that sex was a way to enlightenment.

All inhibitions and possessiveness must be discarded and sexual experimentation and free love with different partners should be encouraged. The sexual act should be prolonged as long as possible in order to reach what he called 'valley orgasm' as opposed to 'peak orgasm'.

Too much in the book worth taking down. Others analysed in the book:


I am buying this book along with 'Kluge' so that I get free shipping from amazon (above $25).

Recommendation: High


Osho said...

I think Bhagwan Rajneesh-Osho stand apart from all the so called Gurus. He is very intelligent and rebellious. There is lot of negative propaganda against Osho. It is easy to misunderstand Osho very easily specially because of open talk of Sex by Osho. Osho said a sexually perverted person can never be enlightened. When sex crowds the mind, then it becomes an obstacle to enlightenment. Sex is respected as a part of nature is the world of Osho. But remember sex is only less than 1% of what Osho talked in his life. But of course, that is much talked about. But I am sure, Osho enjoys it.

Karthik Sivaramakrishnan said...

@Osho: Sweetheart, the book is a psychoanalytical study full of citations. It isn't propaganda.

morris said...

excuse me, but the only one who stands apart from all this is gurdjieff. it´s rather strange that having read frits peter´s book(needles to say it´s not enough to judge gurdjieff)the only thing you can come up with is that he was a dictator, something that, by the way, you don´t find in the whole book, nor in frits´opinion, who knew gurdjieff for years

morris said...

excuse me, but the only one who stands apart from all this is gurdjieff. it´s rather strange that having read frits peter´s book(needles to say it´s not enough to judge gurdjieff)the only thing you can come up with is that he was a dictator, something that, by the way, you don´t find in the whole book, nor in frits´opinion, who knew gurdjieff