Amerikan Tantriks:The Greedy Teaching the Needy


Here in India there are folks who go around under the guise of religion and bilk the ignorant, poor and often not-so-poor and not-so-ignorant. They are called Tantriks. The newspapers abound with stories of people convinces to do everything from handing over their life savings to sacrificing their neighbors children for some kind of relief of problems or personal gain.

Seems that America is not much different. There have been snake-oil salesman aplenty in American history. The only thing that sets apart the current crop is their brazen audacity , utterly shameless greed and the willingness of individuals to participate in this lunacy.

These new Amerikan Tantriks are often monastery and ashram drop-outs with little else going for them but a driving ambition and a lot of glib talk.  Some have no credential at all except for the ability to mimic what they have seen done at a retreat or two or on the National Geographic channel and call it some new fangled self-help technique. Throw in a lot of scientific or foreign sounding words and you’ve got a money making machine. Or at least one to polish up the  outrageously inflamed ego of the group leader.

Recently a couple of people died in a makeshift moneymaking “sweat lodge” ceremony in Sedona Arizona, not exactly a place known to be a bastion of rational or critical  thought.

There have been apologists all over the place preaching compassion for the group leader James Arthur Ray and condemning any sort of criticism of the event. The guy should be charged with manslaughter at the very least. What the fuck are people thinking? Are they thinking at all? (Yeah and Roman Polanski should face up as well! Rape is rape even if it isn’t in Whoopi Goldberg’s esteemed legal opinion (there’s an oxymoron if I’ve ever encountered one) “rape-rape” .How would she like her grandchildren raped even if it isn’t “rape-rape”???)

As the few who have been reading this blog for a while know, some critical examination of some of the bullshit wearing Buddhist (and other) religious robes is not something I shy away from much. Not that I want to become a basher of anything that doesn’t fit “MY” definition of Buddhism but some shit is just too hurtful and harmful to let pass in silence.

Conscience is at the heart of ethics and yes compassion too. Without a conscience there is no ability to identify suffering or beyond that identify with suffering and experience empathy. Without a conscience we are psychopaths given over only to our own self-gratification. I mentioned this before but consider the words of H.H Dalai Lama who used the Tibetan phrase “shen dug ngal wa la mi so pa” which means “the inability to bear the sight of another’s suffering”. (Dalai Lama in “Ethics for the New Millennium). What is it in us that cannot “bear”?

It is the conscience.


The Unquestioned Gurus of the Religion of the Self -I think Duff’s critical examinations of the guru industry in America are much needed. In this piece he talks about the greedy teaching the needy and an important section on psychopathic spiritual teachers. And there are a few of them in the Buddhist world too!

American False Idols-Brenda P. asks some pertinent questions along this line in the Yoga world. Choice comments too.

James Arthur Ray’s Spiritual Warrior Event Kills 2, Injures 19 in Sweat Lodge Fiasco-Duff has at it again with this tragedy. He has a followup piece as well. The Dark Side of The Secret: Reading James Arthur Ray’s Sweat Lodge Disaster through a Magickal Lens

OneCity picks up the thread  in Ellen’s article Spiritual Warrior Death in Sweat Lodge in Sedona, Arizona It’s a fairly tepid piece, on par with the prevailing Zeitgeist of the Buddhist Blogosphere. (WTF we Buddhists would Neeevvveeeer do anything that silly! Though some of us would follow Michael Roach around for three years without saying a word!  See Could you hack 3 years, 3 months & 3 days of silence? )

From the Pagan blogosphere The New Age Sweat Lodge Death Controversy

New Age Frauds and Plastic Shaman is a new website dedicated to examining these sorts of issues.

At Integral Options Cafe the post An Ethical Code for Spiritual Teachers offers some possibilities in future directions

The Zen Site has a critical Zen section and a recent inclusion is that of The Aitken-Shimano Letters which outlines years of inappropriate behavior by Eido Shimano, who is still the head of Zen Studies Society and Dai-Bosatsu monastery. Why does this continue?

A couple of loosely critical attempts at guru and teacher ratings. Some well known Buddhist affiliates are included:

Self Help Guru Ratings

Sarlo-s Guru Ratings (here’s the Zen teacher’s page)  Here’s a criticism of Sarlo’s pages as well

Here is a great explanation of the psychology behind these kinds of self-help situations by a Marketer-Persuading People To Death – When Self Help Turns Deadly

Aside: While not a nice post there just needs to be a little more examination of some of the things that go on under the rubric of spirituality and this includes Buddhism. Lecture away if you will about right speech. Faking it in the “flowers and rainbows” department is not something my conscience would rest easy with. Oh yeah I killed a furry little mammal the other day too.

8 comments on “Amerikan Tantriks:The Greedy Teaching the Needy

  1. Funny how all of this seems to be converging (uh oh, does that sound too Sedona-ish). This is the topic du jour (semaine?) among the yoga blog crowd. I am really interested in all the resources you’ve put together and the thoughtful yet sharp perspective you present. I’ll be back! (And thanks for the link…)

  2. Here in the US, it works on an even bigger scale than you suggest. What else are the insurance corporations, selling their cure for our health care woes. And there’s no lack of buyers for their Brooklyn Bridge!

    • Yes Peter it is disappointing to say the least when scare tactics and mindless enthusiasm for mass delusion overtake basic reason. The only thing I can think to do is keep on educating the people both in the value of basic reason and in media literacy. Hype sells anything even the rope people are using to hang their best interests with.

  3. A great post, NellaLou.

    Greed and false teachings are always timely topics in my book.

    Back in 2005, when I was getting my MA in Buddhist studies in England, I traveled from there to Ireland to see Geshe Michael Roach and Lama Christie McNally, who were somewhat fresh out of their first 3yr+ retreat. The irony was that my two fellow travelers were a member of NKT and an FWBO order member (both of which have cult watch lists at one time or another). I wrote about it here:



    • The real irony is you went to Ireland to see two of the Biggest Fakes in American Buddhism
      If you are getting your MA in Buddhism and could not tell that these two are phonies, you must be getting your degree in a real diploma mill!!!

      • Your point is? He didn’t say why he went there to see them-as a believer or skeptic. You assume quite a lot.
        You seem to be quite familiar with the phenomenon of diploma mills.

  4. As an American I would like to first thank you for those enlightening worlds. I follow the Christian tradition but I also accept philosophies of other religions. I agree that Americans are suffering more and more because of their addiction to money. Your philosophy “all life is suffering” has not reached some of the minds of many Americans. I do all I can to volunteer at charities and I try all I can do to put love in the world. Many people have this philosophy of “me” and in my opinion that leads to suffering. A lot of Americans are losing money and you would think the world is coming to an end. I want to one day go to India or some other place in the world to learn from the Asian philosophies. As a Christian we are told not to get “attached” to money. We have a saying in my religion that “money is the root of all evil”. I want to thank you my friend for such an enlightening article. I only pray that America starts making steps to become more enlightened.
    All the best,

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