by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstead

with Sathya Sai Baba and his movement as an example.
The quotations given here only cover a smallish part of the material, which is most far-reaching, lucid and worth reading in full by anyone concerned with question fo the truth or otherwise concering all authorities, especially of the spiritual, religious and guru type.

The Guru Papers - overview

“Easily the most comprehensive, erudite, and timely book in print to explore authoritarianism in religion, institutions, power, the family, intimacy and sexual relations, and personal problems such as addiction.... Argue[s] persuasively that any system of values that places tradition and the past above the imperative to question the present is destined to become increasingly lethal." — SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE SUNDAY BOOK REVIEW (complete review)

“Spells out…the dangers of becoming addicted to another's authority” — LONDON TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT

“A thorough, wide-ranging analysis of the way power has historically been maintained.... Purports to be no less than a diagnosis of what’s wrong with the world and how, not merely to fix it, but to save it. Its thesis is elegant and nearly unlimited in its ramifications.... authoritarianism is not merely a political phenomenon. It’s part of the way we think.” — THE NEW MEXICAN (complete review)

“An exciting and provocative new concept about the origin and process of addiction. A must read for therapists and addiction counselors.” — Ann McKain, past Pres. American Academy of Psychotherapists

“The potential to shift readers’ minds in a deep way….onto something big—possibly even the root of human error. It can actually change the way one views the world…. Elegantly articulates many of [our]…unformed thoughts” — SYNAPSE (complete review)


What I have outlined in my paper on 'The Fundamentalist Guru Trap Exploitation' is a very common pattern of behaviour among gurus, which can be seen from studying a fair sample of them. The nature of such authoritarianism has been shown and analysed par excellence by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad, who have published their findings in a major work, which is also becoming recognised as a key study in authoritarian power and human manipulation both within guru circles and in other organisations throughout society: The Guru Papers and Authoritarian Power

This book was most interesting to me when I found it, after having virtually completed writing all my web pages about guru entrapment and Sathya Sai Baba's abuses of faith and power etc. His entire behaviour is virtually described with clinical accuracy in 'The Guru Papers', though he is not even mentioned there! This alone shows how completely run of the mill his teachings, claims, behaviour and movement are. Kramer and Alstad derived most of their experience from Buddhist teachers, and the similarities to Sathya Sai Baba are very striking throughout. The spiritual claims and behavioural traits typical of authoritarian gurus are highlighted throughout the book. Nothing I have come across shows more clearly how little uniqueness there really is to Sathya Sai Baba or to anything he says or does. His euologised 'teachings' amount to little more than the reproduction - including the direct parroting - of claims made by many former so-called godmen and even current gurus, in whole or in part, and often he descends to vague talk and simplistic and wholly untrue, fantastic or superstitious explanations.

THE PROBLEM OF NARCISSISM "Gurus become totally attached to the power and privileges of their elevated position." (ibid p. 113)

COMMENT: Anyone who needs to be worshipped constantly is subject to an acute form of self-indulgence which comes of narcissism, as is pointed out excellently in 'The Guru Papers'. The need for attention, recognition, unconditional love and adulation is self-interest of a kind that will make the guru eventually make any compromise to remain the centre of admiration. These persons do have attractive powers, charm, charisma and often also psychic abilities beyond the ordinary. Once they get their ball rolling, so to speak, their circle attract others to them through praise for this or that kind of ability to heal, do miracles, know the past and destiny of anyone and be able to grant divine blessing and boons in the hereafter. This constant affirmation from all around the guru becomes like a powerful addictive drug, which is a dependency on the intense exhilaration of personal fame, stardom and deification. This is the other side of the guru trap, the trapper is entrapped and is less able to renounce the fruits or sacrifice his own drug than anyone. They are hooked on keeping those they have themselves hooked. Sathya Sai Baba once said in a discourse that he is 'the prisoner of his devotees'. There is more truth in that than he probably realises, and it is a well-known phenomenon among the high and mighty and the dictators of this world.

CONTROL AND MANIPULATION Kramer and Alsted speak of mental or psychological authoritarianism as coming from "an inner urge to obey someone or something that is viewed as higher, more powerful, morally superior, or more knowledgeable". Everyone knows the prototype of this urge, for it starts with one's dependence on the mother and father - the source of life, happiness, security, knowledge and so forth. The guru often plays the role of substitute mother or father. In the case of Sai Baba, he even claims both roles at once (Sai = Mother, Baba = Father), a Divine hermaphrodite Godhead. So long as one cannot free oneself from this urge, one's independence and personal autonomy suffers very severely, even without one realising the fact.

"Reward and punishment, guilt, shame, and forgiveness - this is the stuff religions use for control. Since it is obvious that the virtuous do not always benefit and sinners do not always suffer, to make this system work it is necessary that the major rewards and punishments take place in an afterlife. This is how immortality (whether heaven or a better next lifetime) became the foundation of morality." (ibid p. 26) Nothing could better encapsulate the main thrust of many religious cults. It encapsulates the whole 'teaching' of Sathya Sai Baba.

Kramer and Alsted get right to the core of guru entrapment by showing how all gurus appeal to a very human quality, the desire for self-improvement and their respect and desire for selflessness: "Renunciate religions control people through the guilt they instill around self-centeredness..." (p. 54) But they also extend this to other authoritarian systems, for the same was typical of Soviet and Maoist communism!

"People are especially vulnerable to charismatic leaders during times of crisis or major life change." (p.87)

SPIRITUAL AUTHORITY? The Guru Papers criticizes the guru/disciple liaison because: "it is a clear-cut example of the old, no longer appropriate paradigm of spiritual authority. It is not that we doubt that some who are considered gurus have deeper insights than their followers. Yet even with the best intentions, assuming the role of spiritual authority for others sets in motion a system of interaction that is mechanical, predictable, and contains the essence of corruption. Another purpose of this book is to show that corruption is not simply the failure or weakness of a specific individual, but is structurally built into any authoritarian relationship, and less obviously, any renunciate morality." (p.35)

Being a guru "...creates a feedback-proof system where the guru always needs to be right and cannot be shown to be wrong - which is where learning comes from." (p.107)

"Now through media images, leaders of all sorts can charismatically control far more people than ever before, without having any personal connection with them"(p.43)
"The need to appear right when presenting oneself as a spiritual knower is greater than in any other arena because knowing is what makes one essentially different from seekers. Admitting any fallibility not only removes one from that exalted place, but makes it difficult to compete with other presumed knowers who do claim infallibility.
" (p.47)

"People don’t want a second-rate guru; they want the one who seems the best. Since purity is the standard measurement
– the gold or Greenwich meridian time of the guru world
– each guru has to claim the most superlative traits.
This is naturally a breeding ground for hypocrisy, lies, and the cultivation of false images of purity. Gurus are thus forced to assume the role of the highest, best, the most enlightened, the most loving, the most selfless, the purest representative of the most profound truths; for if they did not, people would go to one who does. Consequently, it is largely impossible for a guru to permit himself real intimacy, which in adults requires a context of equality. All his relationships must be hierarchical, since that is the foundation of his attraction and power.
" (p.88

AUTHORITY AND POWER Kramer and Alsted write: "we deepened our understanding of how authoritarianism in its varied guises has been and largely still is a primary mode of social cohesion - and also how it became a major factor in social disintegration." (p. xi)

COMMENT: They hold that, when power becomes an end in itself, something more important than those under its control, i.e. people and their aspirations etc. that it becomes dangerous power. They view the guru system as a special case of authoritarianism, and most often one which seeks to extend itself through forming cohesive sects and cults. This becomes an end in itself. Religions and gurus promulgate fixed world-views, and are therefore unable to handle change, development, research, inventive discovery or creative solutions.

'The Guru Papers' study the guru model as an extreme example of authoritarian power in an overt form where one has to surrender to a living person and so trust another more than oneself, so becoming subject to easy manipulation. As a means to liberating oneself from such programming, they show how it works on a divided psyche through manipulation, control and addiction. The scientific method is rejected in favour of revelation, belief and otherworldly projections and hopes, and one is trained to construct and maintain a view of reality which fits the mould set by the guru. This is self-conditioning to a truth which one accepts as unchallengeable. This stagnant model of truth lies at the root of most authoritarianism.

Authoritarianism goes against self-trust and the creativity arising from it. The guru personality cult's authoritarian control - however subtle and seemingly self-chosen - allows little or no deviance from the limited set ideologies and behaviour patterns. This stops creative persons (including critics!) and favours rigid top-down social organisation of a kind which soon becomes too uniformly repetitive. As one example, this is seen in the constant repetitions by Sai Baba, whose many thousands of discourses go over the same old stories and worn-out moralism again and again, becoming narrower year by year, sounding more like old TV ads which - together with the constant parroting of the creed by followers who cannot invent anything not on the menu - take over the entire channel, as it were.

"All ideological authoritarianism, including its relation to power and control has a similar structure no matter what its content. This is masked by the often pristine ideals of the content. One such universal found in all forms of authoritarian world-views are mechanisms to instill self-mistrust. There are others. A major concern of this book is to decipher the code that masks authoritarian power." (p.5)

"Are gurus...filling deep needs and thus inadvertently pointing to trouble spots and lacks in the fabric of our culture, as well as revealing the depth of our conditioning to want authorities and mistrust ourselves?"... "Behind much of the appeal of such authorities lies the primitive and essentially childish hope of an external and magical answer to the existential problems and fears around living and dying. The guru/disciple relationship is a formal structure of extreme authoritarianism. It thus offers a quintessential exemplar of control and surrender, displaying mechanical processes that reinforce predilections toward submission." (p.32)

"Both gurus and disciples use hierarchical relationships for power. Everyone on the hierarchy gets their feelings of power and specialness from where they are positioned." (p.85)

"The most extreme form of mental control occurs when the authority is trusted completely and becomes the center of one’s identity. Sadly, society and parents insidiously put out messages from childhood on that others know what’s best. Many people are deeply conditioned to expect and hope some outside agency, power or person will solve their problems. Letting go of expectations or even wanting this is difficult, partially because what one is left with is oneself and all of one’s limitations."(p.154)

"authoritarian hierarchies are propped up with an authoritarian worldview and morality. No matter their stated rationale, their main purpose always becomes self-perpetuation, which inevitably corrupts them." (p.86)

"True healing can be accelerated by understanding the deep mechanisms of what happened, and of authoritarian dynamics in general. Then people can be more confident they won’t be taken in again."(p.154)

SURRENDER, OBEDIENCE "The ostensible reason for fostering surrender is it detaches followers from certain deep conditionings presumed to be obstacles on the spiritual path. But it does not detach them from one of the most insidious and powerful conditionings of all- the predilection to look for an authority that one can trust more than oneself." (p.50) "A number of gurus have made statements to the effect that disobedience or disrespect of the guru has...severe negative spiritual consequences...One even said that such disrespect can bring thousands of lifetimes of pain and suffering. Whatever else is involved, it should be obvious that fear and threats are being used here for control." (p.67)

“Successful gurus, rock stars, charismatic leaders of any sort, experience the intensity of adulation amplified beyond most people’s ken. This can make ordinary relationships pale in comparison. Being the recipient of such adulation and devotion is exceedingly addictive…Adulation has powerful emotions for the sender as well, and can be easily mistaken for love. It is likewise addicting for the sender, as it is an easy route to feelings of passion. Since adulation is totally a function of image, should the images crack, adulation disappears, demonstrating that it was essentially empty of real care.” (p. 112)

UNCONDITIONAL LOVE "Gurus also claim to bestow unconditional love on those who surrender to them, while actually whatever emotional connection exists is conditional on surrender and obedience" (p. 69)

"Many people want to keep love and control separate, perhaps because they have experienced being controlled in the name of love. Parents give and withhold affection as reward and punishment, as do adults with each other. Traditional religions have God give love for obedience, and make obedience the proof of loving God. ... Examples abound of utilizing the power of love to control." (p. 259)

"When the ideals that surround love cannot be lived up to because they negate or demean vital aspects of being human, what results is more than merely disappointment. The internalization of unrealistic values inevitably creates serious personal and relational problems. Insofar as people try to embody unlivable values, they must either knowingly fall short or delude themselves." (p. 262)

"...the ex-disciple’s world has turned on its head: What the guru and group presented as unconditional love was conditional upon accepting their authority; the egoless guru was found to be on a manipulative, even crass, power trip. For people who surrendered totally to a guru and thus experienced passion more deeply than ever before, seeing "The emperor wears no clothes" can be devastating. So it’s no wonder people have tremendous resistance to anything that causes them to doubt the veracity of the authority." (p.152)

SELF-INTEREST, EGO vs. SELFLESSNESSUsing lofty ideals to mask self-interest is common, but when this is melded to images of purity, corruption is guaranteed. The myriad scandals around sex, money, and power that have tainted so many gurus are not surprising, given the structural corruptibility of the role. In political realms, where the corrupting tendencies of power are legend, we are often warned that constant vigilance is needed to insure freedom. Authoritarian ways of relating undermine vigilance so that both sides have unconscious vested interests in the unquestioned power of the leader. In spiritual realms, the power is so absolute that it can lead to extreme excesses.

"Accepting selflessness as the highest value is where the insidious authoritarianism of the old order unwittingly seeps into many modern paradigms that attempt to be new." "The ideal of enlightenment at first blush seems completely innocent of human corruption because it is defined as being totally selfless. Yet it is this sacrosanct concept of perfection that allows authoritarianism to manifest, and indeed flourish."

"Why would even the most realized of beings want people to become reliant on his wisdom instead of their own?" (p.108)
"To maintain mental control it is necessary to undermine self-trust. This is insidiously done by removing the ways people can build trust in themselves."

ONENESS "One of the longest experiments in history, the approximately 3,000-year-old Eastern ideology of Oneness, was first developed in the Upanishads. . . . The failure of its renunciate morality to diminish self-centeredness is a powerful statement that something is amiss. . . . It is our contention that this morality has failed not because there is something wrong with people, but because the framework constructs ideals that are impossible to achieve, thus setting people up for failure and self-mistrust." (p. 318)

"Monotheism with one God on top is obviously authoritarian. The authoritarianism embedded within the Eastern ideology of Oneness is less obvious. . . . Whereas monotheism makes the revealed Word of God sacred, Eastern religions make presumed enlightened beings sacred. Thus the concept of enlightenment brings authoritarianism at the personal, charismatic level (gurus, masters, avatars, and buddhas)." "...Asserting that one human being fundamentally knows what’s best for another is authoritarian. If this is accepted, it sets up a chain of inevitable relational patterns that are detrimental to all players of the game." (p.36)

"When magic lies at the base of authority, no matter how elevated the people appear, they are engaged in perhaps the oldest ploy of authoritarian mind control." (p.68)

See also the alleged more genuine spirituality 'Oneness, enlightenment and the mystical experience' by Kramer and Alstead

CULT RECRUITMENT "What most proselytizing groups face is how to sell their beliefs without appearing to do so. Recruiting is therefore always done in the name of helping or doing some kind of care about others is to get them to join."(p.79)

"When dealing with others who are less certain, simply having certainty gives dominance." (p.80)"...proselytizing and advertising are cut from the same cloth. The enormous attention given to appearance leads to a concern for packaging rather than what’s inside the package." (p.88)

"Cults need a continuous stream of recruits and potential converts to reinforce the belief that they’re "where it’s at"- the vanguard of spirituality on the planet." (P. 78))

DISILLUSIONMENT "When the popularity and power of the group plateaus and then begins to wane...the apocalyptic phase enters and the party is over..." (p.80)

"The attitude of benign superiority toward outsiders characteristic of the expansionistic phase dramatically shifts when the group turns apocalyptic. It is the outsiders who will receive the brunt of whatever cataclysm the guru claims will come." (p.81)

"Gurus do give special attention to those with wealth or power; having celebrities in one’s entourage increases coffers, influence, and membership." (p.89

"The glorification of work always involves improving the leader’s property (the commune or ashram), increasing his wealth, or some grandiose project." (p.82)


A penetrating analysis is made in 'The Guru Papers' of 'the seductions of surrender'. Common features of power abuses by 'saints' or gurus are described, and they are virtual descriptions of such abuses practiced by a long list of Evangelist preachers, Indian gurus, without any being named. Pretending celibacy or 'purity' while engaging in sexual activity in secret is a common result of guru power. Power abusers also exploit people so as to consolidate power and this can mean abuse of faith through lies and double standards, and not least sexual abuse of followers. To do this on any scale the guru needs the complicity of people around him, who may well be or be inducted into being sexual abusers themselves. Those who try to expose these matters are often subject to slander, defamation and death threats... and not least curses of eternal damnation or the like by the guru, whether private or even in public. Likewise with actual murders, which require for their success a very tightly knit circle of complicit persons. All this has been shown in clinical detail to be the case with Sathya Sai Baba by hundreds of testimonies, papers and web documents by many persons from all over the world. A much greater weight of testimony that has not been committed to the Web, partly because many are afraid to have their painful accounts made public and partly because some wish their testimony to come out via responsible media, the law courts or both.

One measure of the power of dependency on the guru is that so many devotees refuse not only to believe, but even to listen to, anything of this nature - however well-documented or proven... even after decisive proof in court and imprisonment of the guru! The guru will explain it all in vague otherworldly terms and lay what amounts to a curse on anyone who listens to criticism of him, let alone accepts it. This is a very common pattern among many who have been exposed in recent decades.
POWER, VIOLENCE, SEXUAL ABUSE "The potential for violence and abuse in an authoritarian cult is always there, not only because whatever the leader says goes, but also because outsiders are made into "the Other," which has always been used to justify violence." (p.83)

"In the realm of sexuality, the two prevalent ways control is exerted are through promulgating either celibacy or promiscuity...both serve the same function: they minimize the possibilities of people bonding deeply with each other, thus reducing factors that compete with the guru for attention." (p.92)

"Celibacy does allow one to maintain a certain kind of control of one’s energy and emotions. It also conforms with images of purity. Therefore, it is far easier for a guru to gain and maintain power if he is celibate - or pretends to be."(p.92)

"Gurus who preach celibacy while secretly engaging in sexuality present sex as an esoteric initiation ritual or advanced spiritual exercise that must be kept hidden... But it is the lie, not the sex, that’s the real issue. The lie indicates the guru’s entire persona is a lie, that his image as selfless and beyond ego is a core deception." (p.95)

"The standards of purity necessary for the role of guru must bring unconscious repression and filtering mechanisms that ensure deceit and hypocrisy around self-interest," (p.106)

"When abuses are publicly exposed, the leader either denies or justifies the behaviors by saying that ‘enemies of the truth’ or ‘the forces of evil’ are trying to subvert his true message. Core members of the group have a huge vested interest in believing him, as their identity is wrapped up in believing in his righteousness. Those who begin to doubt him at first become confused and depressed, and later feel betrayed and angry. The ways people deny and justify are similar: Since supposedly no one who is not enlightened can truly understand the motives of one who is, any criticism can be discounted as a limited perspective. Also, any behavior on the part of the guru, no matter how base, can be imputed to be some secret teaching or message that needs deciphering."

"A particular form of seduction that the group participates in with those flirting with joining is similar to sexual conquest. The group pours an enormous amount of focused energy and attention into potential recruits until they surrender to the group’s authority, which of course has the guru and his belief system at its center. When someone does surrender, everyone celebrates the new bonding. This is a bit like a new marriage, and for the recruit, it is the honeymoon phase. This lasts as long as it does, and then the focus of the group shifts elsewhere. (This also happens in romantic love, for after the conquest the wooer’s interest and focus often move somewhere else.) When the honeymoon is over, the new converts must shift roles – from being the wooed to being the wooer." (p.79)

"Gurus, like fathers, are in a context that gives them enormous power because of their disciples’ needs, trust, and dependency. One reason incest is a betrayal of trust is what a daughter needs from her father is a sense of self-worth not specifically linked to her sexuality. Sex with the guru is similarly incestuous because a guru ostensibly functions as a spiritual father to whom one’s growth is entrusted. Having sex with a parental figure reinforces using sex for power. This is not what young women (or men) need for their development. When the guru drops them, which eventually he does, feelings of shame and betrayal usually result that leave deep scars." (p.94)

"The myriad scandals around sex, money, and power that have tainted so many gurus are not surprising, given the structural corruptibility of the role." (p.113)

"Gurus become totally attached to the power and privileges of their elevated position." (p. 113)

The..."guru role makes it extremely difficult to escape the traps of power - the ultimate trap being in the end, gurus lose their humanity." (p.114)

(see the Diana Alstead, Joel Kramer website here)

"... the guru can never be wrong make mistakes, or be self-centered, or lose emotional control. He doesn't get angry, he "uses" anger to teach." (ibid p. 53.)

COMMENT Another method of manipulation is pretending that the guru's anger is not real anger, because he cannot feel anything negative. But it is not simply to teach the devotee that something is wrong, to stop behaving in some way or to behave otherwise, because it is typical punishment , withdrawal of love. Though said to be 'all for the victim's own good' this is just what many a strict, authoritarian disciplinarian has claimed and it has become highly suspect as a proper motive! One exchange between a visitor, Dr. John Hislop and Sai Baba shows this:

A Visitor: Baba, since time is simply your will and has no reality outside of that, and duration of time also being your will, why not shorten time a bit? People have so much suffering, why do they have to suffer for so long a time?

Sai: They are being tested, but it should not be called so. It is grace. Those who suffer have my grace. Only through suffering will they be persuaded to turn inward and make the inquiry. And without turning inward and making inquiry, they can never escape misery.

H: People have said they are being punished by Swami. Is this a fact?

Sai: Of course. In punishing a person for misdemeanor, Swami punishes in order to correct the defaulter. But, though harsh in appearance and voice, Baba is all love inside. Sometimes Swami corrects a person in private, at other times in public. It depends on the individual. If the correction is in public, then all who hear may learn what pleases Swami and what displeases him. Butter may be cut with a finger, but a rock needs an iron hammer. It all depends on the material, the person. Swami is very strict in his rules and principles. An Avathar does not compromise. To the devotee, strictness is ultimately the best kindness. Depending on the situation, Swami can be soft, kind, or he can be as hard as a diamond. He does not give only one chance, he forgives a thousand times. But if persons still pay no attention, he clips them. (p. 121, 'Conversations with BS Sathya Sai Baba' by Dr. J. Hislop)

Comment: This is exactly the same behaviour used by psychopaths - firstly great charm to attract, usually only with promises and talk, then they give people a shock to keep them in line, at a distance, uncertain. Then - if the 'softening up' process has worked or if the victim seems to be losing interest and faith, they turn on the charm again, or - if in a strong position too, gives an explanation just as above. This push-pull technique is used by all authoritarian manipulators, psychopaths and megalomaniacs.

"... the students often complain that Swami does not talk to them because he is angry with them. I have no anger towards anyone. Whether you believe it or not, I do not know what "

Comment: The sheer chutzpah in supporting an unbelievable claim by "whether you believe it or not" is impressive! It puts the devotee entirely off guard. If you believe it, he may be angry, if not, then one may avoid his anger.

"I wear only Love glasses. I cannot hate even if I want to. Hate and anger are not part of M; nor is Disease possible for me; I may hiss and warn to correct: but, I never " (page 123, Sathyam Sivam Sundaram Vol 2, by N. Kasturi).

Comment: Can't hate even if he wants to! How would he want that, the pure avathar who doesn't even know what anger means? How then can he know he does not feel it if he doesn't even know what it means. Does he not claim to be all-knowing? He does... but he doesn't know that, yet he had easily and often make himself appear "very angry". Believe him if you want and can... but why not rather believe in yourself and the common sense explanation of his ranting and angry thumping and denouncing of people who dare to criticise him (during his infamous Xmas Discourse, 2000, in his temple - originally translated by Sai students verbatim and posted at <> which site was closed on the order of the Prashanthi Nilayam authorities because of how much it gave away about Sathya Sai Baba's actual words - which are removed in part from the heavily edited and sanitized versions printed in his 'official' journal Sanathana Sarathi).

"Sometimes people may feel that Swami is angry and harsh. This is totally wrong. Swami appears to keep aloof from some persons when he feels they are pursuing the wrong paths which may adversely affect their future." from his Discourse 21. 9. 87 (p. 185, Sathya Sai Speaks Vol. 20)

Comment: The classic guru trick used by hundreds of them since time immemorial. It is for the devotees' sake, not his - of course. This is the hook to hold weak people who are willing to be ruled and cowed when necessary (usually rather often!).

Links to information on 'The Guru Papers'