Guru Worship and Celebrity Worship

Celebrity Guru Worship

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by Jayaram V

This essay compares guru worship with celebrity worship and the attitudes and behaviors associated with them with special emphasis on the implications of extroverted, neurotic and psychotic attitudes and behaviors that are similar to Celebrity Worship Syndrome in the context of celebrity gurus.

Guru worship may have the same attitudinal and behavioral elements as celebrity worship. Many popular gurus in India enjoy the same attention, admiration and adulation as film stars and other celebrities. Therefore, there is a high probability of people forming various degrees of obsessive and compulsive relationships towards them. Parallels of borderline-pathological celebrity obsession could be noticed in case of some gurus both in India and USA. (To know more about the types of celebrity obsession and other aspects, please refer to the links to other essays on this subject which are mentioned at the end of this essay).

As in case of celebrities, the followers of a guru may indulge in the same mild, intermediate or extreme forms of obsession with associated symptoms and mental health problems. In extreme cases of delusional behavior followers may feel frustrated, ignored or rejected by the gurus and develop antipathy and psychopathy. They may even accuse them of misconduct, sexual impropriety, fraudulent behavior or cheating.

Some experience dissociation from their own feelings, identities and reality and become associated at the mental level with the guru to experience ego identification or absorption. In the process, they may think and act like the guru, as if he is their soul mate, and believe that they are being guided by the invisible presence of their master. Some may believe that they are in a secret and special relationship with the Guru, even in the absence of a direct contact or communication between them, and take it as a sign that they have a special role in the destiny of the guru. Followers with such attitudes may also exaggerate their own spiritual experiences to glorify their gurus or ascribe self-importance to themselves or to justify their relationship with the guru in front of others and elevate him or her in public opinion.

However, just as celebrities are not responsible for the abnormal behavior of their followers, a guru is not responsible for the behavior of his or her followers. The guru may not even know them. He may have never met them or may have briefly met them or saw them from a distance. Even that brief encounter is sufficient for some to make up things or imagine some significance. As in case of celebrity worship, guru worship is mostly a one-sided relationship, in which the followers of the guru assume things or make them up to justify their behavior.

People approach gurus for various reasons and with different expectations and behavioral problems. What relationship they form with them or what obsession they develop entirely depend upon them and their mental health. If they are of sound mind, their association with the gurus will be normal. Otherwise, they bring their defective attitudes and behaviors into the relationship and develop a neurotic or psychotic relationship, with all the associated complications and harmful consequences. They selectively see in them what they want to see, according to their desires, fears, anxieties and beliefs, and engage in obsessional worship for all the right and wrong reasons.

As in case of celebrity worship, those who suffer from neurosis, psychosis, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, etc., may develop a deeply flawed relationship with the guru, seeing in him a soul mate, God, an incarnation, lover, or even an erotic companion. Those suffering from schizophrenia, paranoia, chronic depression or bipolar disorder may engage in borderline-pathological obsession and believe that the Gurus are in communication with them through paranormal means or sending them coded messages or performing miracles.

Some may hallucinate and see in them God or divine persona and believe that they have been specially chosen to witness a miracle because of their special connection and spiritual merit. Mild to extreme forms of stalking behavior is also noticeable among the followers of many gurus, but it is not well documented or taken seriously as harmful since people see that as a sign of gurus’ popularity or their spiritual eminence rather than an abnormal behavior or mental condition of the followers. Such behavior is ignored or taken lightly, also because of the belief that the gurus can take care of it on their own by the strength of their spiritual power.

We may conclude that obsessional guru worship is an unhealthy practice, although people may mistake it as a sign of devotion and virtue. Outwardly, there is little difference between delusion and deep devotion. Both engage in deeply emotional, irrational and abnormal behavior. Therefore, it is difficult to distinguish them from outside. Because celebrity gurus are on the rise, the subject of obsessional and pathological guru worship needs a detailed scientific study and research, before it becomes problem for the gurus as well as for their followers, and society in general.

Few gurus may already have been victims of it. With their delusional and obsessive adoration, the followers may create in the gurus visions of grandeur and a false sense of exaggerated self-importance, greatness or glory, which in turn may lead to false expectations and a sense of inculpability, with adverse consequences for them and others.

For example, one guru who is currently facing criminal charges for sexual misconduct recently claimed that he was free from sin even if he engaged in sexual intercourse with women and minor girls. Few years ago, the leader of a commune in the USA motivated his followers to commit mass suicide in the hope of ascending into another plane of existence. After a criminal investigation, an Indian guru along with his followers had to leave Oregon due to the psychopathic behavior of his close followers. Some of them faced prosecution for engaging in a variety of criminal activities, including attempted murder, wiretapping and arson.

Guru worship that falls into the pattern of celebrity worship, needs to be distinguished from the traditional respect shown by followers to their gurus for their knowledge, purity, conduct and character. Adoration of gurus has been a part of Indian psyche and culture for a few millenniums. The tradition approves it. Therefore it should not be allowed to degenerate into an unhealthy obsession with the Guru for mental or personal reasons. A guru is a symbol of divinity, who can show us a path to God and liberation. The gurus are necessary for the spiritual wellbeing of their followers. However, any relationship with them must be healthy, balanced, rational and grounded in reality.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Disclaimer: This is not a scientific paper. The material for this essay has been drawn from various sources, and partly from author’s observations, and intended for information purposes only. Research in this subject is limited. More studies are required to understand the magnitude of celebrity worship or celebrity obsession, and the attitudes and behaviors associated with it.

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