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Beware of gurus – and the danger of cults

“909 Americans were led to their death by the Rev. Jim Jones in a mass murder-suicide pact in a South American jungle, shortly after Jones’ gunmen killed a visiting U.S. congressman and four others at a nearby airstrip.”

In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like discuss the controversial three deaths at a sweat lodge & spiritual retreat and the dangers of gurus and becoming drawn into cults.

First a quick update:

“Subconscious Rapid Transformation Technique”
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“Beware of Gurus – the interview”
Read the full transcript of the hour-long interview I gave to Jim Peake of about the three deaths at New Age Guru James Ray’s spiritual retreat and the dangers of gurus and cults. Click here to read the transcript and click here to listen to the interview.

Now, let’s talk about the danger of gurus.

Recently, one of the featured teachers on “The Secret”, New Age Guru, James Arthur Ray, held a “Spiritual Warrior” retreat in which three people died and eighteen others were injured after participating in a sweat lodge. It’s been reported that the participants fasted for 36 hours and then had a breakfast buffet on the day of the sweat lodge. James Ray is now facing possible homicide charges.

This horrific tragedy has created a huge backlash against many of the self-help experts and gurus.

Jennifer, wrote on my blog that this tragedy “made me question myself and everything around me…He [James Ray] was also one of the first people to inspire me to “change” for the better the things in my life I’m not satisfied with (as were you)…He [Dave Lakhani] criticized James Arthur Ray and accused him of “cult tactics” plus accused the Law of Attraction as being nothing more than a “cult” belief…I don’t know if “believing” is enough anymore to turn my life around. For years, I’ve been trying to motivate myself to start a business. I’ve had tons of “false starts” and now I’m wondering if they weren’t really so “false”. Maybe it’s not for me. Maybe I should just accept that those things are not possible for someone like me. After all, I don’t come from an entrepreneurial family, nor a rich one. We’ve never been more than just workers. Maybe I’m believing something out of my league…I don’t know anymore. The tragedy, Dave Lakhani’s criticism of James Arthur Ray and the whole Law of Attraction movement in general have really devastated my faith in myself and my desire to “change” my life for the better. Maybe there is no “better”…Patrick…please respond…”

In the detailed interview that I gave to Jim Peake, I explained that I have participated in Sweat Lodges before – a Native American tradition and ritual that has been around for hundreds of years – and based on the reports thus far, it appears that James Ray made five serious mistakes in the execution of the sweat lodge. I reveal them in the interview, Click here to read the transcript and click here to listen to the interview.

However, the bigger questions that result from this event are:

Why do we create gurus?

Why do we believe in gurus?”

People constantly contact me and place me on a pedestal because of the things I teach, the things that I promote, the help that I’ve given them, the insights and the messages that I’ve shared, and the way that my work, books or products have transformed their lives. But that doesn’t make me a guru.

We need to be careful of the dangers of creating gurus, because when you create a guru you’re saying that this person is above me and it’s very easy then to become a worshiper of the person rather than a worshiper or studier or a student of the message.

This can lead to a cult.


You might recall the Jones Town Massacre: “30 years ago, 909 Americans were led to their death by the Rev. Jim Jones in a mass murder-suicide pact in a South American jungle, shortly after Jones’ gunmen killed a visiting U.S. congressman and four others at a nearby airstrip. Of the nearly 1,000 church members who began the day in Jonestown, a cult commune, only 33 survived to see the next day. One-third of the victims were children. Many were killed by Jones’ aides, who squirted cyanide down their throats.” – from

How did these people get drawn into a cult? How did they get brainwashed? Maybe you have been conned in the past and wondered: “How could I have been so stupid? How could I have been conned like that?”

The answer is simple. We humans have emotional needs (such as attention, a safe, secure environment where we can mature and develop; an emotional connection to other people; acceptance, a connection to the wider community, meaning and purpose, etc.) If these needs are not met, we become vulnerable. And along comes someone who says, “I can help you. I can give you what you need.” This persuader appeals to our missing needs and because we are emotionally vulnerable, it’s very easy to sell us, to persuade us. The problem is we too often look for someone else to solve our problems. We don’t just look for hope; we look to a God-like kind of person. And based on the reports, James Ray was almost promoting himself as a God to the extent that he had an exercise in this retreat where he put on a white frock and did role-playing where he was God and the people were supposed to be doing an exercise around suicide. Again, please note that I do not have all the details and I am not attacking James Ray here.

The key point is that we create gurus who we think are perfect and God-like. And yet, if you name any guru, you will find that they are imperfect. Anthony Robbins, one of the world’s greatest speakers and motivators, who has taught relationship courses, has been married twice. Billy Graham, the Evangelist, number seven on Gallup’s list of admired people for the 21st century, apologized for anti-Semitic comments decades after a tape was released of a conversation he had with President Nixon where Billy Graham, amongst other negative comments against the Jews, also called the Jews, “the synagogue of Satan.”

I always remind everyone that I, too, am human; I, too, have challenges. I recall one incident I have shared with you where I was on the phone, arguing with a customer service with a company for 30 minutes until I asked myself, “What am I doing here? I’ve lost my senses and I’m caught up in the emotion. I’m trying to prove myself right. I want to get this matter solved but I’m arguing for 30 minutes. How important is this? And look how I got sucked into the drama and into my own ego.”I want to say that we’re all on a journey and yes I and every other so-called guru and expert has challenges and deals with things every day. I too experience moments of insecurities, fears and self-doubt. One celebrity client once said to me, “Patrick who are you that you know so much and you know more than me?” And I said, “I don’t know more than you and I’m not saying I’m better than you. I’m simply saying that I have some insights, some knowledge and some messages that might be of help to you. Are you willing and are you open?”

One of the people that I do respect highly is Dr. Wayne Dyer because he is openly admits his challenges, be they with his wife or with his kids. And he says “sometimes I just remind myself which I want in this moment: Do I want to be right or do I want to choose peace?” He’s a person that reminds you “don’t make me a guru. Don’t make me that I know more than you. I just have insights and messages.”

The danger is when we fall in love with the person, the image of the person, rather than falling in love with the message while still always questioning the message, and always seeking out the truth.

There are many more insights in the interview I gave, but two key final points here are that:

  1. You can learn from everyone; anyone can be your teacher if you look for the lesson
  2. Beware of giving your power away to anyone; don’t let anyone decide for you how you will feel today or in this moment.

In closing, here is the response from Jennifer, who inspired me to address this issue in the first place:

Patrick…I read every word of the interview carefully and I came to see where I was wrong. Yes!Just as you said, there’s a lesson in everyone and everything we experience in life.I was putting James Ray on a pedestal.

I realize now that what made me upset about Dave Lakhani’s criticism of him was the fact that he accused James Ray of being narcissistic and I couldn’t accept that James Ray could even have such a flaw. I didn’t want to believe that someone like James Ray could become narcissistic. I felt, “No way! He would be above such a thing because he’s a person who’s constantly working on himself, bettering himself. There’s no way that someone like him could fall prey to being narcissistic!”

But after reading your interview and realizing how we are all human and that includes, James Ray, I can now see that ANYONE, absolutely ANYONE, can fall prey to their own ego.It is, as you pointed out, a question of being balanced.

It’s funny but this reminds me of something my humble, unknowing “guru” Dad always says to me, “Life has a way of humbling you sometimes. Of bringing you down when you get too high on that pedestal of yours and think you can control it all.”Now I can see the wisdom of his words and maybe James Ray will too, in his own way.

Thank you Patrick for imparting your insight on all this and helping us all see the light at the end of the tunnel and the hope waiting there for us. Thank you! Thank you!”

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I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”

Patrick Wanis Ph.D.
Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & Clinical Hypnotherapist

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