Other Approaches 
to Ratings Criteria

People have asked occasionally on what basis i make my evaluations. I discuss some of the "red flags" referred to on the homepage on another page (in my wooly fashion). There i also supply links to other pages on this site which deal with guru evaluation issues. 

This page briefly describes and links to outside sites where these issues are covered, with some samples to give a taste. It will be seen that criteria mostly set the bar fairly high, and in more specific ways than i do :-)


Sant Mat


Pali Canon


Timothy Conway




1. A Sant Mat-oriented site that proposes and elaborates on a checklist of questions to ask of a potential guru figure or org. Their outlook is mainly Sant Mat, with Julian P. Johnson's 1939 book, The Path of the Masters, a primary source, but they have been influenced also by Ken Wilber. Reproducing their questions here:
1. Does Your Guru/Path Charge Money For Membership?
2. Does Your Spiritual Teacher Have A High Standard Of Moral Conduct?
3. Does Your Master Make Claims About His/Her Spiritual Development, Powers, or Attainment?
4. Does Your Guru/Group Proselytize Vigorously For New Converts?
5. Who Appointed Your Teacher to Be a Master?
6. Are The Central Teachings Of The Guru/Movement Trans-Rational Or Pre-Rational?
7. What Are The Day To Day Results Of Your Interaction With The Guru/Path?

Good questions as far as they go, visit to see if the answers satisfy or illuminate or not :-)

2. A site based on extracts from the Sikh scripture, Sri Guru Granth Sahib, with explanations and synthesis, which they offer both as guru evaluation and self-evaluation. A sample paragraph:
Thus, a Self-realized person — the knower of God — is ever unattached, free of sorrows, impartial, possesses even patience and purified nature. He is enlightened, free of pride, most humble, kind, full of humility, full of spiritual bliss and peace. He acts in goodness, free from all worldly entanglements. He eats the food of Divine Knowledge, he depends only on One God and His Name, he ever remains absorbed in God's meditation, he never suffers any doom, his mind is annihilated, he helps save other souls, his family is God, he is always awake, he is free of haughty intellect, he is free living liberated, he is worry-free and his doctrine is pure. In truth, he himself is the exalted and Formless God in human body and everything abides in his mind. He is priceless, he is the patron of the patronless, he owns the entire universe, he is the highest of high.... (sggs 272-274).

3. Via the GR Forum, sources in Pali Canon Buddhist texts, cited below, seems to be the toughest set of all:

The 10 Powers of a Buddha:

  1: He knows what are the causes & not-causes of any event & thing.
      He knows the possible as possible & the impossible as impossible.
  2: He knows the results of any past, present & future action.
  3: He knows the destination of any way, path & course.
  4: He knows the diversity of forms in any world & dimension.
  5: He knows the diverse character & inclination of any being.
  6: He knows the different abilities & possibilities of any being.
  7: He knows the obstruction, clearing, reaching, emerging, release &
      concentration of any meditation.
  8: He knows and remembers his prior lives in every detail.
  9: He knows & sees the decease & rearising of the various beings.
10: He knows directly the elimination of the mental fermentations.

The Buddhas have 6 kinds of knowledge not shared by Disciples:

 1: Direct knowledge of penetration of other being's Abilities.
 2: Direct knowledge of other being's latent Tendencies & biases.
 3: Direct knowledge of how to perform the Twin Miracle.
 4: Direct knowledge of how to achieve Great Compassion.
 5: Direct knowledge of Omniscient Knowledge.
 6: Direct knowledge of Unobstructed Knowledge.

The 4 Confidences of a Buddha:

The confidence inherent in complete & perfect self-enlightenment,
is the 1st certainty, assurance, safety & fearlessness a Buddha enjoys.

The confidence inherent in total elimination of all mental fermentation,
is the 2nd certainty, assurance, safety & fearlessness a Buddha enjoys.

The confidence inherent in knowing & seeing all obstructions as
obstruction, is the 3rd certainty, assurance, safety & fearlessness a 
Buddha enjoys.

The confidence inherent in teaching a Dhamma which unambiguously always
lead to the complete & irreversible destruction & ceasing of all suffering,
is the 4th certainty, assurance, safety & fearlessness a Buddha enjoys.

Pali Sources: (titles and where to buy)

The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha  (Majjhima Nikaya) 
trans by Bhikkhu Nanamoli

Book of Gradual Sayings 5 Vol Set  (Anguttara-Nikaya)
trans by Pali Text Society

The Path of Discrimination by Sariputta   (Patisambhidamagga)  
trans by Bhikkhu Nanamoli

4. The False Guru Test, 26 EZ2U's suggestions from EnergyGrid, a "Multi-Issue Alternative Magazine." 

"Take the EnergyGrid False Guru Test. If seven or more of the following describes your guru or spiritual teacher, then unfortunately he or she may not be be as enlightened or good for your soul as you would like to believe." 

This mixed bag of criteria has its share of simplistic, obvious, sensible, questionable or even off-the-wall suggestions to make your guru experience rational and risk-free, but there are some worthy and original ones as well. Of course to reject on the basis of only seven "yes" answers out of 26 will leave very few safe and saintly ones standing. YMMV. A few samples:

4. Focuses on enlightenment itself rather than teaching the path leading to it: It is amazing how much false gurus have to say about enlightenment. They argue their points in the same way that the scholars in the middle ages argued how many angels could sit on the head of a pin. Any fool can talk about the end goal because what is said is irrefutable to most of your listeners. What is skillful is guiding those listeners to having awakening within themselves. The real teacher focuses on the path and strictly avoids any talk on enlightenment.

9. Encourages or permits adoration from his followers: Avoid any group that focuses on the "master" themselves rather than the teachings or spiritual practices. This will be a hindrance to your self-realisation for your focus will be drawn outside of yourself, and usually indicates that there is not a lot more on offer than guru worship.

19. Runs abundance workshops: A guru or master is there to help us find an authentic life. This is nothing to do with becoming more successful at work or making more money, although this may or may not follow from being more authentic. There is nothing wrong with abundance weekends, but if we mistake spirituality for increased business success, then we are guilty of spiritual materialism and we find ourselves deeper in the illusion. (The Japanese say that the Gods laugh at those who pray for money.)

25. Uses pseudo-technology: Many false profits [sic] and organisations base themselves around pseudo-technology in the effort to appear scientific—special meters, communication devices (do you really expect the aliens to use a mobile?) and energy clearing instruments and pendants that involve crystals and copper wire. Once again, this is to distract the unwary from the poor quality of the actual teaching.

5. Timothy Conway devotes pages to two angles of this topic. Criteria for Authentic Spiritual Realization deals with the qualities a realized person might manifest, without purporting to be absolute. He says:

Not all of the criteria for the spiritual goal or God-realization (or theosis, devekut, fana fi Allah, nirvana, moksha, ming-tao, etc.) are found in the case of every person regarded as a God-realized saint, sage, or mystic. But, uncannily, most of these factors do characterize the holy ones. Hence, these factors can be considered the genuine core of religion or spirituality, much more important than mere doctrines, rituals, and institutions—which should, ideally, promote these factors of God-Realization, not interfere with their development.

The liberated ones, the free beings, invite us to enjoy the same radical state of extreme spiritual wellness. Spiritual liberation, an incredible, optimal well-being, is our very birthright. 

Some of the criteria:

*** A fairly consistent, unbroken awareness of Spirit (God, Buddha-nature, Reality), with few lapses into distraction or nonlucid “unconsciousness.”

*** Profound peace and deeply relaxed openness. Freedom from restlessness, instability, discontent, and neurotic tensions.

*** Fearlessness. Courage. Freedom from neurotic aversion toward death, injury, disease, persecution, or any other form of so-called misfortune.

*** A greater sense of benign humor, innocent playfulness, and good cheer. “Enlightenment” is lightening up. 

And on the other hand, a page on warning signs of dysfunctional cults. Some samples:

* Flat affect (zombie-like absence of emotions). Excessively automatic, robot-like behavior. Radically de-automatized behavior (produced via sleep deprivation or sensory overload) that breaks down normal, responsible functioning.

* Intimidating indoctrination procedures that psychologically break a person down (suppressing old behaviors, attitudes, and relationships) so that s/he can be rebuilt according to the group’s ideal of a docile, unquestioning, compliant member.

* Trapping or holding onto members. People should be able to leave the group at any time for any reason without fear of damnation, reprisal, scorn, or being pursued or shunned by cult members.

And lots more.

6. Sri Swami Sivananda represents a fairly traditional mainly Hinduish approach, albeit with subtle understanding. But a bit contradictory. On the one hand, one cannot judge a Jivanmukta by outside criteria, otoh, he DOES supply criteria. Okey dokey, that's what we're here for:

One cannot estimate the advancement of a Jivanmukta by a simple casual talk for an hour or two. One has to live with him for a long time and then alone one will be able to draw some accurate conclusions. There had been instances of realised persons who had elephants, horses and all royal paraphernalia without being affected in the least by these external objects. They had always Jnana Nishta and Svaroopa Stithi (established in knowledge of Brahman) amidst multifarious activities. This is the integral development. This is the gist of the Bhagvad Gita. This is the central teaching of Lord Krishna.

What is wanted is mental nudity. Jnana is purely an internal state. The external marks are no sure criterion. So do not look into the external things of a Jivanmukta. A man may take any kind of food, he may dress in any way he likes, he may part his hair in any manner he finds it convenient. These are all non-essentials. Always look into his internal mental state.

Do not judge a man by his Siddhis (psychic powers). Another great blunder people generally commit is that they judge the enlightenment of Jivanmuktas by the Siddhis they display. Siddhis are side-lights. They are invitation from Devatas. They have nothing to do with Atmic realisation. A Sadhu may manifest Siddhis due to strong passions and intense desires, and if that be the case he is undoubtedly a big householder only. But this does not mean that a person manifesting Siddhis is not a Jivanmukta. There are several instances of such persons who have exhibited several Siddhis purely for the elevation and uplift of the world, but never for selfish motives.

The ways of a Jnani are mysterious. Many do not recognise a Jivanmukta. Real aspirants know him at once without any difficulty. They follow him. They live in close contact with him.

He who has mastery over the mind and Indriyas, he who always dwells on the inner Atman is the real Jivanmukta, Nityamukta, a great master, the real hero indeed.

He who is calm, collect, controlled and contented, he who dwells in solitude, he who has given up seeking pleasure outside in sensual objects but seeks bliss and peace inwardly in Atman that shines in the chambers of the heart by constant and intense meditation after withdrawing the Indriyas, is really a Jivanmukta. Such a man must be adored. He who comes in contact with such a person is a blessed soul indeed. Verily this man also will be spiritualised and elevated quickly.

Lots more at the site.

7. Om-Guru's "Choosing a Guru" is basically Hindu-flavoured and somewhat less rigorous than the Sivananda exposition above but at the same time more moralistic. It purports to offer advice to Westerners unfamiliar with the ways of the wily false guru:

In Bengal, the first thing to be aware of is that it is assumed that the majority of gurus are false, and are trying to support themselves and gain social status by pretending to have knowledge they do not possess. This is in part because Indians expect the guru to be very far along the spiritual path, and it is assumed that only a very few unique souls can be true gurus.

Most urban Bengalis who are interested in finding a guru have seen so many false or questionable ones that they are very skeptical about gurus. They therefore examine any prospective guru very carefully before they even consider becoming a disciple. Such an example was Vivekananda, who went to see Ramakrishna a number of times and only after vigorous internal debate finally decided to accept him as his guru.

The criteria for choosing a guru are complex but a few qualities that are respected are celibacy (seven of the ten Indians mentioned at this site were celibate), lack of interest in money (some gurus like Prahlad Chandra even take a vow to refuse to ever touch money), ability to sit in meditation for hours (and even days) without any movement or disturbance. This criterion is especially important for yogic gurus such as those who are in a Shankaracharya lineage such as Paramahamsa Yogananda.

Other important elements are how the guru spends his or her time. Some bhakti or devotional gurus will spend long periods of time in puja or ritual worship of a deity (an empowered statue on an altar). Others will do homa (or fire) sacrifices in the typical Vedic fashion which last for hours. Still others will sit for long periods and tell religious stories from Indian classical literature (or local village myths) describing the adventures of the gods Krishna and Radha, or Ram and Sita. A classic example of devotional guru was Prabhupad who started the Hare Krishna movement in the West. He would sing Krishna's name (do kirtan) for hours on end and expected disciples to do the same.

Other matters covered include lineage, "crazy wisdom," renunciation and love.

To view a list of all the rated gurus organized by rating, Click here

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