Different Kinds of Masters:
ethics, and the value of tradition

by Timothy Conway
see also
Engaged Spirituality, an interview

Timothy Conway is a disciple of Nisargadatta Maharaj, and the author of Women of Power & Grace: Nine Astonishing, Inspiring Luminaries of Our Time. He lives in Santa Barbara CA and holds a weekly free satsang. He now has a website though no org. Links to other discussions of ethics on this site at page bottom.

I will be briefly discussing this matter of Ramesh Balsekar’s behavior and Wayne Liquorman’s assessment of the same, but first a rather lengthy prelude…

Within the nondual dream conjured up by Consciousness, made of nothing but Consciousness, we have the “relative reality,” the conventional world of “rights and wrongs,” “justices and injustices,” “wellness/ease and unwellness/dis-ease(s).”

To heal the various forms of dis-ease and injustice, we have three types of authentic spiritual figures: 1) The free beings who conduct themselves in the traditional manner of a sage, saint or adept, that is to say, exemplars of genuine freedom from attachments and aversions (the samskaras or vasanas, as Hindu and Buddhist sages term them), exemplars of peace, bliss, compassion, generosity, courage, equanimity, and selfless sacrifice on behalf of apparent sentient beings (recall the wonderful paradox given by the Buddha in the Vajracchedika [Diamond] Sutra: “one must save all sentient beings” / “there are no sentient beings”), and these exemplary free beings communicate a traditional wisdom emphasizing transcendence / immanence of the Absolute, impermanence and insubstantiality and unreliability of all phenomena, awakening from the egocentric dream, the need for both earnestness (“striving”) toward freedom and also gratuitous divine Grace, methods for awakening, and so forth.

Then there are: 2) The wild men/women or holy fools (avadhutas, majdhubs, masts, saloi, yurodivye, idiota, yu jen, mahasiddhas, et al.), within what is sometimes called the “crazy wisdom tradition.” These rather mysterious folks have spontaneously or deliberately gone beyond all societal conventions, sometimes simply because God-realization came for them in such an unusually powerful way that it blew out the circuits of normal psychological and social functioning. These wild ones, who usually display no regard for their own comforts and even many basic bodily needs (food, liquids, sleep, shelter, basic hygiene), have been known to scream at, punch, push, piss on, completely ignore and in various ways “abuse” those whom they encounter, with an unexpectedly quite positive, beautifully transformational affect on the recipients of such “holy abuse.” In other words, there is a palpable, just as with the free beings of category #1, there can be an edifying sense of divine blessing or transmission (saktipat, kripa, baraka, wang, descent of the Holy Spirit, etc.) that is experienced by the recipient during or after the bizarre encounter with a “wild fool” of category #2 -- bringing with it an amazing sense of freedom, peace, equanimity, bliss, love, and nondual identity with the One and all beings.

I would say that there is a third type of genuine spiritual figure: 3) the “good friend” (kalyana mitra) or spiritual teacher/mentor/counselor who may him-/herself not be 100% established in spiritual freedom, fully awake and always lucid within the dream, but such a one is nevertheless a very helpful, enlightening figure who empowers those s/he encounters. This person does not try to “role-play Guru” by presuming to be fully awake and/or taking responsibility for the welfare and direction of disciples. S/he just serves as much as possible, sharing from the heart the wisdom, caring compassion and gratitude for Divine grace that has served him/her thus far on the pathless, spaceless journey HOME to full, free Awareness. Such a person may actually be quite a gifted teacher, healer or catalyst for fellow sentient beings, truly empowering them with certain wonderful qualities. Some persons may even become fully awake through association with this type of teacher/healer who is, himself, not yet 100% free and awake.

In addition to the above two types of authentically free spiritual adepts and the not-quite-fully-realized spiritual teacher/mentor/friend, there is another figure in the Divine dream of manifestation: the inauthentic pretender. This is someone who is, at best, no more spiritually accomplished or free than the spiritual teacher/friend mentioned above in category #3, but is pretending to be someone in category #1 or #2. In other words, here there are flashes (even frequent flashes) of brilliance but there still occur occasional (or even frequent) lapses of lucidity into egocentric states of attachment-aversion toward dream phenomena. These attachments-aversions, the binding likes and dislikes, what Hindu Vedanta-Yoga terms “raga-dvesha” and Theravada Buddhism calls “lobha-dosa,” are also generally known as one’s samskaras or vasanas. The inauthentic pretender, bless his heart, cannot admit to others and probably not even to himself that he is still samskara-driven and bound, i.e., not totally free, and so the pretender must rationalize (in a classic Freudian defense mechanism against anxiety) that his lack of freedom is somehow “okay,” “Divinely ordained,” “part of the perfect manifestation,” “not really a problem because whatever happens is perfect.” Rather than earnestly endeavor to realize the insubstantiality of the deluded ego-sense with its attachments-aversions, and actually live from FREEDOM, the pretender tries to convince others and himself that he is, in fact, free, while still dragging around his samskaric chains. Freedom, for these pretenders, is INSIDIOUSLY RE-DEFINED to include states of being bound (e.g., a misinterpretation of the old Mahayana idea: “Nirvana is Samsara”).

In a competitive marketplace of “spirituality,” whether in India, Japan, China, Europe, the USA, etc., we see quite a lot of this last figure, the pretender. Such persons chronically present themselves as higher and freer than they actually are, in order to draw attention and recognition, lure followings of students/disciples, make money, attain fame, and get high (psychically inflated) on the subtle or not-so-subtle adrenaline rush that comes with being granted power, influence and concomitant comforts by a social group that fawns over them and defers to them as a “spiritual authority.”

And now we must look at a very specific phenomenon: what happens when such pretenders, such not-quite-free teachers (or not-very-free-at-all charlatans), are exposed for certain exploitative behavior, usually around the good ol’ issues of “lust and greed” -- inappropriate sexual or financial behavior.

At this point of being exposed, the spiritual pretender and those among his followers who identify/align with the pretender rather than with the Dharma (authentic spirituality) usually fall into deeper trouble. The pretender and the lackeys/cronies (peace and divine blessings be upon them!), rather than act with authentic courage, sincerity and remorse -- which would include humbly admitting their own lack of freedom and also include issuing heartfelt APOLOGIES and making some kind of meaningful AMENDS toward the parties exploited--instead thicken their samskaric web of complications. Problematic defense mechanisms against anxiety are hastily deployed, not just passionate identification with “our righteous cause” (a major samskaric attachment!) but also rationalization that nothing terribly wrong has happened, denial of either the claims of injury or severity of the situation (this denial often involves blatant forms of lying and aggressive cover-ups), and, of course, projection in the form of blaming the victims and also any sympathizers who try to bring further light to the dark situation and remedy the injustice by enacting forms of justice and healing (including clarifying what is true Dharma and what is not).

One of the classic rationalizations, remember, that the pretender and the cronies chronically deploy, especially when the flaws of the pretender are being exposed, is the idea that “nothing is really wrong,” that his lack of freedom, as reflected in the exploitative behavior, is somehow “perfect,” “Divinely willed,” “part of the Divine dream,” therefore “not a problem.” Unfortunately, this rationalization is easily available to pretenders who labor in the field of mystical nondual spirituality, because nondual traditions usually articulate quite clearly this absolute level of truth, the paramartha satya, over the conventional or relative level of phenomenal truth, the samvriti satya.

It needs to be stated in no uncertain terms that these pretenders are actually anarchists, for they attempt to destroy any rational or intuitive basis for morality and ethics. In this pseudo-nondual realm, “anything goes” -- at least for themselves and their cronies. There are no ethical standards by which to determine appropriate and inappropriate behaviors.

The discerning reader will notice that the type of “wild holy fool” of the crazy wisdom tradition, briefly discussed above as an authentic spiritual figure in category #2, also doesn’t abide by the conventional-looking ethics of human societies. Clothed in rags, sometimes virtually or completely naked, usually ungroomed or even unwashed, often abnormally silent or using language in bizarre forms, frequently maintaining strange postures or movements, such wild free ones, as mentioned, have been known to roundly “abuse” their visitors and would-be “disciples” (such holy fools often do not let anyone stay around them for long in the conventional apprentice relationship found in the traditional lineages of gurus-disciples, masters-novices, or teachers-students). Again, one hears tales of folks being hit, struck, yelled at, utterly ignored, and in other ways treated rather shockingly by these crazy wisdom characters.

But there are huge DIFFERENCES between the pretenders and the authentic holy fools.
For one thing, disciples of the holy fools feel blessed, not exploited, after their contact with the holy fool, the opposite of what happens when trusting disciples are exploited by the pretenders. In short, there is no empowerment of the disciple, but rather a sense of having been exploited for the gain of the pretender. The pretender, in short, functions as a taker, not a giver.

Secondly, the holy fools are quite unattached to whatever happens in the dream of life, especially concerning their own bodily welfare, whereas the pretenders are usually quite interested in making sure they are properly fed, clothed, sheltered, honored and, yes, remunerated. Rather than rely on spontaneous Divine Grace for whatever happens, these pretenders and their cronies make definite plans, arrange things to insure the most pleasing and lucrative outcomes, and so on. They are clearly operating from the mental level, not the transmental/transpersonal Identity, in their strategic planning and calculating of revenues and expenditures, marketing strategies, schedules, meeting site set-up and configurations, writing and publishing ventures, etc. Obviously, some of the pretenders aren’t so much involved in this side of things -- they have their willing cronies to manage everything or nearly everything for them, and so the pretender can easily “flow with situations” and trust that their acolytes (not God) will take care of everything while the pretenders can appear to be serene and “above it all.”

Thus, for such pretenders and their “true believer” slavish followers to make the claim that they are part of the crazy wisdom tradition is utterly bogus. They are not utterly “abandoned unto Divine Providence,” they are not thoroughly surrendered. No, they are to some extent or another quite attached to outcomes. In short, they still labor under the sense of “doership,” i.e., being egocentric agents of action.

Such persons, I would also submit, are trying to have it both ways: they want to be seen and valued as lineage-holders of a tradition--this obviously adds to their status and influence as “an authority.” And yet they have the audacity to ignore and/or distort their tradition’s teachings about morality and ethics, and the need for staying as free as possible from samskaric attachments and aversions. And when anyone tries to raise the issue of traditional moral requirements for disciples and gurus, they immediately will say that “they are not bound by tradition,” that “this is a living tradition that must shock people out of their hypnotic trance state,” and other such malarkey.

This might seem persuasive to those who chronically defer to them, but anyone with any discernment can see that these pretenders are trying to have the best of two opposing worlds: traditional authority and anarchistic “anything goes” license to act out their samskaras. To put it in still more words, they exploit, for their own recognition and aggrandizement, the concept and social institution of the Guru and the lineage of Gurus, but they do not want any accountability within the criteria set by that tradition’s previous Gurus for who is and who is not an authentic spiritual master.
Hence, one finds here a major violation of “Truth in advertising”: the pretenders are passing themselves off as “Gurus” in a “lineage” (sampradaya) within a “tradition” of “advaita” -- and then, whenever it suits them, they anarchically depart from what that tradition values as authenticity and they engage in rogue behavior.

These pretenders (may the God-Self spare them from their karmuppance) are claiming special immunity in putting themselves above society’s rules on basic decency, and also putting themselves beyond the conventions of their own sacred traditions from which they try to draw their high status.


Now the case at hand: Wayne Liquorman is defending the sexually and financially exploitative behavior of his teacher, Ramesh Balsekar. I’ve already written a bunch of words [included among the posts in GR Forum] about this a few weeks ago, so I’ll restrict myself here to just a few points.

In one of his letters of response, Wayne glibly uses the pejorative term, “dead Indians” to dismiss the case made by sincere teachers who endeavor to illustrate the impeccable moral criteria of the Hindu Advaita Vedanta tradition by quoting passages from highly respected texts and teachers in the tradition. Wayne implies: they’re all just “dead Indians,” so why bother referencing them when you have someone of Ramesh’s incomparable freedom and loftiness upon which to rely for your guru-connection?

But one can ask Wayne or anyone in agreement with his position, just where would he be today without those dead Indians? Specifically, his fame comes from being Ramesh’s sycophant son, and Ramesh’s fame, in turn, comes from exploiting the name and memory of dead Indians -- starting with his physically deceased Guru, Nisargadatta Maharaj, and the lineage of “dead guys” before Nisargadatta in the Navnatha Sampradaya (i.e., Siddharameshvar Maharaj, et al.). As I have written before, it is most likely (one can’t ever say for sure) that Nisargadatta would strongly chastise Ramesh for sullying the memory of the Navnatha lineage of teachers with his financial and sexual shenanigans and trying to dismiss it all with some rationalization that confuses the absolute and conventional levels of truth. This is NOT authentic advaita. Nisargadatta was always acutely interested in whether people who claimed to be jnanis were actually, entirely free of “desires and fears.” That’s a matter of public record and was directly heard by those of us who spent any time with the Maharaj. Wayne never met Nisargadatta, and, to my recollection, never met any teacher of advaita before he met Ramesh in the late 1980s (I am open to being corrected on this latter point). Even if Nisargadatta authorized Ramesh to do any teaching, that does not mean the authorization stands for a lifetime and cannot be revoked due to bad behavior and distortion of Maharaj’s teaching, which behavior and distortion by Ramesh have also now been more-or-less documented.

Further on this topic of “dead Indians,” for one of Ramesh’s most important early projects, he dared to write a commentary/interpretation (and Wayne has published it -- both of them benefiting financially from the project) on the famed 13th century poet-saint-sage Jnaneshvar, and his Amritanubhava. And on it goes….

So, again I ask, where would Ramesh and Wayne be today if not for these illustrious dead Indians?

Well, enough of such words, save to say that I wish Wayne and Ramesh full enlightenment and liberation at their earliest possible convenience, and that they be utterly forgiven (“Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”) for their lack of clarity and consistency, which is no ultimate fault of their own -- Divine Sakti is, as we say on the absolute level, doing everything, responsible for all karmas.

I and many others interested in authentic advaita would have no problem if Ramesh and Wayne came along and said they were representing the “anything goes” “bad-boy” school of pseudo-Dharma, and not claiming (in Ramesh’s case) to be the successor of Nisargadatta Maharaj and thus, by implication, a lineage-holder in the Navnath Sampradaya. But then, if Ramesh and Wayne marketed themselves in this way, I doubt they’d have much of a following, or at least any following worth having.

So let me lay down a friendly challenge: either Ramesh and Wayne 1) formally announce that they have nothing to do with the lineage of Nisargadatta and authentic nondual Vedanta (including Yajnavalkya, Sankara, Jnaneshvar, et al.) and are on their own as representatives of a new “anything goes” school of “Understanding”; or 2) they make proper apologies and amends to those they’ve exploited and then try to straighten out their own behavior.

I hope that none of the above words offend, but are taken in the spirit of Love and Truth in which they are offered. Ramesh, I treasured my time with you, and Wayne, I enjoyed seeing you those few times inside and outside of satsang with Ramesh. I wish you both all the very best!

May all be awake, free and, yes, also deeply, compassionately, and lucidly “involved” in the Divine Dream.

Your dream-brother,
Your own Self,

Ratings "Red flags" criteria explored deeper: hype, abuse, money, scandal etc 
On Ethical Standards: An interview with Pema Chödrön from Tricycle 
More on Guru Ethics: How the student sells out to the corrupt guru by Andrew Cohen 

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