by Dr. Lawrence Wilson

î January 2010, L.D. Wilson Consultants, Inc.


All information in this article is for educational purposes only.  It is not for the diagnosis, treatment, prescription or cure of any disease or health condition.


            Spiritual organizations include all types of groups, churches, synagogues, mosques, ashrams and studios that offer yoga, tai chi, chi gong and other spiritual or martial arts.  They also include monasteries, religious or spiritual study groups and other organizations that teach or offer spiritual material to the public, or even just to smaller groups of people.  Thousands of them exist around the world, and the numbers will grow dramatically as interest in spiritual matters grows on planet earth.

This article is a brief look at the problems these groups face in presenting their material.  It is also a look at what to watch out for if you are one of the millions of people who are interested in joining or even just attending or using any of these organizations for your own spiritual development. 

I was very fortunate to work with several counselors earlier in my life who taught me about spiritual organizations and what to watch out for when becoming involved with them in any way.  So I am passing this on to others who are just starting out in this interesting, but also dangerous area of human relations and human development.




Why spiritual groups are formed. Spiritual and religious groups form in order to promote some kind of human development, as a general rule.  Often, they begin with a small group who are excited about an idea, a teaching, a book, a person such as Jesus or Buddha, or a line of thought, perhaps.  The organization is established for the purpose of disseminating, teaching and spreading the teaching or method of development.


Sources of problems. Problems may arise related to:


1. Human relations problems that always occur within groups.  This is sometimes called the politics of groups.  Any time that people work together, there will be power struggles, egos butting heads, money and salary-related issues, differences in business and promotion styles, and perhaps what may be called integrity issues.  This is the main problem that trips up many groups who wish to do good in the world.


2. less problematic issues that affect these groups involve:

a) How to present difficult material in a way people can understand.

b) How to reach people with different learning styles.  Some learn visually, while other prefer tapes, CDs or books, for example.

c) How to handle the variety of human intellects, some of whom are quite advanced and brilliant, while most are average and not as interested in spending hours reading or learning a new subject.




I will group the problems that arise in these groups into several types, as follows, and then discuss each in detail:


1) Morality problems

2) Cost and showy

3) Secretiveness

4) Levels of authority

5) No spiritual outlook

6) Yes men

7) Code words and special, foreign or odd language


1. Morality problems.  The main problem in spiritual and religious groups is whether they follow their own principles.  If they do not, this is termed a morality problem.  They may preach love and peace, for example, but within the organization an authoritarian figure may rule the roost and anyone who does not follow orders exactly is summarily thrown out.  This is an extreme example, but is not uncommon.

More commonly, there can be a lot of politicking within the group, dishonesty, and so on.  This is important for anyone interested in the teaching because the teaching may sound good, but if the organization is not sound, it is a reflection on the teaching or method.  For example, if a religion cannot run a church well, maybe there is something wrong with the basic teachings of the religion.


2. Cost and how money is spent. Most spiritual groups charge money to stay in business and to raise money, at times, for projects.  This is a tricky area as many claim to be doing GodŐs work, or some such words, when in fact they are doing their own work, and really just think it is GodŐs work.

Be careful with any group that charges too much money, as it is a sign of lower integrity, as a rule.  Also, any group that invests heavily in fancy buildings, gaudy architecture or other non-essentials may not be of the highest integrity either.  Church buildings are often a little overdone, and some of this is okay.  It is it extreme, it is often a sign of misplaced priorities, since the stated goal of the group is usually spiritual development, not showy architecture or fancy dinners and so on.


3. Secretiveness.  A third area of problems in groups is when important information is withheld from people for whatever reason.  Churches sometimes do this, as do other spiritual groups that want a person to progress slowly through the ranks.  As they do, they are given more information.  The trouble with this is that it forces everyone into a mold, like forcing everyone to go through all the grades in school even though some are ready for high school, and some that move through the ranks are still babies, emotionally.  This can cause many problems.

I would suggest a lot of caution with any group that withholds information just for its advanced members. Information should be made available, unless it is somehow dangerous, which could be the case with yoga or tai chi, but not with most other teachings.  Jesus did not hold withhold information, why should a modern-day group do so.


4. Levels of authority and cults.  This problem is that some are in charge and rest are below.  This happens in every group, naturally.  In a corporation, for example, there is a board of directors that run everything.  A spiritual group should also have a board of governors, or something like it.  Be careful if the group simply has one person in charge.  This is fine for a small study group, but not for a large organization.  When it is just one person, it is commonly called a cult because it is usually built around the personality and directives from one person.  One could, therefore, that early Christianity was a cult built around Jesus.  However, he never founded a church organization, on purpose, perhaps, to avoid this problem.

Typical groups formed around one person are ashrams run by a single guru or teacher.  This is fine, but realize that there are really no rules in these groups, except what the leader says.  This is dangerous as he could turn nasty and there is no board or governors to control his behavior.


5. No spiritual outlook. This means that the organization should have a spiritual perspective on everything, not just their own teaching.  For example, the group should engage in humanitarian work, the building and appointments should be modest so funds are used for community service, perhaps, not the enrichment of the members only.  The words and deeds of the members should match their ideology, and so on.

As an example, one well-known guru accumulated 50 Rolls Royce automobiles before he was thrown out of the USA for various legal problems.  He, of course, had reasons why needed or had all those Rolls Royce autos, but it should have been a tipoff to his followers that something was amiss.


6. Yes men.  If you go to a group or church and everyone is a little like a robot just mouthing the words of the founder or mimicking the founder and his teachings, this is also perhaps a red flag.  Of course, in Christian church you will learn about Jesus and in a Buddhist temple you will read about Buddha.  However, some groups encourage rather slavish copying and repeating of standard phrases and language of the founder.  This is not usually a good sign, since development is an individual process and each person is somewhat of an individual at all times.  So it should raise a red flag as well.


7. Esoteric or code language.  Some groups have the participants learn new words that are not known outside the group.  This is also perhaps a red flag.  While some concepts in the spiritual world are new, most are not.  They should be capable of being understood in plain English.  However, special words and phrases is an old trick used by some groups to hide the truth or simply to make things more difficult and mystical, which attracts some people.

The idea of a secret language that stops outsiders and often protects the group is nowhere more obvious than in medicine.  Latin words are thrown around all the time to impress patients, impress other doctors and make a big show.  However, this makes learning much harder and is a big red flag, generally speaking.  One needs certain words in any teaching, but more than this is not helpful in the slightest and often just confuses people.  In yoga, for example, some teachers insist the students in America learn many Sanskrit or other foreign languages and say prayers in other languages.  God of the angels do not require prayers in other languages!


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