I recently listened to Father John Valdez’s 10-part lecture series called Survival Course for Orthodox Christians, which offers a renewed take on Father Seraphim Rose’s lecture series of the same name. The talk on Eastern cults was especially helpful because Father John gave a list of signs that one has been deceived by a cult or false movement. I couldn’t help but notice that I had fallen for most of them to some degree in my secular past. Using Father John’s lecture as a starting point, I’d like to share seven of those signs with more detail.
1. The rules don’t apply to the guru
In all cults and false movements, Lord Jesus Christ is either discarded or used as a nominal head, but the real head is a guru who prescribes a litany of rules and commandments for his adherents to follow. The only problem is that the leader has a hard time following his own rules. The excuse of his “transcendence” will often be used to exempt him from the group’s moral teachings, since he will be “above” all rules, as if he were a god.
Guru Alan Watts taught a detachment from the world, viciously attacking the Western rat race, yet he was an alcoholic. Osho also taught detachment, yet he was attached to luxury European brands and sexual intercourse with his followers. Many Protestant leaders teach sexual morality, yet they all become embroiled in sex scandals. A worthy leader should follow the rules that he teaches, but that’s not what happens when a guru teaches a false gospel.
2. There is no external need for God
In a false movement, without the guru, you’re lost. He’s not directing your soul to God but onto himself so that he gets all the rewards. Since all cults are sex cults in disguise, this means more fleshly rewards for him along with wealth, fame, and riches. The movement manipulates its adherents to think that they are lost without the leader. Guru co-dependency is encouraged.
In Eastern philosophies, a big lie is added: “You are God.” The gurus insist that you are perfect, already a literal god, and only need the guru’s guidance to unlock the divinity within you. This notion is pleasing to the pride of Western man, who flock towards these teachings to be constantly reminded that they are of the divine and do not have to heal their fallen nature through the grace of God upon repentance.
3. The promise of fast results without strenuous labor
The striving to defeat the qualities of the fallen nature inspires the monk to such asceticism that those who have never attempted it cannot even imagine. This labor, which is a rejection of one’s very nature, supplements the crucifixion and cross of poverty, which is only a rejection of money. This labor leads one to the very depth of humility, it brings one to living faith, it raises one to a state of grace. —Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov in The Field
The key to hooking someone onto a false movement is quickly giving them a positive experience that shows the guru’s teachings “work” without having to expend much labor. This type of fast-food spirituality is often done with other adherents who are enraptured by the alleged bliss, peace, or pseudo-grace they are experiencing, enough for the law of social conformity to take over so that the inquirer eagerly misinterprets his feelings as empirical proof of efficacy.
Just meditate for 20 minutes in the way the guru says and you will feel sublime calm. Just attend the rock star church service and you will be buzzing with the Holy Spirit. Just watch all the people falling down in ecstasy before the guru’s feet and you will feel ecstasy as well if you collapse like the others. Even these kinds of paltry labor are becoming too onerous for modern man, who wants more exalted spiritual experiences with even less work. This has led to the rampant use of drugs, especially psychedelics. Under the guru’s guidance, you will smoke a potent weed in a hot room, or take mushrooms, and you’ll feel such peace and maybe even encounter demonic creatures you are told are your pals. You are indebted to the guru for such a mystical journey and commit yourself to him.
4. Guru rediscovered ancient wisdom that was “lost”
The guru refuses to accept canonical teachings and instead looks for obscure sources to pour in his will and judgment. Osho wrote a book on the Gospel Of Thomas, a non-canonical Gospel, and used it to affirm his own ideas, even blaspheming that Lord Jesus Christ received his teachings from Indian mystics. Many Gnostics on YouTube accept historical speculation as fact to push their own teachings which ultimately reject Orthodox Christology. Protestants read the scripture with their fallen minds and become their own pope, claiming that the teachings of Christ were lost from the time of the Apostles until lawyers and apostate monks enflamed with sexual desire rediscovered them in the 16th Century.
The truth is that since the time of Christ, the truth has never been hidden or lost, because Lord Jesus Christ promised us that His Church would not fall, and through the Orthodox Church, it has not.
5. The familiar is used to build instant rapport
In modern hip-hop music, it’s common for a producer to sample an old song and blend it with new degenerate lyrics. This is done so that you feel an instant connection with the new song even though you’ve never heard it before. False movements do the same by incorporating popular trends existing in the culture so that you quickly feel comfortable in new environs where you must begin to obey the guru. Another example is the similarity between the production values of a rock concert and megachurch. Both use advanced video and audio technology alongside programmatic laser lights. If you want to go to a free rock concert, they occur all around the United States on Sunday mornings.
Millennium ’73 was a three-day festival held on November 8–10, 1973 at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas, United States, by the Divine Light Mission (DLM). It featured Prem Rawat, then known as Guru Maharaj Ji, a 15-year-old guru and the leader of a fast-growing new religious movement. Organizers billed the festival as the most significant event in human history which would usher in a thousand years of peace. The festival’s official schedule described the three evening addresses by Guru Maharaj Ji as the highlights of the event. Big-band music, rock bands, religious songs, choral works, a dance performance and speeches by other DLM leaders filled the program from noon to 10 pm. —Millenium ’73 event in Houston featuring an Indian child who many thought was god
It’s difficult to find a false movement that is traditional or critical of modern trends because that would involve real ascesis that sends the adherent to the true source of traditionalism: Orthodoxy. Instead, the guru must use secular features to hook people into quickly making the decision to become a member so that the fleecing can begin.
6. There is no objective morality or truth
No one has rightly sought the truth who has not encountered at the end of this search—whether to accept or reject Him—our Lord, Jesus Christ, ‘the Way, the Truth, and the Life.’ —Father Seraphim Rose in Nihilism
The main method to retain members is through the management of their feelings (i.e. emotional manipulation), but since feelings and moods change, the teachings and lessons must also change to keep the coffers filled. This method of control is incompatible with objective truth, which does not change. Since false movements are more concerned with retaining dues-paying members and sex partners, the guru will mold the program so that there is continual growth, as if it were a business.
In the Orthodox Church, if you don’t want to believe in one of its dogmas, you are outside of the Church. The hierarchy does not soften its stand on a dogma or begin to change because you believe strongly about a lie. Your feelings have absolutely no value when it comes to Church teachings. Compare that with the “seeker sensitive” approach of some Protestant churches, whereby a prospective member’s needs are identified and catered to so that they fill the pews and open their wallet. It’s possible to be in a modern church and have everyone believe in different dogmas. The truth no longer becomes important while relativity is openly encouraged. It doesn’t matter what you believe as long as everyone is on the same “wavelength” in helping the guru achieve his self-centered mission.
7. A snippet of scripture or historical text is taken completely out of proportion
Falsehood is a diabolical trait. He who has assimilated false thoughts has assimilated an attribute of the devil. He has entered into a relationship with the outcast angels; he has made union with God alien to himself and unnatural. He who is a stranger to God is a stranger to salvation. —Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov
Famous Russian author Leo Tolstoy went against the Orthodox Church and created an entire heretical movement by misinterpreting what the Bible said about peacemaking. He was eventually excommunicated from the Church but managed to cause immense damage to those who believed his lies.
I suspect that modern gurus are less concerned with the truth than appearing different or unique to hook wayward souls onto their movement. They are eager to provide new exegetical accounts that are absurd on their face, but since man is so far from God, born in iniquities and conceived in sin, he is prone to falling for such lies, and so new cults are continually being made.
The Holy Spirit, descended on the apostles on the day of Pentecost, according to the words of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, who promised to send Him down at the Last Supper, is primarily the Spirit of truth and was sent to the disciples of the Lord in order to instruct them on all truth (Jn 16, 13), and therefore the true Church of Christ, informing the believers of the grace of the Holy Spirit, is the one who keeps, confesses and preaches the Truth. In the same place where, instead of Truth, lies are proclaimed, whether in dogmatic doctrine or in moral or in the sense of any untruth in general, there certainly is no true Church, there is no God’s grace that saves man, but only one appearance, blasphemous deception. —Archbishop Averky
I fell for many of the above tricks when I believed in the Eastern lie of becoming your own God. I believed in my thoughts and feelings and essentially did whatever I wanted to do in the name of being one with the Universe and acting as a dead fish to “go with the flow.” There was no grace and no healing to my soul. Shamefully, I even went to a couple of yoga classes while living in Europe to mimic bodily configurations that were historically used to commune with Hindu demons. Thankfully, Lord Jesus Christ has removed the scales from my eyes and allowed me to see the full truth—without adulteration and without error—through His Orthodox Church. No one converts to Orthodoxy without having sustained prior damage from false movements, so may God help them all be received into the only true movement that is God’s Church.
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