I want to start by saying that false spiritual teachers are pretty rare. When I say, “false spiritual teacher,” I am saying that this is someone who is so lost and unconscious that they intentionally lead people astray and cause them needless emotional, physical, and mental suffering. Why they do these things can be for a number of egoic reasons, which are often attempts to feel good about themselves in some way. They may themselves have suffered trauma. They may be a sociopath. Who knows?

But as I said, they’re pretty rare. You’re going to find a lot more incomplete spiritual teachers than false ones. The incomplete spiritual teachers typically don’t know the whole truth, but they want to help. They can focus people on ideas and experiences instead of the truth, but hopefully, the good intentions and care they offer has some benefit.

The genesis of this post comes from seeing a documentary called, “Holy Hell.” In this documentary, it is revealed that a spiritual teacher used his authority to self-aggrandize himself and to sexually abuse the men in this community. Most everything depicted in this movie shows a text-book case for what a false spiritual teacher is.

Holy Hell

Because I am concerned about any of you being preyed on by others like the false teacher in that documentary, I wanted to talk about some signs of a false spiritual teacher so that you can notice when things are wrong and leave these false teachers and communities before they can do any serious harm to you.

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1. The False Teacher Determines Your Access to the Divine

A huge red flag for any of you should be if someone tells you that they can give you access to the Divine/God/Allah or any other deity. False. Not true.

The Divine is within us all.

End of story.

One confusion for many people is that they think the Divine is a specific feeling or blissful experience. That misconception is fodder for these false teachers. Once there is something that you want, then there is something that they can pretend to have and for which they can be the doorkeepers. This one misconception is how you can be controlled, and it’s yet another reason why it is so important to understand that there is nothing to get on the spiritual path. You are. That is enough. Furthermore, no human experience lasts. So there is no sense in striving for a perfect way of feeling all the time; that’s not how human beings work. It’s also how some people can get addicted to things like teachers as well as substances.

2. You’re Taught That You Lack Something

To maintain the illusion that you need this person, the false spiritual teacher will teach you that you lack something. When I say this, I don’t mean a lacking in discipline or focus. Discipline and focus are important skill-sets to develop. They don’t make you more spiritual, but they often help a human being work through their ego issues. What I mean is that you’re taught that you’re somehow not good enough, wise enough, or otherwise in possession of an ability to “get” to this “divine” goal that you think you need and they’re telling you that you need. In this way, the false teacher can prey on people’s lack of self-worth issue as well as many other issues. Since believing that “you are not good enough” is a monster issue in society, it means there is an ample supply of people to be victimized by the sick leaders.

So let me re-emphasize that you do not lack anything. You may have different talents and abilities than other people, but talents and abilities do not get you any closer or further from God. Your energy does not get you closer or further to God. How can you become more a part of the ocean when you are already a drop of water in it?

3. The False Teacher Uses Fear and Control

Control is always a warning sign about any relationship. Any time someone needs to control your physical actions and your beliefs, this is a sign that you probably need to get out of this relationship ASAP.

Since a false teacher is often scared of being found-out, they use control as a way to focus people’s attentions in certain ways. They often focus people not on healing their issues but rather on being deserving enough to receive whatever favor, direction, or experience the false teacher is telling them that s/he is going to give them. Some victims of a false teacher slave away in variety of pursuits out of the belief that they’ll be rewarded somehow. This also creates an avenue for the teacher to judge external work, and since a false teacher doesn’t have anything to share, they often judge the student’s work as inferior. This neatly avoids being found out, and it keeps the the student perpetually enslaved to the teacher.

At this point, this really should be seen as a tyrant-slave relationship. There is no freedom to be found here.

4. Disempowering Students and Reducing Freedom

The way that a false teacher can disempower their enslaved students may not be immediately evident. It can be like a slow boil, and things may seem to be okay or beneficial at first. There usually has to be some kind of enjoyable experience or opportunity to hook people in otherwise no one would follow such an individual. Gradually, the false spiritual teacher tells their enslaved students that they have to do more for the false teacher. Perhaps they keep asking the enslaved students to give up more things to focus on what the false teacher wants focused upon. The false teacher may tell them that the teacher has to make their decisions for them. They may decide for their enslaved students what to wear, say, whom to date, what to buy, how to use their money, and a whole other set of things.

They are likely to use fear as a means of further control and disempowerment. They may threaten the student was some kind of bad or painful outcome if the enslaved student doesn’t do what s/he says. They may suggest that the enslaved student won’t be worthy of the Divine or get there if the student doesn’t follow the false teachers instructions. It’s all a way to keep people involved in the work or community the false teacher runs. In general, any time fear is being used in a relationship, this is an exceptionally bad sign.

Ultimately, this kind of control takes away power and freedom, which is precisely the opposite of what the true spiritual path is. As this path gets darker, the enslaved student may become more and more afraid of doing things on his/her own. They’ll have to rely on the false teacher more because they’re being systematically devolved and forced to depend on the false teacher. The sad thing is that this does not benefit the false teacher. They both become mired in more and more fear themselves. They are trapped in this web that is getting wounded tighter and tighter around them. Depending on how sick they are–like the false teacher in the aforementioned documentary who is a serial rapist–there are growing consequences of getting out of this web for the teacher. The teacher may not want to face the consequences of his/her actions, so s/he tightens control and disempowers students further.

5. The Need for Aggrandizement and Gifts

Because of the false teacher’s growing terror of being found out and facing consequences for his/her false teachings, this individual needs more aggrandizement, gifts, and other things to prove to him/herself that s/he is a good person. On some level, they probably believe they’re a good person, and they’ve probably used a lot of very nice sounding words to convince themselves and others that they know the path to God. I want to emphasize again, the spiritual path is a pathless path. No one is needed to bring you to the Divine. You are already one. But the enslaved students and the false teacher do not understand this, and that can draw the two parties together into this karmic mess.

Since the false teacher does not want to face the deepening pain they are in, they may seek more and more stimulation and other external experiences to feel good. They may also get stricter and harder on enslaved students, blaming them for not being good enough to achieve whatever the believed end goal of this mess is supposed to be.

6. Emphasizing Secretiveness as a Form of Sacredness

False teachers need to hide their flaws and their hypocrisy. So they seek the darkness. They often seek to confine their enslaved students ability to interact with the external world because that could give the students perspectives that would show that things are going very wrong. As such, false teachers can be intensely focused on secrets. The spiritual path often gets presented by false teachers as a secretive path, and students are taught that they have to earn the right to learn these secrets. The enslaved students wrongly think that these secrets will give them what they want, but even if they are told some of the secrets, many of the secrets are designed to be incomplete. It leaves the student unsatisfied and wanting more. You’ll never feel good enough or that you’re there quite yet.

This secretive nature can also lead towards complicating the spiritual path to make it appear hard and to require more work of the students to “earn” these secrets. Things just keep getting more and more convoluted. As things get more twisted and perverted, false teachers may also require the person to do things that go against their conscience or are down right malicious to themselves or to other people. This may be where different forms of abuse or even ritualized physical torture get inflicted on the enslaved student all in God’s name. It is truly sad.

My friends and readers, sacredness is not secret. The spiritual path is remarkably simple and right here in plainsight. No kind of physical abuse or punishment brings you closer to God. Those are the tools of darkness. Whenever spirituality is being presented as complicated and secretive, it’s time to turn up your intuition’s volume and ask questions before proceeding further with any so-called teacher or spiritual group.

7. Vague or Wrong Ideas About Enlightenment/Spiritual Awakening

One last sign of a false spiritual teacher is that they may very vague and ambiguous about what enlightenment is. They may be overly dramatic about what it is too and describe some ridiculous ideal that is impossible to attain. They may pretend to have awakened/become enlightened, but they may not be able to help you understand what it is. It may be one of those things where the false teachers says, “You have to find out for yourself.” You know, that kinda sounds good. But spiritual awakening isn’t a new thing. There’s plenty of books, teachers, and websites to explain what it means. The journey is to see all the ways we hide our awakened awareness from ourselves, and a true spiritual teacher is meant to help you cut away lies and self-deceptions, not add confusion and deception to the mix.

I’m sure some false spiritual teachers might have the right definitions. But if you really question them, some of those definitions are likely to fall apart because a false teacher does not really understand the truth. Or they’ll point you towards an overly specific set of rules and practices to attain it. Or they’ll tell you that it’s a certain experience you have to have all the time. Because of how a lot of people are taught to believe that actions are necessary and good feelings are what they should get, many people can be victimized in this way. It’s just more darkness and ambiguity, which is meant to keep you under control.

Spiritual Awakening and Enlightenment

You Are Your Greatest Spiritual Teacher

If you find out that you are involved with a false teacher, I encourage you to leave the organization and/or teacher immediately. You do not need them. You do not owe them anything. Any sense of obligation you have towards a false teacher is just another way they can manipulate you.

Often when someone decides to leave such a group or spiritual cult, that’s when these types of people and organizations start using threats. Threats are a super huge sign that this organization and this teacher are indeed false spiritual paths. With any true spiritual path and teacher, you are free to come and go as you like. You can choose what is right for you. You may rely on another for awhile to help you out, but the true teacher is like a crutch helping you to rehab a broken leg. After the relationship, you find greater mobility and freedom in life, not less. You also are better able to see and interact with the whole world on your own. You are not chained to a true teacher. You are freed through your connection and the shared love of that connection.

What Is a Spiritual Teacher?

Most of all I want to emphasize that you are your own greatest teacher. You are always connected to God, and you are always in the space of Divine love and perfection. Everything on this path is meant to break down your beliefs that you are not Divine and dissolve ideas that you need others to help you get connected. You are on this path to learn to accept all of life as it is, and from that acceptance, you can clearly see what you want to do and what is right for you. Clarity, love, truth, acceptance, openness, and ease–these are the words of a true spiritual teacher and true spiritual path, and these are what naturally evolve out of the work with any such people and paths.

I hope these signs are helpful to you, and most of all, I encourage you to learn to trust your inner knowing. That intuitive nature within you will guide you truthfully wherever you may walk and help you see true paths and teachers from false ones.


I'm a spiritual teacher who helps people find freedom from suffering.


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