Alan Watts on How to Fake Your Way as a Spiritual Teacher
by Alan Watts
I have often thought of writing a novel, similar to Thomas Mann’s “Confessions of Felix Krull,” which would be the life story of a charlatan making out as a master guru – either initiated in Tibet or appearing as the reincarnation of Nagarjuna, Padmasambhava, or some other great historical sage of the Orient. It would be a romantic and glamorous tale, flavored with the scent of pines in Himalayan valleys, with garden courtyards in obscure parts of Alexandria, with mountain temples in Japan, and with secretive meetings and initiations in country houses adjoining Paris, New York, and Los Angeles. It would also raise some rather unexpected philosophical questions as to the relations between genuine mysticism and stage magic. But I have neither the patience nor the skill to be a novelist, and thus can do no more than sketch the idea for some more gifted author.
The attractions of being a trickster guru are many. There is power and there is wealth, and still more the satisfactions of being an actor without need for a stage, who turns “real life” into a drama. It is not, furthermore, an illegal undertaking such as selling shares in non-existent corporations, impersonating a doctor, or falsifying checks. There are no recognized and official qualifications for being a guru, though now that some universities are offering courses in meditation and Kundalini Yoga it may soon be necessary to be a member of the U.S. Fraternity of Gurus. But a really fine trickster would get around all that by the one-upmanship of inventing an entirely new discipline outside and beyond all known forms of esoteric teaching.
It must be understood from the start that the trickster guru fills a real need and performs a genuine public service. Millions of people are searching desperately for a true father-Magician, especially at a time when the clergy and the psychiatrists are making rather a poor show, and do not seem to have the courage of their convictions or of their fantasies. Perhaps they have lost nerve through too high a valuation of the virtue of honesty – as if a painter felt bound to give his landscapes the fidelity of photographs. To fulfil his compassionate vocation, the trickster guru must above all have nerve. He must also be quite well-read in mystical and occult literature, both that which is historically authentic and sound in scholarship, and that which is somewhat questionable – such as the writings of H.P. Blavatsky, P.D. Ouspensky, and Aleister Crowley. It doesn’t do to be caught out on details now known to a wide public.
After such preparatory studies, the first step is to frequent those circles where gurus are especially sought, such as the various cult groups which pursue oriental religions or peculiar forms of psychotherapy, or simply the intellectual and artistic milieux of any great city. Be somewhat quiet and solitary. Never ask questions, but occasionally add a point – quite briefly – to what some speaker has said. Volunteer no information about your personal life, but occasionally indulge in a little absent-minded name-dropping to suggest that you have travelled widely and spent time in Turkestan. Evade close questioning by giving the impression that mere travel is a small matter hardly worth discussing, and that your real interests lie on much deeper levels.
Such behavior will soon provoke people into asking your advice. Don’t come right out with it, but suggest that the question is rather deep and ought to be discussed at length in some quiet place. Make an appointment at a congenial restaurant or cafe – not at your home, unless you have an impressive library and no evidence of being tied down with a family. At first, answer nothing, but without direct questioning, draw the person out to enlarge on his problem and listen with your eyes closed – not as if sleeping, but as if attending to the deep inner vibrations of his thoughts. Conclude the interview with a slightly veiled command to perform some rather odd exercise, such as humming a sound and then suddenly stopping. Carefully instruct the person to be aware of the slightest decision to stop before actually stopping, and indicate that the point is to be able to stop without any prior decision. Make a further appointment for a report on progress.