During a lecture on the important topic of phony gurus, Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda shares that there are certain aspects of character that define a phony guru. To illustrate this, Jagad Guru gives the infamous example of Jim Jones, a cult leader who took his followers to an early grave by mass suicide. “By studying the life of this character, this cult leader, we can see that his way of viewing himself and others is just a magnification of how so many of us view ourselves in relation to others. We can see the danger in some of his attitudes or his way of seeing things.” We can take his example as a warning to know where certain beliefs, taken to their extreme, may lead.

Jagad Guru notes that Jim Jones was not the leader of just a few people—“he was the head of the largest Protestant congregation in San Francisco, in fact, in the United States—twenty thousand people.” Jim Jones was an ordained minister. By all accounts, he was a man trusted and loved by many.

With that in mind, Jagad Guru explains that Jim Jones used his position of power and influence to share his message to his followers through healing. “He had these giant healing services where he healed people. He was very well known, a very respected healer. And supposedly his healing powers were real.” But because the healing drained his energy too much, he started faking it; “anything to get followers.” Typical of a cult-leader, getting followers was his goal, and it didn’t matter how he got them. He convinced them that he would heal them, take care of them, and save them. “Then he starts making everybody think that he is the Supreme friend. He’s not only their protector, he’s their friend.”

But Jagad Guru warns that these are the actions of a false guru or cult leader. This was cheating. “The fact is he knew that he wasn’t the Supreme Person. As soon as a person starts telling others that ‘I am the one who, if you love me, if you surrender to me, then your whole life will be perfect. Because I will protect you, I will love you, I will always take care of you,’ that’s cheating.”

Cult leader Jim Jones took this cult behaviour to the extreme. “He got so wrapped up in it, the giant lie. And he had more power. He got more dumb people to follow him and think of him as the beloved and the Supreme controller, and the all-powerful father. He was loving it. Playing God. And people were tricked because of his power, because of his ability to attract women sexually, because of his sexual prowess. Because of his ability to heal.”

But this thinking and behaviour is wrong and deceptive. As Jagad Guru explains, none of us are the father, the controller, or the Supreme beautiful. “The representative of God, the actual lover of God, devotee of God, servant of God, is characterised not by posing as God, but rather by his absolute lack of desire to be God and his continual desire to point out to people that you have a Supreme Friend in God.”

Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda is a Vaishnava spiritual master in the disciplic succession known as the Brahma Madhva Gaudiya Sampradaya. This highly respected spiritual lineage extends back over 5,000 years to Lord Krishna Himself.

He is the founder of the Science of Identity Foundation which teaches the practice of meditation and kirtan—along with the timeless yoga wisdom of Vaishnava Hinduism—to help individuals achieve greater spiritual, mental, and physical well-being. Passed down for centuries through an unbroken line of self-realized teachers, this ancient and authentic process of self-discovery can be practiced by anyone.