Is Your Guru a Narcissist?

One of the things I learned about in the year after I discovered that Sogyal Rinpoche abused his close students was narcissistic personality disorder. In order to avoid potential abuse, all spiritual seekers should examine the question, is your guru a narcissist? Or was he or she a narcissist?

Narcissists are everywhere, and they are dangerous people who manipulate others for their own gain. They are masters at coercive control and often become abusive. If you know what to look for, you can see the signs of narcissistic personality disorder in people around you. Donald Trump is a good example of someone with narcissistic personality disorder and so was Sogyal Rinpoche.

I think it’s vital that we all know how to spot a narcissist so we can avoid being manipulated by one. They are able to be very charming, loving and alluring when it suits them, so it’s easy to get sucked in.

How to recognise a narcissist

Make sure you know how to spot a narcissist so you don’t vote for one, follow one, or, worse, marry one. My notes are below the video in case you want to read them.

These are the characteristics of someone with narcissistic personality disorder.

Grandiose sense of self-importance

An unrealistic sense of superiority is the defining characteristic of narcissism. Narcissists believe they are “special” and can only be understood by other special people. They only want to associate and be associated with other high-status people, places, and things.

Narcissists also believe that they’re better than everyone else and expect recognition as such — even when they’ve done nothing to earn it. They’ll often exaggerate or outright lie about their achievements and talents.

Lives in a fantasy world that supports their delusions of grandeur

Since reality doesn’t support their grandiose view of themselves, narcissists live in a fantasy world propped up by distortion, self-deception, and magical thinking. They spin self-glorifying fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, attractiveness, and ideal love that make them feel special and in control. Facts and opinions that contradict them are ignored or rationalized away. Anything that threatens to burst the fantasy bubble is met with extreme defensiveness and even rage.

Needs constant praise and admiration

A narcissist’s sense of superiority needs a steady stream of applause and recognition to keep it inflated, so they surround themselves with people who cater to their obsessive craving for affirmation. These relationships are very one-sided. The admirer does things for the narcissist, not the other way around. And if the admirer’s attention or praise wanes, the narcissist treats it as a betrayal.

Sense of entitlement

Because they consider themselves special, narcissists expect to be treated that way. They believe that whatever they want, they should get and expect the people around them to automatically comply with their every whim. That’s the only value people have for a narcissist. If you don’t anticipate and meet their every need, then you’re useless. And if you have the nerve to defy their will or “selfishly” ask for something in return, prepare yourself for aggression, outrage, or the cold shoulder.

Exploits others without guilt or shame

Narcissists never develop the ability to identify with the feelings of others. They lack empathy and view the people in their lives simply there to serve their needs. They don’t think there’s anything wrong with taking advantage of others to achieve their own ends. Narcissists simply don’t think about how their behaviour affects others.

Frequently demeans, intimidates, bullies, or belittles others

Narcissists feel threatened by people who are confident and popular, who don’t act subservient to them or who challenge them. Their defend themselves with contempt, propping up their ego by putting such people down. They may be patronizing or dismissive or attack the person with insults, name-calling, bullying, and threats.

Is your guru a narcissist?

Being a guru or a president is a perfect job for a narcissist, and they gravitate towards such roles. Being a guru gives the narcissist exactly what they need to satisfy their narcissistic desires – the adoration of followers. There is growing research in psychology that links New Age Beliefs, spiritual superiority, and narcissism, so there’s a good chance that your guru is high on the narcissism scale.

And if they’re a Tibetan Tulku (reincarnated lama) check very carefully because they way they’re raised fosters narcissist tendencies. (See video)

The authors [ of the research] argue that the lack of objectivity in the spiritual domain plays a role here. “Like religiosity, spirituality is a domain that seems like a safe and secure investment for self-worth,” they write. “One’s spiritual attainments allow lots of room for wishful thinking, thus easily lending themselves to the grip of the self-enhancement motive.” And because spiritual matters are generally “elusive to external objective standards,” that makes them a “suitable domain for illusory beliefs about one’s superiority.”

Douglas Heingartner

In other words, there is no oversight, no outside authority to keep an eye on the behaviour of gurus or set educational standards. Gurus set themselves up as an authority regardless of whether they have any basis for it or not. They can feed their narcissism to their heart’s content all at the expense of the followers. So it’s up to the student to know the signs of narcissism and avoid narcissistic gurus. Go through the narcissism checklist – see the video or the first article below – and check them out.

Do you know any Tibetan Buddhist gurus that show signs of narcissism?

What about ourselves?

“New-age,” while once the embodiment of an enlightening ethos and community, is now a catch-all for non-committal, spiritual dabblers who prefer fashionable, feel-good tag lines and spiritual materialism to substance.

Paul Wagner

If we think we are somehow more spiritual or more awakened than others, then there’s also a good chance we might be high on the narcissism scale ourselves. At the very least we’ve fallen into spiritual materialism.

We were all conscious, woke, free, evolved, transcending, and special. Or so we thought.
There were a lot of goddesses, warriors, priestesses, and shamans, yet not enough humanity. I saw people who had many spiritual acquaintances, social media friends, and event buddies, yet a disproportionate number of them who would actually be there for them when life gets hard and when things get real.

This was one of the few gifts of 2020, as it put a colossal spotlight on the negative impact that spiritual bypassing has on the world and on ourselves.


And didn’t we find that in Rigpa? How many people in Rigpa did you think were your friends, who no longer speak to you. How many of them reached out and asked how your were? How many rebuffed your attempts to maintain relationships with those who stayed?

Spiritual bypassing was alive and well in Rigpa. Our personal spiritual path (based on devotion to the guru) was supposed to be the most important thing in our lives, so we ignored anything that challenged that – until 8 people opened the door to a truth too awful to ignore. If the guru is a self-absorbed narcissist who can’t see their dark side, is it any wonder that his followers show similar qualities?

I look back on my time in TB with a sense of shame and embarrassment at how arrogant I was, an arrogance fostered by the sense of superiority exhibited by Sogyal and other lamas. Such lamas think, as I used to, that their teachings are the ultimate key to enlightenment, eclipsing all other systems of thought. They think, as I used to, that they have all the answers, all the best practices, and they told us that we were all special because we had the karma to meet and follow the teachings! Sure I have appreciation for the teachings, but now that overt self-congratulation all sounds like something a bull deposits in a field after a good meal!

So … do you know any gurus that show signs of narcissism?

Relevant articles for further reading.

Image by brittanyannlewis0 from Pixabay

2 Replies to “Is Your Guru a Narcissist?”

  1. Yes. Absolutely I do. Another interesting aspect of TB Narcissistic “gurus” is their inability to take responsibility or to be held accountable for their behaviour. Afterall, according to Vajrayana TB beliefs, our lives are just karma unfolding and we have to take responsibility for all that happens in our lives. Thus we are not victims. And thus there are no perpetrators… How very convenient. Particularly for malignant narcissistic “gurus”. And if we have a different pov from the Guru then we have “wrong view”. They “compassionately” and patronisingly point out our lack of wisdom from their elevated position of spiritual enlightenment, but never apologise for their behaviour. Constant gaslighting, emotional and spiritual abuse results in untold damage that can take years to recover from.

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