Another source of spiritual misunderstanding is our confusion of charisma with true wisdom. Certain spiritual leaders possess the ability to evoke extraordinary states. Amplified by our hopes, feelings of bliss and transcendence arise easily around these charismatic ministers, priests, Zen masters, mystics, rabbis, and gurus. It is easy to mistake such spiritual powers as definite signs of wisdom or enlightenment or divine love. We forget that power and charisma are just power and charisma, that these energies can just as easily serve demagogues, politicians, and entertainers.
It is possible for someone to be charismatic but not wise. Conversely, wisdom is not necessarily flashy or powerful – it can manifest in a humble and simple heart, and in the most ordinary-seeming of lives. In communities where special spiritual power is highly valued, students should take special care: when secret teachings or ancient lineages are evoked, when one group is chosen to be saved or awakened above all others in the world, spiritual communities are ripe for becoming cults. This does not always happen, of course, but it is particular risk within the blinding arena of charisma. Wise traditions include safeguards against such misuse, often by the creation of a network of elders, respected teachers able to watch over one another’s spiritual condition and behavior.
from the book After the Ecstasy, the Laundry: How the Heart Grows Wise on the Spiritual Path
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