Folk Theories Of Guru-Based Spirituality

Folk theories are assumptions or "common sense" things that people generally believe to be true. Over at Guruphiliac, my pal Jody Radzik presents a list of folk theories that he's identified in guru-based spirituality and invites readers to contribute their own. It's fun to see how folk theories can be used to get people to "buy in" (often literally) to almost any bullshit. Here are a few tools Jody says are in any "flimflamming, big-time guru's" box:
• The folk theory of everything being connected
• The folk theory of ancient wisdom
• The folk theory of holiness
• The folk theory of sex being a loss to the spirit
• The folk theory of harmful technology
• The folk theory that only the heart knows what is true
Folk Theories Of Guru-Based Spirituality


  1. Gurus don’t flimflam disciples. Disciples flimflam themselves. Having someone else take responsibility for your life is quite appealing to many people.

  2. Good to see posts relating to the problem with commonsense and bullshit, which is a particularly pressing problem on the internet, when a quick search can reveal information to “prove” any point of view, no matter how wacky. Particularly after that post linking the MaybeLogic school that had “educational” courses that were essentially folk theories in disguise.

  3. I’m not offended. People are free to believe in what they want to, and people are free to not believe in anything.

    People are free to make fun of religions, and people are free to feel offended.

    that website is pretty interesting.

  4. The folk theory that despite Quantum Physics proving that we are all connected it’s still somehow a folk theory to delcare that we are all connected

  5. The Folk theory that says hedge funds are a sure thing. Ha ha ha… The one that says we are all connected may be true from a quantum perspective. If everything started in a single unified state (pre big bang), then every bit of energy/matter in the Universe may be connected in a very fundemental way.

  6. The folk theory that there’s this guy in the sky, and he like really loves us. Which is why we’re going to burn forever if you have any fun.

  7. That list just makes me think of Soul Coughing

    • The five percent nation of everything being connected
    • The five percent nation of ancient wisdom
    • The five percent nation of holiness
  8. I just wish that those same shim-sham men were incorrect when they characterize their rationalist opposition as elitist snobs, no?

  9. The folk theory that it’s always better to buy than to rent a house.

    The folk theory that you should always be happy.

    The folk theory that size doesn’t matter.

    The folk theory that subliminal advertisement is everywhere and/or is effective.

    The folk theory that buying a brand new hybrid/electric car is good for the environment.

    The folk theory that states the nuclear family has always existed (mum, dad, kids in one house).

    This is fun!

  10. The folk theory that I actually have something to say which is worth posting.

    The folk theory that Cory set up this site to pimp Little Brother.

    The folk theory that anyone can acheive their goals through hard work.

    The folk theory that responding to any of Takuan’s posts is not a Turing Test.

  11. The folk theory that Quantum Whatever has a special meaning in life beyond how technology works.

    Seriously, “Quantum Physics proving that we are all connected”? What do you even think that means?

    The folk theory that scientists conspire.

  12. The folk theory that the “truth” is “out there” and if you believe hard enough you will find it!

    The folk theory that 1+1=3!

  13. #20 I think it might mean that part of our quantum reality may be entangled, via a one-way path toward the future from the past. A theorist such as Julian Barbour might argue that time connects us to the past, and by extension, to the very moment of creation or before, one frame at a time. Or maybe not. Perhaps the present has no connection to the past at all. What do you think?

  14. “the folk theory that sex is a loss to the spirit”

    Hmm. I don’t think that one is used too much by Gurus. I think they use the other one :
    “the folk theory that sex with an ascended master is not really sex”

    At least, that’s the one I plan to use.

  15. You don’t need Quantum Physics to show that we’re all connected – you just need gravity.


    The whole universe is connected – just not in the way these gurus mean.

  16. “folk theory”?? back in the day we called these “superstitions”.

    lemme guess. superstitions sound religous-y, so folk theories are different because they sound kinda science-y. am i close?

  17. the scientificist notion that only what has been proven is true
    the scientificist notion of cultural maturity
    the scientificist notion of complete materialism
    the scientificist notion of all sex being positive
    the scientificist notion of all technology being beneficial
    the scientificist notion that only the brain knows what is true

    The problem is not with the “folk” nature of these things; it’s the utterly unquestioned way that just because one thing is so because of a certain reason, that all such things are so because of the same reason (Francis Bacon said it better, but I can’t be arsed to look it up and my Sturgeon’s not here). Generalities abound everywhere, out of unfortunate necessity. Among a certain segment of the population, the contraries I wrote above are just as much a folk theory as among the guruphiliacs.

  18. How about the folk theory that the limitations of one’s own language delineates the limitations of a concept imported from another language?

  19. Sirdook, Gravity needs to be explained. Its effects are evident (as expressed in the equation) but we still don’t know what it is. So I invoke quantum gravity and off I go into sf land…

  20. The folk theory that power corrupts.

    The folk theory that family members have an inherent connection and responsibility to each other.

    The folk theory that having killed someone deeply transforms the killer.

    The folk theory that truthfulness is a virtue.

  21. The folk theory that playing a harmonica and singing in a breathy, slightly out of tune and modulated voice about the crazy world you live in transforms you a musical genius…

  22. Takuan, funny as ever. Dude, using our brains to think scientifically leaves us with one known fact: we are the most intelligent life in the universe. All else is theory, or in the case of crap like the Cathulu mythos, the product of a human mind that was a little warped. Hey, it’s all fun.

  23. The folk theory that having killed someone deeply transforms the killer.

    That’s very dark, yet thought-provoking, nonetheless. You have some very interesting examples there, zikzak.

  24. Everything is connected at a bare minimum by all of the gasses, waves, particles, misc energies which are imperceptible to the human senses (except through the use of advanced sensing technologies). Not to mention, all of the potential energies which we don’t have the senses nor instruments to detect.

    There is also something to be said for those “primitive spiritualists” who are able, by virtue of ancient self-control techniques (monks, fakirs, etc), to perform amazing feats of endurance. Ordinarily, these spiritual types shun public attention. So, you don’t hear much about them. Wim Hof is a good example of what the average person could accomplish if he or she had access to the knowledge of these foolish gurus.

  25. To paraphrase Blanche DuBois: I’ve always depended on the folk theories of strangers.

    For better or for worse.

  26. The folk theory that sensory perception provides an accurate awareness of objective reality.
    The folk theory that the concept objective reality is meaningful.
    The folk theory that The Truth exists.
    The folk belief that Meaning exists.

    The folk theory that other people know what’s best for you.
    The folk theory that you know what’s best for other people.
    The folk theory that religion can solve all of your problems.
    The folk belief that science can solve all of your problems.

    The folk belief that human intelligence is inherantly superior to that of any other form of intelligence that we may happen to run accross, unless it’s virtually identical to our own, but bigger.

  27. The folk theory of sex being a loss to the spirit

    Wait, I thought sex was a loss of Purity of Essence? Therefore I should only drink rainwater and grain alcohol and have nuclear weapons kept well away from me?

  28. I think we’ve come up with some great ones!

    Some proper challenging suggestions, if you are so inclined to be challenged.

  29. How about the folk hypothesis (an assumption or guess) that a hypothesis is equal to a thoery (something that’s been tested repeatedly and shown to be true by numerous independent obervers)?

    Seriously guys, you can discuss quantum physics, but you don’t know the difference between a theory, and a hypothesis?

  30. @Noen

    How’s that Jacques Brel line go?

    You who think you’ll find the truth by frowning
    See a friend in tears

  31. She may not be Emmanuel Kant or Spinoza or Nietszche or Hegel or Schopenhauer, but the little old lady that used to live down on the corner was a helluva lot better human being than all of them put together.

    So I guess I’m OK with the folk theories that there are no ‘experts’, and that humility in the face of the universe — given our limited world-modelling capacities, flawed sense-data, emotional wounds, and incapacity to achieve peace — is wisdom.

    You can elect and die for all the Joe Stalins you want, but she was worth more than all of them put together. That’s not science.

  32. The folk theory of “naturalness” as an Aristotelian essence, and a blessing of sorts. (Natural things are good because they have Mother Gaia’s blessing, and tampering with them immediately revokes this blessing and makes them harmful. Also, a compound chemically identical to a naturally-occurring one but created artificially wouldn’t be as beneficial, because it lacks the blessing.)

  33. @JPhilby – for someone who didn’t know Kant or Spinoza or Nietzsche or Hegel or Schopenhauer personally, it doesn’t display much humility to measure their worth as human beings so cavalierly.

  34. We’re missing the main point here – that this guy simply made up a new term to describe a situation that neatly fits. This isn’t new psychology news; it’s not even completely accurate psychology news. The phrase is neat, that is all.

  35. The folk theory that simple things are more honest.

    Our great democracies still tend to think that a stupid man is more likely to be honest than a clever man.
    – Bertrand Russell

  36. The folk theory that folk theories are “The Truth”.
    The folk theory of you get what you deserve. (karma)
    The folk theory of twin souls.
    The folk theory of the multiple truths. –av.-

  37. This thread demonstrates that different folks have different theories, maybe even different criterion for testing those theories. Can some poetic truths escape scientific proof?

    “Just because there is counterfeit gold doesn’t mean there is no real gold.”
    Sufi saying

  38. See, the thing I’m interested in here is Roach’s comment above.

    Dude. You own a sturgeon that channels Francis Bacon?

    That is so totally awesome, it’s better than eggs’n’caviar or even a hacked Billy Bass. Sir, I salute you.


  39. The folk theory that boing boing would not be a better site if the evangelical atheists would give up their crusade.

    The folk theory that all atheists are inteligent.

    The folk theory that atheist know what all spiritual or religious people think.

  40. The folk theory (or maybe it’s a corollary to the Interconnectedness Folk Theory) that everything has some deep underlying reason that most humans can’t perceive.

  41. “Just because there is counterfeit gold doesn’t mean there is no real gold.”

    The dilemma here is that you can’t ever know what the real gold looks like until it jumps up and hits you on the forehead. The problem with magical thinking in nondual spiritual culture is the association of magical notions and phenomena with nondual understanding. It is these very ideas that create the counterfeit gold in the first place. The American New Age community is filled to the gills with folks walking around with their counterfeit bling flashing, that bling being their attachment to their precioussss spiritual experiences. The time they communed with the Virgin Mary at the beach after that particularly bad fight with their partner. The time when they took shaktipat from Gurumayi and suddenly saw that she had a rainbow aura around her. That hug from Amma that started a bliss bonanza for 3 whole days. These experiences are all phenomenologically true in their subjective envelope. They can carry tremendously deep meaning and instantly catalyze powerful transformations. Peak experiences are undoubtably a very important part of the process of what people call a spiritual life.

    But they have no relevance whatsoever to nondual being. Gurus say they give us enlightenment. But by their example, they project it to be a doorway to a magical realm of deities and demons, advanced psychic powers, fantastic journeys to other dimensions of being, and oh so nauseatingly much more. The Upanishads give a different rendering, one these gurus might pay lip service to every now and then, but only until they turn around and piss on what is clearly the very basis for their existence in the first place.

    Because the Upanishads say that nobody is any different for knowing nondual truth. It’s a pre-existing condition, and a matter of recognition, rather than the attainment of an incredibly rare and precious jewel that instantly renders you with the powers of God. Any authentic guru understands this, but that still doesn’t stop some of them from seeing the opportunities and playing accordingly for their own benefit.

    Gurus use the magical thinking of their devotees to install an altar to themselves in the devotees’ minds. At that point all the guru has do is occasionally provide mild encouragement. The belief generated in the mind of the devotee will manifest phenomenologically as the very experiences they have been conditioned to expect. The wonder of spiritual praxis isn’t in anything supernatural, it’s that if you decide to believe something spiritual, you are likely to get results by the very milestones and standards of the belief you choose. That keeps the cycle going and the flimflammers rolling.

    But the most miraculous thing of all is that the very worst in gurus can still work wonderfully well for the right devotee, so it’s not all bad in Guruland, even with so many bad gurus around.

  42. let’s not forget the folk theory that all guru-based spirituality is bullshit.

    That’s one folk theory that I don’t subscribe to. However, the gbs that is projected by many of the big-time commercial gurus mostly IS bullshit.

  43. “I shall not commit the fashionable stupidity of regarding everything I cannot explain as a fraud.” C.G. Jung

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