For details on new blogs follow me on twitter.

Advice from Zandtaomed
Zandtao meditation page
email zandtaomed

Spiritual Narcissism

Narcissism – “Narcissism is extreme self-involvement to the degree that it makes a person ignore the needs of those around them. While everyone may show occasional narcissistic behavior, true narcissists frequently disregard others or their feelings. They also do not understand the effect that their behavior has on other people.

“It’s important to note that narcissism is a trait, but it can also be a part of a larger personality disorder. Not every narcissist has Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), as narcissism is a spectrum” WebMD.

I am glad this came up first because it concludes with “narcissism is a spectrum”.

I am equally glad that when I googled “Spiritual Narcissist” this article from the Vancouver Sun came up, in it the journalist quotes Gerald May’s “Will and Spirit”. The article and more importantly the book might help Zanshadtao’s investigation into the shadow of narcissism. In his title Gerald talks of psychology, a mental science of academia. Intentionally, because of this stated intellectualism and potential lack of spirituality, I am now not looking at his book; I hope this book might give me a similar interaction as with Connie Zweig to bounce off in the Zanshadtao .

Even the article (Gerald May quotes therein) could lead to excessive verbiage – bounding off into the Z-quest itself. But that was not my intention when writing this advice. Let me start off with an obvious criticism, this blog is called Zandtaomed Advice, so with the term Advice we have apparent narcissism. Like with many such terms, narcissism, arrogance etc, the answer lies within the individual, from the outside who can tell whether I am narcissistic?

"Narcissism .... makes a person ignore the needs of those around them." How do we judge whether needs are being ignored? Siladhamma. Beginning for me as #NatureCompassionDecency, siladhamma starts out with compassion and decency, and living in harmony with nature. If Advice or any other form of spiritual behaviour does not measure up to siladhamma, then seek another source of spirituality.

"They also do not understand the effect that their behavior has on other people." Teachings on the spiritual path can hurt before they heal. If a seeker starts to hurt because they have followed a spiritual teacher, that is not a criticism - that might well be a consequence of the study. In this situation I ask what support the spiritual teacher offers. A great teacher who has just died, Thich Nhat Hanh, believed fully in the support his community offers. Do all teachers offer such support - that needs questioning beforehand? Cults usually offer support within their own frames of reference, this is why the first question is siladhamma - cults usually fail on siladhamma.

As Zandtaomed there are teachings and the elder, you decide based on siladhamma and support. How do the teachings measure up to siladhamma? As an elder my key approach is interaction through email dialogue, this is geared towards meeting the individual needs in the seeker's autonomy on the path. Whilst this is my way through being an elder, this advice is open for your consideration of all spiritual teachers and whether their narcissism is an issue - measure by siladhamma and the support they offer.

If it is not you measuring the criticism of spiritual narcissism, it is necessary to consider where that criticism is coming from. Does the criticism measure up to siladhamma? However as far as I assess, most criticism is coming from academia, and this has to be questioned for different reasons - discussed below.

First and foremost when discussing the path, there has to be an understanding of teaching duty; learning and teaching are two sides of the same coin of the path. Once you learn, the path fills you with the spiritual desire to teach. Spiritual teacher is not an academic position in which there is some status (or academic training) afforded that says you can teach, this teaching comes from the learning itself – learning on the path means you have to teach; it is forced out of you by the learning, and this might well appear to be spiritual narcissism. Do people claim teachers with qualifications are narcissistic? No, because of the agreement accepting qualifications, where would a spiritual teacher get such an agreement?

This duty of teaching however does not negate the totality of spiritual narcissism criticisms, what it does is recognise that there is a spiritual energy in the teaching – an energy that can be lacking in academic knowledge. But there is much to be learnt on the path so there are many teachings. When an academic writes, it is usually from a position that the author is some form of expert - although authorship is an institutional academic demand to get into print for climbing the ladder rather than necessarily being a measure of quality. On the path the teaching that comes from learning is in itself the authority, but it does not mean that the teacher knows all; if the teacher makes such a claim it is a lack of humility.

Second and equally foremost the path is special, to experience the path is a peak human reality. It is however the path that is special, and there is not always clear understanding why some experience it and not others. If the ego is strong it can block the path, and the intellectual ego or sankhara attachment can be such a block ie academics as a group can be blocked from the path because of their attachment to sankhara – attachment to intellect and rational thinking above compassion intuition and creativity. “May urged people to think about mystical connection as a gift. That is, not as something we obtain through willpower, but as something that comes unexpectedly from a transcendent source” Vancouver Sun article. It is a gift that can be blocked by ego but the path is open to all, for all who remove the blocks to transcendence; intellectually-forced willpower will definitely block. When so many people talk of path experiences it is ignorant to deny it, what is important is to get beyond the egos of narcissism, get beyond other egos that reject path, and find your own path.

Because the path is special, does that make people who are following the path superior? That is a sankhara question, a question of mental comparison. Out of compassion those who have experienced the path want others to experience it – it is a path duty, hence the possibility of excessive proselytising. This can be perceived by others as “feeling superior” when it is not, but it can also very easily become the ego that is narcissism. Hence the essential need for humility. Initially with the firstgrace of my partial awakening I was so full of it nothing else mattered, equally because I was so immature I couldn’t handle it. I imagine I was perceived as this egoic middle-class brat who wanted to talk about the path (soul or whatever I called it at the time). There would have been narcissism because I was so immature, although I never dedicated myself to the path and its preaching because of being so immaturely not ready. Not being dedicated until so late in life was a loss but it was also unavoidable.

What the teaching is is an expression of this special experience, an expression that experience is the metier, the benchmark, the measurement of whether this is path. This is an opposite benchmark to that of academia. Academia does not necessarily recognise the merit of experience. An academic can be a person who has read many books and not experienced life. On the other hand the path is 100% about experience, experiencing the path. Whatever Advice I give in this blog is based on my experience, it is not based on my being a Buddha or a Buddhadasa or Enlightened, “any such term” or image. Every day I am learning, it is in that learning I know I am following the path, but in that learning there is the deep knowledge that there is so much more to learn. “Spiritual narcissism, May said, “makes the spiritual quest a self-aggrandizing process rather than a journey of deepening humility”” Vancouver Sun article. Hopefully learning makes me humble, it is certainly true in my case that firstgrace was a gift that was not earned. And it is questionable how much I did following that gift as gratitude, although in the dedication now the path has meaning. The Zandtaomed teachings now are path’s gift to others in the hope that others can experience the gift, the path as highest form of human experience. I will not avoid the teaching because the accusations of narcissism might be hurled, it is for me to judge my intentions and release any egos; that is path. You judge me by siladhamma - and support if appropriate.

Many people contribute to facebook as an expression of their developing spiritual awareness, and many of the comments are indeed wise. But what is lacking in these spiritual facebook groups is a spirit of enquiry – listening. It appears that many people on their path in some way are looking for people to latch onto their learning and blast them with more learning – I suggest this is narcissistic, understandable but narcissistic. Would you examine spiritual facebook groups and say “these people are looking to learn”? The OP might be a question but typically what follows are responses as advice rather than responses as advice in the spirit of enquiry.

There is a spiritual community online that I sometimes listen to – attracted to it through Russell Brand – Commune; this is an excellent place for resources from spiritual teachers. But in terms of advice, it has gone to the other extreme. One of the facilitators actually advises against giving advice because of the way advice can be perceived – suggesting that comments be questions. Commune appears only to have famed teachers, seekers say how wonderful the teachings are but that appears to be the level of engagement.

Compared with my post-hippy young adulthood, there appears currently to be an explosion of spirituality, yet I am sceptical. Much of it is promoted – discussed in McMindfulness; BigTech especially has recognised that productivity is improved with a certain level of spiritual wellness. Many good teachers join this aspect of corporatism because they legitimately want to attract seekers; I question whether there is an explosion of path-seekers but rather there is a recognition by the satrapy that workers are more productive if they are “well”. Isn’t the path revolutionary? If a person meditates for half an hour at home before work, isn’t their productivity improved? I know my school teaching improved with meditation. Do BigTech companies have a quiet room where employees can go and meditate during work-hours? I don’t know the answer to that, but I taught in a school in an Islamic country where there was such a quiet room; would that were a global practice? Do the corporations encourage, even help, their workers follow their paths?

In this explosion of spirituality, is there genuine engagement with the path? Or does that engagement stop at a level of wellness that makes work easier? Commune appears to have no such individual engagement. It is of course the “business model” that Commune members pay for teachings, but where is the engagement? (I hope I am not being unfair as I quite like Commune, and people cannot be "forced " to be engaged.)

Enquiry means engagement with listening, expressing experience but listening to others who also have experience on the path; the egos attached to this are where spiritual narcissism arises. It is not the expression of the teaching but the lack of listening and the failure to engage and learn that is the narcissistic ego. Unfortunately from academia this cannot always be recognised because academia does not value experience. The method of academia is to be trained in academic method (Church of Reason) and then become widely read; yet one spiritual experience on the path teaches more than all the books. The books are rafts, the experience leaves the raft behind, and the seeker moves on for more experience.

What does the “widely read” of academia mean? Does it mean that the reader has engaged with all the readings to try to understand the author? Or does it mean that what is written has been recorded in the mind of the reader to be recalled to make a sympathetic academic point? Do academic writers write about understanding the path? Do they understand the path when they write about spiritual narcissism?

I have just read an interesting book “My Body” by Emily Ratajkowski, a model #emrata, in which she examines her own feminism and what is imposed on her. I was very hopeful that Emily’s awareness and enquiry were going to lead to some form of engagement with the path as she used those awareness tools well, but the book tailed off and finished with her baby – different from Hollywood finishing a movie by going up the aisle? I do hope Emily takes those tools into the world of spirituality. Her work was described as solipsistic. It was the first time I can recall this word, and its usage felt like negative criticism. When I google, solipsism has an interesting definition “Solipsism is the philosophical idea that only one's mind is sure to exist. As an epistemological position, solipsism holds that knowledge of anything outside one's own mind is unsure; the external world and other minds cannot be known and might not exist outside the mind. Wikipedia”.

Only my experience can be known, and it can only be known by me. It does not matter how much I read, it is only my experience that can be known. It is not my knowledge because I have read what the Buddha has said. What the Buddha said is true - if you can find where "what the Buddha said" is written, but my reading it does not make it true to me until my mindfulness has determined its wisdom – until I have experienced it. When an academic reads the Buddha s/he has not necessarily experienced truth, when an academic reads a 100 Buddhas s/he has not necessarily experienced the truth.

Is there then an external world? That opens tremendous spiritual questions concerning Unity such as “Are there separate selves?”. Well worth investigating.

But I took solipsistic, if it was a criticism, as writing too much from “self”. It was her writing from “self” that for me gave the book any meaning, but then she is famous and maybe a critic values a book-by-famous as having value depending on the number of names dropped (maybe she drops names but I wouldn’t know). Because of anatta I don’t write from self but I do write from experience – I only write from experience.

I began my writing with Matriellez, then blogs, and Treatise (there was some sci-fi writing before retirement); my last Zandtaomed books are z-quests – Viveka-Zandtao and Zanshadtao (current). They are all about experience. To begin with they were about my experience in education – Matriellez, blogs were personal insights and reactions. I wrote Treatise to write about my limited experience of the path in life – perhaps attracting people to following their own path if they had similar experiences. Manual started with the importance of path in considering my experience of activism, and led to a second part of deeper experiences of path and the need for pathtivism; the Companion grew out of my experience of teaching as Zandtaomed. With z-quests it was about my experience of learning – the coinage of learning and teaching at the same time. Is it narcissistic to write about experience? Is it narcissistic to analyse that experience and write about it? No – if that experiencing aggrandises self then that is narcissism and ego (by definition of attachment – anatta). Am I enlightened? No – just learning.

Academic method claims to be objective thus avoiding the problem that what academia writes about is not experience; this is sankhara gone “mad”. It is an attempt to analyse experience out of existence as a valid form of wisdom. How can you write about compassion, creativity and intuition without experiencing it? This objective approach is essential for the survival of the academic, the survival of academia - the home of the intellect, the shrine of sankhara, the Church of Reason. When there is the criticism of narcissism, I hear sankhara-survival. As most people are educated in sankhara, this criticism rings true for many. The narcissism is a spectrum, when a teacher expresses their experience where on the spectrum is this? How can this be answered except by the teacher? For the seeker what matters is whether they can experience the teaching. Sadly now with bypassing, exploitation of the vulnerable and narcissism, the egos of sankhara are getting their way. People are looking for the objective and ignoring their own experience, a successful aim of sankhara’s academia.

There is a word that can be used “arrogant”, it is a word that is meaningless yet it is used often. It is a word that cannot be countered if used with anyone who offers an opinion. Are opinions only accepted when they comply with the accepted objectivity of academia – of society? An opinion is just an idea that one allows to arise and fall away unless your mindfulness makes it wisdom. Maybe 10 years ago, a person connected with writing in Hollywood turned up at the hideaway town near where I live. I spent an evening listening to him talk of his writing, the Muse and so on – interesting to me. The man was clearly on a journey and so the next night I went there to help him – in his manner I thought he was asking for help; underneath there was a feeling, call from his path. I began talking and offering advice, and he began calling me arrogant, increasingly louder and louder. In my memory I can just hear this word resounding and embarrassing me - I was riding a motorbike at the time and it seemed to take ages to put on the gear before I could escape. I came away angry and questioning. Was I arrogant? Could I have helped him? Yes. Did he want help? I thought so but he couldn’t admit it, and the offering of help led to the nasty attack. And I was just left with the word “arrogant”. Was the Buddha arrogant? Of course not, but could he be called arrogant by the ignorant? And the answer is yes. Whilst to me what the Buddha taught could easily be considered objective truth, it is not by academia, and therefore some academics might have called the Buddha arrogant; or perhaps they call Buddhists arrogant? The socially-acceptable usage of the word arrogant is as a word to describe people who propound ideas that are not objectively-agreed to and not able to be rationally proven. It is a word of censorship. But if we only describe our experience then how can we be lying?

As Zandtaomed I only teach from experience, when I advise it is only from experience, when I learn it becomes teaching. When I teach am I enlightened? No way, so much to learn. Can you trust my teachings? Inasmuch as they are experience, yes, I do not lie to you or present theories. Do I think I am narcissistic? No. Do I come across as narcissistic? That is for you to assess.

One aspect of narcissism is being oblivious to the affect narcissism has. In the definition I started with, there is “While everyone may show occasional narcissistic behaviour, true narcissists frequently disregard others or their feelings.” As Zandtaomed my sole interest is whether seekers follow their own paths. The method of meditation teaching is interactive, and my hope is that the seekers engage with the teachings, engage to the extent that they develop their own autonomy. The website resource is always there, and I try to keep contact with seekers who work with me. From the outside there might appear to be narcissism but none is intended.

Please try to follow your path. Please don’t run away from your path because spiritual teachers are accused of being narcissistic. Ask, if you are not satisfied with the answer go somewhere else. If teachers exploit the vulnerable go somewhere else. If you think they are bypassing, go somewhere else. If you think their teachings are narcissistic then go somewhere else. But seeker please follow your path, such generalised crits do not invalidate the path; the path is always the way forward.

Zandtao Meditation page Advice from Zandtaomed

Books:- Viveka-Zandtao, Pathtivist Trilogy - Treatise, Manual and Companion, Wai Zandtao Scifi, Matriellez Education.
Blogs:- Zandtao, Matriellez, Mandtao.