Thursday, August 02, 2007

Is the Maharishi a Narcissist?

I received an e-mail inquiry asking me to expand on my suspicions that the Maharishi exhibits narcissistic tendencies. I want to be clear: I don't believe it is possible to diagnose a person merely on the basis of their public writings and appearances. So I am not saying the Maharishi is a narcissist. But a quick glance below is likely to make any open-minded reader suspicious, too.
The DSM-IV Diagnostic Criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder are:

A pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, lack of empathy, as indicated by at least five of the following:

1. a grandiose sense of self-importance

2. is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love

3. believes that he or she is "special" and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)

4. requires excessive admiration

5. has a sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations

6. is interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends

7. lacks empathy and is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others

8. is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her

9. shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

A really good resource, created by a clinical psychologist, is this checklist of narcissism symptoms.

A quick comparison of the Maharishi's behaviors with the symptom list:

The Maharishi gave himself one of the most grandiose titles available in his tradition, usually reserved for saints such as Patanjali, Vyasa, and others. He allows his underlings, such as Bevan Morris, to insist that he has attainedthe highest state of consciousness of anyone human on the planet (Bevan's intro to SBAL). He states that his teaching is the highest knowledge available to humanity and so forth.

He is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, in the form of the World Government, the Global Country, Invincibility, Immortality, the Age of Enlightenment, and so forth, when in fact he is the leader of a relatively small religious movement that is having no discernible impact on the culture at large -- at least not since the 1970s.

He believes he is special and can only be understood by special people. Like many narcissists, the Maharishi surrounds himself with "name" people. He holds constant symposia to which he invites what he calls the leading lights in various fields to discuss the brilliance of his teaching. He insists that only "scholars" such as "physicist" John Hagelin can fully understand the subtlety of his teaching.

He requires excessive admiration in his insistence that he be called "Maharishi," be honored with flowers and other symbols of admiration, is accorded the utmost respect, appears only in sumptuously and ritually decorated speaking venues, surrounds himself with a regal retinue and countless bodyguards, and more.

People who have been close to the Maharishi know that he has a vast sense of entitlement. He makes extraordinary demands on his inner circle for unquestioned loyalty, unreasonable demands for volunteer work, and his unceasing demand for vast sums of money for his "knowledge," and more. He is interpersonally exploitive in his manipulative pitting of one person against another among his inner circle, his insistence that meditators attend courses to avert war or natural calamity, and more.

The DeNaro Affadavit documents his callous lack of empathy and inability to identify with the needs of his students, in that he has been aware for decades of the damage caused by excessive rounding and advanced meditation practices on his students.

He demonstrates envy of others in his jealous hoarding of students, not allowing them to study other teachers or religious leaders -- or even psychological movements -- something not demonstrated by other "spiritual leaders" that I am aware of. He also shows a narcissistic strain of paranoia in his insistence that the U.S. CIA, the American Medical Association, drug companies, and others are jealous of his "knowledge" and attempt to infiltrate his movement to learn his "secrets." Interestingly enough, Hagelin and other "luminaries" in the Movement appear to show a similar halo of paranoia when they insist that mainstream science -- or insert your favorite field of endeavor here -- ignore them because they are jealous of their accomplishments.

Doesn't this sound all too familiar?

John M. Knapp, LMSW

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