in Guru Ploys, Reviews: Books and Stuff

Gurus on the Financial Plane

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Kevin Dooley, Paper money, Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Secrets to success brought to you by Great Masters of Himalayas?

After lifesaving brain surgery, Dad would have intermittent seizures. In his paranoid hallucinations he’d demand that our family of four pack our belongings into the car so we could flee to the mountains for the end of the world. In early morning hours, the police might call. Dad had to be picked-up at the police station. He’d walked for miles in his pajamas and had been found on top of a neighbor’s parked car, yanking the wiper blades, and ranting about the end of the world.

It was during a period of these events, when I was age 15, that I read a book I’d found in my Dad’s library. The book contained the laws of success that altered my impressionable life when it said:

“I whispered, ‘Who are you?’
In a softened voice, which sounded like chimes of great music, the unseen speaker replied: ‘I come from the Great School of the Masters. I am one of the Council of Thirty-Three who serve the Great School and its initiates on the physical plane.”[1]

The book was Grow Rich! With Peace of Mind: How to earn all the money you need and enrich every part of your life, the sequel to Think and Grow Rich, both books by Napoleon Hill.

Eventually and indirectly the secret formula of success peddled by Napoleon Hill led me to a Hindu-Christian yoga-occult community in Los Angeles. The fringe church, SRF (Self-Realization Fellowship), aligned perfectly with the secret formula of success and occult thinking of Napoleon Hill and the Great School of Masters. I accepted the synchronicity as a sign from the divine.

After a few years on the fringe of the fellowship, I plunged headlong and pledged 14 years of my life to following the rules and vows of the Self-Realization Monastic Order [See my posts on Monasticism]. I believed SRF was my link to the Great School of Masters of the Himalayas that I’d read about in Napoleon Hill’s Grow Rich! With Peace of Mind, sequel to Think and Grow Rich.

“Also termed the ‘law of attraction’ as early as 1906, [New Thought’s] core belief was that thoughts are things”, says Scott Carney in A Death on Diamond Mountain: A True Story of Obsession, Madness, and the Path to Enlightenment[2]. “In 1908, Andrew Carnegie met a young journalist named Napoleon Hill and asked him to interview the richest people in America to learn their secrets to generating wealth. The project took him almost 20 years, but in 1934, he published Think and Grow Rich, which quickly became one of the best selling books of all time.[3]”

“New Thought created a spiritual framework to explain earthly success”, writes Carney, “Think and Grow Rich formed a recipe and spawned an entire genre of self-help books.

“Hill wrote that the most successful people on earth followed a simple secret: They visualize their own success and cultivate their emotions to feel as if they had already achieved their goals.

“According to Hill’s theory, thoughts are things and our desires act like magnets in the spiritual ether and could attract real world riches.”

Hill’s secrets of success totally synchronized with SRF’s, and its founder’s, Paramahansa Yogananda’s,  teachings and books such as the Law of Success, Scientific Healing Affirmations, Applying the Power of Positive Thinking, Focusing the Power of Attention for Success, Answered Prayers and dozens of other publications. Hill’s and Yogananda’s are occult philosophies that represent the New Thought movement.

“New Thought lent American optimism a sort of a mystical quality”, continues Carney. “It argued that the mind is a force of nature in the same way that gravity is”. Thoughts can make a person rich, cure disease, reverse aging, and achieve any imaginable goal.

“Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe it can achieve”.
“There are no limitations to the mind except those we acknowledge. Both poverty and riches are the offspring of thought.”
Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill

As a troubled teen, eagerly reading Napoleon Hill’s books in my dad’s library, I didn’t know how gullible and vulnerable I was to occult authorities and magical-thinking. It was a decade and a half after I left the SRF Monastery that I discovered that Think and Grow Rich was part of the occult and New Thought movement.

Meditation is an escape. Or, can be. It was for me. Laws of success can be an escape–pat answers giving comforting certainty. These secret formulas for success are steeped in mystical-, magical-, wishful-thinking.

Meditation is sold by Cadillac-driving gurus as the panacea for human ills. Yogananda, Daya Mata, and Rajneesh (to name only three gurus) tooled around in chauffeur-driven Cadillacs. Meditation is promoted as the key to earthly (and heavenly) success, peace, and happiness.

Laws of success are peddled like snake oil: sometimes wrapped and marked with Om, Bliss, or Nirvana. Placebos for the gullible and cash for the infallible? “Think like I want you to”, says the guru. “Buy my secret formulas, laws of success and meditations and you I will grow rich.”

It pays (can save thousands of dollars and years of time) to doubt the guru’s so-called laws of success and to be a skeptic. [See my post 21 Great Reasons To Think and Be A Skeptic].


1 “The Great School of Masters! That is the school of wisdom which has persisted secretly in the Himalayas for ten thousand years. Sometimes known as the Venerable Brotherhood of Ancient India, it is the great central reservoir of religious, philosophical, moral, physical, spiritual and psychical knowledge. Patiently this school strives to lead mankind from spiritual infancy and darkness to maturity of soul and final illumination”. Napoleon Hill, Grow Rich! with Peace of Mind, paper, p159. Fawcett Crest Books. 1967. On the same page, Hill substantiates his claim of his visitation by the Great Teachers by quoting from The Great Message: The Lineal Key of the Great School of the Masters [Harmonic Series, 1928 Editions] by Richardson, J. E. [John E.] (1853-1935), an occult, New Thought book.

2 In A Death on Diamond Mountain: A True Story of Obsession, Madness, and the Path to Enlightenment, Scott Carney, Hardcover, 2015

3 ibid “By Hill’s death in 1970, Think and Grow Rich had sold fifteen million copies. Its success has since been dwarfed by The Secret, which has reportedly sold fifty-six million copies worldwide, with approximately the same philosophy”. Footnote pg 114

Leave a Reply

  1. Scott,
    It’s interesting to note that Yogananda’s formulas, positive affirmations, will power etc. didn’t work for him. He was broke until around 1934 when James Lynn came along with an bottomless checkbook.

  2. @Brent: Wonderful observation about the enlightened master, Yogananda. Devotees and believers will rationalize, come up with excuses, why Yogananda was broke…until he found a millionaire follower, James J. Lynn, to bankroll his Guru exploits.

    Gurus often indulge and grant high spiritual titles on rich people. Rich (and poor) people pay indulgences and for the stairway to “heaven”?

    Mr. Lynn was eventually made President of SRF, the Gurus organization, because he was a millionaire and an example for devotees to emulate, to surrender their devotion and wealth to the Master-guru-god.

  3. Scott,
    One more thought on James Lynn. Yogananda claimed Lynn achieved Samadhi. Interestingly, James Lynn died of a brain tumor. Brain tumors can, in a small minority of cases, also cause hallucinations. Not common, but it happens.

  4. Brent,
    Thanks for pointing out that Rajarsi Janankananda (James J. Lynn) whom Yogananda bragged was a shining example of going into samadhi died of a brain tumor.

    For an account with details of Mr. Lynn’s illness in Durga Mata: A Paramhansa Yogananda Trilogy of Divine Love starting on p. 119.

    Brain Tumor: Symptoms and Signs provided by The American Society of Clinical Oncology website includes:

    Seizures. People may experience different types of seizures, including myclonic and tonic-clonic (grand mal).

    Tonic-Clonic (Grand Mal)
    Loss of consciousness and body tone, followed by twitching and relaxing muscles that are called contractions
    May be a short 30-second period of no breathing and a person may turn a shade of blue

    Change in sensation, vision, smell, and/or hearing without losing consciousness
    Complex partial
    May cause a loss of awareness or a partial or total loss of consciousness

    Mr. Lynn’s so-called samadhis or “loss of consciousness” could have been caused by his brain tumor(s). According to Durga Ma book cited above, Mr. Lynn had three brain operations between 1952-54.