How to Tell if Your Guru Is a Dodo
Also, KPIX Nixed for 'Fake News', Zawadi - The Gift of Tea, Torture: From State Secret to Child's Play, US to World: 'Save our Democracy', and Who Is for Impeachment?
June 25, 2006

How to Tell if Your Guru Is a Dodo
By Gar Smith,
Former Editor of
Common Ground magazine

Note: The following assigned story was removed from Common Ground magazine by order of the new owners.
It is appearing here for the first time.

Beatles and Guru
In his book, With the Beatles (Melville House), Lewis Lapham recounts how the Fab Four fell out with their guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

It happened during a sojourn at the Maharishi's ashram in Rishikesh, India. Paul and Ringo tired of the experience and returned to London, leaving John and George behind. When Lennon and Harrison caught their "giggling guru" making a carnal pass at Mia Farrow, they were devastated.

The next day, John and George stalked off, followed by a weeping Maharishi who begged to know, "What is it I have done?" Lennon turned to his former master and replied: "If you're so holy, you should know."

On the bus ride away from the ashram, Lennon composed an angry song titled "Maharishi." Harrison begged Lennon to spare the yogi further pain by changing the title of the song. Lennon relented, scratching out the title "Maharishi" and substituting "Sexy Sadie.... See what you have done. You made a fool of everyone."

Lennon's musical band-grenade serves to underscore the importance of exercising good judgement before entrusting your soul to a savior. So before you go gaga over a guru, it might be wise to step back, sit down, take a deep breath and meditate on the commitment.

Is it really wise to place your life and spirit in the care of someone you've only recently discovered through a mutual friend or a magazine ad? Unfortunately, there is no Better Buddhas Bureau that you can turn to for references, but you can still ask some basic questions.

For starters, you might ask: "Is my search for enlightenment just a case of my Inner Child looking for an Outer Father... or Other Mother?" If so, grow up.

And if it is true that happiness is to be found "within," why are you spending six hours driving to an ashram in the Sierras? Instead of splurging on that pricey travel package to India, here's a spiritual challenge: Look for illumination in Indiana.

If you pass the Papa Test and the Travel Test, you're ready to choose your guru.

What are the clues that your guru might be a dodo?
Here is a short list:

  • Does your guru wear a Rolex?

  • Does your guru drive a Lexus?

  • Does your guru’s chauffeur drive the Lexus?

  • Does your guru have a personalized license plate that reads: "1G8GURU"?

  • Does your guru list his/her home as a "church" to claim a tax-write-off?

  • Does your guru's list of tax-deductible "religious items" include solid gold "spirit rings" and precious "lavender power jewels"?

  • Are you paying more for weekly "healing sessions" than you're paying on your monthly mortgage?

  • Are your guru's finances being handled by a graduate of the Harvard Business School?

  • Does your guru donate a significant amount of his/her income to any charities -- other than his/her own?

  • Has your guru changed his or her name more than three times in the last ten years?

  • Has your guru been the subject of three or more lawsuits in the last ten years?

    Here are a few more clues that your baba might be a boob:

  • Your guru claims to teach the Ancient Wisdom of the Inca High Priests of Machu Picu but is a life-long resident of Bakersfield.

  • Your guru claims the ability to "channel the wisdom of the ancestors" but has hired a press spokesperson to deal with the media.

  • Your guru claims the power to “materialize” jewels out of thin air but constantly forgets where she put her cellphone and house keys.

  • Your guru promises the liberation of enlightenment and proceeds to tell you when to wake, how to dress, where to work, and who you should marry.

  • Your guru assigns you a workload that keeps you occupied from 5am until 11pm and then scolds you for falling on your face during zazen.

  • Your guru preaches the importance of rejecting material wealth -- then asks you to donate your home and life savings "to the Mission."

  • Your guru has more seer-names than surnames -- e.g., “His Divine Holiness the Most Reverend Sri Baba Ananda Yogi Bob.”

  • Your guru instructs you to endlessly repeat the mantra: "Owatagusiam."

  • Your guru tells you the path to Nirvana involves accosting strangers in airport lobbies.

  • Your guru claims to be all-knowing but hires Price-Waterhouse to do his taxes.

  • Your guru claims to know all the answers but gets upset if you ask too many questions.

  • Your guru preaches the value of universal love then tells you to sever all ties with your worried parents who have just hired an expensive lawyer.

  • Your guru advises you to divorce your partner in order to "focus on the spiritual path."

  • You discover your guru is boinking your ex-lover.

  • Your guru claims to be a messenger from God sent to Earth to bring peace and love to humankind. Your guru is three months behind in his alimony payments.

  • Your guru claims that she will never die. Your guru dies. Your guru's second-in-command announces that your guru has "joined the Ascended Masters."

  • Your guru believes that internal critics should be placed under "loving house arrest" and put on medications because "it is their karma."

  • Your guru owns a yacht insured by Mutual of Omaha. (Extra karma credits if your master owns a yurt insured by Mutual of Om-Aha!)

  • Bonus karma points if your guru lives in a cave. (If your guru dwells in a private hilltop estate surrounded by guards and a security fence, think again.)

  • Bonus karma points if your guru is registered as an organ donor. (Think of it as reincarnation on a piece-meal basis.)

  • Finally, consider this question: If you call your guru "Master," does that make you (1) a disciple, (2) a servant, (3) a slave.

  • The truth is, you don't have to be a guru to be a dodo: These guidelines should be applied to self-proclaimed healers in all faith traditions.

    KPIX Nixed for "Fake News"
    The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) recently caught 77 TV stations passing off corporate-sponsored "video news releases" (VNRs) as unbiased journalism. One of the culprits was SF's own KPIX. Under FCC laws, such pre-fab footage must be clearly labeled. Many stations cited by CMD not only failed to tell audiences that the material came from General Motors, Intel, Capital One, and Pfizer but they actively disguised the source by adding their own logos and having local reporters "re-voice" the material. The worst offenders were stations owned by Sinclair Broadcasting, Clear Channel, Viacom, Fox and the Tribune Company.

    KPIX was nailed for airing a report on a new inhaler made by Pfizer that used a pre-filmed product demonstration and a testimonial without attribution. Contacted by The-Edge, KPIX VP and News Director Dan Rosenheim replied: "I am very chagrined by this." He noted that CBS policy requires that "all video news releases be labeled and attributed." So what happened? According to Rosenheim, "a new reporter on our staff neglected to label the video. It was a mistake.... I am distressed that this happened, but I want you to know that it was an aberration."

    CMD’s John Stauber was not satisfied with KPIX's explanation. "You can't do that and not know what you're doing," Stauber told The-Edge. Stauber calls the use of VNRs "the worst case of plagiarism in history." The first lesson of Journalism 101, he reminds, is that "you never use someone else's work without credit." But when a corporate news operation hires J-school grads, it appears that they are told to look the other way.

    If it's unethical and illegal, why is it done? "Simple," Stauber explained: "VNRs are free. Reporting news that's meaningful to local communities isn't. By opting to air a VNR instead of sending a reporter into the field, station owners save a fortune."

    The report is online at:
    Also see:

    Zawadi -- The Gift of Tea
    Otiri Primary School pupils in Kenya's Busia district poses with their teachers after receiving bedding and other personal supplies from the Oakland-based Zawadi Tea Company.
    Robert Kamau Kihanya left Kenya in 1983, intent on securing a US college degree in food science. Instead, he wound up with a BA in business administration. When he returned to Kenya in 2002, Kihanya discovered his small Kikuyu village ravaged by AIDS. He decided to do something to help the 1.1 million Kenyan children orphaned by AIDS. Kihanya returned to Oakland, California and founded the Zawadi African Tea, a company whose business plan involves "blending commerce and humanitarianism."

    "Zawadi" means "gift" -- an apt name, since Kihanya channels 7.5% of company profits to the Kenyan AIDS-Orphan Rescue Campaign, which provides clothing, shelter and education for children in western Kenya.

    For 400 years, powerful British merchants monopolized the tea trade. Kihaya's struggling business was the first independent company to offer pure Kenyan black tea in the US. The tea, which is grown organically in the Kenyan highlands by family farmers, comes in three varieties -- Karibu (“Welcome”) and Safari are spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, clove, ginger and pepper; Jambo (“Hello”) is a dark brew for java-junkies who want a healthy boost with half the caffeine.

    Kihanya began by supplying loose tea to local gourmet shops, cafes and supermarkets, preparing each package by hand. The response was so strong that Kihanya recently introduced individual tea bags for home enjoyment. Drinking black tea is not only good for the soul, it's good for the body. The Tea Council of the USA reports that antioxidant-rich black tea is more effective than green tea in lowering bad cholesterol (LDL) and boosting good cholesterol (HDL).


    Torture: From State Secret to Child’s Play
    With the release of 24 Hours: The Game, a new Playstation game based on Kiefer Sutherland's hit TV show, the world can now refer to America as "the country that teaches its children to torture." In a review of the new game, San Francisco Chronicle reporter Sylvie Simmons describes how a computer-animated Jack Bauer, the show's "champion Geneva Convention breaker and existentialist American hero," is set loose to "shoot at terrorists and torture perspiring perps to stop them from destroying the free world." The game includes torture sessions that allow players to chose four different levels of interrogation -- Calm, Coax, Aggressive and Break. Gamers are advised that, with excessive brutality, "the suspect may become noncooperative" (a coy euphemism for "unconscious" or "dead").

    When Sutherland (a co-producer of the video game) was asked if he felt any moral responsibility for promoting a pro-Bush, pro-torture worldview, he replied: "I don't write the scripts."

    US to World: ‘Save our Democracy’
    In the name of "installing democracy" Washington spent $2 million in tax money in a failed attempt to determine the elections in Iraq. Washington has made such a habit of interfering in foreign elections that it even has an agency devoted to this ignoble cause. It's called the National Endowment for Democracy and critics have accused the NED of stooping to sabotage and death squads to push elections in Washington's direction.

    A few months ago, NYU Professor of Politics Bertell Ollman jokingly suggested that what was needed was an International Endowment for Democracy (IEFD) that would allow foreigners to contribute funds to help restore democracy inside the US. To Ollman's surprise, the idea took off. He now finds himself heading a nonprofit whose board of directors include historian Howard Zinn, author Gore Vidal, Former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, National Lawyers' Guild President Michael Rattner and Isaac Deutcher Prizewinner Ellen Meiksins Wood. Instead of using money to subvert democracies abroad, the IEFD is asking freedom-loving folk around the globe to "help build a real democracy in the country that needs it most -- the USA."

    It’s a smart investment, the IEFD's supporters note, since the "democracy deficit" currently afflicting the US poses "a greater threat to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness of people all across the globe than the actions of any other regime." All donations are channeled to nonprofit democracy organizations and the IEFD vows: "we will not give money to any political party or accept money from any organization involved in violent forms of political activity or from any foreign government." The IEFD has one other request of America's neighbors abroad: "We call on the international community to monitor elections in the US."

    A full menu of articles, arguments, blogs, cartoons and videos is available in IEFD's online Democracy Library at:

    Who's for Impeachment?
    Sonoma State University Sociology Prof. Peter Phillips finds it odd that the media, which has detailed how the Bush administration "lied about Iraq, illegally spied on US citizens, and continues war crimes in the Middle East," has managed to ignore growing calls for impeachment. Phillips, who hosts the Project Censored Awards, cites the Wall Street Journal, which offered its first editorial comment on impeachment on March 18 -- and dismissed the impeachment movement as an obsession of "the loony left."

    So who are the members of the "loony left"? Here's a short list.

  • Former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark.
  • Radio Host Garison Keilor.
  • Actor Richard Dryfuss.
  • Hon. John Conyers and 32 members of the House of Representatives (who are supporting HR 635 to hold impeachment hearings).
  • Vanity Fair.
  • Harper's.
  • The Nation.
  • Op-ed writers at Newsday,
  • Barrons,
  • Detroit Free Press,
  • St. Petersburg Times,
  • Boston Globe
  • The Yale Daily News (George W. Bush's former alma mater).
  • The National Green Party.
  • A growing list of city governments.
  • And a majority of Americans responding to opinion polls -- Public Affairs Research (50%), Zogby International (53%) -- and the tens of thousands of citizens who are signing impeachment petitions.

    For more information:;

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