For a long time, I felt something in the spiritual community, but couldn’t explain it. I called it Spiritual Arrogance, and thought I had invented the word. I recently found out that other people knew of this, only they called it Spiritual Narcissism, a much better word IMO.
If you have ever lived with a narcissist, you know the constant put downs, the smug “I told you so, I’m better than you” and the constant gaslighting. Now, imagine that in spiritual circles. Or don’t imagine, as if you’ve spent more than 5 minutes in any group you’ve met at least 1 spiritual narcissist.
Definition from LonerWolf:
Spiritual narcissism is the very culmination of spiritual egotism: it is the ego that has become so solid, so fixed, so unyielding in the idea of its own spiritual greatness that it is pathological. It is narcissistic.
And one from Scientific American, that magazine famous for posting articles on Yoga:
Self-enhancement through spiritual practices can fool us into thinking we are evolving and growing, when in fact all we are growing is our ego. Some psychologists have pointed out that the self-enhancement that occurs through spiritual practices can lead to the “I’m enlightened and you’re not” syndrome and spiritual bypass, by which people seek to use their spiritual beliefs, practices and experiences to avoid genuine contact with their psychological “unfinished business.”
If a major point of yoga is quieting the ego and reducing focus on self, why are there so many yoga pose pictures on Instagram?https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-science-of-spiritual-narcissism/
Where does the arrogance come from?
When you start meditating or start any spiritual practice, your world changes. It happened for me, it happens to everyone. You start seeing how obsessed everyone is with their own thoughts and opinions, and in many cases, how many people cannot differentiate between their thoughts and the truth.
At this stage, you often start moving away from friends and relatives who cannot/will not change. If you were a highly extroverted person, this can be very jarring, as you will find you no longer enjoy a night out with friends. You may find the talks shallow. I was a strong introvert, even I felt this.
And all this is fine. It is a part of the process.
Mild Spiritual Arrogance
Spiritual arrogance comes when people start believing they are now “special” because OMG I am so enlightened unlike these losers. Xkcd even made a comic about it.
Medium to Extreme Spiritual Arrogance
Some people go a step further and start believing they are special; The Chosen Ones. That they are receiving communication from angels/aliens (is there a difference?), that it is their job to save humanity.
Or they may go deep into Eastern texts, and start insulting anyone who isn’t following their pure version of spirituality. Forums (and Reddit) are full of these people who jump in to the very post with something like Your problem is you are using these New Age Gurus. You need to go to the source and find an authentic guru from a tradition. Preferably mine.
These people are hostile to the religion they grew up in (usually Chrisitanity), seeing it as a backward and controlling religion. Yet, when they follow an Eastern religion they will go to its most extreme fanatical version.
And then there are the What, you only meditate for 5 minutes? I meditate for 4 hours daily, usually delivered with dripping smug contempt. This issue overlaps with Spiritual Materialism.
When taken to its extreme, Spiritual Narcissism turns into cult like behaviour. The behaviour always starts off as small level smugness and if unchecked (in individuals but especially in groups) turns into a full blown paranoid cult.
How to avoid this trap
3 keywords: Humility, humility, humility
I have fallen into this trap multiple times, so let me warn you: No matter how special you think your experience is, that does not make you special. This is just another attempt by the ego to hijack the process.
And have compassion for others. Not everyone needs to become a meditating Yogi. Some people are going on their own spiritual journey which doesn’t concern you and which you may not understand anyway.
I’ll end with this quote from the Course in Miracles:
All of God’s children are special, but none of God’s children are special
I find this beautiful as it shows we are all special/unique, but at the same time, none of us are special as we all share the same divinity. Our specialness comes from our connection to the Spirit and not from the egos accomplishments, material or spiritual.