100 Most Spiritually Influential People and the Charms of Pop Spirituality

The Green Lama doesn't teach dharma, he kicks ass. But it wasn't enough to get him on the Spiritual Power list.

The folks at Watkins Review have put out their list of the 100 Most Spiritually Influential People, or as they call it, The Spiritual Power List. Whom, you may ask, as I did, is Watkins Review? It’s a magazine published by Watkins Books, London’s oldest esoteric bookshop, “now one of the world’s leading independent bookshops specialising in new, second-hand and antiquarian titles in the Mind, Body, Spirit field.” Watkins was established over 100 years by John M. Watkins, a friend of Madame Blavatsky. According to Wikipadia, Aleister Crowley is said to have once made all of the books in the store “disappear and then magically reappear.”

In the Spring issue of Watkins Review, they present “100 Spiritual Power List,” naming the most spiritually influential people in the world today. In answer to the question that is probably on your mind at this moment, they note that “we live in an age of lists”, which I suppose is a compelling reason to foist one more upon us.

Here is the criteria they used in compiling the list: “1) The person has to be alive; 2) The person has to have made a unique and spiritual contribution on a global scale; 3) The person is frequently googled, appears in Nielsen Data, and highlighted in throughout the blogosphere. “

And here are the Top Ten:

1. Eckhart Tolle.
2. Dalai Lama.
3. Wayne Dyer.
4. Thich Nhat Hanh.
5. Deepak Chopra.
6. Louise Hay.
7. Paolo Coelho.
8. Oprah Winfrey.
9. Ken Wilber.
10. Rhonda Byrne.

Sad, isn’t it? Except for the two Buddhists and the one novelist, the rest are all purveyors of pop spirituality. Some people may want to include the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh in that pop group, but I don’t. Oprah Winfrey? She’s a talk show host for goodness sakes. The last time I glanced at her program, John Travolta came on and the largely female audience screamed for 10 minutes. It was like 1964 and going to see A Hard Day’s Night all over again.

I shouldn’t be surprised at the people who made the list. What “spiritually influential” means here is popular, and if pop spirituality wasn’t popular then it wouldn’t be pop spirituality, would it? Now, if some of these people were pop like Andy Warhol was pop, they’d be cool. But, they’re not.

Some people like to pick on Deepak Chopra, but I think he is basically sincere. His thoughts are consistent with Eastern philosophy in general and because of his high profile, he often is in a position to be the representative voice for that Eastern point of view and reach people who might not be exposed to it otherwise.

But I have no use whatsoever for Eckhart Tolle or Wayne Dyer. As far as I am concerned those two just take Buddhist and Taoist teachings and repackage them as secular spirituality. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I suppose, but they strike me as a couple of hucksters.

I’m not a big fan of Ken Wilber either. His New Age transpersonal techno-psycho babble leaves me cold, and besides, he reminds me of Mr. Clean. Interestingly, from what I gather Wilber and I attended the same university (University of Nebraska at Omaha) at the same time. I don’t, however, recall ever running into him. This was early seventies and I was majoring in Draft Evasion. The classes I took were along the lines of Pot Smoking 101, Advanced Class Skipping, and Introduction to Hedonism, along with the occasional Contemporary Poetry and Creative Writing class. From what I understand, Wilber was taking boring classes like chemistry and biology. I admit that Wilber may have learned more than I did, but I’m willing to bet that I had more fun.

Like the Green Lama, I didn’t even make it into the Top 100 list. I don’t know why. After all, last time I checked, I am alive. I have been googled. Last week, Neilson called wanting to know what television program I was watching. And I am highlighted in a couple of places throughout the blogosphere. What’s more, I have a dedicated follower. She’s my cat and only follows me to her food bowl, but I take what I can get.

Here is the complete list if you want to take a look. I have not heard of some of these people, such as Number 13, Alejandro Jodorowsky. Haven’t a clue. And Number 31, Ervin Laszlo. At first I thought he was they guy who used to draw that underground comic strip, The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, but then I realized it was someone else. Dan Brown is on the list. I assume it’s the author of The Da Vinci Code. A thriller writer. Great.

Well, we do live in a world of suffering, and I suppose pop spirituality is just one of the sufferings we have to endure. Along with the Royal Wedding. Frankly, the last Royal Wedding (Charles and Diana) was enough for one lifetime. By the way, did you know they’ve invited a Buddhist? Yes, the Venerable Bogoda Seelawimala Thera, Viharadhipathi of the London Buddhist Vihara in Chiswick will represent Buddhists at the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. He is the first Buddhist monk to be invited to a royal wedding in Britain. Good show, Royals. Jolly good show.

Now if they invited Charlie Sheen and let him conduct the ceremony (I’m sure he could get ordained on the Internet in time), that might be worth getting up at some ungodly hour of the morning to watch.

Anyway, I still don’t understand how I failed to make the Spiritual Power list. I have spiritual power . . . oodles of it . . .

Look into my eyes . . .

David M Riley

Your lids are feeling heavy . . . you are getting sleepy . . .

sleepy . . . Now, repeat after me, “Dave is a groovy guru,

Dave is a groovy guru . . .”

Is it working?


3 thoughts on “100 Most Spiritually Influential People and the Charms of Pop Spirituality

  1. Dave… groovy… guru…

    I check your website every day, but I’ve also put it on my Firefox bookmark toolbar, which is clearly a mistake. From now on I’ll Google you every day, maybe six or seven times.

    Dave, we MUST get the movie rights to the Green Lama franchise. Between us, we could put together a spiritual/action blockbuster. We would never have to work again. You could open a hip meditation center in Santa Monica, I could start a zendo in Crestone… power lunches with Deepak and His Holiness….

    Enough comedy. Don’t underestimate your influence. Every post is a pebble tossed into a pool you cannot see — you can’t know the effect of the resulting ripples. In my Protestant family, we’d say that you are doing God’s work. In my post-Protestant reality, you are serving up the dharma in big steaming heaps. Press on.

    And… how can we sort out the hucksters from the bodhisattvas? “Secular spirituality” does not sound like a bad thing to me. The notion of “Buddhism without Buddhism” feels right, somehow, and this seems to be part of that…. You’re more connected to the traditions than I can ever be, but can’t “pop spiritualism” (we need a definition here) contribute to the greater good in a xenophobic society such as ours?

    1. Will, thanks for the comment and the kind words.

      I agree “secular spirituality” is not a bad thing in theory. It just seems that it often becomes some sort of pop spirituality, and there is the question of crediting your sources and whether you have diluted those teachings to the point where they just become another opiate. That issue and your question about sorting out the hucksters from the bodhisattvas require a bit longer answer than I can handle in a comment, so I will try to address both in an upcoming post.

      The character of the Green Lama is in the public domain. They are making new comics and stories and I am sure someone is working on a movie treatment. I have actually toyed with the idea of doing something with the Green Lama, but I have some more original characters I am working on.

  2. I agree with you, and you make a good point: it is up to us to discern. Some folks just can’t resist the temptation to analyze and categorize. A human trait, I guess, but not a very productive one.

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