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Why Do Narcissists Become Spiritual Teachers, with Stephan Bodian

Stephan Bodian

Nondual teacher and psychotherapist Stephan Bodian and host Michael Taft discuss how and why narcissists rise to the top of spiritual organizations, the ways that nondual traditions like Zen may be especially prone to teacher misbehavior, the problem with “crazy wisdom” teachers, as well as exploring Stephan’s own spiritual journey with Suzuki Roshi, Maezumi Roshi, Jean Klein, and more.  

Stephan Bodian is a psychotherapist and a teacher in the nondual wisdom tradition of Zen and Advaita Vedanta. After training as a Zen monk and studying Advaita with Jean Klein, he received Dharma transmission from Adyashanti in 2001. His books include Wake Up Now; Beyond Mindfulness; and Meditation for Dummies.

Learn more about Stephan Bodian’s work at

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2 thoughts on “Why Do Narcissists Become Spiritual Teachers, with Stephan Bodian”

  1. Wow. This was an insightful conversation. So abuse in meditation circles is more common than I thought. Somebody make a documentary about this, please! What sticks with me from this conversation is that meditation teachers are also figuring out their own selves as they reach the begin-all place. And I appreciated learning that he goal of meditation practice is to know deeply the meditation. Cool.

  2. My experience with narcissists — as someone who grew through a dependent personality structure — was that they were, in effect, teachers who helped lead me to a path inside to my “self”; that narcissistic abuse was a tool that got me to recognize, finally, that I am my own arbiter; that truth exists inside myself, not in other, or from the approval or validation from other.

    This experience helped me to recognize that narcissists require others to validate their own fragile sense of self, in that narcissists too have an external locus of control, in the opposite way — on the other end of the spectrum.

    Further, narcissists are uninclined to do the psychological work to heal their fragile sense of self, in large part because once you’ve mastered manipulation, it is difficult to surrender that mindset, especially since our Western worldview reward manipulation and exploitation.

    The ability to remain present and unbothered by narcissists is a lifetime practice in mindfulness; a way to check how stable you are within your own sense of self. For example, when you get activated in any way in their presence, that’s an insight that there’s likely more work to be done on yourself. To feel a need to be in their presence or actively avoiding them can be revealing in a similar way.

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