How to tell a New-Age Master from a Salesman
by Robert Peterson
In today’s world of marketing and commercialism, I sometimes feel overwhelmed and confused whenever I go to buy anything, regardless of whether it’s a book or something as ordinary as toilet paper. I want to believe what I’m hearing about the product: it’s “the best” or it’s “new and improved,” but often, the marketing of a product is a game of exaggeration and hype, and nothing is what it seems. I’d like to believe that new-age people–especially the teachers and gurus–are more spiritual, and consequently more honest, genuine and less prone to egotism. Unfortunately, too often I see spiritual teachers who are out to sell themselves, their products and their books rather than promoting a message, and although their products may be quite helpful and their “message” genuine, I’m still left with a bad taste in my mouth. I feel like a two-bit John. I’ve seen too many self-serving, ego-inflated–even greedy–authors.
Here’s the kicker: I’m a new-age author too. In 1997, with the publication of my first book, Out of Body Experiences: How to have them and what to expect, I was given the prodigious title of “New Age Author,” and with that title came a lot of expectations. A lot of people expected me to play marketing games. They expected me to sign books, teach classes, give lectures and radio interviews. Oh, sure, I’ve done those things, but not very much because it always makes me feel like a prostitute. The problem is, I’ve never liked playing these games, and I’ve paid dearly because of it. I once turned down an opportunity to appear on a talk show, rejecting my five minutes of fame. One of my favorite quotes from the Tao Te Ching is, “The master does nothing, yet leaves nothing undone,” and so I chose to remain an unknown, obscure author.
I have to give my publisher, Hampton Roads Publishing, a lot of credit here, because they never asked me to play games. They were very gracious when I put the entire contents of my first book on the Internet for free to prove I’m not “in it for the money.” Other authors tell me I’m crazy for giving away my book. It will cost you sales! Nonsense, I tell them: this way, the book is available all over the world, to poor people in third world countries who would otherwise not have the opportunity to read it. It’s the message that is important, not the money, right?
So how can an ordinary consumer tell a true master from a slick new-age salesperson? Here are a few ideas: First, e-mail them. The lofty types won’t stoop low enough to read your e-mail, much less respond. The master shows at least some degree of caring. Second, step on his or her ego–do something outrageous like questioning his or her terminology–and see the reaction: the ego-bound salesperson yelps with pain. The master has no ego to bruise. Third, listen to his or her message: the master will be telling you to wake up and listen, while the salesperson will be touting his or her product line. Fourth, check the direction of their books: the salesperson kicks out dozens of books that rehash old concepts and use other people’s experiences. The master’s second book carries the first book to the next level and the third book carries the second book forward.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m certainly not trying to tout myself as a true master. Far from it. I lack the discipline it takes to be a true master. Perhaps I’m being too hard on other authors, some of whom have forsaken six-figure careers to promote their books. They’ve got to eat, too, so those dollars are important, right? At least they’re out there meeting the people, spreading the word, generating the interest. Perhaps there’s no such thing as a true master at all, but we’re all just a bunch of Earth-bound students, struggling blindly to find a shred of truth. Perhaps it’s true that “those who speak, do not know” and “those who know, do not speak.” But sometimes I get fed up with New Age marketing, and then I have to ask myself: shouldn’t new age authors trust that the Universe will provide? Shouldn’t they attribute their message to God and put their egos aside? Shouldn’t they trust the marketing to whatever higher power they choose to recognize? And to the consumers, I’d offer the following advice: Instead of trying new product lines, look inside yourself for the answers; God loves to play hide-and-seek and He/She currently resides within each of us, disguised as ordinary people. At least, that’s what I believe.
Bob Peterson, February 2004