Dalai Lama tops list of the 100 most powerful spiritual people in the world

Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama

Spiritual power is not an oxymoron. Watkins Books, a British magazine publisher, has begun to rank spiritually influential people. In a new list for 2012, the second such ranking, the Dalai Lama is given the top honors. Watkins Books explains:

His [the Dalai Lama's] visit to Mongolia in November 2011 was criticized by China, but his popularity shows no sign of waning. Time Magazine call him “The most influential person in the world”, while The Times commented “He draws crowds that no other spiritual leader or politician could hope to match…he seems to look at life in a different way to everyone else”. His latest book Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World was published in January.

The top 20, according to Watkins Books:

  1. Dalai Lama
  2. Eckhart Tolle
  3. Thich Nhat Hanh
  4. Deepak Chopra
  5. Paulo Coelho
  6. Elizabeth Gilbert
  7. Iyanla Vanzant
  8. Ken Wilber
  9. James Redfield
  10. Rhonda Byrne
  11. Alice Walker
  12. Nelson Mandela
  13. Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
  14. Doreen Virtue
  15. Michio Kaku
  16. Oprah Winfrey
  17. Alejandro Jodorowsky
  18. Mantak Chia
  19. Desmond Tutu
  20. Alex Grey

See the whole list, including a headshot and description of each person in the top 10. As I see it, all 20 of these figures are contributing in their own unique way to the emergence of a genuine World Spirituality for the 21st century, to greater or lesser degrees. Ken Wilber, certainly, with his creation of an Integral Framework for evolutionary enlightenment; Deepak Chopra, of course, whose popular and scholarly writings bring religion and science into fruitful embrace; Alex Grey, with his vision of integral art to heal the soul and mend the planet … and many more …

Falling: Last year, Eckhart Tolle had the top spot, but that was then and this is now. The author of Power of Now is still very much in vogue. Dr. Wayne Dyer fell off the top 10 this year, declining 10 notches to No. 13. Also falling out of the top 10 this year is Louise Hay, who takes the No. 46 slot, and Oprah Winfrey, falling eight ranks to No. 16.

Rising: Gaining one notch each in the Top 10 are the Dalai Lama (No. 1), Thich Nhat Hanh (No. 3), Deepak Chopra (No. 4), Ken Wilber (No. 8), and James Redfield (No. 9). Paul Coehlo, author of many popular books including The Alchemist, rises two notches to take the magical No. 5 position.

Debuts: Elizabeth Gilbert debuts on the list at No. 6. Her book, Committed, was released last year. Iyanla Vanzant debuts on the list this year at No. 8. Her website’s bio says she teaches “a variety of classes, workshops and relationship building tools, based on universal laws and spiritual principles … designed to facilitate and support Personal Development and Spiritual Evolution.”

Rhonda Byrne, author and producer of The Secret, holds steady on the list at No. 10. Although the core concept of The Secret is central to the New Age movement, it does have its critics within World Spirituality (such as Wilber) who are uncomfortable with its failure to make appropriate discriminations between pre-rational and trans-rational beliefs.

Situating my own view within a perspective grounded in World Spirituality and the theoretical writings of Ken Wilber, I would point to the rise of Watkins Books’ list itself as a moment in the evolution of consciousness. Before 2011, at no time in history did human beings imagine that there was such a thing as “spiritually powerful people” distributed throughout the world, and that such persons could be identified, compared to one another, and ranked (however imperfectly and subjectively).

The fact that it is now possible to have a conversation about who is influential, why, and for how long is a good thing if it helps people to shed their ethnocentrism towards a more worldcentric spirituality. We must wake up as citizens of the world, and as unique facets of Spirit, in order to harness our power for the greatest benefit.

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  1. says

    Hey Joe,
    I just came across this list today, so I don’t know much about it. What are your thoughts on the lack of the Pope anywhere in this top 100? I’m not saying he necessarily should be on the list, particularly since he seems so conservative compared to Pope John Paul II, but do you know if there’s some specific reason that he’s not? Maybe they don’t feel his contribution is “unique” enough because he’s so conservative? Surely he’s googled quite a bit.

    • says

      Hi Grey. He’s in there. #45 – Joseph Ratzinger. The list has some methodological peculiarities. How do you take the world of spirituality and religion and flatten it out on a list like this? It’s a difficult task.