For people of faith, and even for many people who don't ascribe to a faith, there are times when it becomes necessary to find spiritual guidance outside of prayer, meditation or reflection and reading religious texts. Millions of people around the world have turned to spiritual leaders of all faiths to help them find guidance, deeper purpose and wisdom. The following men and women have made spiritually significant contributions, in a variety of faiths, on a global scale and have changed lives numbering in the millions.
As the founder of Cornerstone Church in Simi Vally, Calif., pastor, author and speaker Francis Chan left it all behind when he abruptly sold his home and moved his family to Asia to minimize the growing emphasis on "Francis Chan" and put it back onto God. Since then his book, "Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God," has hit the New York Times best-seller list. Chan, who gives away 90 percent of his income, shot to fame when he was featured in the now international video called "Stop And Think" which was a viral, Internet hit.
German-born spiritualist and teacher Eckhart Tolle was listed by the Watkins Review as the most spiritually influential person in the world for his popular teachings on finding true, lasting inner peace outside of God. Sometimes denigrated by religious leaders for his New Age thinking and serenity-focused lifestyle teachings, Tolle's books, videos, webinars and speaking engagements focused on the idea of letting go of "self" have made his name famous world-wide.
His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso is considered by followers of the Buddhist faith to be the reincarnate manifestation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion. The Dalai Lama has worked for most of his life to open lines of communication between the Buddhist faith and others. According to Tibetan tradition, the Dalai Lama was chosen for his role at the age of 2. He has a reputation for being a scholar and Buddhist philosopher and a man of peace, even among Westerners who do not follow the Tibetan faith.
Mata Amritanandamayi Devi was born to a simple family in India, but despite her poor conditions, she began early in life to reach out to others with compassion and a warm embrace, which earned her the nickname "Amma," meaning "Mother." Her organization, Embracing the World, is dedicated to helping ease the suffering of all people. She is considered a leading authority on Hinduism, and although she doesn't evangelize her beliefs, she is known to ask people she meets to contemplate the principles she adheres to and to consider living by them to help ease suffering.
Life coach and motivational speaker Jack Canfield has spent his life teaching the power of positive thinking. Co-creator of the best-selling book "Chicken Soup for the Soul" series, Canfield started the Transformational Leadership Council to gather other like-minded thinkers who could help people transform their lives through the power of thought. Canfield is a believer in the principles of "The Secret," a New Age theory based on the Laws of Attraction, stating that positive thinking creates positive results.
Self-help superstar Rhonda Byrne is the author of the best-selling book "The Secret" and its sequel "The Power" — based on the"New Thought" belief system that teaches divinity as a concept that exists within each person and that the highest spiritual concept is love, leading to manifestations of personal greatness. Although "The Secret" generated a lot of controversy for its "positive thinking produces positive results" message, Byrne was named one of Time Magazine's 100 people who shape the world and has made millions from book and DVD sales with her message of mental realities creating real-life results.
Rick Warren is an evangelical theologian, pastor and founder of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., the eighth largest church in the U.S. Warren wrote the popular devotional "The Purpose Driven Life" which sold more than 30 million copies and launched a series of "Purpose Driven" approaches to church government and personal living. Since then, multiple churches in multiple countries have used the series to help lead their congregations. In January 2009, Warren was asked to give the invocation at the presidential inauguration for President Obama.
Buddhist philosophy writer Daisaku Ikeda is a Japanese-born Nichiren Buddhist leader born into a family of seaweed farmers who grew to become credited with developing Soka Gakkai International, one of the largest and most diverse international lay Buddhist associations in the world today. Ikeda also founded "Soka" (value creation) schools around the world to help cultivate peace ethics, social contribution and global consciousness among students. With his focus on dialog as the foundation of peace, Ikeda also founded a number of cross-cultural, interdisciplinary research institutes to collaborate on diverse issues.
Warren Kenton, also known by his Hebrew name Z'ev ben Shimon Halevi, is Director of Tutors for the Kabbalah Society, an organization founded to promote the Toledano Tradition branch of the Jewish mystical teachings of Kabbalah, including astrology. Kenton travels the world promoting and teaching his series of "The Way of Kabbalah" and has written numerous books on the religion.
International Bible teacher, speaker and New York Times bestselling author Joyce Meyer is known for her wit and wisdom when sharing truths about the Christian faith. Focusing mainly on the effects of the mind, mouth, moods and attitudes, Meyer's relatability, shared in the telling of her own personal pain, triumphs and shortcomings, has drawn millions of people across various faiths to her meetings and TV programs, making her an international Christian icon.
Thomas S. Monson is the current president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is also considered by adherents to be the prophet, seer and revelator of the church. Monson, who was appointed to the position at age 80, served in the Mormon church for most of his life and was once appointed to the President's U.S. Task Force for Private Sector Initiatives by President Ronald Regan. Monson has authored numerous books on the LDS faith and maintains an active presence in community and civic affairs.
Indian spiritualist Ramkishen Yadav, known popularly as Swami or Baba Ramdev, grew to fame among modern Indians and other groups for his use of the practice of yoga through mass yoga camps and TV shows, once referred to by the New York Times as "a yogic fusion of Richard Simmons, Dr. Oz and Oprah Winfrey." Focused also on political, social and agricultural reforms, Ramdev has been vocally opposed to fast food, Indian governmental corruption and poverty, which he claimed put his life in jeopardy, yet he remains a leading spiritualist, yoga guru and self-proclaimed healer.
International religious broadcaster, philanthropist, educator, religious leader, businessman and author M.G. "Pat" Robertson founded The Christian Broadcasting Network, the first Christian television network established in the U.S. and one of the world's largest television ministries in 1960. Since then, he has also founded numerous other projects like Operation Blessing International Relief and Development Corporation, Regent University, and the American Center for Law and Justice. The highly conservative Christian once ran for the GOP presidential nomination in 1988, but he did not receive it.
William F. "Billy" Graham is a Christian evangelist who "has preached the Gospel to more people in live audiences than anyone else in history." He gained international prominence during a 1949 Los Angeles Crusade — a series of meetings set to run three weeks that were so popular they were extended to more than eight weeks, with overflowing crowds every night. Since then, Graham's ministry has continued to grow through the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, his numerous books, TV programs and teachings. Graham has appeared 55 times on Gallup's "Ten Most Admired Men in the World" poll.
South African minister and activist Desmond Tutu rose to international fame during the 1980s as an opponent of the racial segregation system known as apartheid. The Anglican minister was the first black, South African Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, and has used his fame to become a life-long defender of human rights, which earned him numerous awards like the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 and Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. Archbishop Tutu once donated his cells to the Human Genome Project and has been called "South Africa's moral conscience."
Physician, speaker and New York Times best-selling author Deepak Chopra is a doctor of internal medicine and endocrinology who focuses on alternative healing and medicines and the mind-body connection. Chopra began to publish self-help books on New Age spirituality and alternative medicine in the 1980s and has heavily criticized drug-dependency for healing and pain management. At his "Chopra Center," the Indian-born doctor employs mantra-based meditation practices and teaches healing apart from science and medicine. He also writes for the San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post's "On Faith" section and The Huffington Post.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now known world-wide as Pope Benedict XVI, experienced the Nazi backlash against the Catholic church when he was a boy, and it served to strengthen his faith and deepen his convictions. As a student and teacher of philosophy, he grew through the ranks of the Catholic Church receiving increasingly honorable positions until he was named His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI of the Roman Catholic Church. The theologically conservative Pope is known for speaking frankly and with great clarity and is a vocal defender of traditional Catholic doctrine and values.
Religious scholar and former nun Karen Armstrong has written extensively on comparative religion, drawing parallels between Islam, Judaism and Christianity and examining how faith shapes history and drives current events. Her first book, "A History of God" became an international best-seller and made her name famous in the world of religion. Frequently called upon to speak and teach on faith, Armstrong has been called "arguably the most lucid, wide-ranging and consistently interesting religion writer today."
Swiss-born Erich von Däniken is often surrounded by controversy for his claims about the influences of alien life on early human culture based on his love of astronomy and fascination with flying saucers. He found fame almost overnight as a result of the television special "In Search of Ancient Astronauts," and his book "Chariots of the Gods?" was an immediate best-seller in the U.S.
von Däniken is the co-founder of the Archaeology, Astronautics and SETI Research Association and designed the theme park Mystery Park in Interlaken, Switzerland.
As an Islamic Studies professor at George Washington University, Iranian Seyyed Hossein Nasr is a respected scholar of Islamic, religious and comparative studies in both the Western and Islamic worlds. Nasr is considered an authority on Persian philosophy, scientific philosophy and metaphysics. Nasr has helped expand planning and expansion of Islamic and Iranian studies academic programs in universities like Princeton, the University of Utah and the University of Southern California. Fluent in six languages, Nasr is also the author of 50 books and 500 articles.