Monday, December 31, 2007

2 out of 3 vote for a New Year's No Show

In the closing hours of our online poll, 74 respondents have voted so far, with 67% saying they don't expect a message from Gurumayi to be the advertised "sweet surprise" in store for the 2008 New Year's Message.

If you haven't yet cast your vote, this is your last chance. Poll closes at the stroke of midnight, EST. The poll can be found on the right hand margin of "Rituals" homepage.

I promise to reveal what the surprise actually was, as soon as I can persuade someone who spent $100 to hear it, to tell it to me for free.

Happy New Year, everyone. Thanks for coming along for the ride!


Tuesday, December 25, 2007

I'll be wrapped around your finger

I'm sitting on my living room couch feeling like a small-time pot dealer, facing an ottoman stacked with messy piles of twenties, tens and fives. But instead of a fat blunt, I'm enjoying a glass or three of cheap champagne, and rather than counting my weekly take I'm doling out the annual Christmas bonuses for my apartment building staff. I prefer to get this done before Christmas so the boys can do their shopping, but this year I'm late. Which kinda takes some of the joy out of it for me. So I open a bottle of Comte de Gascogne and ride the elevator down with three flutes in hand, to share a toast to Christmas with my favorite doormen. And now I'm back with the balance of the bottle.

It's ridiculous that liquor stores are closed by law on Christmas day in the U.S. (the only day of the year that we're like Europe, where everything's locked up tighter than a Spanish virgin for yuletide.) I'd like another glass of holiday cheer, but the bottle's empty and I didn't plan ahead. Or, rather, I did. Planned not to drink alone on Christmas. Planned not to feel lonely, too. Well, as my Grandma used to say when things didn't quite go her way..."plans of mice and men."

Didn't Gurumayi once quote one of the Sufi poets, Rumi or Hafiz, in a talk in which she riffed on the theme "let your loneliness cut more deep"? I didn't hear that talk first hand, but got the download soon afterward from my friend Kathy and, the next time I was at S. Fallsburg ashram, I bought a volume of Hafiz--yes, it was Hafiz, I remember now--hoping to read the poem that Gurumayi had quoted from. Except that I got the wrong collection of his poetry.

It wasn't until years later, in 2005, that I finally read the source poem. I was at Burning Man, the annual arts festival/survivalist camp in the Nevada desert, sitting in an authentic Navajo tent erected by a wonderfully odd caucasian woman who lived her intense attachment to indigenous culture, surrounded by camp mates who had taken refuge from the stultifying midday heat. I'd brought a bottle of chilled white wine to share, and a beautiful young woman from San Francisco brought out "The Subject Tonight is Love", another volume of Hafiz' poetry. We passed around the wine and the book, taking turns drinking and reading aloud. When it came my turn I opened the slim paperback at random and began reading:

"Don't surrender your loneliness
So quickly.
Let it cut more deep.

Let it ferment and season you
As few human
Or even divine ingredients can.

Something missing in my heart tonight
Has made my eyes so soft,
My voice
So tender,

My need of God

I felt something like a mixture of joy and longing then, and my voice broke with emotion as I read. Of course, I was a little drunk (like Hafiz!) and quite probably dehydrated as well. Still, although Gurumayi had already gone missing for over a year by then, I experienced the old tug of attachment and wondered, what made her choose that passage as a basis for her talk? What was she trying to tell us, or more likely, reveal about herself?

A few days later, just after the climactic event of the week when the giant wooden effigy of "the Man" was burned, I was walking across the great expanse of desert known as the playa, hand in hand with my friend who had brought the book of Hafiz. As we walked she twisted her hand in mine for warmth and, a moment later, my right ring finger suddenly felt naked. Snatching my hand away I realized with panic that my Gurumayi signature ring was gone.

(That particular ring was precious to me; I'd acquired it during the years when the bookstore went all out to commission works of real beauty. It had twin pillars on its face surmounted by Gurumayi's signature, elegantly carved in Devanagari script against a delicately worked field of wavering gold, like a field of wheat shimmering in the sun.)

I grabbed for a flashlight and began sweeping it back and forth across the desert floor. But I knew almost immediately it was useless. Nothing is more disorienting than the desert at night, absent light or fixed points of reference. We could have been just feet away from where the ring fell and searched all night without finding it.

Still, I persisted and roped my friends into the effort as well. They were game, although my despair at losing the ring was harshing everyone's post-burn emotional high. Eventually, reluctantly, I called off the search and we all trooped off together in the direction of one of the dancing pavillions. As we were locking up our bikes and stashing anything we didn't need to dance, I remembered Gurumayi saying "If you lose something, let it go. Your karma with that object is over. It belongs to someone else now, and will bring them blessings."

I looked down on the desert floor and spotted...a penny. Which was extraordinary because money is superfluous at Burning Man. Nothing outside of coffee and ice can be bought or sold, and those only during a few hours each morning. It is the one place where you can lose your wallet and never miss it. The entire camp is run on a "gift economy": If there is something you want or need that you didn't pack in with you, just ask. Someone will have it and gladly give it to you, and visa versa.

As I've written before, whenever I'd find a coin on the ground I used to take it as a sign that my thoughts in that moment were blessed by the Guru. I later came to abjure such "magical thinking," but in that moment I believed and surrendered the ring to the desert with something akin to equanimity.

I never replaced that ring. I told myself that the bookstore was only offering pale imitations, but it was something more. I'd remembered that this was not the first Guru ring I'd lost. In 1994, close to the seventh anniversary of my Diva Diksha, I was playing in the surf off Long Island with my dog, Rama. As I clapped my hands to get him more and more excited, my ring flew off my finger and slipped beneath the waves. I dove again and again, frantically searching for it, but of course, it was gone, swallowed up by the ocean as completely as my next ring would be by the desert. I shouldn't have been wearing it in the water, I reprimanded myself. But, the truth was, I never removed that ring. It was, for me, as precious as a wedding ring. I'd brought it up to Gurumayi in darshan and asked her to put it on me, and when she asked which finger I gave her the ring finger of my right hand. Any time I thought of her and wanted to send her my love, I'd kiss the blue enamel signature set into its band of gold. It got to be that I'd do that so often that my boyfriend would joke: "Stop making out with your ring, already."

If something leaves you, let it go. This was the second time the natural world conspired to rob me of this token of fealty to the Guru, and this time I began to wonder if it wasn't for the best. If it wasn't a sign that the union I celebrated by wearing those rings was, finally, over.

Something is still missing in my heart, tonight. But it hasn't made my longing for God more clear. It hasn't done anything as simple as that.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

I Am Grateful For These

K, you've got me started thinking. Thank you for that. I recognize that the list of things you loved about SY and now miss terribly is a litany of loss. I have my own litany; we all do. But, there are other things I have to acknowledge that I take with me. Herewith a partial list of those:

1. When I see someone on the street, or subway, and I'm tempted to have a judgment about them at first sight, I stop. Reflexively, I think: "they, too, are God." I don't claim to know what this means. It might mean nothing at all. But, it brings my judgment up short. Usually. And sometimes I even walk away with a renewed sense of the common dignity we all share, and I find myself wishing that person well.

2. I no longer think of myself as a sinner. In fact, the idea strikes me as absurd. For someone raised in the Roman Catholic tradition this is...a radical change in self-concept. To no longer have a majority of my inner life consumed with calculations over degrees of guilt, negotiations between venial and mortal sins and the need for confession, repentance, forgiveness, penance... this is immense. For me.

3. I can meditate. I can fall into a steady posture and quiet my thoughts and plunge inside. I don't anymore. But I trust that I still can. Like riding a bike, it's something you don't forget. My body remembers the posture, my mind remembers the mantra. Meditation was a refuge for me, a sweet surcease from the incessant demands of the world. I hope I can find it again.

Oh, God. This is hard. Because when taking account of those things I'm grateful for as a result of my practice of SY, many things crowd forward to be acknowledged, and I have to reluctantly dismiss them. For instance, what did it mean that we would smile at one another over chai before the Guru Gita, our eyes shining with joy, and silently acknowledge each other's state, which was really our shared state of bliss, of unaltered happiness? What was the unsaid connection we felt in those early morning hours at South Fallsburgh amrit? A common ecstasy produced by our united good thoughts, intentions, feelings, wishes? Or, the muted glow that junkies pass around with a lazy smile and tired nod?

4. I've met and befriended people in SY whose goodness takes my breath away. Friends whose purity of heart and intention I've never had cause to question. (I'm thinking of Nina, Iwona, Kathy, Stephan and Anne, Willa, and George, my George...) A few people have even expressed the same opinion of me. Something about this path invoked that in each of us. Yes, this was abused. This unquestioning, trusting goodness was exploited. That was...evil. But, it doesn't take away what I've seen and loved in others. And now, I know what to look for. I trust that this is there, in anyone I would call a friend. I guess I believe that at their core, most people are good.

5. I find it much easier to forgive. Not because I've become a more forgiving person, but because many of the small transgressions we all traffic in every day no longer seem so important to me. Has my ego shrunk? Not likely. I like my ego nice and strong these days. It just has a tougher shell. Guess all that knocking around had it's silver lining, after all.

6. I can talk about spirituality with others in this unmediated medium of the internet, and know that we all share unspoken assumptions and common beliefs and a language which, though corrupted, frames our experiences in ways we all understand. This is not, I realize, a direct product of SY practice (which officially circumscribed such unofficial dialogue, lest anyone start comparing notes and realize that the gig was up) It is, rather, an unintended and quite wonderful bi-product of our practice. Still, it could not have been possible without the intense, shared experience of the "laboratory of the Shakti" that was SY.

7. I know enough not to give my heart away again for a few hits of Shakti and a flashing blue pearl. I now know that my heart belongs entirely to me. In an ironic, sad way I finally understand the teaching that god dwells within my own heart, as me. Ironic, because the one who gave me this teaching sought to claim my heart as her own. Sad, because so many years have passed and, dazzled by the outward show, I've never made any serious attempt to claim the treasure within. But, at least I know it is there.

Well, this is a start. It is a benchmark of sorts, for me. You can't begin picking among the ashes for those few things that are left to you until you've accepted that there has been a fire. A really bad fire.

Please! Have at me with your comments. I'm feeling kinda open and vulnerable and susceptible to whatever comes my way. That's one thing we were never encouraged to feel in SY, n'est-ce pas?

PS Zennie. Start your blog! Please. There are so many correspondences between the yoga we practiced and addiction. I look forward to hearing what you have to say on this subject, and others as well.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Is she? Or isn't she? Only her hairdresser and speechwriters know for sure!

SYDA has announced that those who attend the New Year's Day global audio satsang will receive "A Sweet Surprise". Speculation runs rampant along two lines:

Is Gurumayi going to reappear and give the Siddha Yoga Message for 2008?

Or, is the "sweet surprise" we have in store an "all day sucker" handed out as prasad?

Scroll over to the right and cast your vote in "Rituals" first-ever poll! Who knows? Maybe someone "sweet" is watching and waiting for us to say we expect her back!

PS. Apologies for the irreverence of this post. But, as we've all been toyed with for going on four years as to whether G will make a showing, I find a healthy sense of humor invaluable. Feel free to disagree in the comments to this post. But vote first! Believe me, South Fallsburgh is watching.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Spectrum of Our Beliefs

"One thing that I have on mind, am I the only reader of this blog who is, as of today, skeptical of these abuses? Can I also ask you, Seekher, your opinion about this serious matter (if you feel comfortable about writing it)? I think it would be quite good to have more feedbacks.


I've been following the thread of comments to my last post with great interest but not much free time; which is just as well. I prefer to hear a number of opinions and voices speak on this indelicate, central, alleged, irrefutable, supposed matter of abuse. I characterize it with this string of antonyms because that seems to sum up the main points of contention in both camps.

Here's what I'd like to say. There is only one camp and we are all in it together. Like Anon 70 and others who have contributed to this thread, I feel there are only degrees of belief and disbelief—whether in the infallibility of the Guru, or in the culpability of SY leaders. This spectrum contains all the colors and shades of our collective belief system. And it is possible to move back and forth between them. In fact, it is required.

When I first began looking on the Internet for information about SY a few years ago, I happened on a message board that contained postings from an angry and disillusioned community of people who had self-identified as having left SY. It appalled and fascinated me. Never before had I experienced people voicing such passionate, forbidden dissent from the "official line" of SY. I joined the LSY group as an anonymous "lurker" and read for a few days, then abruptly discontinued my membership. Later, I told a friend that the act of having read there had "cratered my devotion." I now more fully understand what I meant—having accessed that forum I could no longer see the Guru in a universally beneficent, wholly good light (and what was the nature of devotion in Siddha Yoga if not nursing and nurturing these very feelings about the Guru?)

Much of what I read at LSY felt venomous, particularly to someone who was accustomed to following the "never a discouraging word" discourse of the ashram. Still, I harbored doubts about the Guru for the first time in my life. What I wanted more than anything was to shut those doubts down as quickly as possible. I had read enough online to know that anyone who posted at LSY saying that they were still "in" SY would not be welcome. Faced with choosing the path I knew and loved and had followed for years, or reaching out to a group of (I thought at the time) often bitter, sometimes hostile people, I chose to ignore my doubts and renew my practice.

I might have been successful at that for my whole life, had Gurumayi not disappeared. I've written here that the last time I saw her was at the 2004 message talk in South Fallsburgh: "Experience the Power Within. Kundalini Shakti." I loved that message more than all the others. I felt that Gurumayi was returning to the roots of our tradition, and I welcomed the renewed focus on the Goddess with the attendant release of Gurumayi's Kundalini Stavaha chanting CD, a chant I had become enamored with years before after reading a slim volume of Baba's commentary on it, that the foundation had subsequently let go out of print.

But what I thought was a renewal began to seem more and more like a farewell, as the years passed and no news of Gurumayi was forthcoming. More disturbing, I felt that my connection to the inner Guru had been severed. Despite trying to maintain devotion through my spiritual practices they seemed dry, or more to the point, unnecessary. As many have noted in their comments here, I was a bhakta, and Gurumayi was the focus of my devotional life, the object of my contemplations, meditations and chanting. I never had any trouble summoning up a mental image of her, or remembering how she had caressed a particular teaching with her exquisite phrasing, enunciating it perfectly in her inimitable, darkly lush, spellbinding voice.

No more. I felt Gurumayi slipping away--something that in the past would have filled me with such unease that I would instantly redouble my practices. For years I had thought of myself as being like a dog on a chain that Gurumayi held in her hands. The chain was very long, and she let me wander very far but at some point I'd reach the end with a yank and be called home. (Strange now to think that this was a comforting image, me as a pet of the Guru, but it was.) Now the pole that that tethered me to my center was gone.

Eventually, I don't know why or how, I became angry too. Not because I knew or believed anything about abuse in SY, or financial mismanagement, or instances of crushing cruelty, or because I felt that staff members were being exploited. No, I became angry for a very selfish and very human reason: I had been told and sold a lifelong connection with a spiritual teacher, who was abruptly MIA. I was angry at the conjecture I heard at the ashram and centers that Gurumayi had withdrawn herself as a teaching to find the Guru within. I was angry that there were no straight answers as to where she was, or if and when she would return. People I ran into who had recently been to SF told me she was in India. People I ran into who had come from India said, no, she is in SF. For once, the official line from SYDA management was not damage control, or spin, or a comforting platitude, but only complete silence.

If Gurumayi had withdrawn for a time, or even permanently, in order to shut down the cult of personality that had grown up around her like poisonous weeds, and which was strangling her devotees' true practice of the teachings—why not state so? Why not have one last global message and deliver the healing blow to everyone in the worldwide sangham at once? Why the secrecy and silence? Why the privileged access to (mis)information that in retrospect, always characterized communication in SY, i.e. an inner circle knows everything, they communicate the official line to "higher ups" in ashrams and centers, who read it as an announcement in programs or, in this case, keep it a secret and say nothing at all?

So, I began this blog. To break the silence and get some answers. Soon after I took that step I realized that I could now visit LSY and read there with detachment, objectively seeking truth about all the stories that had been hinted at for years. I ignored the message boards of exSY'ers and read the archives which were first gathered by Pendragon and are now maintained by Daniel Shaw. Many of the first-hand experiences there are highly personal, but still moving accounts of people who lived at the ashram, or were close to the inner circle, and who had left after becoming disillusioned by what they saw. These were not accounts that chronicled abuse or crimes that would convince a skeptic. I considered them carefully but read on.

I soon found other accounts that were much more objectively incriminating. I link to the pages that contain those testimonies here for the convenience of those who would like to read and consider the information under discussion. For those who have already read these and considered them, I ask your patience—they must be a sad and repetitive litany. Others perhaps might find these links useful in navigating the chronologically unorganized archives of LSY testimony and evidence.

The first account I took very seriously was the letter of resignation Swami Abhayananda sent to Muktananda in 1981. I found it to be a heart-wrenching statement from someone who had given his life to a cause he now felt he had to renounce, because his personal investigations had led him to discover testimony from long time SY insiders, whom he knew and personally trusted, as to the abuse they experienced and witnessed, including threats of violence from members of Muktananda's inner circle. That document can be found here:

Next I read an article published two years later, in 1983, by William Rodarmor in CoEvolution Quarterly. The article documented the same instances of abuse and physical threats and, significantly, implicated Malti as one of the insiders who counseled girls who had been abused by warning them to keep silent. The magazine independently contacted the individuals behind the accusations made in the article and verified their testimony (while the accusations were denied by SYDA, neither the magazine nor the author were sued for libel by the foundation, a fact I personally find significant.) That article, and an accompanying commentary from Abhayananda can be read here:

The article in CQ appeared during the turbulent period just before Muktananda's death, in which he installed first Nityananda as his sole successor, then Chidvilasanda some months later as his co-successor. Like other devotees who joined SY after the succession drama was resolved in favor of Gurumayi, I knew little or nothing of what went on at that time. That changed when I read Sarah Caldwell's scholarly account of those years, in which she attempted to reconcile "two apparently contradictory theses: namely that Swami Muktananda (1908-1982) was an enlightened teacher and practitioner of an esoteric form of Tantric sexual yoga, and that he also engaged in actions that were not ethical, legal, or liberatory with many disciples."

I found this fascinating and beautifully written work very convincing, precisely because it was penned by a devotee who was a first-hand witness to the events that unfolded, and who was trying to find a way to accept them as legitimate without justifying what she knew to be abuse, so that she could maintain her faith in the path. Interestingly, Caldwell's account has been criticized not by SYDA, but by exSY people who note that she was a devotee of (the then exiled) Nityananda's when she wrote the piece, and therefore, compelled to rehabilitate Baba's reputation because the legitimacy of her own Guru hung in the balance.

Her article can be read here:

Permit me a diversion to provide some personal background. I joined SY in 1987, after the sex scandals and succession drama had receded into the background. Sure, there were whispers, but the people I heard them from on the "inside" dismissed the allegations as baseless, while those on the "outside" who brought these things up I discounted as jealous, or just not "yogic". It would be seven years before I had to seriously question that attitude, but that day did come with the publication of Lis Harris' article in The New Yorker, "Oh, Guru, Guru, Guru" in 1994. I was a serious devotee by that time, having spent weeks out of every of summer in SF doing Intensive seva, and having gone on tour with Gurumayi in Italy, Germany and Poland, as well as taking numerous sevas at my local center. When the article appeared my seva supervisor, a woman with an amazing heart and mind that I trusted without question and whom I still respect greatly, urged all her sevites to read the article and make up their own minds. That impressed me; I had expected a blanket edict to avoid reading it. She even passed out copies. That moved me to read it. The thing is, I had worked at The New Yorker during this period of my life. I knew the integrity of the magazine and its iron-clad rules about fact-checking and verifying sources. This was no sensational tabloid cover story. This was an exhaustively researched, thoroughly documented account of violence, blackmail, sexual abuse and rape within the highest levels of SY leadership. It can be read here:

I read it and I ignored it. Basically, I told myself: "it's not my experience." I took refuge in my experiences, I contemplated them, I took more Intensives to see if the Shakti would still be there, still be strong for me and it was. I knew people, good people who were dropping away and I felt bad for them. I still loved them in my heart, still wished them well, prayed that they would find the grace to return again.

One of the fallouts of the NYer article was the founding of the online community LSY, in which people who had left SY could converse, compare notes and cross-check each other's stories for the first time. As part of this effort to construct a chronology of abuse, the founder of that forum, Pendragon, repeatedly petitioned Swami Abhayanada to issue a follow-up statement confirming the allegations he had made years earlier in his letter of resignation. He eventually consented (though even Abhayanada was put-off by Pendragon's "suspicious and combative" tone.) This letter goes into more detail about the events surrounding his departure and the abuse of young women he heard about first hand. The letter can be found here:

As the online community grew in numbers and as the corporate structure of SY began to decline in power, some of those who were abused felt confident enough to tell their stories first-hand. Joan Radha Bridges posted her story of sexual abuse at the hands of Baba Muktananda only after reading LSY for years. It can be read here:

Other accounts substantiate the sexual abuse of devotees at the hands of George Afif and Ram Butler, trusted heads of SY organization and teachings. But I won't post links for these here. If you've read the links above you've done enough homework to decide what you believe and what is right for you. No, you don't have to become an expert in "cults" to come to a decision about SY's dirty laundry. But, if you're reading here at all it seems you want to explore and find the truth out for yourself.

This post is really a continuation of the discussion begun in the long thread of comments left to my last post. It's neither an essay, nor a considered statement about one or another aspect of Siddha Yoga culture, teachings or practices. I do intend to return to those. But it seems we have gathered here a community of people who are in various stages of coming to grips with what SY was and where it is now. The links I've included here are merely things I've read that I've found helpful in doing just that.

To answer your question, Pp, that I appended at the beginning of this post; no, you are not the only reader who is skeptical that serious abuses occurred in SY. Many others share your apprehension and doubt. Unfortunately, after studying all the evidence linked to here, and more, I can no longer count myself among that number.

So, after reading all this you might ask—do I consider myself to be "in" or "out" of Siddha Yoga?

My answer would have to be: Yes.

Looking forward to all of your responses and comments.