"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.