Thursday, October 28, 2010


The last time I checked RoD was two weeks ago and everything was quiet on the Western front, as the old folks used to say. Imagine my surprise to visit today and see some 70+ comments on the last post. Granted, more then a few of them were dups (ahem, AMPA) which I have laboriously deleted down to their originals, but still a lively discussion on multiple fronts has obviously sprung back to life here.

I'm particularly pleased that the innie/outtie debate is not one of these. What a fun food fight we all had over at Salon! Now that it has finally wound down, though, it's great to have this place all to ourselves. (As always, current SY practitioners are welcome here. As always, none but the most intrepid seem to ever comment out of fear of being put on 'the list'. Who is left in SF to maintain said dreaded list is an open question! Nevertheless, it seems just us outties milling around here.)

There are several dominant themes that have emerged in the comments to the last post, and rather than reply to them there, I thought I'd tease two of these out further by making them the subject of a new post:

1. artsquiggle commented that his attention has turned from SY to his practical life which, partly as a result of his many years of practice, has been "left in shambles". Another reader seconded that emotion:
  • "My practical life went down the tubes. cannot get back those 25 + years of endless exhausting seva and every last nickel I had of dakshina spent while I should have been developing a career. The opprotunity cost of spending the most productive years of your life in Siddha Yoga, astronomical. Lately there are many anniversaries, retirements, celebrations of accomplishment to attend, not for me. I cringe to think of how with all the talent, energy I had when I came to Siddha Yoga in my early twenties, I managed to not establish myself securely. No, I burned it all up, flushed it down the toilet of a complete charade." 

2. AMPA writes that his wife has fallen into a deep depression over G's disappearing act:
  • "My wife survives on my very sufficient income and other resources rather nicely. BUT, the survival of her SELF-IDENTITY is still utterly dependent on Siddha Yoga. Her despondency on the state of the "path" and the unavailability of Malti to her adoring devotees, makes her utterly, crushingly depressed. Everything has suffered as a result of it in our family life. She is often totally unclear in her thinking, her judgement and discernment are often utterly clouded, her ability to think sharply is now totally dulled and so is her former ability to get things done quickly. It's like she's moving in slow motion and I know it's only partially based on physical fatigue. The emotional fatigue and baggage Malti has left her with, is painfully sad to watch. I feel so good to be free of any dependency on the Guru anymore. And I watch her, in her despair, and it makes me despair for her." 

These are both issues that all of us are dealing with in greater or lesser ways. For instance, I just applied for a job at a major non-profit and was asked to provide evidence of my prior volunteer commitments. How, I wondered, could I not list Siddha Yoga? I have literally spent years in 'selfless service' to the Guru and the path; my bona fides for giving back should be spotless. But, then again, how can I reference those years, what actual value did they have beyond enriching a fleecing charlatan now fled? Even if I bucked up and tried to spin that experience into something useful to humanity, who is around to verify all that work? Who could I possibly list as a contact? Of course, I have it relatively easy compared to many, many others; I held a job 'in-the-world' throughout my many years of practice. Those who were on the 'inside' and are now out face a much tougher dilemma since their primary experience of work--in what is rapidly being recognized as a cult--is in danger of being called into question.

Please, if you have made this transition from on-staff to in-the-world work, consider posting your experience here. Many people like Anon above are struggling to re-establish themselves in a tough job market, with little or no savings, and real questions about how to craft their 'seva' into relevant experience an employer will value. I think it is very important, as well, that we re-affirm for each other that what seems like wasted effort now was truly was truly important work to the community of believers at the time. None of the wonderful experiences we still cherish of our time in SY could have happened without the 'endless exhausting seva' of the ashram staff.

Finally, the issue of depression caused by the dissolution of belief in SY. Some of us, like AMPA, have loved ones who are still tenaciously clinging to belief despite the obvious (to us) slow-death of the Siddha path. But, as Older but Wiser observed, if we are honest with ourselves we've all gone through depression over the dying of what we thought was our light. I still struggle with it from time to time. There is no replacement for the feelings of certainty, security and absolute safety that a global belief system like Siddha Yoga provides. If we don't jump to another belief system, if we are now mostly allergic to belief systems, we're thrown back onto our own resources. We're left trusting in only ourselves during a time in life and in an economy when so much seems so precarious. It is scary. We need each other to get through this.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Waving Adieu, Adieu, Adieu

An idol of Lord Ganesha is hoisted by a crane into Hussainsagar Lake in Hyderabad on September 22, 2010.

That would be waving and that would be crying,
Crying and shouting and meaning farewell,
Farewell in the eyes and farewell at the centre,
Just to stand still without moving a hand.

In a world without heaven to follow, the stops
Would be endings, more poignant than partings, profounder,
And that would be saying farewell, repeating farewell,
Just to be there and just to behold.

To be one's singular self, to despise
The being that yielded so little, acquired
So little, too little to care, to turn
To the ever-jubilant weather, to sip

One's cup and never to say a word,
Or to sleep or just to lie there still,
Just to be there, just to be beheld,
That would be bidding farewell, be bidding farewell.

One likes to practice the thing. They practice,
Enough, for heaven. Ever-jubilant,
What is there here but weather, what spirit
Have I except it comes from the sun?

--wallace stevens

Thursday, September 23, 2010

When Kristians Attempt Kriyas

The demon-obsessed members of a church in Texas prove you don't need shaktipat to shake, rattle and roll in worship. Go on and fast-forward through the thoroughly uninspiring woman screaming at the beginning of this clip; my fave part comes 48 seconds in when a man appears to be trying to vomit up the mother of all hairballs as his children sit bored-out-of-their-gourds alongside. And you thought YOU had it bad as a hall monitor:

Friday, September 17, 2010

Because We Finally Heard, Never More Another Word

Since we are inventing letters from Gurumayi's pen, why not music videos from her playlist?

Because we all once loved each other so well.

Because we never will again.

Because it was all just smoke and shadows in the end.

Because. Because. Because. Because..

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Comments Are Now Unmoderated on RoD

Giving this a whirl, so let's try to play nice. Trolls will have their comments deleted and be banned from coming out from under their bridges ever again.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

HOUSEKEEPING: Ignore Comments Too Large Warnings from Blogger

I get these too when I comment, and I've learned to ignore them because my comments always go through in their entirety. Of course, I can check on that instantly, while you all have to wonder until I post your comment. So, wonder no more. It is a Blogger glitch and I am in contact with them to see if it somehow only affects RoD, or if it is part of a comprehensive "upgrade" that blogger recently made to tie it more tightly to evil Google.

So, no need to cut and paste and resubmit into several different comments. And there is certainly no need to edit yourself to avoid having your comment be "too big". This ain't the home of the 45 second experience share, folks. Have at it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

What We Who Have Left Would Ask of You Who Stay

This is a letter I submitted to Salon this morning after they briefly re-opened submissions to the comments page of their article on Siddha Yoga. It has not gone up on the site; perhaps they are again monitoring new letters before posting them, given the huge number of submissions they have already published:

Siddha Yoga may be a house divided, but I still think there is a chance that those who left and those who have stayed can stake out some middle ground. It is in the best interest of both sides to do so. Many of us who have abandoned our practice still seek some kind of permanent closure to a chapter in our lives that ended as abruptly as it once began with the "big bang" of our shaktipat experience. And those who have remained are an embattled minority struggling with the same issues that caused the rest of us to leave--only they cannot talk freely and openly about their fears, doubts and questions, because of the culture of secrecy that surrounds everything having to do with the Siddha Guru.

What is needed is an honest, open dialogue minus the kind of invective that plagued many of the letters here (however slim the chance for that may be.) If we could all sit down and have that heart-to-heart, here are the hard questions I would ask of those who continue to practice.

The first big question I have is: how do you deal emotionally with the fact that Gurumayi has disappeared? She has not been seen in public since New Year's Day 2004--which is just a few months shy of the time required before a person is declared legally dead. In a spiritual path dedicated to the worship of the living perfected master (and whatever else Siddha Yoga is, it is certainly that) this is a crushing blow. Particularly given that the "official" position of the SYDA Foundation is to pretend this never happened. In this very article in Salon they write:

"For almost three decades, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, the spiritual head of the Siddha Yoga path, has guided students through her teachings."

This is a pretty piece of propaganda. Notice that they do not say Gurumayi is still in an active teaching role, rather, she guides "through her teachings." This kind of obfuscation is shameful, and you who remain faithful certainly deserve better. So, the second thing I would ask is:

How do you justify to yourself that SYDA refuses to explain where Gurumayi is, why she retired from an active role, and when, if ever, she will resume her role as Guru? Is it because you truly do find her guidance within in the form of the "inner Guru"? And has this need to accept her disappearance without any official explanation fueled your inner quest, strengthened your identification with the inner Guru, or does it ever rankle, does it ever make you question the path?

Finally, whenever SYDA is forced to address the question of the future of Siddha Yoga, it never, ever mentions Gurumayi. Instead, it performs a neat sleight of hand, inserting itself in place of the Guru with uninspiring formulations that only a lawyer could love, such as:

"The purpose of the SYDA Foundation is to protect, preserve and disseminate the teachings... for future generations."

Who are these future generations, and why do they take precedence over the current generation of young people who were orphaned by the Guru before they were old enough to understand that loss? You know, the teenagers and young adults who learned of the Guru from their mother's knees, who sat beside her chair during darshan, the fresh young faces whom Gurumayi once claimed she was concentrating on teaching? Do you remember when Gurumayi told us old-timers during her last Labor Day talk in Fallsburg that "your begging bowls are full" and it was now time to turn her attention to the next generation? Except that she didn't. Can you remember subsequent summers in South Fallsburg full of programs for young people, special Intensives held exclusively for the under 21 set, courses designed especially to help teenagers and young adults apprehend and communicate the teachings? No, of course not, because they never happened. Outside of a few satsangs that Gurumayi held for the children of ashram residents and, of course, a few treacly children's books and tapes, this new flowering of Siddha Yoga died on the vine.

I guess it all comes down to this: if your own children are growing up without the Siddha Guru, how do you imagine that future generations will be attracted to become her disciples?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Just Living is Enough

NOTE: the following letter is from the Salon webpage dedicated to SYDA's response to the recent article on Gurumayi and Eat, Pray, Love. I'm reposting it here because as I read it, I wondered if maybe I had written it myself while sleepwalking, it so encapsulates my experience. Thank you, Lucid 2010 for so eloquently stating what so many of us have gone through, finally putting the path in our rear view mirrors.

just living is enough

I began my slow departure from SY the day after Gurumayi delivered her 2004 New Year’s address. My exit wasn’t dramatic and didn't occur overnight. It took years to become involved with SY and its taken years to move away. The fact that I’m reading and posting in forums like this tells me I’m still going through the process.

My main reason for leaving? The short answer is one day I finally felt strong enough to stop suppressing my intuition and listen to what the voice inside me had been trying to tell me for years: despite the wonders of the path and my largely positive experience, there was something sinister at SY's core.

I decided I no longer needed to know, see, or have some traumatic “direct experience” of what was rotten about SY. I decided it was more important to honor myself, my intuition and the voice I’d tried so hard to silence that kept telling me it was time to go.

It’s wrenching having to end your relationship with the ultimate parent, let alone discard your entire spiritual belief system. It is a death, to be sure. I was a shell for a year. But gradually I re-grew from the inside out and am back living comfortably in the world now, both feet on the ground.

It’s funny, “the world” was the term we used to use whenever we referred to anything outside of SY. All the mishaps and human foibles that occurred in “the world” provided Gurumayi with an endless stream of anecdotes for her talks. And we all laughed right along with her because we were all in on the joke. Though we did feel pity for all those poor souls out there who were still “asleep," we also knew we had been blessed. We were the lucky ones who understood the difference between life in “the world” and life with the guru. And in SY there was never any question about which was the better side to be on.

But, for all it’s horrors and yes, joys too, now I’m back out here I’m kinda digging it. My day-to-day existence is no longer dominated by some belief system I must incessantly adhere to in order to avoid dropping off into the abyss of delusion. The world isn’t a bubble that can be ruptured. The world isn’t a sets of beliefs that can be threatened by an article at a website, or shattered by some secret someone's hiding.

The world is too old and too big for all that.

Once I got some distance from my SY experience, and reached a middle point somewhere between true believer and total skeptic, the entire thing became far more fascinating to me than when I was involved. For me, the whole SY phenomenon is far more interesting when viewed from where I am today (halfway through my life, having traveled, worked for a cultish corporation or two, and become a parent) vs. where I was when I encountered SY (a depressed teenager, desperate for a “way out,” open to/with absolutely no frame of reference for anything).

When you are in SY you can spot others who have “met Gurumayi” (a designation, by the way, which doesn’t require having actaully met her in person). Today, although it’s rare when I run into someone I recognize from my SY days, I can always tell whether or not they’re still practicing. It’s a guru-dar that apparently continues working even after you become a non-believer. People who’ve practiced SY intensely long-term have those unmistakable “ashram eyes.” It’s a look that privately spooked me even when I was involved in SY, but back then I told myself everyone had their own personal relationship with the shakti – some more intense than others – and I tried not to judge.

But what I notice now when I encounter these people today is the disconnect. And I’m talking here about devotees who’ve spent 15+ years in SY, lived in ashram, done tons of seva. Devotees who’ve been through all the wars and still stayed committed. For all their dedication, to me, kind and thoughtful as may be, these people seem less “present” not more. Even when I was in SY, the hard-core “sevittes” as we called them, seemed to in no way emulate their guru. For reasons I could never find the answers to, her good qualities didn't seem to rub off on them. Gurumayi supposedly embodied ultimate example everyone was aiming for, yet the entire time I was in SY I never met any long-term devotee who was anything like her. (And by her, I mean Gurumayi’s public persona, which is all I ever saw, and all the positive attributes that came with it.)

It’s a challenge to have much of a conversation with anyone still in SY. Heck, it was a challenge when I was in SY, if the topic of conversation wasn't in some way related to Gurumayi. There is now of course the elephant in the room that they’re still in SY and I’m not – something neither side can speak about. But mainly, because we’re no longer both on the same path, there simply isn’t much to say.

I have no regrets whatsoever about my participation in SY. I had to learn what I had to learn and there are far worse things I could have done with my time.

Would I let my own child go anywhere near SY, or something like it today?

No way in hell.

I’ve not read all of “Eat, Pray, Love” and won’t see the movie. There was a time in my life I’d have been first in line for both but now I have no interest in either beyond the conversation that’s occurring here.

I don’t meditate, chant or pray anymore.

Just living is enough.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Why 'Eat, Pray, Love' means you'll never see Gurumayi again

Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir Eat, Pray, Love is currently #1 on the New York Times non-fiction paperback best-seller list. It has been on top of the list for an astounding 183 weeks in a row. Last week the movie version starring America's sweetheart Julia Roberts opened in U.S. theatres, grossing nearly $30 million in its first four days alone. Eat, Pray, Love may have debuted in the number two slot at the box office behind Sylvester Stallone's Expendables, but it is doing very well for what is essentially a chick flick and industry experts predict it will gross well over $100 million dollars worldwide.

Of course, the "chick" of most interest to us in this flick is the guru whom Gilbert visits in India—the focus of the central "Pray" storyline. Gilbert never mentions her guru by name, but both the book and movie give enough identifying details to make plain that it is Gurumayi. As Riddhi Shah notes in the recent Salon article about Siddha Yoga's connection to the film, there are only so many female gurus in India who require daily chanting of the Guru Gita at their ashram in a small village outside of Mumbai. And who served as translator for their guru before ascending to the chair in their early twenties. It's not hard to do the math.

So, if Siddha Yoga and Gurumayi are the focus of the most successful publishing and movie phenomenon of the decade, why is the SYDA Foundation trying so hard to hide this fact? It's not as if Gilbert's account of her time in India is negative. Quite to the contrary, her glowingly positive experience has moved hundreds of thousands of people worldwide, awakening a hunger for authentic Eastern spirituality, Siddha Yoga style.

The first hint that SYDA was running from the connection between Gurumayi and Eat, Pray, Love came in a comment to this blog around the time of Gurumayi's birthday celebration this year. On June 25th, Anon wrote:

One writer...posted a Facebook greeting in celebration of 'the Birthday,' and referred in these offerings of love to 'the One I cannot name' (without the slightest touch of irony, Potter-wise). When asked to explain, the response was: 'Many of my Facebook friends are of a community that have the same Guru, and they lived in or visited the ashram I lived in for 20 years. Many of us have been asked by the Guru's foundation to not use her name, or the name of the path, in our own writings. It is a way of preserving the purity of the path, instead of letting it be seen or judged by what others say about it.'

Then, on August 8th, just in advance of Eat, Pray, Love's film release, SYDA issued a letter to the global sangham, stating in no uncertain terms that:

"The film is not a representation of the Siddha Yoga Path, and the SYDA Foundation has not been involved in the production of the film."

Why, you must be asking, would SYDA lie about something so simple to check? And why their insistence that current Siddha Yoga students maintain a vow of silence surrounding Gurumayi? The answers to both questions are simple, but you are not going to like them.

First, they are not lying: the account that Elizabeth Gilbert gave of Siddha Yoga does not represent the path as it is currently practiced. Her experience of a deep, personal soul connection with a living Guru may be achingly familiar to anyone who practiced Siddha Yoga under Baba or Gurumayi's tutelage during the 1970's, 80's or 90's--but those days are long gone and over for good. This is the inescapable meaning of SYDA's statement. It literally makes no sense otherwise. Gurumayi has not been seen in public since New Year's Day 2004--just four months shy of the time required before a person is declared legally dead. The physical Guru--who was the focus, the pole star, the living breathing center, the sine qua non of Siddha Yoga--is no more.

Which is why it makes all the sense in the world that SYDA would forbid Siddha Yoga students from reminiscing about the old days within earshot of a press and public newly eager to learn all about the path in the wake of Eat, Pray, Love. By throwing a veil of secrecy around Gurumayi under the pretense of protecting "the path" from the grubby attentions of outsiders, they are attempting to build a firewall around the past, cordoning and sealing it off from view. After all, nothing would be more inconvenient than for thousands and thousands of newcomers to arrive at the door of Siddha Yoga ashrams and centers around the world breathless for a glimpse of the living Guru when she is never coming back.

Think about it. During Siddha Yoga's expansionist phase under Gurumayi in the early 1990's every single devotee was urged, coached and prodded to share their experience of the path with family and friends. There was even a course dedicated solely to teaching people how to talk to their loved ones about Siddha Yoga. Major satellite Intensives sparked an international effort for Siddha Yoga students to reach out and enroll as many people as possible to come see the Guru, if not in person than via broadcast, and to receive Shaktipat initiation with just one touch, one look, one word from the living Guru. It was not only understood but taught that Siddha Yoga could only grow and fulfill its global mission person-to-person through heart to heart sharing.

But now that Gurumayi has gone missing, SYDA says that it is vitally important that Siddha Yoga students NOT share their experience of the path, going so far as to proscribe them from even using the names Gurumayi or Siddha Yoga in writing so as to preserve the purity of the path, instead of letting it be seen or judged by what others say about it.

You see, there must be a period of retrenchment and reversal, during which Siddha Yoga students are taught to NOT expect a relationship with the physical Guru, but to look for and find her in the teachings instead. This is the meaning behind SYDA's repeated insistence that its core purpose is to protect, preserve and disseminate the teachings for future generations. You only protect and preserve something that is finite in quantity--as in the past speeches and writings of Gurumayi and Baba, because there will not be anymore.

It is the SYDA Foundation that owns the copyright to all the countless hours of audio and video talks, all of Baba's and Gurumayi's books and writings. Siddha Yoga has become a legal fiction. Gurumayi has left the building. The Guru/Disciple relationship is dead. Only SYDA survives and it is doing nothing more than protecting its investment with these stilted, legalese announcements.

But it gets worse. While SYDA may have survived Gurumayi's unspoken abdication, it has no real hope of attracting new students to such a moribund and depressingly circumscribed path. If it did, it would have done everything in its power to capitalize on the Eat, Pray, Love juggernaut. One could imagine SYDA mounting an outreach effort that honestly stated Gurumayi has retired from an active role, but that invited new students to find her in the immutable, ancient teachings of the path. Ah, but there's the rub. The sole thing that made Siddha Yoga unique was not its mediation techniques, or chanting in sanskrit, or its gloss on Kashmir Shaivism (which is taught all over India) but its teachings on the seeker's inescapable need for a living, powerful, charismatic Guru. Like the one Elizabeth Gilbert met once upon a time and wrote so movingly of in her experience share par excellence--Eat, Pray, Love.

Listen. If you are still heroically practicing Siddha Yoga in the absence of its defining "Siddha Guru" you are being cynically exploited by SYDA. The Foundation has become a parasite that feeds off of your love, money and hard work and offers nothing in return but warnings to keep silent about your experiences lest you spoil "the purity of the path," and the empty promise of extending the teachings to future generations---the same teachings that are belied by the ghosts of Gurus past.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

RoD is offering $1,000 for written evidence of Gurumayi's whereabouts

If you go online and read the SYDA Foundation's response to the Salon article on Gurumayi and Siddha Yoga, you'll doubtless notice that the Trustees have organized a letter writing campaign by their inner circle to flood the comments page with positive testimonials. But, regardless of how many lovely stories they share about the wondrous impact Siddha Yoga has had on their lives, one thing is missing from every one of these letters.

No one has claimed to have seen Gurumayi in years.

As always, SYDA speaks out of both sides of its mouth. Currently, its obsessively repeated talking point is that "the Siddha Yoga Foundation's main purpose is to disseminate Siddha Yoga teachings." After decades of promoting the most slavish (and ultra lucrative) worship of the physical Guru in the persons of Muktananda and Gurumayi, SYDA would now like you to believe that the Guru equals the teachings, nothing more.

Of course, what is left unsaid is that THE main teaching of Siddha Yoga is the absolute necessity of the aspirant to forge a personal relationship with the Siddha Guru in order to attain liberation--the goal of all spiritual seeking.

It's a neat sleight of hand, designed to distract the eye from the terrible paradox that Siddha Yoga has become: Siddha Yoga teaches that you need the physical Guru to attain enlightenment; the Guru is no longer physically present but always available to students in the form of her teachings; the teachings state that the student needs the physical Guru.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

What is particularly cruel about this shell game is how dismissive it is to those who are still trying to practice Siddha Yoga. The comments on this blog alone are rife with the pain of those who cling to the practices, enduring empty satsangs at their local centers, canned New Year's "teachings" that repeat verbatim year after year with depressing monotony, expensive Intensives that are dry of Shakti and conducted by exhausted swamis who run from the attendees lest they be asked yet again for any news of Gurumayi's whereabouts. And, after putting up with all this, and still remaining attached (in a now wholly-inconvenient parlance) to the Guru's feet, these seekers have to listen to SYDA insisting that "for almost three decades, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, the spiritual head of the Siddha Yoga path, has guided students through her teachings."

Well, it's time to put up or shut up, SYDA. I promise to write a check in the amount of $1,000 to the Foundation if it can produce one written piece of evidence that Gurumayi is still actively teaching. One invitation to an open public program in which Gurumayi (and not her disembodied, pre-recorded voice) has actually appeared and spoken in the past year. Not a private gathering for a few rich devotees who paid exorbitant amounts for a chance to coax Gurumayi back into her saffron robes for a few hours. A program open to your rank and file Siddha Yoga students.

Just one. Your move.

Salon: SYDA's response

From online magazine Salon: the original can be found here:

The SYDA Foundation Board of Trustees emphatically rejects the grossly false picture drawn by magazine in its recent article about Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, Swami Muktananda, and the Siddha Yoga path. The Siddha Yoga path is an authentic path of self-knowledge and thousands of Siddha Yoga students can attest to the beneficial effect it has on their lives. For almost three decades, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, the spiritual head of the Siddha Yoga path, has guided students through her teachings.

The purpose of the SYDA Foundation is to disseminate the Siddha Yoga teachings. The SYDA Foundation does not engage in activities unrelated to its purpose and has done nothing whatsoever to capitalize on the film or the book "Eat, Pray, Love."

Tens of thousands of people around the world have chosen Siddha Yoga as their spiritual path. Over time, some people have decided not to continue on this path. A few of these former practitioners have become critics. and writer Riddhi Shah chose to focus on a handful of critics rather than the thousands of Siddha Yoga practitioners who are living active and productive lives in their communities.

Shah relies heavily on what she herself acknowledges as rumors and accusations from articles written in 1983 and 1994. She then insinuates there is currency to those claims by falsely stating that Gurumayi disappeared from public view amid the allegations. In fact, Gurumayi actively continues to teach and guide Siddha Yoga students from all parts of the world.

It is unfortunate that the writer has used the release of the movie "Eat, Pray, Love" in an attempt to discredit a path that has enriched the lives of so many.

Salon: The Eat, Pray, Love Guru's Troubling Past

From the online magazine Salon. The original can be read here:

When audiences go to "Eat, Pray, Love" this weekend, they will watch as Julia Roberts, blond and brokenhearted, folds her long, long legs into a perfect letter X, chants a mysterious mantra, and magically finds the equanimity that has been eluding her. Viewers will see her undergo life-changing experiences thanks to her guru's grace and the spirit of her guru's master, a man she calls a "South Indian old lion." They will perhaps be awed and enchanted by the exotic spiritual treasure chest that is India. And then they will cheer for her as she finally mends the cracks in her heart and makes her way to Bali to find love.

What they probably won't know is that the unnamed guru is a hugely controversial figure who has disappeared from public view amid allegations of manipulation, financial misconduct and intimidation. And as that guru's organization, the Siddha Yoga Dham of America (SYDA), has come under fire, her own guru (yes, gurus also have gurus), the "old lion," has been accused of sexual abuse, molestation and sexual intercourse with minor girls.

The film, like the Elizabeth Gilbert memoir on which it is based, doesn't name the real-life ashram or guru, and Gilbert has never revealed the guru's identity. Readers of the book are instead treated to breathless but abstract passages like this: "Then I listened to the Guru speak in person for the first time, and her words gave me chill bumps all over my whole body, even across the skin of my face. And when I heard she had an Ashram in India, I knew I must take myself there as quickly as possible."

But if you’re somewhat familiar with India’s spiritual landscape, it’s easy to figure out that this "feminine, multilingual, university-educated" guru is Gurumayi Chidvilasananda — the head of the SYDA. For starters, India doesn’t have very many female gurus, and fewer still that speak impeccable English and reside in the United States. Gilbert also dedicates a sizable chunk of the India portion of her book to the troubles she has with the "Gurugita," an obscure 90-minute-long hymn that Gurumayi's devotees are required to chant every morning. Having been to a Siddha Yoga meditation workshop myself, I’m well acquainted with the tedium that is the Gurugita, and as far as I know, Siddha Yoga is the only Hindu spiritual order to have made the Gurugita such an essential part of a devotee's daily practice. The ashram in the book is located in a small village just outside Mumbai, while SYDA's India ashram is tucked away in a rural idyll called Ganeshpuri, some 50 miles from Mumbai. The book is littered with other telling biographical details about Gilbert's guru that match up with Gurumayi — that she joined the entourage of an Indian swami (a Hindu religious teacher) as a teenager, that she served him as a translator for years before being given guru-hood, and that she was only in her 20s when she became his successor. Earlier this week, the New York Post drew the same SYDA connection to "EPL," as others have. When Salon contacted Gilbert's publicist at Viking to confirm that Gurumayi was in fact her guru, we were told, "No comment. Liz has always made a concerted effort to respect the privacy of the ashram." But the evidence is overwhelming.

Known to her followers as just Gurumayi, Malti Shetty is undeniably beautiful — slender and brown-eyed, with dimples that dig deep commas below her high cheekbones. Shetty says she is the sole successor to SYDA, a new Hindu religious movement that is based on the tradition of Vedanta. Her predecessor and guru, the man who appointed her to his throne, is Swami Muktananda.

SYDA is headquartered in a large complex in South Fallsburg, N.Y., a town set in the Catskill Mountains. In the 1980s and '90s — the decades during which the SYDA reached its height of popularity — the foundation was said to have some 70,000 followers across the world. Its devotees, mostly the wealthy and well-educated, included celebrities like Melanie Griffith, Isabella Rossellini, Diana Ross and Don Johnson.

In 1983, an exposé by journalist William Rodarmor in CoEvolution Quarterly (a Stewart Brand magazine that eventually became Whole Earth Review) suggested that before his death, Muktananda had been having sex with several young girls in his ashrams. The septuagenarian guru, said the piece, used to stand behind a curtain and spy on girls in the female dormitory. He even had a special area equipped with a gynecologist's table that was used for his sexual dalliances. In public, he announced that he was celibate, insisting that sexual acts took away from spiritual energy. But in private, a parade of girls would be trooping in and out of his bedroom all night. The story even describes the violence and intimidation used by Muktananda to control his devotees. There are accounts of him beating hapless Indian peasants outside the ashram grounds, of stabbing his valet with a fork, and of sending burly enforcers to take care of devotees who refused to toe the party line.

In an account posted on the website Leaving Siddha Yoga — which encourages former devotees to come forward with stories of their abuse and mistreatment — a former devotee, Joan "Radha" Bridges, describes her sexual encounters with Muktananda. Bridges, then 26, says she was slowly wooed by Muktananda's translator, Malti Shetty. As the account reads: "I was given an invitation by Malti to come to the Boston Ashram with a small entourage. This was a privilege — I was thrilled to be included." Soon, Muktananda started kissing her and grabbing her breasts, eventually pulling her into his room to inspect her vagina. The next night, she says, Muktananda brought her back into his quarters. "All the while he told me, 'Don't tell anyone,' and, 'Don't tell your husband.' Muktananda put me on a high table, pulled my legs back to expose my vagina and pulled out his flaccid penis. He placed his penis as far up inside me as he could and remained in that position a very long time." It took years for her to accept that she had, in fact, been a victim of sexual abuse.

In 1994, the New Yorker revisited these accusations in the article "O Guru, Guru, Guru," written by Lis Harris. Harris found several other women who said that Muktananda had forced them to have sex with him. But she also chronicled Shetty's behavior as the new guru. Shetty displayed many of the same traits as her mentor. She ran a hate campaign against her brother, who had been named as a co-successor by Muktananda, beating him and isolating him until he finally gave up his claim on the SYDA's spiritual mantle. She denied all allegations of Muktananda's sexual abuse and shielded other sexual predators inside the ashram, including a man called George Afif, who was convicted of statutory rape. Harris' piece even hinted that Shetty herself had had sexual relations with Afif. "While I was working on the story," Harris told Salon, "I was constantly followed [inside the ashram]. Men with walkie-talkies wouldn't let me go anywhere on my own. They were always asking my driver questions. A woman who I worked with in the ashram's kitchen was even noting down every word I said. It was very Big Brother-like."

The organization tried hard to keep the New Yorker from publishing the story, even threatening it with litigation. According to Marta Szabo, a one-time devotee of SYDA who wrote the book "The Guru Looked Good," Shetty once called a secret meeting to chant and perform "weird Reiki" against Lis Harris and the New Yorker's then-editor, Tina Brown. "When the article finally came out, they took every copy of the magazine that they could find and burnt them in a great pile," Harris says.

Rumors also abound of untold millions stashed away in Swiss bank accounts. (Rodarmor's exposé features Muktananda talking about just such a thing.) The foundation's workshop fees run into hundreds of dollars, and devotees who work at the ashram are mostly unpaid. "Just the money I collected from a single intensive [meditation workshop] amounted to $14,000," says Szabo.Daniel Shaw, a former devotee who now runs Leaving Siddha Yoga, says that using human conduits to ferry cash from the U.S. to India was a common practice within Siddha Yoga. "I've been asked to carry large amounts of cash under my clothes during several trips to India. Others used to carry jewelry," he says.

Charges have never been pressed against the organization. Shetty stopped speaking to the press soon after she became Gurumayi and has not publicly addressed any of the accusations in a long time. But when Rodarmor spoke to her for his piece in 1983 — just after she had taken on the mantle of guru-hood — she denied all allegations of sexual abuse against Muktananda and of the existence of Swiss bank accounts. In Harris' piece, the group's swamis (high-ranking members) steadfastly maintained that Muktananda never broke his vows of celibacy. The SYDA did not respond to Salon's request for a comment.

SYDA is now a shell of its former mid-'90s self, despite the bestseller and newfangled Hollywood associations. The South Fallsburg ashram, which once hummed with as many as 4,000 devotees, looks forlorn. Many defectors say that they left because of Shetty's increasingly authoritarian behavior and her subtle attempts at control and manipulation. "She was just mean. She humiliated me in public. She certainly wasn't enlightened," says Szabo, who was once part of a team that edited and rewrote parts of the public talks for which Shetty was revered.

In 2004, presumably about a year after her encounter with Gilbert (whose book came out in 2006), Shetty disappeared from public life. Now followers only get an occasional video message from their master. Shaw believes that the appearance of websites like Leaving Siddha Yoga caused Shetty to retreat into a world where she has full control. Others say that she's just tired of playing guru.

It's anyone's guess if "EPL's" film release will cause a renewed surge in SYDA's membership. Or if a new wave of popularity will force Shetty to come back into public view. But Gilbert's account of her time in India, her naive view of her guru as a "compassionate, loving" and "enlightened" master, and her faith that Muktananda was a "world-changing" and "self-realized" leader are all a sad chronicle of the human need to find spiritual anchors, and then to believe that these ordinary, and often deeply flawed, men and women are the path to our salvation.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Your Trusty Trustee-to-English Translation

Warm greetings and salutations to you, yogi or yogini, on behalf of The SYDA Foundation Board of Trustees. My name is Fernando Del Cant and as junior member of the Board it is my sad duty to have to deal with the following situation.

I am writing to respond to inquiries that The SYDA Foundation has received regarding an upcoming movie, Eat, Pray, Love. I am told this film is based on a book of the same title and includes an account of one woman's alleged spiritual retreat in India. A number of people have asked if The SYDA Foundation is aware of this film and if the film represents the Siddha Yoga path.

First, let me say that of course we are aware of the film. The SYDA Foundation is aware of many things most things everything. Allow me to share with you the perspective of The SYDA Foundation regarding this film. It is NOT a representation of the Siddha Yoga path. Now, some people may say but I saw Elizabeth Gilbert at South Fallsburgh and I know for a fact that she traveled to Ganeshpuri to be with Gurumayi, she was one of us, a devotee, what do you mean the book and film about her Guru don't portray Siddha Yoga? To those people I say YES! Yes, the book and movie do not represent the path. Also, The SYDA Foundation was not involved in the production of this film. We weren't even brought on as technical consultants, for Christ's sake.

Not that any of that matters. The core purpose of The SYDA Foundation is to Protect, Preserve and Disseminate the Siddha Yoga teachings! And to insure that the Siddha Yoga path is maintained as An Enduring Legacy for students Now and For Generations to Come, Amen. This is our focus our bread and butter our get-that-bitch-back scheme for leaving us in the lurch.

When Gilbert first wrote her book we hit her with a cease and desist order designed to lock her lips in full-lotus permanently unless SYDA got a cut of the action. And it worked, for awhile. But once she brought in the Hollywood guns I guess all bets were off. Those fockers don't freak around, they're freakin SCIENTOLOGISTS! We got served with papers that threatened to, well, legally I'm not allowed to discuss specifics but let's just say that waking up as a demon in a waterless place would have been an ESCAPE from what those papers promised.

So. To reiterate. The SYDA Foundation does not participate in activities that are unrelated to its core purpose as stated above. The SYDA Foundation does not seek publicity or...wait a sec, checking papers for exact wording here...gain from commercial ventures such as the film Eat, Pray, Love.

If friends or relatives would like to learn about the Siddha Yoga path and its teach...oh, what's the use. We're the focus of the biggest Hollywood phenomenon in decades and we can't even talk about it. This sucks.

And the Trustees Sputter to Life Once More

as always, click on image to embiggen

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Has Someone Stolen That Ego You Were So Desperate To Lose?

From the Better Late Than Never Department comes this news that hackers breached the firewall of the SYDA bookstore accounts and stole an undetermined number of credit card numbers and their associated financial data. You can view the DataLoss report on the incident here (cut and paste url into your address bar):

Interesting how SYDA does not give a date when the incident occured. However, they let SIX WEEKS pass in between the time they discovered the hack (Jan 4, 2008) and the day they finally reported it to the authorities (February 21, 2008). Let's chalk that up to 2 weeks of incompetence and 4 weeks of attempted cover up.

None of the lost data has ever been recovered, no arrests have been made and--as of yet--no lawsuits have been filed in connection with this breach of security, according to the report.

So, if you suffered any financial/credit card related fraud issues in Jan/Feb of 2008, and you purchased anything from the crookstore via credit card at any time in the past, I'd start looking for a link if I were you. Because I can't believe SYDA would not be liable for allowing your personal financial info to sit in the hands of identity fraudsters for 6 weeks without doing anything about it.

SYDA's belated filings, including names and contact information of SYDA General Counsel Ken Braziller, and SYDA Board of Trustees Officer Joseph Buga can be found in the PDF docs embedded within the above website page.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Found this question and answer(!) posted on WikiAnswers today:

The accompanying reply on the discussion page is the best---you just know that QueensLadyDay MUST be the online handle of a SYDA lawyer with no kids!

Happy Birthday Celebration! "some restrictions apply"

In celebration of Birthday Bliss®, one of the gifts you are invited to prepare-to-be-unwrapped* during the Celebration Satsang™ is a share
©. To prepare, compose a share® that you can give in 45 seconds or less** about one of the following topics:

One way that the Purpose Statement
has inspired you to celebrate Gurumayi's Birthday™.

An experience of AUM sadhana© from your study and practice of the Siddha Yoga Message© given to us by Gurumayi™®.

Another favorite teaching from Gurumayi™® that you are applying in your life.

An anecdote or experience of being with Gurumayi™® - your own or one you've heard and love††.

With Love,
Your Local Steering Committee


* To show proper honor and respect for this auspicious day, please wrap all gifts in organically dyed rice paper or Japanese silk (of no less than 12" square). Offerings of flowers will be accepted at the Guru's Chair® during darshan™ so long as they are not geraniums, and have not been smelled by any living person prior to being offered.

* Sharers who exceed this generous time limit will be gently led to sit back down via the tinkling of silver bells. Sharers who do not obey the bells and instead attempt to "wrap up their thoughts" will be greeted with a brass gong reminder and the good natured laughter of their peers.

Please limit the contemplation of your infinite gratitude to the Guru to approved topics only. Those whose remarks veer off-topic will forfeit all opportunity to share until Gurumayi™® gives her next new year's address in person, or until their death, whichever comes first.

Those who have never had the infinite pleasure of meeting or even seeing Gurumayi™® in person are required to meet with one of the roaming "share coaches" in the hall before the program begins, to insure that the second-or -third-hand memory they are sharing conforms fully to all official photographic, video, audio and textual messages of the Guru as established and incorporated by the trustees of the Siddha Yoga Dham of America. Violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, or otherwise persecuted should the law not apply.

Friday, June 4, 2010

So you want to marry your snake

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Marrying Snakes
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorFox News

Parallels in Snake Oil Salesmanship

Click on each page individually to enlarge for reading

(those whose reading skills have been atrophied by Facebook and Twitter
may want to skip to page number 46 below, wherein we first meet "Guru Ma")