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.