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.


MartaSzabo said...

Always like how SeekHer tells it like it is. SeekHer distills the evidence and gives us tangible facts. There is so much murkiness in the so-called spiritual world. Ambiguities flourish. But there's nothing ambiguous about this post. Thank god for writing like this -- not just in the face of Siddha Yoga, but in the face of all new age, spiritual gobbly gook that is so popular these days.

Anonymous said...

Seems like a very reasonable argument. Some will be very unhappy and most will continue on their path.
Seekher are you the same person as Ani Bey who posted on It seems he/she posted some of ROD's content.

SeekHer said...

Thanks for your comment, Anon. I'm never very sure how reasonable I'm being ;) However, as a writer I'm very attuned to how SYDA communicates; what they say and more importantly what they don't say, and I think the message they are sending is crystal clear.

And, no, I am not Ani Bey but have no issue with the reposting of my material on the Salon comments pages, where I'm certain it will be read by far more people than visit here.

Anonymous said...


Remember how, when we were kids, on the Rocky and Bullwinkle show, they'd have one title for the episode, and then say "OR" and have another title for it, and so on?

Well, if we did this for this last post of yours, we'd have to say "AKA, yet ANOTHER Inconvenient Truth!"

Stuart said...

Perhaps someone could clue me in on the details of Eat, Pray, Love. I'm curious... just not curious enough to actually read the book.

I initially thought that Gilbert had gone to India and met Gurumayi. But some of the comments I've read at Salon lead me to think that Gilbert visited Ganeshpuri while Gurumayi was in Fallsburg. Which would mean that whatever big bang experience the author had was rooted in the ashram atmosphere (don't under-estimate the power of pretty pictures, smiling faces, exotic incense, and tinkly music), not an actual face-to-face with the guru.

Did the EPL author actually meet GM in India? Or afterwards, or what?



R + L said...

Having just seen the film, I left the theater feeling absolutely nothing about the Indian Ashram section. It reminded me of how I experience what has happened in my spiritual community of SIddha Yoga. We are all asking questions and then thinking we aren't sincere enough devotees for having these questions on our minds and hearts.

Trust your experience, said Baba, Gurumayi and most all of the Swamis. My experience is one of wondering why we can not be trusted with direct communication from our spiritual community leadership?

I feel a profound lack of love and respect, compassion and Shakti from all things SYDA. I struggle to separate SYDA from the practices of Siddha Yoga, which I agree are in themselves universal, pure and transformative. Yet the messages and the directions continue to come from SYDA, not from the Guru. Unless I believe the Guru inspires all things SYDA, which we are told is not accurate. SYDA is an entity, SIddha Yoga is a path.

Siddha Yogic practices without a Guru? Yes, I'm there, I've accepted it. Do I wonder why and how it all came to pass? Absolutely. My Mind, after all, is a busy child. Yet me heart tells me - something isn't right about this picture. I continue to struggle with that instinct - I continue to trust MY experience.

pegcarter said...

I am strictly a "Baba Said" person. [only half-way tongue-in-cheek].

My memory of what he said is quite good. I don't need SYDA documentation, which can surely be falsified and/or mis-construed.

You *do need an actual teacher. The "Letter on the Page" is usually not enough to "get it?"

At the last time Baba left Fallsburg for India, he put together legal documentation as to what defined "Siddha Yoga." He announced to us that it became an official, legal religion and entity.

"Siddha Yoga is the Guru."

That is the beginning, middle and end of the description.

Full stop.

That is the good news and the bad.

Without a Guru, you cannot have Siddha Yoga.

Not to repeat myself, (since I know I've said this before): I find it ironic that Gurumayi went to so much trouble to wrest the organization from her brother.

For what?

To abandon it later as a further demonstration of her "own free will?"

I really think there is more to this story. And maybe someday I will know it.

Best to you lovely writers, my SY "sisters,"

And to Marta: You rocked on that morning show. How cool was that?


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the heads up that Muktananda called SY an official religion. That info alone has kicked me far past the door threshold I was procrastinating on. The gurus practical advice is something I still hold dear and use in this lifetime, however I want practicality not their religion. Trust your instincts, that is your guru, that the universe gave to each of us without any "masters". We learned we were one with that technology, so use it to discern a phony, fake, charlatan, sociopath, molester, bs artist and money grubber.

SeekHer said...


As disgusted as I am by all things SYDA, I am fascinated by Siddha students who are still practicing. You've provided a glimpse into what it is like to be on the path in the absence of the physical Guru via the experience you've shared here--harboring questions you cannot ask, then feeling as if those very questions somehow compromise you as a devotee. I wish you would share more about what your heart is telling you now. Please consider it. I would be happy to turn the blog over to you for a post about your experience.

Anonymous said... appears that something's happened at since as of today, the number of "letters" posted in comment response to Riddhi Shah's original article is now stuck at 122 letters, and in comment response to the SYDA Response to Ms. Shah's article, now stuck at 167 letters.

I (and I'm sure others) have posted more letters in response to both pages since those two totals were achieved, but nothing has been posted by Salon since.

Unless there's been a technical issue we the public are not aware of, it is tempting to conclude that either:

a) Salon's editorial and management boards decided that the comment war was getting a little TOO hot for their tastes and have cut off further comment, or

b) SYDA has threatened Salon with some kind of legal action (as they usually do in such cases) and thus Salon has also cut off further comment, or

c) Something else behind the scenes we don't know about.

It was interesting to have an active, open forum of debate between the Pro crowd and the Ex crowd again.

It would seem that the forum is now closed to further comment.

If that's the case, I sure wish Salon would post a message to that effect on both the involved pages.

Anonymous said...

Salon has posted more comments overnight.

Anonymous said...

To SeekHer and all else emotionally, intellectually and/or psychically invested in SeekHers writing and the Siddha Yoga exploration:

SeekHer, it does not take much digging to find that a person who is spiritually searching may apply to offer seva at Shree Muktananda Ashram as a short or long term retreat participant(see Siddha Yoga Website). This would be one way for you to discover whether or not Swami Chidvilasananda is teaching.
The conclusions that you draw, that Gurumayi is no longer teaching or are around are brazenly speculative, seem not to be based on personal interviews, conversations or personal experience of any kind. Although you are articulate, your conclusions are lazy. Strictly speaking from the art of reason, you have missed a number of possibilities in your conjecture. The best investigative reporters (which is what you seem to be pursuing, though the biased emotional connection you seem to have on this topic of Siddha Yoga helps you make leaps in causation and correlation), have in their deepest intent, to find the truth. They go to great ends to be objective, and to present fact.
I do not know any person, or organization that would like to share information about themselves to someone, or someones, whom 1) seem to have a blatant disregard for the integrity of who they are and 2)whose intention is purely self satisfying. You want to be right as opposed to truthful.
If there was some greater reason in your heart of hearts you wanted to know if Gurumayi was still around and teaching, you wouldn't emotionally spew on a blog page, you would take great action and find a way to figure this out. Your mind seems to be in a place where it wants to be 'right' instead of truthful.
It is easy to shout, when no one responds.
If you had a deeper connection to a pure intention, one that was filled with true concern of finding out whether or not Swami Chidvilasananda was teaching because you thought people were being deeply hurt, you would make sure you found out the truth. Right now you are not serving, or helping anyone who may be practicing who has not seen Swami Chidvilasananda and has some doubts. You are justifying a self righteousness, and it's not okay, because it may be causing more hurt and confusion.
Please, go to greater lengths to find out the truth, before you stake your claim to it's irreproachable existence.
Thank you SeekHer.

Anonymous said...

So basically SeekHer has no other alternative but to apply to become a long-term slavite in order to justify the existence of this blog.

How sweet.

SeekHer said...

To Anon 2:59am

Your comment is ludicrous. The fact that So Falls needs sevites to keep the walls from falling down in no way means that G is there or teaching. Even before Gurumayi disappeared, you could spend months at the So Falls ashram and never see her, as anyone who has spent any time there knows.

No where else in your long comment do you attempt to claim that Gurumayi is currently in So Fallsburg, or that she has been there at all in recent years. Sorry, but the kind of circular reasoning you're trying to use just won't fly here. We've regained our capacity to think rationally; you are way out of your depth.

SeekHer said...

Again, to Anon 2:59am

My sincere apologies, I re-read your comment and see that I missed something important the first time. You wrote:

"Right now you are not serving, or helping anyone who may be practicing who has not seen Swami Chidvilasananda and has some doubts. You are justifying a self righteousness, and it's not okay, because it may be causing more hurt and confusion.Please, go to greater lengths to find out the truth, before you stake your claim to it's irreproachable existence."

I understand now. You are this someone who 'may be practicing' and who has some doubts. I am sorry to have been curt with you. I am more sorry that Gurumayi has gone missing, and there is nothing anyone can do to track her down. I don't have to prove that she is gone; it is your lived experience as a Siddha Yoga student. When did you last see or hear her? The New Year's Day message of 2008, right? Since then nothing but vague claims that she is still teaching at Fallsburg. No one has details, no one will come forward and say, I saw her, she was at a program and she said this or that. May I ask, why do you accept this idea that some students are worthier than you and that they still see her when you cannot?

If SYDA cared about you and the thousands of other students they claim to represent, they would issue some specific news about Gurumayi,even if it is to say that she has gone into retirement. But they don't care, so long as the donations keep flowing in.

Again, I can't say I'm sorry to bring you the news of Gurumayi's disappearance, because it is not news to you. I am sorry to ask you to look at that fact and come to terms with it.

Anonymous said...

"Her experience of a deep, personal soul connection with a living Guru may be"
Are you kidding? How many sy devotees had a "deep, personal connection? Sweet F**k all! Is that what bowing in darshan every night was? Every person here, think about just how many words they ever had IN PERSON with GM or Muk? Deep and personal in your dreams. They did not let the ordinary folks have a personal realationship because they were not the least bit interested in their devotees, the interest was in Money. If GM was to come back on stage today ,who could have a personal relationship with her? Who would have her number in their mobile, her email, an invitation to dinner now and then? Deep and personal in the devotees IMAGINATION, a conceptual relationship, what an absolute farce the SY student /master relationship was. Tazzy.

Anonymous said...

Actually, if the author of this piece had not been so lazy and had actually wanted to discover the truth of his/her outlandish and fairly easy to check facts (which, by the way, he/she criticized the SYDA foundation for doing), she would have found out that Gurumayi is, in fact, very alive and very present. All he/she had to do was visit the official website and see live video footage of Gurumayi performing pooja (worship) and reciting mantras via a live stream broadcast. You don't need to apply to visit the ashram to figure that much out. In fact, I was just at the ashram a few months ago and saw her, met her, and spoke with her in person. I wish some people weren't so quick to label spiritual movements as "scams" or "cults" and made half the effort to back up their claims--or even properly google the subjects of their online posts--as they did judging these movements and warning people about their falsity. SY is a beautiful path and that has taught me to love, has gotten me through every dark moment in my life, and has made me who I am today. This is all due to the guidance of Gurumayi, who doesn't "capitalize" on films and books to promote herself because she is only interested in the pursuit of oneness with God and the upliftment of people (just take a look at PRASAD Chikitsa and the amazing programs it has created to help villagers around Ganeshpuri out of poverty--trust me, I saw it with my own eyes).

Bev said...

I've been having amazing experiences with Siddha Yoga while the physical Guru was seldom around and the same amazing experiences now she is more physically active. The practices and teachings of this path have been the greatest gift of my life. They have given me access the the truth and Self within, the true Guru. Each persons experience is totally valid for their journey. I am very grateful the Siddha Yoga I experience is not he one some of the people here describe. I hope they find a true path that resonates with them. Everyone has a birth right to experience bliss. Blessings.

Anonymous said...

the guru fears nothing and lives spontaneously. the fact that gurumayi has gone into seclusion, that gurumayi always avoided spontaneity in her life as guru,, that she acoided mingling or physical contact and mixing in crowds even at her ashrams,. that she didnt just live life like you or i might, and go here or there or anywhere at anytime,, that when it came to her guru role at her ashrams she was always scripted, structured, was tellig that she was not a true guru in the way that the true guru is god, as the guru is in the gurugita, fully aware, enlightened to all truth, as a fully consciuos manifestation incarnate of god, as muktunanada described so very well in his book, and as he described his guru before him,, all very spontaneous and very immediate and often quite contrary and provocative as well. though muktanada seemd with his abuse of power in pedophilia to be still flawed too, but, urumayi and sy though not terrible, are not the true way of the guru and thusly devotees should understand that the practices can lead them to enlightenment, but that there is no guru incarnate to devote to in gurumayi or in sy generally. The guru within, god, is always to be devoted too, and in as much as it is within everything, one can understand,, but before awakening gurumayi and sy cant help you anymore than anything else in this material sense or world.

Shivani Arjuna said...

Gurumayi has not disappeared. She is at the ashram in the Catskills as you can see in the SYDA website videos. The website frequently posts current accounts of ashram programs she takes part in, and teachings she is sharing.
I wonder if the person who posted that Gurumayi is always scripted and avoids spontaneity ever met her, because Gurumay is astonishingly spontaneous.
The person who posted that it was not possible to have had personal conversations with Swami Muktananda and/or Gurumayi could not have been speaking from experience, as I had conversations with both of them. These were not ordinary conversations, however. Even one sentence from either of them was packed with meaning (and,yes, Grace) that afterward unfolded and led to life-changing understanding on my part.
On multiple occasions, Swami Muktananda would ask me a question about some issue in my life that needed attention - without my having mentioned to him anything whatsoever about it. Twice, in large Intensive programs attended by hundreds, he had the sound system turned back on after it had been turned off for the long meditation, to address in a single sentence a problem with which I was on fire. Now that is a conversation!
Also, SYDA has never instructed me or anyone I know not to share about Siddha Yoga with their friends and relatives.
Mobs of people were using the ashram as a vacation destination, which did not well with Gurumayi. Now, only those whose primary interest is in sadhanda can go there. So what is an ashram for?

vai said...

presence of the guru is felt in the heart and not by seeing the guru.In the end its you who has to awaken your energy, hence they also stress on self efforts. Please think more than twice before writing such a blog cause you're failing to change even a single mind.Not to be offensive, but I would suggest don't say anything without knowing the full thing. I feel like laughing at your shallow thinking at times. And my sincere condolences at your fail attempt of writing this blog.And yeah, as far as Shree Gurumayi is concerned she exists in every being on this planet mentally and physically in the South Fallsburg Ashram. (: