How worshiping Gurumayi turned my mother into a fanatic and destroyed my family, by Philip Morris
She used to be a bright and energetic woman. She was a professional nurse, and liked sports, especially tennis, swimming and ice skating at which she excelled. An excellent cook, her Sunday roast dinners are a positive memory of my childhood.
So how did it come to this? What transformed my mother, with her quick, inquiring mind, into the hate-filled religious fanatic she is today? I have not seen her for 18 years, and she has not seen her only grandson since she visited us just after he was born, and I committed the unforgivable sin in her eyes. I asked skeptical questions about Gurumayi, the leader of the Siddha Yoga cult, whose picture she had placed by her bed. I had done some quick research and found some troubling material that was coming to light on the Internet at that time.
She had been to India, where she said she had learned from the guru that her father had sexually abused her as a child. She believed Gurumayi had magical powers, to know details of an alleged event decades ago, and completely trusted her. She worshiped Gurumayi, and later launched a campaign of revenge against her family, a family that she believed was against her beloved teacher. She sent letters to family members accusing other family members of crimes such as raping my sister who was then living with her, then swore them to secrecy. It destroyed the family, setting people against each other. I now believe that she was acting under instructions from Gurumayi, who had deliberately set her against her family in a cunning and ruthless way in order to obtain her complete devotion and also her money.
She reserved the worst of her fury for my father, whom she had divorced in the early 1980s. I know he had been uncomfortable with her desire to prostrate herself before a 'truly enlightened teacher' since the late 1970s when she started receiving mail from the Self-Realization Fellowship, another guru cult set up by Paramahansa Yogananda. I do not know exactly when she became involved with Siddha Yoga, or whether she was already involved when Gurumayi came to prominence. Gurumayi took her holy orders into what I have learned is the most unholy of cults, in 1982 according to Wikipedia. But my father became a symbol of those who opposed the guru, and onto that she heaped jealousy and anger as he rebuilt his life with another woman who was to become the target of her campaign of revenge upon his death.
This was one of the saddest times of my life. My mother demanded that the front row at the funeral be reserved for her, as she was the most important person. Then she refused to attend. She betrayed me by saying she wanted to offer his bereaved partner sympathy, and that she wanted her phone number. Foolishly I agreed, and she called the poor lady to berate and insult her.
Since her grandson was born and I asked questions about Gurumayi, she has refused to meet me and our only contact has been through phone calls and then letters after she obtained an unlisted number. Furthermore, she refused to offer any financial help to her grandson when he graduated from high school and wanted to go to university. I know she had plenty of money from the divorce, and had also been left a large sum by her parents, so where did it all go? I do not know how many times she went to India, and how much the Siddha Yoga cult took. I do know that she regards her grandson also with contempt, probably as he is my son, and I was on the list of evildoers who questioned the guru.
It is a sad object lesson in the consequences of religious fanaticism. As I read about Siddha Yoga online, I came to see that they are exactly that, a fanatical fringe group of Hinduism, that chant the 'Guru Gita' endlessly as a form of brainwashing. This is a single passage out of all the vast scriptures of Hinduism that extols the virtues of worshiping the guru. To focus on a single passage like this is no different than those who quote isolated passages from the Bible or Koran to justify heinous acts like terrorism, and the devastation that has been caused by Gurumayi's ruthless manipulation is in many ways worse than losing my family in a terrorist explosion. It would have been easier if the bright and energetic mother I knew in my early years had just been killed quickly, instead of being turned into the monster she became.
After her revenge campaign following my father's death, I went into a depressive spiral for several years. I drank too much, and got into fights and scrapes with the law. I thought that I was somehow responsible, but also began to realize the full extent of what had happened and what my mother had become. I began to see that reasoning is impossible with a religious fanatic, got myself together and stopped drinking, and it is now nearly 8 years since I have touched alcohol. It was too late to save my marriage, and really that is two marriages that Gurumayi has destroyed. But as my father also did, I recovered and put my life back together with another woman, and unlike him am able to maintain good relations with my ex-wife. It is now nearly two years since I have heard from my mother, and I wonder if my sister who lives with her has also entered the cult.
I do not know if Gurumayi actually believes she is some kind of enlightened being or if I should consider this experience as a lesson in the nature of human evil, that in any culture greedy or unscrupulous people will take advantage of those like my mother who yearn for spiritual knowledge. It is certainly wrong to blame Hinduism or the vast and varied Indian culture. When I think of India, I try and rememberthe miracle of its being the world's largest democracy, or its raucous and vibrant newspapers. I have learned, despite the trauma of these terrible events, to appreciate the life I have and that the moment that matters is the one I am living in right now. I have a good job as a teacher, and my son works in a bicycle shop.
The lesson I have learned is best expressed by another native of India, the author of its national anthem, Rabindranath Tagore:
chanting and singing and telling of beads!
Whom dost thou worship in this lonely dark corner of a temple with doors all shut?
Open thine eyes and see thy God is not before thee!
He is there where the tiller is tilling the hard ground
and where the pathmaker is breaking stones.
He is with them in sun and in shower,
and his garment is covered with dust.
Put off thy holy mantle and even like him come down on the dusty soil!
Where is this deliverance to be found?
Our master himself has joyfully taken upon him the bonds of creation;
he is bound with us all for ever.
Come out of thy meditations and leave aside thy flowers and incense!
What harm is there if thy clothes become tattered and stained?
Meet him and stand by him in toil and in sweat of thy brow.
This is my insight, that gurus and religion are unnecessary and that simply by showing up for life every day and taking the world on its terms, even the darkest tunnel has light at the end. I appreciate the small things, that I have the chance to work with kids and have a beautiful new wife, and that my son also is doing well even if university may be difficult. Somehow I think that neither Gurumayi, nor her faithful disciple my mother, have the faintest idea what such enlightenment means.