After 14 years of revering someone as "perfected" and "god-realised", I finally owned up to myself that it all seems a sham to me. Someone may have some good ideas, and espouse some wholesome practices, but that doesn’t make them Mistress of the Universe. This story was written in a neutral, sometimes tongue-in-cheek and sometimes self-mocking tone. If it sounds bitter and cynical, all I can say is that I’m not bitter anymore, but I wouldn’t change anything.

Why did I start practicing Siddha Yoga in the first place? Well, the chanting was nice, and everyone seemed friendly enough - I felt "at home". Sure, I could have had the same experience joining a choir, and maybe learnt to sing something a bit more interesting, and had more nights with my family, but the thing that really got me hooked was my experience of what in Siddha Yoga is called shaktipat . Basically for me it was like an orgasm only louder, and on the basis of that single experience, I put all my faith and trust in Baba Muktananda, as he had been credited as the source for this great experience.

Strangely enough, I wasn’t searching for "a path" or anything, but still I felt I had "found something", or - more importantly from Siddha Yoga’s point of view - had received something. I soon realised that that made me "special", an owner of a great secret, a renegade to the humdrum oh-so-ordinary life that everyone else was obviously experiencing. Of course, anyone joining any group has similar feelings of belonging, but this was different, this was it, the Divinity Club.

One thing that I was never told up front by Siddha Yoga was that that one orgasmic or cosmic experience brought along with it the culture of indebtedness, which I was expected to try and fill for the rest of my days. The use of "if you don’t feel gratitude for this great gift then you must be selfish and soulless" is really just manipulation. Sometimes, when people were fence-sitting about whether to take an intensive or not, normally because of the $400 price tag, there would be a "talk" labelling this as "poverty-consciousness" and equating it with "poverty of spirit".

It’s different for everybody, but there are several factors I think that pull people into Siddha Yoga.

  1. The charisma of the guru. Everybody loves someone who can be witty, who tells them they are great, and who looks so obviously radiant and glowing. (Can’t you tell that this is someone special?) All the videos tell us how holy the guru is, and how this special lineage from the dawn of time (for some reason, ancient wisdom seems to be touted as superior to modern wisdom) was put here on the planet to help us off the karmic wheel. But don’t get confused that the lineage stops two generations back, because that one was born great, the stream just went underground for the previous generation, and ...well... aren’t all great people mysterious? That’s part of what makes them great, isn’t it? (Humans are full of contradictions, maybe having such a big contradiction as lineage vs self-born greatness is an indication of super-humanity).
  2. The chanting puts many people off, but for some of us it was often the only thing that kept us there. Letting yourself sing with great abandonment along with a crowd of other like-minded people. Goodness, there were only a few words, the one monotonous tune (an A part, a B part), and no harmonies. It was very easy to put your mind in neutral and let rip! And singing with a group is very powerful, as any choir member or soccer-fan will attest.
  3. Shaktipat, that great gift, guaranteed to you so long as you take the intensive. Once you have received shaktipat, your life will be better in some great and mysterious manner. And of course, we all have so much gratitude for this great gift (which you got, whether you noticed or not, ‘cos you took the intensive, right?) that we happily spend the rest of our lives paying it back to the guru. I heard so many people who hadn’t even seen gurumayi or baba saying "thank-you, thank-you for saving my life". What is really going on there? Can’t people take responsibility for their own lives? Do we need a miracle from a superbeing to rescue us? I agree that at times we all need a jolt. Maybe ascribing magic to it makes it more special. Maybe feeling saved feels better than not believing we needed saving.
  4. The statement that Siddha Yoga is not a religion (and thus open to all people), that somehow it is free of all the trappings, taints and dogma of religion. My feeling now is: of course it’s not a religion, it’s a cult, and it has all the trappings, taints and dogma of a cult.
  5. The "I feel good when I’m there" factor. I also feel good playing the piano. Sadly, pianos were never introduced into the satsang format.
  6. It is exotic and different, and thus a way of expressing our freedom from our own culture. This was a good thing for me, though it gave my parents the willies.
  7. It truly does have some nice phrases to say, some nice practices to practice, and some nice thinks to think. And there are some very sincere and hard working people practicing siddha yoga who were nice to know.
  8. As the Monkees said, "Then I saw her face, Now I’m a Believer. … I’m out of my mind. I’m in love, hmmm. Yeah I’m a Believer, I couldn’t leave her if I tried".

Why did I leave? Two reasons. Firstly, and quite simply, Siddha Yoga is not for me. I’m sorry it took me fourteen years to work that out.

  1. I found meditation at best peaceful, but not magical or transcendental. Maybe I should have held my breath more… I’m not convinced that being thought-free is the ultimate state.
  2. Though I tried, I could never believe gurumayi was self-realised (neither did Muktananda – he commented that both she and Nityananda were "entering the university, but it’s up to them to pass the test"). At best, she was trying hard. But I think the fawning adoration of devotees really went to her head. We empowered them, we made them godlike in our eyes. And they never prevented us. I remember at the end of an intensive, everyone was chanting baba’s name with her, "Baa baa, baa baa". If ever we showed her how much of a flock we were, it was then. I could have puked. I was stunned when some people said to me later "Wasn’t that great?"
  3. The amount of nonsense I had to ignore became overwhelming. Fitting in is very important to people, and I think we arrested a lot of our critical thinking so that we could keep fitting in. I did for a long time, but couldn’t any longer.
  4. Chidvilasananda’s and Muktananda’s public behaviour seem more like that of popstars, as did the opulence of these supposed renunciants. Of course, we were supposed to never question their behaviour, because they were godlike beings, not bound to the laws of men. The huge amount of law-bending in ashrams attests to that.
  5. The amount of subtle and overt manipulation of the masses of people (Swamis – whom everyone was expected to respect - saying with a sneer "if you don’t take this course then you may as well give up yoga") was dreadful, as was the public humiliation of individuals in the Fire course and No-Ego course.
  6. The insistence that true devotees should read only the words of Baba or gurumayi really sounded like dogmatic extremism more than pastoral concern. The encouragement of extremism (as subtly as quoting the behaviour of legendary yogic heroes or as overt as the practices in the Month Long Course) as a demonstration of faith and devotion was also dangerous, as was the encouragement of self-censure of any dissenting ideas as a demonstration of mental self-control. All doubts were to be overcome, through whichever practice worked, or through consultation with someone who was doubt-free. As Bergen Evans said (no it wasn’t baba or gm) "…there is no freedom of thought without doubt".
  7. The use of the statement "you will never find your inner truth in relationships (except with the guru)" made many people very isolated, especially ashram dwellers, who had very little outside contact. The other anti-feeling statement, "thoughts and emotions are mere distractions" also conspires to make us distant from each other. My months spent in the ashrams were the loneliest times in my life. I think the self-centred ethos of sy can make many sy-ites cold and without empathy for their fellow human beings and, strangely, it seemed that the "closer" to gurumayi they got, the colder and harder they became.
  8. We happily, and in great faith, donated many thousands of dollars to a construction fund for a new ashram, only to find later that the scheme had been scrapped. Not only was the money not refunded, but we were not even directly informed of the outcome. By then though, we had been so mesmerised with the concept of dakshina (freely giving), that it didn’t even occur to us to question what had happened with our donations. The Devotee giveth, and the Foundation taketh away.
  9. Add all that to the increasing "school-mam"ness of the foundation and its continued preoccupation with glitz, to say nothing of their grievous scarring of the New York lakeside forest that they own, or the serious allegations made by several people fairly involved in the foundation, and it’s no wonder I left. It’s a wonder I stayed so long.

Second reason for leaving: the allegations that had been made - even if only 10% true - give sy a very tarnished record, and one I simply don’t want to associate with. Some comments on some of "the allegations":

  1. That Baba performed some sort of sexual interference on many girls and woman in the Ganeshpuri ashram. As a friend pointed out, many people had many different and quite weird experiences there, from being chased by spiders to dissolving into blue light etc. etc. Could the claims of these women be put in the same category? I think you’d really have to ask them, but note the following. They were prepared to publish and be damned, and sy’s only response was to buy as many copies of the New Yorker magazine around the South Fallsburg ashram as they could to stop ashramites from seeing it. Very different approach to - say - the Catholic Church, who have acknowledged the misdeeds of some trusted people and offered counselling etc to the victims. Interestingly, when I spoke to an ashram heavy about these allegations, she closed her eyes, put her hand on her heart and said "I KNOW inside that this can’t be true." I could only think to myself, "I hope you are never called for jury duty". I think it was the closing her eyes that did it.
  2. That Swami Nityananda’s philanderings were covered up with white lies for as long as possible. Obviously. Well, the world is full of that, and sy is not above it. A point worth remembering next time we are asked to swallow another maha-vakya.
  3. That Swami Chidvilasananda actively encouraged the hounding and abuse of her brother, ex-Swami Nityananda. That seems very sad but true.

Having poured all that out, I still think Baba Muktananda was an extraordinary being, in that he brought about revolution in many people – including me – and gave many of us a jolt which began a huge – and continuing – growth in ourselves. But these feelings are tempered with acceptance of his humanity. If these allegations of sexual impropriety are true, he is great and flawed, like the rest of us. That’s understandable, just don’t expect me to revere him as a god or saint, nor the successors to his throne.

To quote another pop-song, this time Fairytale, by the Pointer Sisters from the album That’s A Plenty,

"I’ve been lost in a dream pretending that you cared

And now I’ve opened up my eyes and realised it’s all been a great big fairytale…

Move on, got to move on.

Move on, I’ve got to move on."

 

March 1997

 

www.LeavingSiddhaYoga.org

 

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