Gay Bashing By the Gods
There are many personal stories about the guru cult Siddha Yoga available at this website. I have read many of them and in some cases know the people involved personally. The reasons for leaving SY are as varied and unique as the people themselves. For this reason I have decided to profile my own involvement with this cult against the back drop of only one ugly aspect of Siddha Yoga. That being the persecution of gays and lesbians and also persons with HIV/AIDS.
I became involved with Siddha Yoga while in my junior year of college in New York in 1981. By then I had put to bed any question about my own sexual orientation. It had not seemed possible that anyone would have the power to make me question my position in the world via that avenue ever again.
Enter the strange being known as Swami Muktananda, aka Baba. I had picked up a Meditate "news paper" and read accounts by his devotees of "divine experiences" obtained by means of Babas tough or mere presence. For some inexplicable reason I believed what I read and set out to meet this "saint", as he was being called.
The ashram dwellers and swamis I soon met were meaner and more ill tempered than group of people I had ever encountered, even on Fire Island. Still I felt something "profound" while at the Catskills motel complex known as the South Fallsburg Ashram. Actually I really didnt know what I had felt, but I was told "it" was profound by the Introductory Program[TM] speaker. Instantly I was talked into spending my rent money on an Intensive[TM] initiation weekend package. "Everything you give to the Guru will come back twelve fold!" Why, it was like some kind of Cosmic Cash Machine. I dont know why I bought this at the time. More later on this aspect of SY.
Needless to say I suddenly found myself with no place to live, so I left New York and went to my parents home for the summer. Youd think that would have been enough. No fear. I spent the summer on the beach going in and out of faux trance states. I was hooked. Perhaps I was unsure of where I was going at that age. Ill say this, it certainly was seductive to think an incarnation of God was in your pocket in the form of a Mantra Card[TM].
As I approached the end of the following school year I was "asked" by the swami in residence at the Manhattan Ashram if I would come be on staff during that summers Tour[TM]. By now Baba had installed two swamis as his chosen successors. They were, a randy teenager named Swami Nityananda Jr., and his older sister Swami Chidvilasananda[TM](aka Gurumayi). I went to South Fallsburg to serve these two swamis as if my life depended on it. By all accounts this is exactly what these people want you to believe. I blew off my graduation ceremony and became an impoverished ashramite.
It was during this summer that I first came upon gay bashing material by Baba. In on of the Satsang with Baba books, Muktananda said that homosexuals were as good as eunuchs. In another he said that a true guru would never have the company of homosexuals, prostitutes, or Thieves. Someone explained that this homophobia was his body karma, and that it was not relevant to my sadhana to think about such things. Many other appalling aspects of his personality were explained away thus. I thought about it no more.
It wasnt until Baba died and Swami Chidvilasananda (Gurumayi) had deposed her hormonally gifted brother that the really nasty stuff started. (As I have stated, this article deals mainly with gay bashing. For other abuses by the Siddha Yoga gurus such as kidnapping, rape, money laundering, smuggling, extortion, pedophilia, child abuse, and much more, go to the Leaving Siddha Yoga web site.)
I had planned to take a friend up to the South Fallsburg ashram some time during the summer of 95. Several years ago, it became apparent to the new age looser community that the AIDS epidemic was not going to go away by use of magic. Suddenly, as if to underscore the gurus general paranoia, a clause was added to the ashram housing applications. Everyone was being asked if there was any kind of infectious disease, transmittable by any means. The gay community figured this one out immediately. But back to the story of why I left Siddha Yoga. This question on the housing form had caused me to rethink plans to visit the South Fallsburg ashram for many years. Suddenly I was faced with the prospect of having to subject someone new to both the housing questionnaire and the homophobic paranoia that created it. I called up a devotee friend in New York, knowing he would have his finger on the pulse of the "shakti" as it were, to ask him how to proceed. He was one of Gurumayis staff psychologists and a darshan groupy. I asked him what the status of HIV individuals was up there and should we come. What I was told floored me.
He said that he had heard different things about that (how persons with HIV would be received.) He said that if we did come we should NOT indicate any infectious disease on the form or tell the managers. Then he contemplated the situation (hedged) and said I should write to Gurumayi. (By this time all Gurumayi mail was being burned unread after the donation checks were removed) He went on to say that Gurumayi had only just expelled a long time staff person from the ashram because he had developed AIDS. Too bad he had given up his life and possessions to serve the guru. Where was his twelve fold payback? "The ashram is not a place for sick people" I was told. I suppose Ill take that at face value. Of course the ashram is no place for sick people. How can one work 18 hour days, 365 days a year if one has AIDS. It is true that my dear friend Astra Wolf died of cancer while being housed by the ashram, but she knew where the bodies are buried. AIDS seems to be one disease these guru types simply do not have a handle on. OK, true, few of the ashramites have any teeth anymore, but who needs teeth when you have gruel. Besides, that doesnt stop you from working.
Back to the yogi psychologist and this story. This man was for years the very person Gurumayi sent people to speak to if they came up in darshan to greet her with a "gay question". I cant even imagine what people are being told to their faces these days. Picture being told that you are unfit/unclean/unwelcome by someone you believe to be an incarnation of God.
I have also learned that one of my gay Siddha Yoga friends close to the guru has been forced into marriage with a lesbian. I guess that killed two birds with one stone and also insured that no neither party would be satisfied with the union. I really hated to hear this because this guy was a real sweet heart.
The AIDS incident and several identical ones were the beginning of my spontaneous deprogramming from Siddha Yoga. The Liz Harris article about Siddha Yoga in The New Yorker magazine, O Guru, Guru, Guru had been out for some time but I had not heard about it. I have since read it. Good God, what was I involved in?! The Leaving Siddha Yoga website and the Siddha Yoga Ethics Debate folder on America Online have helped me to realize just what a dangerous cult Siddha Yoga is. Read on.
The following is a collection of gay bashing incidents culled from other sources. Some have been included in quotes, as written by the victim. The names of the victims have been withheld to protect them from retribution be SYDAs team of lawyers and or thugs.
"I wrote my little story once about getting busting for telling my roomie that I was bisexual. do you have that story? do you want it?
Basically Gurumayi told me (in front of a large group) that if I didn't control my tongue I would be off the tour. As the entourage moved onward, George(Afif) then said to me that I was no better than a dog, cause that's the kinda thing "they" did. Oy vey, he was an enlightened sort eh?"
Another ex devotee writes
"I got involved with Siddha Yoga in 1983, when I was 31. Before I got into SYDA I was having alot of fun in my life. On the surface. I was successful in business, I was a gung-ho triathelete, I was obsessed with sex, and had some fantastic friends. However, inside I was without any emotional structure and desperate to feel safe inside. I started thinking about God alot after having a sort of cosmic experience during a triathlon race. Four hours of sustained high performance can create quite a high. A friend took me to the ashram shortly thereafter. I thought it was totally weird, but was drawn to all the feel good feelings. I went for it hook line and sinker. Why? Because, I felt safe there. I didn't have to do the hard work needed to feel safe and you could say I made a deal with the devil. Mommy in the form of the whole ashram community made me feel all tucked in and safe.
I abandoned my life: abandoned my business, my athletic practice and my state of excellent health, my friends, my family, my creative process, and most of all my sense of authenticity and integrity.
I was a lesbian before I got into SYDA. I am a lesbian now. God knows what I was during my SYDA years, I bought into the whole celibacy thing completely. I was on staff for three years when I went to Ganeshpuri, was flown over by SYDA, and lived on a ridiculously meager stipend. My best friend was a woman also on staff who had been a lesbian in her previous outside life. We were not lovers, we never considered being lovers since we were good celibate yoginis. However, we were very good close friends. Gurumayi went on tour in India while I stayed in Ganeshpuri. My friend traveled on that tour with Gurumayi. I stayed behind. One Sunday, I was pulled into the manager's office to be told that that Gurumayi said that I was to leave the ashram at once, to get a flight out of Bombay as soon as possible, that I was not to live in any SYDA ashram anywhere in the world.
I was floored. What had I done? I was so ashamed that I didn't even ask the manager why I was being sent away. If that was what the Guru wanted, then it was correct and I was to comply. I was terrified and ashamed, and stunned. I had been on staff for three years, I had not a penny to my name, I had no more belongings, I had no sense of worth, and I certainly had not learned how to create any safety inside myself.
I simply swallowed all my feelings of fear and shame, got my ticket and was out of there in 3 days. I telexed a friend who opened her home to me, letting me stay with her for several months while I got it together.
I found out not much later, from my close friend, that someone had told Gurumayi that my friend and I had been having an affair, and that she ordered that I leave. What a joke: I was the complete sucker, I was the one that followed all the rules, I was the one that chanted all the chants, that meditated every morning at 3:00AM, that didn't gossip or keep bad company, that thought only of the Guru. How far from the truth, that I was having an affair with my friend. All we talked about was Gurumayi.
I went home, gave an experience talk on learning Humility in Ganehspuri. I got a job, lived near the ashram, did seva. I was asked to pay for my air fare home from India, and even made payment for about six months.
How did I extricate myself from this sick scene? I don't know. Slowly I simply just didn't want to go to the ashram anymore. It's not like I made a decision over night, its more like the decision got made in my unconscious and slowly filtered up into daylight.
What happened is that I decided to be alive. To have feelings, to get mad, to be afraid, to think sometimes that I was great, that I could decide the course of my life. To be creative, to love another woman.
Today, I live a life examined, but not certainly in the saccharin manner described by SYDA. I am in a long term relationship with a wonderful woman. We have been together eight years. I write, I paint, I take photos, I play music, I have very close relationships with my family. I am doing very deep process work with an incredible counselor to finally create that structure and safety inside myself. I have found a small, terrified, little girl inside who was terribly abandoned at a very young age. What I did in SYDA is abandon her again. With hard work and a sense of excitement, I am learning to love and create safety and structure for that little girl inside. This is something that no guru could ever give to me. "
Another ex devotee writes
"As I have said on some of my posts, I have been in SYDA since 1981. Like you I did not experience any homophobia for many years. However, I was talking with a real "old timer" the other day who has recently left SYDA and he said that there has been homophobia since Baba's time, but like you I was not aware of it. My partner and I were always treated as a couple and Gurumayi herself always treated us as a couple also. We felt included and accepted. Now this is not to say that there was no homophobia, just that I was not aware of it if it was there.
Then later on when we went to Ganeshpuri(the home of Siddha Yoga in India) together we were not permitted to be in the same dorm room!! That was not only inconvenient but I also found it offensive - I mean REALLY what were we going to do in a dorm room and those horrible, hard and tiny beds!! I found it offensive actually. We had always had a double room prior to that at South Fallsburg and had been in the same dorm room on other trips to GSP. I tried to talk it over with the housing person but was continually put off - they said I had to talk with the "head" of housing and she was always "in a meeting"!
Then all kinds of other things started coming to my attention. They started to have those statements in the brochures about only "married" people would be permitted to have a double room. That statement about infectious diseases I always thought referred to HIV/AIDS.
This is from another ex devotee
"You know about firing all gay and lesbian Hatha Yoga teachers? My instructions were not to ever tell them it was because they were gay, but when pressed, the person telling me to do this (fire the lesbian Manhattan ashram yoga teacher) said that it wasn't fair to the students to be exposed to the touch and sexual vibes of a gay teacher. It think it was Ganapati Buga who gave me the instructions. The woman I fired, I learned much later, was devastated and could never understand why it had happened.
This is from the Open Letter written by a group of people who left Siddha Yoga after the O Guru article in the New Yorker
" - Ashram policies and attitudes discriminate against homosexuals. At Gurumayi's insistence, same sex couples who are known to be lovers are not allowed to be housed together in ashram rooms, although every effort is made to conceal this policy from those it affects. While Gurumayi surrounds herself with many gay and lesbian staff members, she encourages them in various ways to conceal and disavow their orientation. Gurumayi also insisted, starting in 1991, that every gay and lesbian Hatha Yoga teacher in SYDA Ashrams and Centers be fired by the local managers and steering committees. They were instructed to make up some excuse but by no means to reveal that the teachers were being fired because of their sexual orientation. Gays and lesbians are routinely excluded from many positions and activities in Siddha Yoga institutions, unless they happen to be wealthy and influential."
Submitted: December 1996
Revised: December 1996
I will update this document as I receive new stories and links along these lines. For more about Siddha Yoga and the abuses of this dangerous cult, visit the Leaving Siddha Yoga website. Also visit the Siddha Yoga Ethics folder on America Online. Keyword Ethics, go List topics, go Siddha Yoga Ethics Debate file.
I can be reached by Email at Bvena@aol.com
Here are some other topical links and Email addresses.
The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAD) can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org