Leaving Siddha Yoga
In 1979 I entered Siddha Yoga. It is now 1996 and after many years of confusion I have finally come to terms with my relationship with this path. I am leaving.
I have been torn over the years. I have always believed in the possibility of a Guru, an enlightened person whos job is to help me know God. I believe Jesus and Buddha were such individuals. I believe that many of the teachings of Siddha Yoga (the Bhagavad Gita, Kashmir Shavism, Vedanta and the Yoga Sutras) are true in and of themselves. Please note that these teachings do not belong to Siddha Yoga. They are universal teachings that many other spiritual teachers, past and present, use. I have had wonderful experiences meditating and chanting at the ashram. And I do believe that whenever you get 50 or 500 or 1000 people together to do spiritual practices, it is quite easy to generate spiritual energy. I do believe Swami Muktananda attained some degree of spiritual "powers" and had the ability to generate "energy." On the other hand, there have been several events that have continued to challenge my devotion to him and to Swami Chidvilasananda. I have finally accepted these doubts as being true and my decision to leave comes easily.
I do not intend to throw the "baby out with the bath water". I still want to know God and it is clear that Siddha Yoga, (Swami Muktananda and Swami Chidvilasananda) is not the way for me. I respect the reason I came in the first place. I respect the reason that most of us came to Siddha Yoga, to know God. I believe that Bhagavan Nityananda of Ganeshpuri was a true Guru, enlightened. I do not believe he is part of Siddha Yoga, rather Siddha Yoga made him part of themselves. There are, as it turns out, several others who claimed the mantel as did Baba. I understand there are other ashrams around Ganeshpuri that have continued to pass on Nityanandas teachings. There are books you can buy that have actual quotes of Nityananda. They are sublime. Why did Siddha Yoga not publish them?
For the past 4 years I have been seeing another Guru and have, after much consideration, decided to join that path. I am grateful that I have the opportunity to do so. It is with this change in paths that I have been freed to look back at the years of doubts and attempt to come to some sort of peace with them. It has also been the dramatic contrast that I have witnessed between Siddha Yoga and this new path that has made it so easy to leave.
When I went to my new Guru the mantra given to me by Baba was blessed and "revitalized". I was amazed at what happened. From that moment on, my meditations have been so much easier and so much deeper. I have gotten more from that mantra in the past few months then I have in the past 17 years.
After meeting Swami Muktananda in 1979. I later lived in one of his many ashrams for about 2 years. During that time many rumors circulated about his sexual relationships with women and teens. Several of the swamis left at that time. I was so immersed in the ashram life that it wasnt until much later that I even learned about these allegations. When I did hear of them, I choose to believe that they were simply not true, that the person making the allegation was either mentally ill or that their spiritual practices became too hard and that they needed to leave in an angry way. Despite choosing to ignore them, they continued to nag at me over the years.
In 1982 Swami Muktananda died. I went to Ganeshpuri and saw Swami Chidvilasananda and Swami Nityananda take the throne as he had designed. I had wonderful experiences with them both. The chanting and meditation there was ecstatic. From the beginning Siddha Yoga and they (Swami Chidvilasananda and Swami Nityananda) by proxy, stated that they were perfected beings, Siddhas; that all they did and said was perfect.
After Baba died, I spoke with one Swami that I had respected. He assured me that he had investigated the rumors himself and did not find any truth to them. I wonder now how he has continued to live with himself. Over the years I discussed them with my friends and got several answers. One friend recently told me that he knows of a women who attends the local center who had sex with Baba. Somehow, this made it all right, since she was still in Siddha Yoga. The implication was that Baba was using sex as a form of tantric initiation (this has continued to reappear over time and apparently was used as a explanation by several Swamis to a group of Boston followers who were in the process of leaving after the Liz Harris article came out).
In 1985 Swami Nityananda stepped down. We were first told that he was going into retirement as Swami Muktananda had only planned for him to be there for limited time. That was a surprise but the Guru knew better than we did so we accepted that. And then, as Swami Nityananda apparently wanted to stay, the "truth" came out. Swami Nityananda had been having sex, a violation of his vows.
This was total deception. Siddha Yoga tried to pass off his leaving as part of Swami Muktanandas divine plan of a short term Guru to protect their image. Although they would have said it was to protect us, to keep us from having to deal with the confusion it would have raised about an otherwise wonderful path. (I believe many who are still in Siddha Yoga and know the truth still hold this line of thought. We are not told the truth to protect us). Swami Chidvilasananda obviously agreed to this plan. It wasnt until Swami Nityananda tried to reclaim his position that Swami Chidvilasananda and Siddha Yoga then told us the 2nd "truth", that he had "fallen".
I have found the written materials that were given out by Siddha Yoga when this happened. Clearly they are a matter of the "public" record. Except that for the average new person in Siddha Yoga (anyone who came in after Swami Nityananda left) you would not see this or know that it was in existence. I know people who were in Siddha Yoga for years before they even knew that there was a brother.
These include a cover letter from the Secretary of Siddha Yoga Foundation dated March 23, 1986; an undated statement from the trustees, an undated statement from the swamis, an article from Illustrated Weekly of India and a 16 page undated "message" from Swami Chidvilasananda. I do remember seeing this information at the time it was released. I do remember feeling confused. Lets assume that much of what Swami Chidvilasananda states in her message is true. She basically states that Swami Nityananda came to her with doubts about his ability to be the Guru. She then covered that up and let him continue on as the Guru, having us believe that he was enlightened. What kind of person would do that? I believe it was done to protect their image. After all how would it look if the "guru" quit? But things became out of control and the rest is "history".
Here is a section from "A message from Gurumayi to all the devotees of Siddha Yoga"
"The crux of the matter is that it was obviously impossible for him to fulfill the role of a Sadguru in spite of the fact that he was in that position. In 1983 when he was in Paris and I was in Australia, he told me on the phone, "I resign from Guruhood. I dont want to be a Guru."
I replied, "Watch what you say. The Shakti is ever alive. I dont want to hear that again because Babas action is impeccable."
He moaned and groaned and that was that for the time being.
Many, many times the fact arose that he was struggling with being a Guru. He talked about taking a year off and living in solitude in Hawaii (not a bad place) or just keeping to himself.
After his Australia tour in 1984, he could no longer teach Siddha Yoga in its purity, so he decided to stay in Ganeshpuri and work on himself. Of course, what he did was to work on having a huge house built for himself. Even during that time, when people were breaking their backs building his house, he went to Jaipur for five days and to Germany for two weeks to relax.
At this time I was in Los Angeles in April 1985. When he called me on the phone, I asked him, "How hard have you worked so that you fell the need to relax for two weeks?" When asked, "What do you do all day long?" he replied, "I drive around." (Not a bad life for this Guru!)"
When I first read this I agreed that Swami Nityananda was in a sorry state and shouldnt be a Guru. When I read it now I cant help but wonder about the state of Swami Chidvilasananda for covering up for him with the thousands of devotees that worshipped the ground he walked on. But Baba had put him there and after all everything Baba did was perfect, wasnt it?
After the shock and disbelief passed, it was apparent Swami Nityananda was never a Siddha, was never truly enlightened as we had been told. (I have heard since that Swami Nityananda said that he never claimed to be enlightened. Is this some sort of excuse? He, as well as Swami Chidvilasananda did let us believe it when it was given to us at every single program). Given his actions, how could he have been? The next question to haunt me for years was what about Swami Chidvilasananda. How did I know if she was realized as well? I continued to do battle with this quandary and "tried to trust my experience" as a way to be at peace with my staying in Siddha Yoga. However that was never really enough to convince me, I continued to have doubts.
During the summer of 1991 I visited S. Fallsburg trying to get some clarification, some resolution. I wrote a letter to Swami Chidvilasananda and one of her secretaries came and talked with me. She told me that neither Swami Chidvilasananda or Swami Nityananda were enlightened when Swami Muktananda died. She said that Swami Nityananda was not able to hold onto the Shakti but that Swami Chidvilasananda did so and eventually became enlightened.
My direct experience of the two of them after Swami Muktananda died was very powerful. As it was for many people. But despite having wonderful experiences with Swami Nityananda, he was not realized.
In the past years I have had wonderful and powerful experiences with several different spiritual healers. One was with a women who was trained in the Philippines as a psychic healer. She was not enlightened and yet she was able to channel and move tremendous amounts of energy. I learned that strong spiritual experiences could be had from non-enlightened people and yet I continued to put Swami Chidvilasananda as a perfected being.
So, it seems, I had been lied to. Siddha Yoga, Swami Chidvilasananda and Swami Nityananda had all told us that they were realized, when they were not. This deception should have been enough for me to leave but I did not. Rather I continued to want to believe and to belong. But if one deception occurred, there could be more.
Believe me, I never did want to see any deceptions in the first place.
And yet I could never quite accept Swami Chidvilasanandas authority and began to question Swami Muktanandas as well. How and why did he put two people on the throne as Siddha Gurus when they were not? What did this imply about his state?
Another major problem I have had with Siddha Yoga was George Afif and how he reflected upon Swami Chidvilasananda. He was an assistant to Swami Muktananda and later to Swami Chidvilasananda. In 1983 he was charged with statutory rape. (He was given a suspended six month jail sentence and three years of probation). How in Gods name could Swami Chidvilasananda keep him at her side? What do we know about sex offenders? It takes several years of intensive and specialized therapy for a motivated sex offender to change. Given the many stories of George continuing to chase women and teens at the ashram, it would appear, that George never changed. Apparently Swami Nityananda wanted to get rid of George at this time of the rape charge. It would seem that George temporarily "won" that challenge. Then there was the lake project. Several lawsuits later the ashram is now saying that he signed contracts without authority. Anybody close would have seen the amount of money he spent as well as the projects that were never finished. I have heard that he wasted large amounts of money. What I never understood is why Gurumayi allowed this? If she was realized (not that it took a realized person to see what was happening) than she had to know about it, as she was all knowing. So if she knew about it then she permitted it. Why? Why waste all the devotees money and hard work? Could that energy have been used to help the poor? Why did the ashram need to look so beautiful? And at what price? Maybe to attract new people?
A note about the lineage. In the beginning of almost every Siddha Yoga program there is the required notice about the lineage of Siddha Yoga extends from Swami Chidvilasananda to Swami Muktananda to Swami Nityananda to Shiva. It is continually reported that we need a Guru and Siddha Yoga has a handle on that lineage. They do explain that Swami Nityananda of Ganeshpuri was born enlightened and that his Guru was from a prior lifetime. I have no problem with that. I believe that an individual can be born enlightened. It is what they dont say that bothers me. Several other individuals apparently claimed to have been given the lineage from Nityananda of Ganeshpuri as well. Siddha Yoga can not claim to be the sole repository for Swami Nityanandas power.
When asked about whether there might be other enlightened Gurus in existence now, I heard one Swami say, "I have never meet one". Doesnt quite answer the question does it?
If Swami Chidvilasananda is not realized then she is as susceptible to all the human frailties that we are: confusion, fear, greed, etc. That would explain a great deal of what I have seen at Siddha Yoga over the years.
Shaktipat is defined as the spiritual wakening of an individual by a Guru. In the stories of past Gurus related by Siddha Yoga and even in Swami Muktanandas own auto biography it is quite normal for people to spend many years of hard work and spiritual practices before being given this gift. I have wondered how this has changed. Now we have a Guru that promises Shaktipat for a fee. While it is frequently stated that the Intensive is the program, designed by Swami Muktananda, (or was it Werner Erhart) to give Shaktipat, it is only occasionally stated that one can get Shaktipat outside of an intensive. Why is that? Many people take the intensive and say later that nothing happened. Siddha Yoga responds that whatever happens in the intensive is just perfect for that individual, thereby covering all the bases. Isnt it just as possible that many people take the intensive and do not get Shaktipat, that they are not ready (I have no problem with this idea. I didnt learn how to ride a bike or use my computer in a flash. It took many years of school and college for me to learn what I have learned). But I think Siddha Yoga would not want to dwell on this. It might make people think twice before signing up for a $ 400 intensive which does not even include lunch. And by the way, how does a unenlightened person give Shaktipat anyway?
Another ongoing problem with Siddha Yoga has been the money. Why do the courses and Intensives cost so much ? Given what I have seen in other spiritual paths, Siddha Yoga has become a major financial operation.
Is it true that Katherine Parrish, who heads raising money for the Prasad project, used to raise money for "The Hunger Project" for EST? Isnt this the one that most of the money went to peoples pockets and not to the poor?
In the past years I have seen a bigger shift towards asking for Dakshina, the spiritual practice of donating money. Why? Our local center raised more than 20K for her recent tour (1995-96) and now the foundation is asking for more money for her world mission. You should have seen the reaction when the Dakshina team made that new pitch. There was dead silence in the room, people were stunned. And several of them said so (after the meeting of course). Ive also wondered why the people with lots of money get special attention. And why do they end up in positions of responsibility?
Since Swami Chidvilasananda has been in charge the amount of money poured into the looks of the facility have been tremendous. Yes, people say that there is nothing wrong with having a nice place to worship. I would agree as well. But at what point does it cross the line? How many chandeliers are needed to make the place comfortable enough to meditate in? And why does she need to have such a luxurious place to live? To attract those with money? And all this at the expense of the health of those staying in the mold infested Sadhana Katir? Some might say that so and so donated those chandeliers implying that the foundation did not actually spend the money themselves. I dont think so. If Siddha Yoga had a better use for the money spent this way dont you think they would have said so to the donator? Also the person donating the items would have to of coordinated this with the foundation in advance. The foundation thereby giving permission for this to happen.
The next problem has been the clear public relations and Hollywood aspect to Siddha Yoga. If Swami Chidvilasananda is realized, why should she care what people think of her and her organization? It seemed to be a simple PR move to have George suddenly not available when the New Yorker article (November 14, 1994) was being researched by Liz Harris. (Not that anyone in S. Fallsburg ever got a chance to read it as the ashram bought up as many copies as they could in the area to prevent people from seeing it. I spoke to one of the "buyers" who did this). The ashrams official word was that George was out of the country caring for his parents. I have heard that George is in New York working in an advertising agency.
Why has Siddha Yoga been so paranoid about people visiting other spiritual teachers? Why did people take names of those visiting other Gurus? People in positions of authority are told that they are not allowed to see other teachers. Are they afraid that they might get something from someone else that was to be had at Siddha Yoga? If Swami Chidvilasananda is not realized, do you think she would want people comparing Gurus?
Another problem has been the shift towards psychological growth techniques. Why does an enlightened being need to come up with more and more courses to teach us? Arent the traditional texts of India good enough? Its almost like they need to do something different and exciting to get peoples attention (and money). The No Ego Course for example taught about several types of egos. Someone later found the psych book that the information came from, listing the types of egos.
As I have told friends and family about my leaving Siddha Yoga I have gotten several interesting responses.
One person said that while they had doubts they trusted Swami so and so and that as long as that person was still here, it must be ok. Well, I had to stop and think. I have said that to myself for many years. Then it occurred to me. What about all the swamis that have left Siddha Yoga? So I began to collect a list, to see what it would look like. I dont know if this is complete but this is what I have found so far. I remember many of the Swamis who left Siddha Yoga. Many of them were wonderful teachers and highly respected inside of Siddha Yoga.
|Not Swami, still with Siddha Yoga|
|No longer with Siddha Yoga|
In addition to the Swamis there is Joseph Chilton Pearce, a world famous teacher. He was highly placed in Siddha Yoga for many years. I considered him to be a very solid guy and always liked his teachings, prior to and while in Siddha Yoga. But when was the last time you saw him? Actually he has left. Below is a short description from a friend who found this out, who used to be on the steering committee of a center:
"This happened a few years ago, when I was still the head of programming, before I went on the Steering Committee. Joe Pierce had been conspicuously absent from the limelight for a while (6 months or so?). A satsang member, who teaches at a local university heard that Joe was going to be in town in a few months, was speaking and doing a book signing, and wanted to know if I'd call him and invite him to speak at one of our programs at the center. She even gave me the name of his publicist in NY. I decided to check this out with the South Fallsburg Center's Office first, since it was a programming question, and called our contact in the Center's Office. They said they would check on it and get back to me. I was called about a day later and said we should leave Joe alone, not invite him to speak, or even invite him to the center. She said he was very sick, and that we didn't want to tax his health by burdening him with such a request. As I recall, she even told me not to talk about him at all, and if asked by the satsang member, I should just say he wasn't available. I was told that hed left Siddha Yoga and that I was not to pass that on, just to say he wasnt available and wasnt feeling so well."
Actually I have heard that Joe Pierce has a new Guru.
What does this mean? That some of them couldnt take it or that some of them couldnt stand the hypocrisy any more. And why does Siddha Yoga not tell us of a Swamis leaving. At least early in Siddha Yoga their would be an announcement in the back of the Siddha Path. Now its done in secrecy. The same person who told me about Joe Pierce also told me about S. Nikilanandas departure in about 1994. This is what he said:
"S. Nikilananda: I received a letter by regular US mail (unusual, most communication from SF was via fax or voice) while I was on the Steering Committee, addressed to Steering Committee members, ashram managers and country coordinators. It had attached to it a letter from Swami Nikilananda, resigning his position as swami, renouncing his vows of monkhood, and gave an explanation as to why he was doing this. He sighted personal reasons, and specifically stated that it had nothing to do with all the negative publicity Siddha Yoga was receiving at the time (the Liz Harris article was mentioned, I believe). He said he needed to move on in his life. The cover letter that was addressed to us was from the Global Communications department. I can't remember if it was signed by anyone, but I'm sure it was; probably Lolita Shirella (sp?). They said we were not to pass on this information to the community, that it was for our eyes only. We were being informed in case anyone asked us if we knew anything about Nikilananda's leaving, we were to say it was for personal reasons, had nothing to do with the NYr article, and leave it at that."
So, I ask myself why have so many left? I have come to believe that they can no longer live with themselves as being part of Siddha Yoga. They leave quietly as that is what Siddha Yoga wants (dont rock the boat or make it difficult for people by giving them this information) and because they do not want to be harassed by Siddha Yoga.
Another person addressed my leaving by quoting Rajneesh (of all people). "Its better to have perfect faith in an imperfect master than imperfect faith in a perfect master". My first reaction is that this is a great statement coming from Rajneesh. Maybe it gives people the permission and the courage to stay. I couldnt disagree more. Perfect faith and devotion for a person who is not enlightened will only get you as far as they are, at best. I guess if thats all you want thats fine. And what if that person goes off the deep end why you are being a perfect devotee? Are you going to go down with him? In Rajneeshs case that included planning to poison people at restaurants.
I think what is behind this (granted this is my interpretation) is what do I say to myself and to others after giving so many years to this path? Does it mean that I have wasted all these years? I think not. Theres nothing to be gained by beating myself up about it. Since I havent done anything to hurt anyone else (except trying to enlist others into Siddha Yoga) then I really only have myself to deal with. Why did I come to Siddha Yoga? What was I looking for? As I look back (at the time I was working as a therapist, owned a house, was married and doing just fine) I had long prior given up on my childhood teachings of Catholicism and my life was devoid of any active spiritual practices. I had always been looking for a true spiritual path. Its just that I got sidetracked for a while. But that is what I still want. If anything it makes me more determined than ever to get it!
Another person said, if your going to leave why bring up all this stuff? Why cause trouble? Well, I guess, I am grateful for all the articles (the New Yorker article by Liz Harris, "O Guru, Guru, Guru; November 14, 1994; the article in the CoEvolution Quarterly, "The Secret Life of Swami Muktananda" by William Rodarmor which includes a letter by Stan Trout, formally known as Swami Abyayananda, Winter 1983 and the Gnosis article "Face to Face; Confronting the Guru-Disciple Relationship, Spring of 1996") that have been written and all the information that exists on the internet. It has helped me come to see the truth and move on. The truth about Siddha Yoga and the truth that I still want to know God. Maybe somebody else will read what I have written and it will help them see their truth as well.
Another person agreed there have been problems but now things have changed, they are better now. Yes, I agree George is gone and that is good. (This is what they were referring too). But the circumstances that allowed George to come to power are still there. And the fact remains that Siddha Yoga is based on deception.
Another person told me that she had separated Gurumayi from the organization as a way to deal with all the problems. Yes, I had done that too in an attempt to make sense of it all. After all, the other people below her were not realized and therefore subject to mistakes like the rest of us. But Gurumayi is ok. But I kept asking myself, if she is enlightened how can she allow all these problems to continue. For our benefit? I think not. I think Gurumayi is well aware of what goes on in the organization and has complete control of it.
In the end, I am angry for being deceived and lied to. I am also grateful for some of the people I have meet as I believe the vast majority of them have entered into Siddha Yoga with good hearts and good intentions. And as I take responsibility for my being in Siddha Yoga, for those 17 years, I now choose to leave.
In the short few months, I have felt a sigh of relief. They needed to find three people to replace all the seva I did. It has been exciting to see how I can live my life without the ever growing pressure of SYDA and I look forward to what lies ahead.
Submitted: July 1996