Paul's Story 11/2011

 

A believer:  1976-1981
 
I have some direct knowledge of the goings on at the Muktananda ashram in Oakland in 1981.  I am writing this after so many years to confirm some of the negative things about Muktananda.  Not to deny any positive things, which I also experienced, at least in my mind.
 
I was associated loosely with the group.  I had been living in the Ashram but was by then a few blocks away in a private house. I was no longer attending services on a regular basis and was somewhat of a joke among the insiders because of my secular life style.  I had some friends who were very closely involved and they would often come by the house to be free of the behavioral restrictions at the Ashram.  My household was thus priveledged to be in the loop of the unending gossip that was generated by the various ashramites regarding each other and Muktananda.  While living apart from the Ashram and still belonging to them as my primary group,  I was slowly becoming disenchanted.  The reasons were many, but it all came down to this.  If this  guy (Muktananda) was so good and so great, why was it that there was so much corruption, greed, power-tripping, secret lustful relations, stealing, use of Swiss bank accounts,  people dissappearing in the nights,  and other such failings going on all around him?  Although I was still brainwashed,  the truth was slowly seeping into my mind.
 
I  knew Michael Dinga, the first one, I think, to blow the whistle.  Our relationship was that of friendly competitors, as we were both building contractors.  We were not close although we had worked together previously.  I was also friends some other people who were closer friends of the Dingas, and because of these aquaintances I witnessed some events that I found shocking.
I will try to remember them in sequence and try to be easily understood.  What happened was,  Michael and Chandra, who were very close in the inner circle, apparently learned something very upsetting to them, namely, that Muktananda had a sexual taste for young girls. How they knew, Chandra later told me, was by living with him in close proximity.  There was no doubt in her mind.  Previously  They had been very strong believers.  Chandra ran the food service for the Ashram,  Michael ran the construction and maintenance.  Michael was also on the Board of Directors of Siddha foundation, or whatever they called themselves. Michael and I had had some discussions wherein he told me that in his estimation, the guy was as high as Jesus Christ himself.  I am not exaggerating.  He told me this to convince me to do things which were senseless, namely to continue working for the Ashram at slave wages.  Their blind  belief was way beyond what I could ever have been capable of.  So I surmise that their shock from their new knowledge was immense.
 
They, upon learning of the misbehavior,  hurriedly left the Ashram and went to their close friends, also devotees, also people who were my friends, and sprung this horror story on them.  The friends did not believe them and were also very shocked.  They quickly went to the Ashram and asked Muktananda or people close to him what was going on.  At that point the only people in involved were the two couples.  When word got to Muktananda about this query, he became enraged.  That evening during the service he publicly proclaimed that Michael and Chandra were spreading malicious lies about him, and their good Karma had run out (meaning they had left).  Which almost by itself proves the guilt.
 
After that,  the rumor mills were in full swing and most everyone was taking the side of Muktananda and saying that Michael and Chandra were bad people.  Now living in the Ashram were a couple of guys,  one called Shripati who was known as an ex special forces veteran,  and Joe Don Looney, and ex pro football player, (and I think I read his obituary in the NY times).  These two muscle bound guys who were more than able to commit violence were Muktananda's bodyguards.   They were not friends of mine, although Joe Don was pleasant.  Because they knew that Michael and I had worked on some jobs together,  they inferred that I would know where Michael and Chandra were hiding.  At that time Michael and Chandra were hiding from them after having received death threats.  So one day I came home from work and was surprised to find these two physical enforcers at my kitchen table talking to my wife.  They greeted me and I was immediately suspicious, because as I said they were not my friends,  they did not think much of me nor I of them.  After some short while of pretend niceness, they got down to the task of asking me how to find the two renegades.  At that time I had heard the rumors and was also not believing the Dingas.  But  I did have a strong sense that this Shripati was not a good person at all.  I had a shocking epiphany at that moment.  What came to my mind was that if I went along with this,  I would be about as good as the Nazis that murdered my relatives.  I confronted them on the spot.  I told them that I knew what they were doing there and demanded to know the meaning of the threats against the Dingas.   I asked when would this be over.  Shripati  told me it would over when he killed Michael Dinga and Chandra's face was burned beyound recognition by acid.  These people believed in what they were doing!  I told them to get out of my house and they left.   I still did not believe what the Dingas had been saying, but I knew right from wrong.  Later  on I found out Michael Dinga's phone number from a mutual friend.  I called him and asked if there was anything I could do to help.  He asked me to call the police, because, he said, the police were not taking the death threats seriously.. I did call the police and spoke to some detective.   The police then went looking for Shripari and Joe Don Loony,  who left town to avoid them.
 
Once this episode had happened,  of course I was on the enemies list too.  I was in shock at the speed at which my world view had been decimated.  I decided to move quickly and managed to sell my house before the Ashram enforcement types had a chance to regroup and find a way to harm me and my family.  The way out for me was to keep my mouth shut and sell the house to some other devotee.  It turned out that was a smart move,  because I later heard that others who were in my situation with property had been less lucky.  The neighborhood we were in was fairly poor, and the only way to make a profit on a sale right then was to sell to another devotee.   The houses were less valuable to an outside buyer.  So when subsequent people wanted out,  the Ashram was able to torpedo any sales to any devotee.
 
I had to deal with the facts.  The facts suggested very strongly that Muktananda was guilty.  I offer no insights into his mind.  Whether he had any real "powers" I don't know.  People had experiences as religious people do.  Those experiences were real to them.  But in my mind he will always be associated with what we regard as gangster behavior,  rape and pedophilia.
 
There is one more short note I will share. This is third hand, but...... Some time before the above episode, a year I think,  Baba had lost control of his diabetes and had a round of seizures which almost killed him.  During one seizure he became convinced that he was dying.  He lamented to Amma, an older woman who was family to him, that he was dying without ever having achieved the spiritual goal. (so somewhere inside, he actually cared).  Amma told another worshipful inner circle disciple what he said,  and in an unguarded moment,  he sadly told me. So, from God's mouth to my ear,  three degrees of separation!
 
A long time has passed.  When I was into this cult,  I thought I was looking for enlightenment, or at least self-improvement.  Later I realized that I was telling myself a big fairy tale.  Now my interpretation is, that as a pained young man,  I was looking for that father figure,  that authority, that structure, that belief that things make sense,  that so many of us want.  One thing for sure:  the world is too complicated for any human being to understand. So Let us not be led by our weaknesses,  but by our strengths.
 
I think Muktananda was a product of his times.  We were the fools.  How is that we can see all the hypocrisy in the society we are born into yet fall for a primitive system of coertion?  Amazingly, this system is marketed as "new age".  Hello,  this is definitely  Old Age.  Advice for anyone associated with anything like this cult.  Click your heels together three times! Go Home. And never forget, God gave you a mind so you could use it!