Perhaps the most disturbing feeling I've had regarding my many years in Siddha Yoga is remorse for not having spoken the truth forthrightly at key moments in my SYDA drama." Perhaps none of these moments is more stark than the evening at the Fallsburg ashram when the first "panel" announcement was made concerning the Nityananda "sexcapades." The entire ashram had been called to a mandatory meeting in the main meditation hall. In front were Swamis Shantananda, Kripananda, and Hemananda (now, for some reason, strangely dressed in white); plus Chris Forsythe and Sanand. Without much in the way of preliminaries, they began, in turn, to bitterly denounce Nityananda in the cruelest of terms. Each presentation was uniquely bizarre. Shantananda seemed obsessed by the issue of Nityananda's semen. He graphically described a scene of Devyani lying naked with semen sprayed over her abdomen. (I realized at that point that it was not going to be a typical evening program.) He was beside himself describing his outrage that a man would waste this precious substance on a woman (good God!). Sanand, being the ashram's chief financial officer, seemed most concerned about Nityananda's expenditures on fancy cars and the like. Chris F., not one to mince words, simply recalled that one of Nityananda's former school teachers had referred to him as a "dummy." Bear in mind that up until a few minutes earlier we had worshipped this "dummy" as God incarnate. As the personal bashing continued, an amused friend sitting next to me leaned over and whispered, "Next thing they're going to say is that he wears dirty underwear."
While the session wore on I found myself wanting desperately to stand up and shout "Don't you all see? Isn't it clear that these people are not speaking with compassion and wisdom?" But I was afraid.
I thought back to all the numerous incidents I had witnessed in my years of living in SYDA ashrams: Baba forcing a local Gavdevi merchant out of business and sell his fruit stand to the ashram by forbidding devotees to shop there; Baba punching an Indian man mercilessly in the head for trying to touch his feet; Baba throwing a tantrum in Fallsburg when a blind men was walking too slowly to come up and bow to him in the darshan line; George beating a middle-aged woman in front of the tent in Santa Monica (he knocked her into me), and then Baba making the woman apologize publicly for the incident the next day; reading about Baba's secret sex life in the CoEvolution Quarterly; helping to cut an access hole into the space above the swamis' quarters so a microphone could be planted over a fake vent in Kripananda's room; the obvious and blatant lies surrounding Nityananda's earlier "retirement;" smashing and burning every item in Nityananda's room that we had painstakingly built only months before; and George Afif's totalitarian order. These thoughts and dozens of other incidents ran through my head and I was afraid.
I thought back to my first days on the construction crew. I vividly recalled the crew meeting with Muktananda in his upstairs bedroom at the Santa Monica ashram. An emergency darshan had been hastily arranged for us and, as a relatively new devotee (2 years) and a recent addition to the carpentry crew, I was excited to get the chance to be physically closer to Baba in a context other than bowing down to him. We were ushered into the room by a man I recognized as someone I had seen a few days earlier involved in an extremely bitter argument with another member of the crew. Baba was sitting cross-legged on his bed while perhaps 50 other workers and I found our places on the floor. Through his translator, Baba angrily told us that Michael Dinga, a man I had met for the first time only several days before (I vividly recall that he was the most overworked person I had ever seen), was a traitor and that he was being kicked out of the ashram. Furthermore, George Afif, the unusual man who had led us into the room, was to become the new head of construction. Baba was highly animated and seemed livid. After several minutes of our guru's raving about Michael and how terrible he was, one of the carpenters, I think it was Dave Hockman, bravely spoke up. He said that, as far as he had seen, Michael was a hard worker and a good guy. Oddly Baba's tone seemed to soften a bit and he quickly shifted the blame to Chandra, Michael's wife at that time. According to Baba, she was really the one to blame. She had corrupted Michael. We were given sweets and, as we were trailing out of the room, another crew member went over to Baba, took his stocking feet by the hands, and also expressed his confusion over Baba's actions. Baba, somewhat calmer now, once again blamed Chandra for all the problems.
Now, in the Fallsburg meditation hall, as I sat listening to Shantananda's vitriolic tirade, it all seemed so apparent. It all fit together. But I was afraid to speak out . . . . We had no savings, no place to go, and George was waiting just outside the meditation hall doors listening. (A security guard confidentially told me later that they had been given orders to physically remove anyone causing a disturbance.)
I have fantasized repeatedly about being back there and having the courage to clearly express what I felt. Perhaps that's part of why I'm writing this letter.
The program concluded with sloppily edited video clips of Nityananda. The video segments blatantly took little snippets of Nityananda's talks out of context and awkwardly pieced them together to show what an evil person this "false guru" was. (Some devotees would eventually come to call him the "AntiChrist.")
After the program I went to our room and discussed the evening's events with my extended family. Unfortunately, our neighbors heard our discussion through the wall and turned us in to Avinash and George. George approached me the next day saying, "I hear you are having negative meetings in your room." I had little to say in response.
As the situation got uglier that winter I noticed a rather humorous symbolic event had taken place outside my window. The torch of freedom held by the Statue of Liberty in front of the ashram was hanging downward. The statue's arm had broken and the torch was dangling by Lady Liberty's side. The statue remained in this state of disrepair for many months, the symbolism starkly transparent.
While part of me was keenly aware of the "dark" side of the ashram, I was still unclear about my feelings because of the numerous "spiritual experiences" associated with my years at SYDA. One day, by shear chance, I bumped into Gurumayi in the hallway alone. This was my chance to address my doubts and concerns directly, without George. With tears welling up in my eyes I humbly expressed my confusion about the way she was dealing with her brother and her allowing for the creation of an atmosphere of hatred. She dismissed me with a huff and walked off. That night, in the evening program, she announced to all that she was beginning a new special course on Delusion in my honor.
I was forced to choose. Who was/is deluded, Gurumayi or me? Who should I believe, myself or every devotee I had lived and worked with for years? Ultimately, of course, I could only trust my own perception.
Ironically, the resulting empowerment and freedom is exactly what Siddha Yoga had promised me way back at my first intensive almost a decade earlier. I had been guided directly to myself as my own ultimate authority. What a liberation!!!! Could this process of life be so bizarre that the awakening energy works equally well in all circumstances, even through the most corrupt of vehicles? Certainly, many questions remain unanswered. But I sort of like it that way.
As my regrets have faded, my appreciation for the whole process has grown deeper. I am continually amazed.
Love and best wishes to all.
Submitted: December 1996