|I was in sy for 17 years. A good part
of that time I spent in a leadership role in the organization.
I have found time and again that hearing otherís experiences and checking them with my own, helps me to trust my own judgement. It was just such an accumulation of information from many different people that finally built the picture for me of sy as organization out of control in the areas of money and power, whether or not grace was still flowing through it.
Then the question for me became what abuses do I tolerate for the sake of grace? How do I relate to a guru who allows her own brother to be abused and allows the harassment of workers in her own ashram?How low do I bow to a guru who through her swamis and teachers, senior members of her own staff, lies about the harassment of her brother and her relationship to her manager, George? Do I have to ignore lies to become enlightened?
There is pain in growth but a fine discrimination is necessary to tell the difference between pain that heals and pain that adds to the illusion that you have to accept any abuse inorder to gain "the good".The good news is that no one is in sole possession of the "good" and grace is there for all of us. The "good" is not a reward for protecting anyoneís self image. Like all truths this has to be worked out in the reality of our lives, our relationships and our work. Knowing it isnít the same as living it.
As I considered these questions, I saw I was living out the consequences of a student /teacher relationship gone arwy. I saw myself in a "betrayal bond." A teacher betrays her role when she lies to the student. The student betrays herself when she abandons rigorous discrimination, accepting the teacherís word without question.
When I left sy I spent so much time, all my time, considering the questions I mentioned above. I was as obsessed out of sy as I was when I was in sy. When I was in I obscessed as follows: Am I pleasing this Guru I love? Have I demonstrated I "can take it?"What more can I do to become worthy enough to receive grace? (An American Puritan idea translated through a Hindu system-causes major disruption of the spiritual synapsises. But, thatís another story.) How many intensives should I take? Can shaktipat be valued in dollars?
As if grace were a commodity. Although, maybe it is. I understand these days, the clothes worn by Bade Babaís murti at the ashram are auctioned off to the highest bidder after he has worn them a few times.We all knew in his saintly generosity he probably would have given you the clothes off his back but perhaps this is taking a metaphor too far!
More questions-Did my leaving SY shut the door to enlightenment ? Is it possible that prize, intimacy with God, can be granted to me by someone other than myself if I follow their rules?
But for a long time now, I havenít had the time to devote to obscessing about Gurumayi or SY. I have some answers now which feel true for me. That in itself is a sign of progress. The obsession lifted and I have a life. It took a few years to work out of it.
Knowing about these things and having anyone to talk to about them are two different things. The obsession continued because I was alone without community or the support it takes to leave.
For years I thought I had done something wrong in leaving. I was constantly trying to figure out what. I thought about it all the time, talked to people when I could find people who werenít afraid to talk about syís flaws. I would have saved myself alot of time if I had simply trusted my own gut feelings, the results of the small bits of information which accumulated over a number of years.
In fairness to myself, I left before the New Yorker article came out. I did alot of obscessing by myself. The article validated much of my experience.
After the article came out many sy devotees met and talked in groups all over the country.Subsequent information about other peopleís experiences has only confirmed what I knew and what the piece in the New Yorker revealed.
I suppose my misgivings about the palace coup which removed gurumayiís brother from power would have given most people who trusted themselves reason to leave. Case in point; itís one thing to accuse him of sexual misconduct, but to ignore the sexual misconduct of the swamis and Baba. Another case in point: if youíve gotten rid of him, why follow him around the world, like spiteful children, harassing him, practicing a low form of criminal behavior? Did I want my money to finance that behavior? Why insist centers remove his pictures and threaten evil would befall the center that kept his images in view? Our center dutifully removed his images. Why make up the story he was never Babaís successor ?We all saw the video. Was that the response of a compassionate guru or a threatened one involved in a plain old power struggle for control of SY. Thereís something about overkill that gives the game away.
What disturbed me the most was the consciousness behind these actions. Was this the mind and soul I was bowing to? Wasnít it enough that her brother had given up the succession, all rights to the money, all rights to the name SYand any rights to the books and writings of Baba? Why go after him, accusing him of bedding young women when it seems that Ďs what Baba did and thatís what gurumayi did with George- a blind spot in supreme consciousness?Or, just the old shell game of denial: Point your finger at someone else and no one will notice what you are doing.
This by the way is not an apologia for her brother. Quite the contrary.He was a naive and inexperienced young man who Baba raised to a position he was not prepared to occupy. What I hear from old timers is that Baba offered the succession to many others and was turned down.What does that say about Babaís judgement? Knowing he was ill and had a powerful rich organization to pass on drove him to give sy to someone.
Perhaps, Nityananda is more able now. I donít know. Certainly his measured response to harassment in India has earned him respect in that counrty and this. And earned gurumayi disrespect.
I didnít trust my misgivings enough so I remained in a system which told me what to think, and told me questioning was a sign that I wasnít worthy to receive "the truth."In short I believed someone else had the truth. That belief, was reinforced by the power structure in sy. Saying "no" to assignments, disagreeing with swamis, teachers, the official line, criticism of any kind however constructive were all grounds for dismissal. Any threat to the manager,Georgeís power met with a similar fate.The punishment for any of these offenses were often punitive: ostracism to the garden, banishment from the ashram, the "silent treatment" from gurumayi, and sanctioned harassement by fellow ashramites.
At one point, I was asked to harasss a woman by calling her every day at her office at the ashram and screaming at her(I was instructed to make up the content). I was told she had gotten above herself. I was told it was gurumayiís idea to harass her. When staff in the ashram wanted you to do something they often said it was gurumayiís idea whether it was or not.
Initially, I was flattered and said Iíd do it. Silly me! Then, on reflection, I decided I couldnít. I called one of the women who had proposed this "project"and told her I wouldnít do it. She told me I clearly didnít understand the workings of the"shakti" in sy.Then, I received a call from the then head of PR who said I had done my "seva" very well.
What exactly was that seva? Today I have some idea of what was going on in their twisted brains. At the time I didnít know there was a "bug" in the office where this woman worked. I think now they were trying to stir up trouble so they could listen on the "bug " to hear how people reacted. Itís not the way I would hope any teacher of mine would deal with a problem in an office where people trusted her and worked for her for nothing. But, simple and straightforward was not their way.
When Baba was alive we constantly heard the phrase "God dwells within you as you."After Babaís death God was phased out and gurumayi was phased in. I worked in the PR department and all efforts were directed toward blurring the line between Gurumayi and God, literally editing her image onto images of gods and goddesses in videos.
We were taught to pray to her, bow to her and expect everything from her. Everything, we were told, came to us by virtue of her grace."One look, One touch, one thought will change your life forever." Remember that brochure with her picture and that message?
In tutoring people for "experience talks" I was constantly told that people didnít want to hear anything about the speakerís life, just how Gurumayi impacted on them. If that wasnít enough, famous movie and tv stars got up in experience talks and claimed they had gotten this or that part because they prayed to Gurumayi. Idolizing her was the main thrust of the organization, just as de-idolizing her has become the thrust of the organization now. Itís still PR. In whoís hands is the soul of this organization?
But let me mention some additional pieces of information which began to accumulate for me and led to my leaving. First there was the escalating cost of spiritual attainment and the accompanying merchandizing (ie the not so subtle pressure to wear silk saris which could be had in the gift shop for many times their price in India, elaborate puja items to be taken to Gurumayi to be blessed, expensive pictures, and Darshan gifts(fruit, spices etc) which were then used in the fruit salad we purchased for dinner-an admirable double dip if I have ever seen one.)
Just what were we all carrying in those suitcases we were asked to add to our own luggage as we travelled back and forth to India? I carried one. I never asked. Silly me.Would the ashram have bailed me out had customs opened the bags and found what?: piles of jeans to be sold, expensive electronic equipment?
Then, the charges for the monthly video our center , all centers were supposed to order every month- close to $1000.00 a month for our center. At one time, when planning a gift for a special occasion we were told outright by one of gurumayiís close attendents "Why donít you just put cash in a paper bag. She likes that."Of course we were eager to please so we did that.If you gave money you got to sit up front.If you had money you got to sit up front by gurumayiís throne all the time.
During this time, I knew there had been a strike by the adevasi natives who did all the heavy labor at the ashram in Ganeshpuri. I also knew they had been denied any additional money and were accused by the ashram of being communists and fired. Years later after the New Yorker article came out, in my talks with people who had left I heard that not only were the workers and their families barred from ever working in the ashram again but George, the ashram manager and another man,the husband of one of the ex swamis went and burned the huts of the strike leaders.When I thought about how the $1000 a month our center alone was contributing to sy it made me sick to be supporting that kind of cruelty and criminal behavior. Imagine how that money could have been used to set up schools and small industries for those villagers, dealing with their poverty with true compassion.
How is it possible that kind of behavior was allowed?George continued to be manager and powerful in all of sy doings? Why? What was the source of his considerable power to harass whom ever he pleased?When he and a male Swami abused ex-swami Hemananda the people I knew, high up in the ashram power structure who were in another room on that corridor felt helpless to do anything about it. They felt they couldnít complain to Gurumayi. Who was running the ashram? Who was really in charge?
I never could understand why gurumayi had so many really nasty people close to her. George, the ashram manager was famous for his cruelty and capricious behavior. The PR dept. head was called "the shark" by the swamis for her relentless fits of verbal abuse and manipulative behavior. The department heads with few exceptions were into fierce power plays and serious back stabbing with one another and contemptuous, abusive behavior to the people who worked for them. One persumes gurumayi could have stepped in and demanded a climate of kindness and respect- that kind of ego work which would have required deep spiritual change. But, maybe she didnít know any better.
None of the center leaders I knew, those with some summer center leader training programs under their belts ever volunteered information, made improvement suggestions or asked questions. To do so, was a recipe for harassment.You were then treated like a person whoís ego had to be "busted", nevermind, that the suggestion was a good one or relevant to changing the stultifying lectures and propaganda sessions telling us how to talk about the guru and especially how to talk about the price of the intensive.
Instead, the absolute necessity of taking the course over and over again, summer after summer was the obstacle course to prove loyalty. It was as if no one in the ashram, Gurumayi include, trusted kindness or compassion.
The idea seems to be if you see negativity and name it then you are negative. Letís face it we all harbor negativity. People who realized the abuses in the ashram were dismissed if they called attention to the shadow side of the organization. One alternative was to leave. That choice branded the leaver "angry" and "righteous". You bet. Thatís normal when you have been betrayed. You get over it and move on. But, itís normal. If you werenít angry at the stain gurumayi and her organization have spilled on the grace they have been given youíd be a dead person.
Itís all a play of shadow stuff.Thatís another justification one hears to explain the mess.That would be an acceptable explanation if the ashram took responsibility for itís own shadow. But, the way the game is played in SY is you have a shadow but we donít. If you think you see our dark stuff, itís really yours- double no backsies. Get it?
Weíre all human and subject to the imperfections of being human.If Gurumayi could have some compassion for herself and for the rest of us SY might change for the better.A change from repressioon and denial to a climate supportive of acknowledging mistakes, asking for forgiveness and beginning again to heal and rebuild would be a welcome addition to the spiritual community. Rather than shutting down and becoming a closed clausraphobic organization, sy could expand to include the whole of human experience, not just the "acceptable parts. "
SY reminds me of a disfunctional family. All the energy of the organization is bent on hiding the shameful secrets it cannot deal with. The fact that gurumayi hasnít spoken to her family in years after a falling out with her mother, father and sister it should come as no surprise that her family of choice-SY- is as disfunctional as her family of origin. Perhaps, someone should assign a secretary to gurumayi the way these same functionaries were assigned to people who brought their troubles to the guru in the darshan line.
Her method now for dealing with the consequences of injudicious choices is to step further into the background, which would be a healthy thing if it also included disclosure and acceptance of responsibility. Damage control persists. Security at the ashram is tighter. All people there must wear identifying badges, issued after passing scrutiny at the "welcome" building. Only week long retreatants can be on the campus after 6p.m. The main building is closed to all except people known to be completely loyal.
The pomp and circumstance that surrounded gurumayi has been removed. Being accessible or not accessible to people is less of an issue than requiring people who wished to be close to her to give up their ethical intelligence and accept a version of loyalty that was idolatrous.
I hope these musings on the organizational side of my guru disciple relationship will be of use. I have learned the essential role the yamas and niyamas play in spiritual life and in the formal organizations that purport seekers.I have not written about my inner life since I consider that private. I will add only that the happy ending is my spiritual life has survived syís unacknowledged shadow to see more clearly my own shadow and the truth "God Dwells Within You As you", a sy teaching of great value. Life is good and every experience it offers can be mined for truth.
Thankfully, there is accessible truth that transcends the narcisism inherent in the defensive phrase "Itís not my experience." uttered when ever loyalists are confronted with unpleasant facts about SY. Lying, abuse of fellow human beings, idolatry, greed and cruelty need to be seen for what they are. It is important to acknowledge harm as harm and not demonize. Saying"Thatís not my experience" in the face of these abuses is neither a human nor a compassionate response. Nor, is it worthy of a spiritual seeker.
When gurumayi became aware of my friendship with a swami who knew all that went on in the ashram, I was discredited at a public function. I was asked if I knew how my lies affected others. Easy enough to make me appear to be a liar. Nothing I said would be credited. Clever. In my innocence I spent many hours contemplating where I might be lying in my life. I never dreampt the real purpose of the question. It wasnít a question. It was a statement. When the time came, I left sy quietly.