In 1986, I had been wandering up and down New Zealand for about four years, sleeping under bridges and trees, on riverbanks and beaches, and in barns or derelict buildings. I worked on farms for food and spent much time hiking alone in the mountains.
In January that year, some friends at a hippy festival invited me to come and stay with them for a month. They were regulars at the Siddha Yoga Centre just across the road. We used to get stoned and go to the centre and chant our brains out. The centre was run by a very sweet old lady in her tiny meditation room. It was full with six people but sometimes weíd squeeze as many as twelve in, sitting knee on knee. In spite of us singing off key and mangling the words, the chants were always ecstatic. I loved the exotic-ness of the Sanskrit mantras and the incense.
The old lady must have been an angel; she never chided us for our singing, the way we dressed or our being late. She never asked us for money but always provided tea and biscuits. She accepted us just as we were and was always glad to have us there. Unfortunately, this wasnít typical of Siddha Yoga.
This was just after the split with Nit and all references to him had been removed. Nevertheless, one devotee, who preferred Nit to Gurumayi, kept a secret stash of photos, which he showed me. So I was vaguely aware of that scandal from the beginning. However, I trusted my friendsí judgement and if they didnít see a problem, neither did I.
I visited my SY friends again in January 1987 and began to use their place as a base for my travels and attending satsangs when I was staying with them. I was longing to get to India and the Auckland Centre had arranged discounted airline tickets for devotees to fly to Ganeshpuri for the Mahasamadhi celebrations. I wasnít really a devotee at that stage but bought a ticket through them any way. On my way to India, I stopped in at the Auckland Centre. It couldnít have been more different to what I was used to. It was large and spacious. There were maybe fifty people attending, all dressed as if for church. It was very formal and tightly run. The singing was sweet and in tune. And it had all the charm of a prison cell. It just left me cold. As one friend put it, it had no Shakti.
I arrived at Bombay Airport in bare feet and with a sack-cloth bag containing only my passport and a toothbrush, and no plan. After wandering around the Bombay slums for half a day, I figured I might as well go to the Ganeshpuri Ashram that I had heard so much about. I had no idea how to get there but with some help, I got on the right bus. Then everyone on the bus took turns practising their English on me.
When the bus pulled up outside GSP, the other passengers indicated this was the ďAsramĒ. Five-storey white stone buildings were surrounded by a high wall topped with barbed wire and broken glass. The front was patrolled by security guards. I had never seen a picture of it but I was so sure this could not be the ashram that I stayed on the bus and carried on to Ganeshpuri village.
When I came to the Nityananda Samadhi Temple, I thought I had found the ashram.† I rented the cheap, mosquito-filled room from the Nityananda Trust and settled into ďashramĒ life.
A couple of days later, I was wandering through the forest on a hill overlooking the village when I came across yet another ashram. This consisted of one lone sadhu and his stick hut. Inside was a puja with a cheap poster of Hanuman repeating Ram Ram. This sadhu was very welcoming. As we talked, he pointed through the trees to the five-storey building I had seen from the bus. ďMuktanand Asram, very bad.Ē He said.
I made a mental note and the next day made my way there and booked in for three days. The first shock was that it was Rs100/day. Although that included food, it was ten times the cost of a room in the village, which in turn was more expensive than I was expecting. The next shock was that I was presented with a form to sign that said the accommodation fee was a donation. I asked how it could it be a donation if the fee was compulsory? The registration woman just looked at me as if I was an idiot. Uneasily, I paid up.
A lot of people had a problem with the compulsory donation. There was a reason for it. Under Indian tax law, donations to ashrams are non-taxable, whereas accommodation charges are taxed. The ashram was ripping the government off for tens of thousands of dollars a month. The subject was broached with GM by letter, but to no avail and with no response.
The ashram was very quiet at this time. It was monsoon, Gurumayi was away and there were barely a hundred people in residence. I stayed just three days but it made a deep impression. Then I left to see something of India, before returning for the Mahasamadhi celebrations.
GSP was a hive of activity in October. Gurumayi had returned and the ashram was packed with people. This time I stayed for three weeks before taking off to travel again. Only two things of note happened during this time.
One was that I bumped into the New Zealand SY co-ordinator, Jessica. She was horrified that I had been travelling round India Ė why would I waste my time when I could be in the guruís house? She took an instant dislike of me and later, went out of her way to make things difficult for me. For instance, a year later when I applied to be on staff, she also insisted I had to have an aids test. This was simply untrue. In 1988, when you had the test, you had to fill out a questionnaire with every detail of your sexual history and you had to have counselling. When you got your test results, you had to have more counselling regardless of the result. Jessica then sent nasty report on me to GSP recommending I not be put on staff. And she did not send the accommodation form she was supposed to, so no one was expecting me.
The other thing was an incident that I saw from a distance. Every year at Mahasamadhi, there was a big giveaway of blankets and pots to the advasis. This started after Baba died and as the reputation of the giveaway increased, the number of people coming increased each year.† I heard stories that 100,000 people turned up that year but who really knows? Anyway, there was a riot.† The ashram spin was that union activists saw GSP as a soft and wealthy target and had stirred up trouble for their own gain. At that time, almost all the labourers employed by GSP were local people. The ashram always paid the minimum legal wages.† The excuse for this was they didnít want to distort the local economy. As I heard it, the local workers were demanding a wage increase to normal rates. There may have been some union people involved. I donít know. But after the riot, George Afif and some others burnt down the huts of the ringleaders. Local labourers were fired and from then on, all labour was brought in from outside, typically 500-600km away. Some workers came from as far away as South India, Uttar Pradesh and Nepal. The giveaway was stopped from then on.
I returned to GSP from travelling after Christmas. This time I was given the seva of chain-sawing in Dakshin Kashi.† On the face of it, this was a good idea as I had done this for a living. However, the seva desk didnít know that. I told them that I didnít have any shoes but they didnít care. I had to hope my chainsaw skills would protect me. I donít know what the swamis thought of me. At this time, I dressed in a purple knee length lungi, orange kurta and bare feet. I had long hair and a beard. (Later they tightened up entry requirements to keep people like me out).
One day I was standing in the field covered in dust, sawdust and sweat, holding a chainsaw in one hand. I was talking to a friend when out of the dust appeared a ghost-like apparition on a bicycle, all in spotless white. It looked at me and said, "You should get some shoes, chainsaws are dangerous." and peddled off into the haze. Me and my friend looked at each other and he said "Who was that jerk!??" It was Swarupananda, chief butt-licker to George.
Actually, I didnít get much chainsawing done because the chain was always blunt when I started and I spent most of my shifts getting it sharpened. The other chainsaw-operators seemed to have no idea what burying the blade in gravel and dirt did to it or they didnít care. Only the garage-walas were allowed to sharpen the saws. Michelle, a French-Canadian, used to swear when he saw me coming, because it meant he had to sharpen the saw yet again.
It was at one of these sharpening sessions that I met David Kempton, Durganandaís brother and an ashram manager. He was his usual charming self (like a pit bull) and suggested he could use the chainsaw to cut off my beard. I said "No thanks mate, I'm quite Ďattachedí to it." as I tugged on it (Zen joke about attachments) and my friend and I laughed ourselves silly. David was less amused and later I saw him pointing me out to Yogiram Brent as a troublemaker.
Before long, I was shifted to late night dish shifts. These often finished around midnight but I would be too hyper to sleep. Since the cave was closed and meditation was not allowed, the only option was to go up to the roof and smoke a joint and watch the stars. I got busted for being up there... because being on the roof at night was verboten. The same security guy used to catch me every night. He used to bust us in the dishroom too, for doing the final puja too enthusiastically. He had little imagination and no sense of humour and I imagine he is still being used as a SY doormat somewhere. Iím sure he had no idea why we used to laugh all the time.
In January 1988, they had not yet demolished the GSP meditation garden.† I was busted several times for (shock! horror!) trying to meditate there. During the day it was too busy and in the evening they put the sprinklers on. At night they had regular security patrols to prevent troublemakers disrupting the routine by meditating. The garden was bulldozed to make way for the Shiva Bowl disaster (see below) and all the coconut trees that were shifted, died.
At the end of January I went back to New Zealand and came back in November intending to stay long term. In the mean time, I attended another centre in NZ that was small but vibrant and where no one was put off by my appearance. With the help of the centre leader, I tried to get a long-term visa for India and to be put on staff. However I was blocked by Jessica, who I mentioned above, and by Yogiram Brent who was the GSP manager at the time. So I went to GSP on a tourist visa. Jessica had failed to pass on the housing request to so the housing department had no idea I was coming.
This time when I turned up at GSP, I was dressed in a bright yellow kurta and pant, bare feet and beads. My hair was long and bleached yellow, and my beard was also bleached and in dreadlocks with little bells tied to the end of each one. I was given seva in FC where all the misfits and freaks were sent. By now I was starting to learn how appearance-conscious and superficial the ashram ethos was.
David Kempton made me his special project. I only cut my hair after four months when I was satisfied that David Kempton had given up all hope that I ever would. We made a bit of a performance of the whole thing. I had my hair cut in secret. The dark roots replaced the yellow hair. I changed into clothes I hadnít worn before, and I took off my glasses. This made me almost unrecognisable. Then I had my friend Richard take me around and "introduce" me. Only one person actually recognised me. That was Indirananda. Some people took YEARS to realise that the hippy with dreadlocks, and the short-haired Gorakh were the same person. On someoneís suggestion, I presented the dreadlocks to GM at darshan, wrapped in a silk cloth. The darshan swami, Ishwarananda I think, asked me what they were and then gave them back like I'd handed him dog turd.
In May 1989 I was put on staff. This was a huge relief to me as it meant I could stay indefinitely and not just 6 months at a time. I still did not get a stipend however. And like all things SY, there was a dark side. Long term staff were put on a student visa, but there was no way any of us were students. So effectively we were committing visa fraud. The ashram got around this by inventing a bogus series of courses in ďIndian religion and philosophy.Ē and the like. From time to time there would be staff meetings to remind us which course we were on. They had six years worth of bogus courses.
My seva from Nov 88 to May 89 was in FC. FC stood for Facilities Co-ordination but we referred to it as Fetch and Carry, F***ing C***s or Finding Chocolate. Mostly it involved shifting 2000 mattresses from one location to another, then shifting them back again. It was a dumping ground for oddballs. It was definitely not a place for bad backs. When the sleva desk threatened people with FC, they often developed bad backs in a flash. (People faced with dishroom seva developed sudden soap or water allergies). But I enjoyed FC and I liked the people I worked with. The people in FC were often real characters.
The two main guys then were Don Orlik and Richard Gonzales. When Don first saw me at the seva desk, he said to Richard, " I sure hope we donít get that guy!" However, we got along really well. Don was a conservative type who believed in calling a spade a spade. Richard was Ĺ Apache Indian, looked like a gorilla and liked to playfight, but had a heart of gold and was one of the funniest people Iíve ever met. Working with them was never dull. It got us fit too. I remember carrying 70lb suitcases two at a time up 5 stories of narrow stairs for 8 hours at a stretch, and racing each other as we did it. The two suitcases weighed more than I did.
There was a Zen quality to FC. Housing would ask us to move something. Later we would tell them we had moved it, even tho we hadnít. This would prompt them to ask us to move it somewhere else. Again we would tell them it was moved when it wasnít. The art was in trying to figure out how many times you could do this before something actually had to be moved.
One day we got to move GM's old massaging bed to the clinic. As soon as we got it behind closed doors, I decided to try it out. I wasnít content to lie on the bed and soak up GM's (bad back) vibes, I grabbed the cord and plugged it in. It vibrated! I had quite a session on
it but I never could figure out how it was supposed to help a bad back. Anyway, now it had my good back vibes in it.
FC was great for getting to places the public never saw. In GSP, swamis and VIPs were allowed to put personal belongings in storage while they were away. There were a number of rooms full of their suitcases and trunks. While I was in FC, we would sometimes be asked to clear a room for occupation and we would have to move all the gear to another location. All these suitcases and trunks shared common keys, and we would take a peek at what was stored in them. You would be amazed at the crap that people kept: cheap plastic nic nacs, plates, spoons and cups stolen from the amrit, dirty magazines, old rags, mouldy books, tea bags etc etc. These were often kept for years. Sometimes people never came back. Eventually the belongings might be taken to the free box.
I remember Akka Pratt had a LOT of stuff in storage and when she came back it was delivered to her room. Two days later she sent most of it back into storage. I couldnít help thinking that if she didnít use the stuff when she was there, then when was she going to use it??
Some of the swamis were amongst the worst hoarders. Vimarshananda and Akhandananda had a room each! Radhananda had the biggest collection of junk not even worthy of the free box! Sometimes being asked to clear out a swamis belongings was the only hint that they had left SY. This was the case for Vimarshananda and Radhananda.
When I left for 2 weeks and came back on staff at the end of May 89, I was put in charge of some adivasi labourers moving rocks. These guys did it tough. Minimum wages and atrocious working conditions in the deep mud of monsoon. It was a strange sight to see Swarupananda pedalling through the mud,† taking infinite care not to soil his perfect white clothes. One day I cut my foot with a large rock. The advasis showed more concern over it than I did myself, more than any ashramite. No one in the ashram cared about their welfare.
After a month, I was moved to vege wash and chai making. This started at 3am and finished at 10pm every day. The catch phrase around the ashram at the time was " Do whatever seva youíre asked to do." and I took this a little too literally. They had me sweeping the bakery too and I was also running the library. Testing the chai gave me a sugar rush late at night so that my 5 hrs of sleep were mostly spent lying awake waiting for my alarm to go off. After 2 months of this I was completely run down and would literally fall asleep on the job. The cut on my foot was not healing and David Kempton used to hassle me about it every day. Finally my sub-conscious won and I developed a mysterious illness which didnít go away til my seva had been re-assigned! I recovered just in time not to be sent home.
One of my recovery sevas was in the generator plant. Andre, a French-Canadian, was in charge and Roine and I were his assistants. They laughed when I told them my assignment was only temporary. They said I would never leave the generator plant until I left the ashram - and they were right! Roine pointed out that the walls surrounding the plant were covered in barbed wire like a prison. No chance of escape. Roine left India two months later. A month after that, I was put in charge when I mutinied over Andreís incompetence. Un til then I had known nothing about electricity or diesel engines. Over the years I became a self-taught expert on both, rewiring the control panels and completely overhauling the diesel generators.
This was a 24 hr on call seva as I had to be there any time the generators were running. They would start automatically if the mains power failed and this happened at least once a day and all day on Fridays. Initially I had to monitor the mains voltage and turn the generators on if it was too high or low. I wired in a voltage monitor so the generators would start automatically. The generators also had to be on if the video crew were shooting, or if GM was attending any function. This meant I could not go to any program, chant or intensive if GM was present.
I also looked after a portable generator, which was towed to various remote locations. This required bicycling 5 or 10km in the noonday sun to look after it. In the summer, it would be 40ļC in the shade, but this was cooler than the main plant, which was around 65ļC (149ļF) when the generators were running.
At times the generators were required to be on almost 24hrs a day which meant long hours for me. My record was 153 hrs of seva in one week. (that does not include meal times). There were sometimes promises of help but nothing came of this, probably because I did not make enough of a fuss. I also had the Mukteshwar Library to run and late dish shifts to attend.
Dishwashing was one of several sevas that you would never see VIPs, swamis, or management doing. Dishwashing was a classic. I must have washed enough dishes for a couple of lifetimes but you would only see the above types if GM was there (when you had to book a place!) or if they had been sent to set an example in one of the dishwashing recruitment drives. It was amazing the number of people who developed allergies to dishwashing powder or hot water.
Getting people to do dish seva in the amrit at GSP was always hard. It was hot and wet and sweaty, and worst of all in SY, it wasnít glamorous. The dishes had to be taken from the pavilion up to the dishroom, which was on the second floor. There was a kind of dumb waiter that was used to lift the tubs of dirty dishes upstairs and to bring down the tubs of clean dishes. It had a simple arrangement, an open box suspended from a chain in the lift shaft. There were up and down buttons both upstairs and downstairs, but it would not operate unless both the upstairs and downstairs doors to the lift shaft were closed and you had to hold your finger on the button to keep it moving. The box in which the dishes sat did not have a front or back. As a result it was very common for things to fall out of the tubs and jam between the shaft wall and the box. Removing these was easiest done by jogging the dumbwaiter in the opposite direction it had been operating. Then you could reach in and clear the blockage.
One night something rather unfortunate happened. The dumbwaiter was upstairs and jammed by a knife right at the back. An Indian teenage boy pressed the down button to no effect. So he reached inside and removed the knife. Because he had kept pressing the down button, the chain had unwound and so the only thing holding the dumbwaiter up was the knife. When it
was removed, the dumbwaiter, which weighed several hundred kilos, went into freefall, landing on the boys back, breaking his spine and crushing him.
Perhaps his life could have been saved if the people there had not panicked. What needed to happen was for someone to hold the door-closed switch in (the doors couldnít be closed because the body was in the way) and press the up button to get the weight of the dumbwaiter off the boy so he could be pulled out. Instead, people started screaming and Swami Akhandananda ran downstairs and turned off the power to the whole complex. Now everyone was standing in complete darkness, people were screaming, and rescue was impossible. It was about an hour before the body was removed from the lift shaft. Exactly what happened after this is unclear. The body was quickly removed from the ashram and the dumbwaiter was disabled without official explanation. There was no trace of blood by the next day. No announcement about the death was ever made and I do not know what the boys family was told. As on other occasions there was "no death" in the ashram. The cover up was so effective that most people in the ashram at the time were unaware of it.
GM was in the ashram at the time, which may have been why Sw Akhandananda was in the dishroom. I wasnít on that particular dish shift myself but I found out about the death the next day from several people who were present. We discussed it in the electrical dept because it was one of our electricians who designed the lift and its ďsafety featuresĒ. We were trying to come up with a simple way of preventing it happening again.
There was time around 1992 when George had been on a spending spree and all the ashrams were put on credit control. We were informed that we could only order material if it was essential, and if it was to be used immediately. We were not allowed to hold stock. I thought this was particularly silly given that I used a new set of filters on the generators every 10 days, and
it took that long to get thru the approval process. I got round this by ordering two months supplies at a time, and lying. Each order had to be approved by the electrical manager, then by the construction head, then by the ashram manager, and finally by the finance committee, before going to the purchasers.
I knew none of these people had a clue what they were signing. So one day I ordered an Assen Gear. I gave it a part number, said it was needed right away, and it sailed thru the approval process. The purchasers had great trouble getting their Assen gear in Bombay, in fact it seemed no one could get their assen gear anywhere in India. So I went to Don Bartoe, the purchasing guy, and said "Do you mean to tell me that the purchasing dept. cant get their assen gear, no matter how hard they try??" and then the penny dropped. Don was smart and extremely hard to fool, and I was delighted that I had put one over on him. Don was furious that he'd been had, but had to admit grudging respect that I'd pulled it off.
I remember an Aussie one summer who was put on garbage duty and used to find all sorts of things, especially when rich Americans were in residence - full suits, money, unopened chocolate bars, CD's. I donít think these people had any concept of recycling. I found some walkmans in the freebox one time, and tried them out to see which ones worked. The one that didnít I threw away, or would have except that one of the Indian electricians asked if he could have it. I told him it was broken. No problem, he knew someone who could fix it. I had to carry it outside the ashram for him though, in case he was accused of stealing it. In India almost anything can be recycled, from plastic bags to cardboard, empty cans, you name it.
One of my sevas at Ganeshpuri was looking after the Mukteshwar Library. The official ashram library was off limits to "commoners" such as myself. Over the years, housekeeping had gathered left-behind books in a cleaning room in the Mukteshwar building. I took it upon myself to organise this collection and actively collect more books. The library grew and the cleaning supplies slowly got moved elsewhere. Eventually we had about 2000 books. The most popular were the comics. If you havenít seen them, in India they have comics that tell the stories of the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Srimad Bhagavatam and spiritual legends as well as historical figures. These are popular with adults and children alike. So much so, that it was impractical to lend them out, and so I only allowed them to be read on site. And so I would have up to a dozen Indian children (and adults) sitting on the floor reading. This was the limit - the library room was not much bigger than a kitchen table.
Because the number of books was small, and because I checked each book, I got to know them very well. People would come in looking for a book with no more description than "its sort of orange" and I would grab a book off the shelf and say " its this one" and I would be right. Certain books would be donated that were not supposed to be in circulation, such as old
Gurudev Vani magazines. These were the original SY publication and had stories of Baba, GM and her brother. Because these were supposed to have been burnt, I kept them hidden and only lent them to trusted people. The same went for certain issues of Siddha Path, Gurudev Vani's successor. (It was in one of these I read GMís remark about Swami Nityananda's offspring being demons. I heard the names of the two female swamis he got pregnant, and had abortions, from a number of old timers who heard GM's demon speech in person)
One time, the receptionist, Devahuti, had been promoted to ashram manager but no announcement of this had been made. Soon after, a request came one night from GM (?) in Fallsburg for a particular spiritual comic. First Devahuti checked the official Siddheshwar library without luck. Then she came looking for me (as custodian of the unofficial unsupported 'rebel' Mukteshwar library).
At 10:30pm, she banged on the dorm door waking everybody up. I had just got to sleep after a 20hr seva stint and was in no mood for anything except sleep. When I asked her what she wanted, she demanded that I open the library immediately so that she could read comics. She gave me no hint that she was the ashram manager or that she was doing this in an official capacity. I donít take kindly to petty tyrants. I asked if should could come back the next day. NO! she said. So with my usual subtlety, I told her what she could do with her comics and where she could put them. She SCREAMED while I went back to bed. Some of my room mates threatened to punch me if I didnít make her go away.
The next day I found the locks on the library door changed and when I went to the key department, they told me I had to see the manager to get a key. I was less than impressed that the manager was Devahuti. We had another yelling match before coming to an agreement. No doubt this made interesting reading back at Fallsburg. A secret record of all ďincidentsĒ like this was in the managers office. By the end of my stay I had a whole series of black marks against my name.
The Library was tolerated but not supported by the ashram. The incident with Devahuti was not the only stoush I had with ashram managers. The worst was with Jenny Shurrock. Jenny was blond and around 6ft 3Ē Ė tall. She had a strong authoritarian streak and liked to throw her weight around. She hid this behind a sweet-and-innocent persona. She had no problem handing out favours to her friends. But if you fell out of favour, she could get very heavy.
I came into the library one day to find a large pile of books on the floor and Jenny merrily pulling more off the shelves and adding them to the pile. She was "removing inappropriate material". Up to that time I had never turned a book away and so had accumulated a number of trashy novels (i.e. no spiritual content) and the ashram was probably right to keep the focus on the spiritual side of
things. However, the list of books that Jenny, in her complete ignorance, considered inappropriate included Jnaneshwari, the Bible, lives of saints, the complete works of Shakespeare, and pretty much anything not published by SY. I was not impressed.
Jenny had housekeeping take a large pile of books away to be destroyed. So when no one was looking, I went to housekeeping, sorted through the pile and took a bunch of the better books back. No one ever found out. Later Jenny had Swami Gitananda (the Library Swami) come in to vet the library. When he finally came, it was obvious that he didnít want to be there. He gave me a tick of approval and left as quickly as possible. I tried to get some guidelines as to what sort of books were deemed OK but he seemed reluctant to discuss it. Later I found out why.
One monsoon they opened up the Siddheshwar Library to staff. Several of us made a beeline for it. What a shock! It was a shambles. There were stacks of books not shelved, shelves of books in random order. They used three different cataloguing systems and to find a book you might have to check all three systems. Three copies of the same book might each be catalogued under a different system. It was anyoneís guess where a book might be once you found it in the catalogue. Most surprising, it had all the trashy novels that I had been forced to throw out! Perhaps there is a spiritual value to romance novels that I am unaware of? Although there were many great books, the place was a mess, and I couldn't help thinking that it must have reflected the state of Gitanandaís mind.
For the first 3 years in GSP, I kept getting sick. I was used to sleeping outside all year round and eating a very basic diet. But I never got sick until I went to India.
Looking back, it was mostly a case of getting run down from a combination of overwork, lack of sleep, and a totally inadequate diet. I was repeatedly getting vitamin and iron deficiencies, and mysterious losses of energy (read malnutrition). The Annapurna (Indian style kitchen) diet when GM was away tended to be white rice, chapattis, and thin boiled tasteless squash in place of dal. And it would be the same thing, every day, for weeks. At times, I would find myself gagging on it. You just cant do hard physical labour on that sort of diet. I had little choice as I had no money to eat in the Amrit (western food at western prices). Most westerners had money, or were on reasonable stipends and had amrit passes (something I never got). Indian ashramites had their diets secretly supplemented with sweets, fruits and dishes not served to the public.
At that stage, I still had faith that the food was OK. In one of Baba's books, he talks about how rich and nutritious the Annapurna food is to supply the energy needed for meditation.
I ended up with hepatitis. See below.
This began with a tiny scratch on my foot which became infected. It swoll and swoll until it was the size of a golf ball and became incredibly painful. I had to raise my foot to sleep. We had a squat toilet and when I used that, I also had to keep my foot raised, otherwise the pain was overwhelming. This took some ingenuity.
When I went to the clinic, Apoorvananda announced there was nothing he could do. He seemed strangely apathetic about what was obviously a serious infection. I went back to my and over the next few days, I tried squeezing it to get the pus out, without success. The top opened to look like a small angry volcano but although I could see the pus, it wouldnít come out. When I dragged myself back to the clinic, people were screamed at the sight of it. Apparently, the pus had attached itself the muscle tissue below the skin layer and had to be torn away in pea-sized lumps. This was incredibly painful. Worse was having the resulting cavity packed to prevent it closing.
Iíve never had anything like this before or since. Nor do I know of anyone whoís had anything like it. It was just one of those weird things that happened in Ganeshpuri.
This happened at the time of one of the first global intensives by audio from Fallsburg. For us in India, this meant that for each of the 3 days, it ran from 5pm to 8am, i.e. it was a night intensive. Between 8am and 5pm, we had to eat, sleep, and for me, carry out my normal seva required to keep the generators running all night. So essentially I had no sleep for 3 days. It was called an intensive after all. So it was no surprise that I got really tired, struggled to stay awake, and as the intensive wore on, I became too weak to sit up. But still I battled on. During the breaks I would sit like a zombie and dribble into a glass of water.
Meanwhile I turned yellower and yellower till I looked like Bart Simpson. No doubt if I had known I had hep and mentioned it in the intensive, it would have been labelled as a sign of intense shaktipat cleaning out particularly nasty impurities.
After the intensive had finished, I rested for 4 days but did not really improve. Reluctantly I went to the clinic and the first thing Swami Apoorvananda asked me was when my last gamma globulin shot was. My heart sank. I think the worst part of the illness was the trip into Bombay hospital by van. It was monsoon and the roads were full of potholes, every part of me ached and every jar felt like I had been dropped off a building. The hospital was air conditioned to what felt like arctic temperatures and there wasnít a blanket in sight. I shivered the whole week I was there.
The best part was the colour change. My shit turned white, my urine turned brown like coca cola, and my skin turned yellow. I did a triple take the first time I went to the toilet! No one had warned me! By the time I was diagnosed, the worst was already over and by the end of the week in hospital, I was feeling OK, if a little fragile.
Meanwhile back at the ashram, they disinfected the clothes I had been wearing in bleach so strong, that it literally dissolved my trousers leaving only the zip! When I returned to the ashram, I was put into isolation, occupying a room in the clinic. I was allowed to sit outside on a couch however.
A friend doing puja duty started bringing me flowers from the temple so I set up my own puja with my Birkenstocks on the ground as padukas, flowers arranged all around them, and me sitting on the couch above in a meditation pose with more flowers draped around me. Then I would hold my own darshan for passersby, using an Indian broom in place of GMs peacock feathers.
The following year they finally gave me a stipend - the minimum Rs1000/month. To put this in perspective, a meal in the amrit was about Rs100. The amount you got, and even the fact that you got a stipend, was confidential of course. Anyway, this small amount was enough for me to be able to supplement my diet with some better food, and I didnít get sick again. BTW one reason the stipend was confidential was that in India the payments were illegal...unless you had a work permit which is VERY hard to get, and no one did.
At times, the food was really good, especially when Gurumayi was there. Other times it was awful. The food servers were another problem. Often certain dishes were rationed, even when there was plenty. To me this was just plain wrong. The worst was a guy named Dipak who had a gripe against my friend Richard, and by association with me. He would dish up tiny portions and say come back for seconds. When we went back he would say No Seconds.
Or if we were being served sitting down, he would instruct the servers to serve everyone else but us. This was serious for both of us as we were doing hard labour, and especially for Richard because he loved his food SO much.
Another time, there was an Annapurna supervisor who took the silence requirement very seriously. (Silence only applied in Annapurna. Management ate in Amrit so talking there was fine). I used to wind him up. At first, Iíd talk when his back was turned. After a while, he figured it was me. Then when there was someone else talking, Iíd put on a grin to make him think it was me and when he lectured me about not talking, Iíd make him feel guilty by saying that I wasnít talking till he started talking to me and Iíd accuse him of interrupting my quiet time.† I got so good at this that I could drive him nuts just by smiling.
During my time at GSP there were only 6 people on staff who did not have amrit passes. Two were independently wealthy, another got one only after his parents complained to GM about how badly the ashram was treating him! The fourth was Premnath the Mexican (see ice cream), the fifth was my girlfriend who was only there the last two years of my stay, and the last was me. Why the last three of us didnít get one I donít know. I asked for one and was turned down w/o an explanation. Premnath asked and was told to "Worship the Annapurna Devi." He took this to mean eat at Annapurna, but it was a rude way of saying it. I know it seems like a simple thing but not having a pass was a major burn for me that lasted for years, not least because of the malnutrition I suffered from. People with passes tended to take them for granted.†
When I finally got a stipend, most of it was spent at amrit, not just for the nutritional aspect but for some variety. Protein deficiency was a major for me. I didnít crave sweets as much as anything with protein. When I left the ashram and started eating fish, my weight went from around 59kg to 90kg (130lb to 200lb)
Towards the end of my stay, when the price of icecream in the amrit had skyrocketed, one of the Indian boys, Sudhir, and I would raid the (locked) amrit icecream freezer at the end of our dishshift (~11pm) and pig out on the roof of the amrit. Sometimes we would jump across to the next building and go to Premnath's office. Premnath was a very funny Mexican sound technician who had been treated poorly by the ashram. Part of this was because of his natural exuberance, which didnít sit well with management. His drumming was always ecstatic so he was always the last choice for that. He would have friends round late at night in the sound room to listen to (non SY) music and we would have an icecream party! Stolen fruit always tastes better!
One day I was having a drink with a couple of friends in the amrit pavilion at GSP. It was rather quiet as it was outside normal opening times, and GM was away. I was telling a story, and as is my habit, I was waving my hands wildly in the air. As I did so, I knocked over my bottle of fizzy drink. It had just come from the freezer and the liquid inside was ice cold. As the bottle fell over on the glass top table, the drink spilt out. Miraculously, none of it spilt on the table. Rather it seemed to form a tubular jet, and rose in an arc through the air, travelling out over the edge of the table. At that very moment on my left, Gail, a woman with an ample bosom, was bending over getting something from her bag. Her blouse hung low revealing a large area of soft pink tender flesh. The jet of ice cold liquid continued its trajectory just below her face, just above the
line of her blouse, scoring a direct hit between her breasts. She screamed at the top of her lungs and Frank, being the lech he was, immediately offered to dry her off and leaned toward her with a cloth. Gail being an Ozzie female had no problem fending him off even as she dried herself. I was unable to offer any help at all as I was laughing uncontrollably and continued to do so for some time. Gail was somewhat less amused.
The remarkable thing for me was the way I perceived it. From the moment I knocked the bottle, it was sublime perfection. The timing was perfect, the angle the bottle fell, the trajectory of the drink, the timing of and falling of the blouse were all sublimely perfect. The choice of target was perfect. A tenth of a second later or a few millimetres either way and it would just have been a mess. I knew that if I tried to do this a million times I could never recreate it. I could never get the liquid to come out of the bottle the way it did that day. It was an ordinary event and yet incredibly perfect.
The ashram has been buying up land around Ganeshpuri for years. Because of the dubious and underhand methods used to effect this, there is considerable resistance from the local landowners. One example: the ashram wanted to put a road around the back side of the colony where there were a number of paddy fields. One paddy owner refused to sell. The ashram response was to build the road across the paddy without buying it. Not being able to use it for rice growing and with legal remedies too slow and expensive, the owner was forced to sell. To add insult to injury, the ashram would only buy the part of the paddy covered by the road, leaving a small unusable patch for the paddy owner. The ashramite responsible for this act of kindness was Yogiram Brent, and this was typical of the way he operated.
In GSP in 1990, a model of Ganeshpuri was put on display. It showed the way the local area was going to look once SYDA had bought and re-developed it. Essentially it was to be an extension of the ashram. The Nityananda Samadhi was to be landscaped to look like the Taj Mahal c/w water gardens and lilyponds while the rest of the village was to be remodelled. There was an airstrip and a helipad. This plan hasnít happened, partly because the locals wouldnít sell, and partly because of George's overspending in other places. They did manage to build a proper toilet system for the locals, so that they could bury the village cesspit. However they made it look like a mosque which infuriated the local Muslims.
That Baba used Ganja is not a rumour. He talks about it in one of the Satsang with Baba books. One day at darshan, a† westerner had deposited a bag of dope at Babas feet, presumably as a sign of giving it up. Baba picked it up and said† "The problem with you westerners is that you just donít know how to use this stuff." Then proceeded to give a recipe for preparing it (basically soaking it in milk for a few days.... didnít seem quite right some how). Follow the recipe he said, and you will have goood meditation!† A friend of mine who was present confirmed the story, although his recipe varied slightly. As a sadhu and a follower of Shiva it would have been surprising if Baba had never used ganja at some time. We know he smoked bidis and cigarettes and only stopped because westerners considered it a vice. Iíve also heard he was addicted to prescription pills at the end of his life. The garage mechanics were noted for taking a car for a Ďtest driveí when they wanted to have a smoke. Akloli was a favourite place.
A friend of mine went to Nasik on a seva mission with Shantananda and Madhavananda. At one point they were doing nothing special so he slipped away to visit Prakashananda's samadhi shrine. When he got back, the swamis were looking for him. Shantananda asked him where he had been, and when my friend mentioned Prakashananda, Shantananda blew his top, spouting all the usual SY bullshit. Later Madhavananda asked my friend what the problem was, and when told, simply nodded his head as if to say 'Is that all'.† Prakashananda was not a SY swami being from the Giri order. However, he accepted Muktananda as his guru. Muktananda wanted him to be his successor but Prakashananda refused. Later he went to live at Sapta Sringi near Nasik.
Smuggling was a bit of a cottage industry for SY. Indian law allows foreigners to bring in
any amount of stuff for personal use, as long as you can show them that the goods will
not be sold to an Indian (imported). Electronic items required that the serial numbers be entered
in your passport and when you left the country, the goods had to go out with you and the serial
numbers would be checked off. If you didnít have the goods you could be fined. SY got round this by taking the serial number plates off the goods in question and putting them on another cheaper item, even an empty case.
Stuff was brought in two main ways: in accompanied trunks and suitcases, and by sea crate.
Obviously there was more coming in than just for personal use. The nice thing about India is that a few rupees in the right palm allows the law to *stretch*. In every case it was necessary for someone to claim the goods as their personal belongings, i.e. lie. This could lead to some comical situations.
A friend of mine brought in 200 pounds of dog food for GM's dogs. Customs asked him what it was. "Dog food." He said.† "For you?" "No, for my dog." "Where is your dog?" "I donít have a dog." At this point he felt his story was getting a bit thin so he said "Its for a friends dog."
"What sort of dog your friend have?" "A big dog." "Very big dog?" "Yes".
Then there was the guy who brought in a suitcase of tampons - THAT took some explaining.
Apparently, they had no problem with the 12 washing machines that someone brought in as personal belongings for their trip round to India. Or the Christmas trees, reindeer, and the 110V xmas tree lights that glowed SO brightly on the 230V electrical supply. Or the marble, gold
taps and fittings, and waterproof stereo for Georges bathroom. Or GM's Haagen-Dazs icecream that came in refrigerated containers.
The washing machines had a lila of their own. They had to be scratched to make them look second hand so duty didnít have to be paid. Then in India they had to be converted to 230V.
(It was typical of the ashram to bring in 110V equipment then convert it to 230V rather than get 230V equipment in the first place. Sometimes the conversion wasnít done and things blew up. Only half the washing machines were put to use in the GSP ashram laundry. The other half were used for spare parts because the process of identifying part numbers and ordering them from the States took months or even years.
The laundry itself was set up (1991??) so that the ashram could get control of the washing process and make money from it. Up til that time, most ashramites (i.e. those who didnít have there own personal dhobiwalas in the form of the swami laundry) used the local dhobi just outside the ashram gates. There were always issues with charges, laundry getting mixed up, going missing or coming back a different colour Ė or colours.
Mostly though it was about control. SY was not happy having people go outside the ashram unless absolutely necessary. In this case the local dhobiwala was effectively put out of business, but that may just have been a fringe benefit as far as the ashram was concerned. They were also making efforts to move all the local chai shops and hotels away from the ashram because they didnít look pretty enough.
The laundry was set up behind the Amrit bathhouse between the Air Con plant and Bhoot Khana Ė the small building supposedly built to house a malicious ghost in return for not killing any more people. There were coupons for the washers and the dryers. Because I had no money, I used to collect the coupons other people had left behind and hadnít been marked.
The Shiva Bowl.
The Shiva Bowl was my favourite f***up at GSP, partly because I saw it coming so far out. It was in fact a cover up for a previous f***up. When they did the Dakshin Kashi landscaping in 1988-89, the old meditation garden was bulldozed. An earth amphitheatre was formed in its place. They had plans to use this for programs, but the sides were too steep and there was no natural drainage. A tent placed in its centre flooded without it even raining. So Klaus the German architect was given the job of designing something to fill it. He came up with the Shiva Bowl. (He was also responsible for the baroque phallus on top of the Shiva-pyramid).
The Shiva Bowl was to be an amphitheatre constructed out of reinforced concrete. The steps followed 5/8 of a circle. Its base diameter measured 80 feet. George had some grand ideas. Several towers were under construction to carry floodlights, and at back of the amphitheatre was a large bomb shelter to hold audio/visual equipment. At the very top, around the rim, were† ornate carved concrete bowls that were to be planted with flowers. The steps were to be paved with slate or marble.
Even as a completely uneducated hippy, I could tell from a glance at the plans that it was a
disaster waiting to happen. Due to space restrictions and the required number of seats, the steps rose very steeply. Each row-step was about 18 inches wide and high. If you were to sit cross legged on a row, your knees would be right at the edge. If you had long legs, your knees would have been well over the edge. In practice, this would have meant they would be poking into the person in the row in front.
The real problem was how was anyone going to walk along a row when everyone was seated? People do need their toilet breaks. And some people need kriya space! To walk along a row would have required stepping from asana to asana in the spaces between peoples knees. Bad enough. But this space would be right on the edge of the step, and when someone eventually
would slip, there would have been an 18 inch drop awaiting them. This would most likely lead to tumbling down the steps with inevitable major injuries. Someone was going to fall and get hurt for sure.
I was not the only one to spot this, but GM gave George the go-ahead and before you could cry "panch lakh rupiya" there was a ĺ built concrete monstrosity. What galled me the most was the waste of so much money when the local people were so poor. Rs 5,00,000 could have done a lot of good in the area.
Sure enough, what finally killed the Shiva Bowl was an accident. A Dutch guy called Dharmapal lost his footing and took a tumble. He survived with bumps and bruises and a neck brace. GM put a halt to construction and the huge lump of concrete gathered dust. GM's psychic powers werenít working that year. I donít know what they did with it. Breaking it up wouldnít have been easy. Maybe it should have been called the Shiva Hole
This was the thing that disturbed me most at GSP. However it took a long time to collate all the incidents and realise that it was an endemic problem. We inmates were there voluntarily. The Indian workers were there out of economic necessity. Male labourers were paid less than $US 1 a day, women about 60 cents. We were told that they were not paid more because
that was the going rate and to pay more would distort the local economy.
This was false for two reasons:
1) These were the MINIMUM legal rates, and
2) almost none of the workers were locals!
After the October 1987 riots, the ashram then hired a local contractor, Iqbal, to recruit labour from outside the area - Karnataka, Kerala, southern Maharashtra, all at least 500km away. The labour was trucked in and accommodated some distance from the ashram in basic huts.
All the local labour was fired. This must certainly have had a huge impact on the local economy. I donít know if the new labour was bonded, but they had to find their own way home if fired and as they were on subsistence rates, this ensured a compliant workforce. These were simple people, unused even to the hole-in-the-floor Indian toilets, and they always smelt of damp wood smoke. But they were good people and I felt very sorry for them digging deep holes during monsoon, wet and covered in mud, all day, every day.
Rules on theft were very strict. One day a group of labourers was passing by the outdoor amrit tables and one of them grabbed an abandoned half eaten muffin (probably crow pecked) that was about to be trashed. He was fired on the spot. It seemed to me that a warning would have been sufficient given that the item had no value and that being fired subjected him to likely
hardship. So much for the ashram demonstrating compassion.
One day a walkman went missing near where some of the contract electricians were working. The next day the electric shop manager told me that security had two of the electricians in a tent in Dakshin Kashi and were beating the crap out of them. It turned out they had the wrong guys. One hadnít even been at work the previous day, and the other was working in another area.
The excuse was that this was how they deal with thieves in India. (Only partly true, the police certainly use beatings, and like anyone anywhere, if you catch someone in the act, you are likely to be pretty wild). But not exactly the sort of thing you'd expect from someone practicing seeing God in everyone. They could have just asked the head electrician to find out who took the walkman. In fact the day after the beatings, it was clear who the thief was, and he made a point of never coming back.
The security guards were also poorly paid and poorly treated. Their accommodation block was a shit-hole, and like the other workers, they were from all over India and did not speak the local dialect. Discipline was rigid, fines and beatings with a lathi were common. Their manager was usually one of the Indian boys. They tended to throw their weight around and could be quite cruel. On one occasion the manager, Mohan beat a guard so severely that he was carried to GM during darshan and exposed his back for her to see. It was so bad that Mohan was forced to leave the ashram. His excuse was that the guard had threatened to kill Joshi, a long term Indian ashramite. I donít know what Joshi had done to inspire this but I wouldnít be surprised if he deserved it.
The ashram used to do a milk run twice a week.† This was a free distribution of milk to the local children. This had two purposes. One: to curry favour with the locals. Two: as a promotional tool to show the world how generous and charitable the ashram was.
It didnít work.† The locals are not stupid. They are poor so they will take whatever freebies are on offer but they also know that the ashram is rich and the cost of the milk run is minimal. They are also aware of the illegal and disreputable means GSP has used to acquire land. GM and GSP are almost universally despised in the Ganeshpuri area. And how generous were they really? Well at one stage, I used to make up the milk for the milk run. It was made from milk powder, not fresh milk, and I was instructed to water it down to half strength and add a little sugar for taste.
The village of Usgaon has had a lot of attention from GSP. All the houses now have tile roofs and the wells were cleaned out and a road put in. The reason for this largesse was that the ashramís pumphouse is located there and they needed the goodwill of the locals. Even so, everything had to be kept under lock and key and barbed wire. The ashram didnít get that much
good will! And I used to laugh because someone had written ĎBandhar Gharí (monkey house) on the pumphouse door.
One day I ran into three or four Indian plumbers who had just been doing some repairs in George Afifís bathroom. Their eyes were as big as saucers and it was obvious they had never seen anything like it. They were happy to tell me and anyone else about it. All the taps and fittings were of gold. The floor and the bath were of marble. There was a waterproof sound system. Everything was imported, i.e. smuggled in. Iím still surprised the plumbers were allowed in. Normally only trusted western staff would allowed in. That whole area was off limits to all but the innermost circle.
One day I overheard the tail end of a conversation some old timers and insiders were having. It was about how a number of the swamis and people close to GM and Baba had been with Baba in his fort in Daulatabad in his past life as a king. The old timers had been going thru which of them had had what role at the fort. GM was supposed to have been one of Babas queens. Radhananda was supposed to have been the one who betrayed the fort, opening the gate and letting the enemy in leading to a massacre and the loss of the fort. (Mind you this was around the time that Radhananda confronted Gurumayi with Mukís sexual abuse and left the ashram). Supposedly the story had originated with Baba years before. No doubt this helped reinforce their sense of the specialness of being an insider.
The ashram seemed to cultivate strange personalities. This was odd given the strong emphasis on conformity.
Tyagananda was one of the temple swamis. When I met him, he had a brain cancer. This was left untreated for years. He was a complete nutter and not in a nice way. He could be extremely aggressive. He liked barking and my friend Richard used to like to set him off by barking at him. They would get into this frenzy of barking and howling. Then Richard would walk away and Tyagananda would continue howling.
At one time my seva supervisor was a guy called Janardan. He was intelligent and famous for having a short temper, usually triggered by someoneís stupidity coupled with an unwillingness to change. He lost his temper a lot in SY. On one occasion he tried to run someone over with the jeep. The person had to leap for their life. It was common to see Janardan kick peoples backsides. It was tolerated for years but he finally stepped over the mark when he kicked a trustee and swore black and blue at him.
Sripati was a Vietnam vet. Some of his experiences were published anonymously in one of the early Darshan magazines. He talked about being able to sense where the enemy was, with no physical signs, and shoot them between the eyes in pitch darkness. Also of how his body would dodge bullets while he watched from outside.
But Sripati must have drunk too much agent orange. He could be dangerously violent. He was a member of Babas goon squad along with Joe Don Looney, Yogiram and Hanuman. Baba used the goon squad to deal to unruly ashramites and troublesome Indian sadhu and wrestlers.
I was warned early on to be very careful around Sripati. Sometime around 1993, GM had him stand up at a talk in SF and told everyone that he was completely crazy and dangerous and that everyone should be very careful around him. An ideal ashramite by SY standards? LOL
Some unruly teenagers who had been at SF told me how he caught them kicking in a door. They ran but he chased them with a piece of 4x2 wood, beat one of them up with it, and caught another and broke his arm. This would have been around 1990. I didnít know this when I had my first run in with him.
I was pushing a trolley with some mats past the amrit. It was very quiet and there was almost no one there. The trolley however, had metal wheels and made a helluva racket. Sripati appeared on his bicycle and ordered me to desist until the amrit had cleared. I figured most of the noise has already been made, and no one seemed bothered, except Sripati. So I told him to fuck off! I said this without turning to face him, and while continuing to push the trolley. As a result, he didnít hear me properly and thought I was French! This was confirmed as he tried to talk to me and I continued to tell him to fuck off and he left.
I dropped off my mats, and as I was coming back I was surprised to see my friend Somanath coming towards me. Somanath was French and Sripati had brought him to translate for me. Iím not sure who was more bemused, me or him. But the confused look on Somanath's face still makes me laugh. We never let on to Sripati. Having Sripati think I was French worked to my advantage. He never tried to talk to me again.
Sripati's main seva, apart from beatings, was killing things. One summer he went to war on the crows. Now, the Indian crows are very smart. It didnít take them long to figure out who Sripati was, and that they would be shot if he got too close. They figured out what the range of his gun was and stayed just out of range. So Sripati built a hide on a trolley, and had an Indian worker push him around. This worked til they figured out who was under the hide. The crows response was to shit on the seat of Sripatiís bicycle. This was remarkable because there were a lot of bicycles in the ashram at the time. In a rack of 20+ bicycles, they would shit on his alone, leaving all the others untouched.
One time, Babaís bodyguard, Rohini, Sripati and some others took an ashram van into Bombay. On the way back, the van broke down on the outskirts of Bombay. While they were fixing it, a crowd appeared and before long some snake charmers went through their act. When they were done, the snake charmers passed a hat for donations. Sripati responded by getting a tortoise that someone had bought, waving it around as if he was doing a puja, and when he finished, he passed his own hat round asking for donations. The snake charmers were not amused.
I remember a slightly odd Canadian called Robbie who stayed at GSP for a while. He had lived alone on an island for 15yrs and would do things like pee in the hand basin while picking zits in the mirror.† He refused to do more than 2 hrs of seva a day and couldnít understand why I would do 14. He was strange but basically he was OK. He was thrown out for insisting Baba was his guru, not Gurumayi. David Kempton would not even allow him back in to visit the samadhi shrine or the Nityananda temple, which were in the public area.
My favourite swami was Achyutananda, mainly because he was the least swami-like. He had been a bum/sadhu in India for 7 years before meeting Baba around 1970, and spoke reasonably fluent Hindi. He had a bar-room sense of humour and liked to wrestle. He was highly respected by the Indian workers, not just because he spoke Hindi, but because he treated them fairly and with respect. In the old pictures with Baba he was skinny as a bean-pole. By 1990 he had a major weight problem and was constantly on grapefruit or watermelon diets. I remember him eating 3 or 4 watermelons at a sitting. No doubt he was not asked to give talks because of his use of profanity.
The only interaction I had with Sevananda had to do with garbage. It was during a big festival and Annapurna needed somewhere to put the dozens of garbage bins of food slop. Pat McGee (ex drug dealer) told them to put it in the generator yard. Now, because it was festival time, I had the yard locked so kids wouldnít climb on the 22,000 volt transformers and fry themselves. Without asking me, Pat cut the padlock and had the garbage cans dumped in the yard. Apart from safety concerns, they blocked access to the main 22kV switch. I rang Annapurna but no one knew anything about it. I probably wouldnít have minded if they had asked but now I was pissed off. Frustrated with the lack of response, I cut power to Annapurna and refused to turn it on until they moved the slop.
A succession of Annapurna walas came down, only to be yelled at by me, culminating with Venkappa. He had been with Baba since day one of the ashram and had been one of his enforcers. He was highly feared and respected by the Indians. I donít think he'd been yelled at in all his time in the ashram the way gave it to him. He backed off saying I was completely crazy.
Later when I had calmed down, Sevananda came by. I explained I had lost it, and why, and he nodded and said we all have our days. And then he arranged for the garbage to be taken away.
I gained a certain notoriety amongst the Indian boys as the only person ever to scream at Venkappa and get away with it.
From time to time there is some discussion about GM singing off key. In GSP we had the Shiva Temple Swami. I was told his name once but wasnít sure if that was really what it was. (Chitananda?). As far as I know he was not a SY swami but was an associate of BM's and was allowed to spend the rest of his life in the ashram. He was a bit of a character.
Generally, he wore only a red lungi and padukas but used a red shawl and jersey when it got cold in the winter. He had coke bottle glasses, which he tended to wear askew on the end of his nose while he attempted to peer thru them. He had a good size pot belly which was only partly covered by the lungi.
His seva was looking after the Shiva Temple to which he was extremely devoted. His great gift was his voice, along with an amazing pair of lungs. Every morning around 4am, he would sing the Shiva Mahimna. The first time I heard this, I could have sworn that someone was strangling a cat or possibly someone was being murdered. Although I was sleeping hundreds of meters from the temple, his voice was so loud I could hear it as if he were right outside. It was only after a great deal of concentration that I was able to determine what the chant actually was.
The swami was a free being, and felt no need to stick to conventional melodies or ragas. Rather, he chose to improvise each syllable and could make a single one last as long as he chose. Furthermore, he rarely if ever repeated the same tune from one syllable to the next. So it was very difficult to pick out the words he was singing. Nevertheless, he poured his heart into it and it was one of the strange delights of Ganeshpuri.
Such spontaneity is not generally welcomed in SY. GM took her revenge on him making him take a vow of silence. This must have been a real burn for him. They didnít like him at chants either. The thing was that his voice was incredibly loud and, on his own, he could drown out a thousand people chanting, even with the microphone volume turned up to the edge of feedback. And because his singing was out of step, it would put the lead chanters off. It didnít matter where in the hall he might be singing. Thus, one of the hall monitors jobs was to stop him coming to chants. This was nearly impossible because he was stubborn and had a temper, and any attempt at forcible removal would have resulted in an unseemly fight.
On one occasion, the swami turned up early toward the end of a chanting saptah at which GM was to be present. It was imperative that he be removed. The hall monitors came up with a devious solution. They got one of the Indian boys to tell him that there was a special breakfast in the Annapurna and that it was almost gone. The swami rushed off and by the time he
figured out there was no special breakfast, and made his way back, the gates to guru chowk had been closed.
In 1990, they decided to do some maintenance on the roof of the Yagna Mandap, which was leaking. At the time it was decorated in Chinese style with dragons wrapped around the poles and everything in bright psychedelic colours. I really liked it. In the process of fixing the leaks, they removed the entire roof. Donít ask me why. Then they decided to remove all the panels. Then someone (George?) decided to demolish everything and start again. This turned a small maintenance job into a huge project with the entire area re-landscaped.
The Mandap was eventually rebuilt in classic Greek style - all white, with fluted columns reminiscent of the Parthenon, except instead of being carved from marble, the columns were sculpted, at great expense, from concrete and then painted. The floor was polished slate and the area around GM's chair had a false ceiling and recessed lighting. Above the yagna pit was a giant suspended blue globe. It did look nice. All very trendy - except for the roof. After all the time and money spent on the project, the one thing they hadnít figured out was what to do with the roof. In the end they built it out of corrugated iron and painted it white. So imagine, if you will, the Parthenon with a barn roof.
But I digress. The Shiva Temple was right next to the Mandap. As a result, it came in for its share of 'renovation'. It had been built in the early days of the ashram in what had been a rise in the jungle on what was then the edge of the ashram. It was built in the traditional Indian style of
Shiva temples - it was quite small, about 3m x 3 m square with thick walls and just enough room to move around the lingam, which was quite large. It had a domed roof and a covered verandah. The temple was painted in bright colours, as they do in India. The entrance was guarded by Nandi the bull, but not even he could save the temple from the SY developers.
The Shiva Temple swami was very attached to his temple and I felt very sorry for him as they removed the lingam and Nandi, and then demolished it. Worse was to follow. They decided to rebuild it in the style of an Egyptian pyramid. All white, all straight lines.( the architect was Klaus, the German who misdesigned the Shiva Bowl). Space was at a premium and so the new pyramid had a small base and rose high and steeply to create headroom. It looked stupid and completely out of place next to the Mandap-Parthenon. The lingam was installed and there was more room than before. Problem - there was condensation on the walls. Ventilation at the top was required. So the top was cut off and a dome with little electric windows was placed on the apex. This dome looked something like an acorn, about a meter high with a mass of baroque curls at its base. I cannot tell you how silly this looked on top of the pyramid.
The electric windows were not able to be connected because the electricians were not allowed to rest their ladders against the outside of the pyramid and it was physically impossible to use them inside. Also there was no way they could hide the cable so there was no way they were going to be allowed to run cable inside or out. So the electric windows had to be left open all
Then one day the entire Mandap area was declared a no go zone. I used my access to the electric shop to sneak a peak at what was happening. They were removing the dome from the pyramid. I think that by declaring it off limits, George thought no one would notice it was missing. The official reason for the removal was that from certain angles it appeared that the
dome was about to topple, and this was making some people nervous. This was bullshit. The real reason was that the dome looked distinctly phallic, like grapes in a Michelangelo painting. The baroque curly bits looked like pubic hairs, the dome tumescent. Maybe George finally realised how stupid the whole thing really looked.
The dome was replaced by a flat piece of plastic, which leaked, while they figured out their next move. The pyramid remained truncated, and looked as stupid as ever. How the swami must have wished for his old temple.
I was in GSP in the early 90's when Sw. Nit visited the ashram and went into the Nityananda Temple and the Samadhi shrine, had darshan and had a little wander round the courtyard. It caused a major security panic. However by the time security got themselves sorted, S.N. and his entourage had had their little tiki tour and left. He was apparently very calm and relaxed and casual, in marked contrast to the SY people. I wouldnít say he is allowed into those areas, maybe just that they havenít managed to stop him. You have to give him credit for having the balls to front up on GM's turf, even if she wasnít there at the time.
The first time I met George, I took an instant, intense dislike to him. Richard Gonzales and I were riding an FC trolley down the slope behind Guru Chowk when Richard suddenly hit the brakes (the soles of his shoes) and jumped off. George was wearing all white Ė white shoes with elaborate decorative embellishments, loose white pleated slacks and what appeared to be a white blouse. Now it WAS the 80ís, but to me it looked like he was dressed in womenís clothing and his manner seemed very effete. When he spoke sternly to Richard, I was stunned to see Richard kowtow before him. My impulse was to tell George to fuck off. But there was something evil and menacing about him.
George had the whole Ashram terrified. On the construction crew, the smart advice was to work downwind, as you could smell him coming a 100m away. (Due to the copious amounts of perfume he wore).† This would give you some advance warning or give you time to hide. It was well known that George would talk to MC's and speakers through an earpiece. At times, you would see them stop to listen, or even lean towards their earpiece straining to hear.
A friend of mine came across George in LA in the late 70ís. There was a program at the LA ashram and certain areas had been roped off. A hippy decided to take a short cut by jumping one of the rope barriers. George caught him and beat him up in a frenzied attack, continuing to viciously kick him as he lay unconscious and bleeding on the ground. In fact, it took three security people to pull George off. This was Georgeís background as a street thug in Lebanon coming to the fore. His brother served time for armed robbery.
The general understanding was that if George said something, it should be taken as coming from GM. In fact a common catch cry of management types was "GM says..........". I suspected this was simply a ruse so that their authority would not be questioned. But the word was that GM might issue a command through any one of her insiders and that it would not be wise to question. George and GM always seemed a little too close. It wasnít till I left the ashram the last time that I began to hear stories of George and GM being lovers and GM even having an abortion. Off course it is impossible to verify this.
I never heard anything bad about Indirananda, and from my interactions with her, she seemed like a genuinely good person. That story about her inheritance I heard directly from her. She said her family were completely opposed to her giving anything to SYDA and tried to fight it in court, but she was determined. It was from her grandmother and even though it was split amongst several grandchildren, her share (and SYDAís) was worth about $5m. This could be a source of some guilt if she ever decides to leave SY. However, she was never interested in money. When she was 15, her father told her he worked 16hrs/day so she would never have to work a day in her life. She ran from the room crying, because to her that was the worst thing that could happen.
There was a time I was doing long seva hours. I was gone from the dorm by 5 am and didnít get back till 11pm-1am. So I was almost never there. Strangely in my absence, some of my dorm mates developed a real dislike for me. One in particular was making death threats before he had even met me.† He was an Aussie called Robert. He had the bed next to mine but he was there for two weeks before he even saw me. He had some serious psychological problems. By the first time we met, he already hated me. I had an electronic clock with hands. It was almost silent. You could just hear it tick if you put it to your ear
That was enough to bother Robert. Before our first meeting, he sent me a note with a picture of my clock and a bomb on one side, and my clock exploding on the other. He demanded I remove the clock or he would destroy it. After that our relationship took a downward turn. I refused to move the clock as I thought he was being unreasonable. He turned his bed around which solved the clock problem.
But over a period of weeks he vented his rage on my things. At first I would find my shampoo bottles emptied, my shaving cream suddenly finished, all my razor blades used. (He was the only other person in the dorm who shaved at the time.)
†Then one night I came in at 1am to find all my sheets and blanket missing. When I turned on the light I found they thrown out the window and were covered in mud. In the process I woke everyone up which did not make me very popular. Same when my mattress disappeared. Then I came in one night to find my whole bed gone! I found it jammed in the bathroom doorway.
I was so tired I went to sleep right there. And being an obstinate bastard, I refused to let anyone past to the bathroom in the morning. As I said, "You f***ers put my f**ing bed here, now you can live with the f***ing consequences." This almost caused some fistfights, and didnít improve my standing in the dorm. Luckily, Robert got called back to Oz before someone got killed.
In many ways Sri Ram was the perfect disciple and therefore was a bit strange. His personal puja was always immaculate and clean, his clothes were always clean, he followed the ashram schedule almost perfectly, never gossiped, didnít have bad habits, didnít care for praise and loved the 'gurus'. Too bad he picked GM for guru.
I went with SriRam to Khar Road in Bombay to check out some pictures of Bhagawan Nityananda. We went to Suvarna's shop and looked through ALL their albums. Suvarnaís father had been the official photographer. Sri Ram bought prints of every photo they had of Nityananda, about 900 in all. He had them all put in albums and used to keep them in the pharmacy for everyone to view. He left suddenly when his aunt died and decided he would never be returning and so he put nothing in storage, unlike every other long termer. What he didnít take with him, he gave away. That included all the photos, which he gave to the ashram.
The teens in 89/90 were given special privileges. They were the first to get amrit passes. They were exempt from seva. There were special courses and programs for them. George let them use the ashram vehicles and they were allowed to go up to the reservoir. Gurumayi showered them with gifts and attention and they got front row seats with her. This didnít make them any better behaved.
I enjoyed having teens in the dorm. It gave the place some real vitality as well as some soap opera type dramas. Tibor used to set his alarm clock for 4am every day. It would go off for about 4 minutes and wake everyone up except for Tibor. He never did get up at 4am, or even 5am. Tibor would get up between 10 and 12am, every day. This pissed everyone off. Tibor kept making promises but still set his alarm for 4am every day. Threats were made. Finally, Abhaya drowned the clock in the toilet.
Shannon had a habit of taking a long shower from 4:45am - until 5:30am and then going back to bed. All the people who wanted to have a shower before the guru gita (There were 16 of us in the dorm) either had to get up early or go without. Abhaya took action on this one too, had a fist fight with Shannon in the shower doorway.
Ram had a real zit problem and spent a lot of time with his face in the mirror. He generally got up around midday. After he went home to OZ, he became a discipline problem, I heard.
Rasa wasnít in my dorm but he spent a lot of time there. He was a real trip.
One of the things I liked the most about ashram life was the sense of community. Of course not everyone had the same sense of community I did. One of these was Swarupananda aka the White Knight aka His Whiteness. He wasnít a swami, only a wannabe. Stories circulated that he had taken a vow of brahmacharya, hence the whole white trip. However given his proximity to George, I doubt this.
Swarup wore all white. His shoes, trousers, shirts, skin, teeth and hair were all white. The only part which wasnít was his nose, which was deep brown and firmly superglued to Georgeís backside. Even GM teased him about his whiteness, tormenting him at times by making him wear colours.
My only real encounter with Swarup was the one I mentioned above when I was chainsawing in Dakshin Kashi. It was such an anomaly to have anything so incredibly white in the heat and dust of the construction site. Swarupís role was that of gopher for George. He had figured out that the way to get power in SY was to kiss George's ass as hard and as often as possible and it worked. Generally, when the White Knight told you to do something, it meant it was a message from George.
The last I heard of him, GM was making him get married. That would be a trial for both given that Swarup didnít have any friends and didnít seem to like anyone other than his mirror.
Seamus Cassidy was Irish - the only Irishman in GSP while I was there. And he was big. He was about 6'3" (192cm) and 250lb (115kg). He had enormous hands like hams and a massive chest. His face was what you might call 'rugged'. He reminded me a bit of Popeye and he liked to brawl just as much. He liked to say that he was the runt of the family - he would struggle to lift a 300lb hay bale while his bigger brothers tossed them around like feather pillows. As young men, the Cassidy brothers' favourite activity was drinkin' and brawlin'. They would go to a local pub, get drunk, start a fight and when it was over, go to another pub and start again. And they might do this several times in a week. SY must have been a bit of a change for Seamus.
The first I heard of him was when a young Aussie guy came to my library and told me how he worked in the cowshed with a mad Irishman named Seamus. According to him, Seamus was totally out of control. He would punch the cows as hard as he could if they didnít do what he wanted. The Aussie was scared to death of him. Over time I heard a few more stories about the wild Irishman in the cowshed but I didnít have much to do with him myself.
The cowshed went thru a series of moves, getting progressively further from the ashram proper. One monsoon it was moved about Ĺkm beyond Tapovan in what had been a rice paddy. It was out of reach of the electricity lines and so the portable 3 phase 100A genset I looked after was taken out there to power the cowshed. It was supposed to be temporary but like a lot of things it dragged on and it started to bother me. I was concerned that the genset was being run on too low a load and it was also needed by other facilities. I checked the cowshed load and presumptuously assumed that it could better be run by a small single phase genset I had. I forget the details of what happened over the next two weeks, but it ended up with Seamus and I having a row in the amrit pavilion. We both got pretty mad and were screaming at each other. At some point it threatened to get physical, but didnít because Seamus backed down.
What you have to picture is that Seamus was 192cm and 250 pounds of solid fight hardened muscle and I was 178cm and 125 pounds of skin and bone. We went eyeball to eyeball daring the other to have a go first. Iíve never figured out if Seamus backed away because he was afraid he'd kill me, or because he figured I was completely insane or both. I donít think he knew what to make of me. Someone as scrawny as me should have been afraid of him and I wasnít. I donít think he was used to people not being afraid of him.
In the end he went and saw my supervisor and we had a very civil meeting and sorted out something that kept everyone happy. I'd like to say we became friends - I got to really like Seamus. He was a real man's man. What I admired most about him was the effort he put into controlling his temper. I cant remember anyone else struggling as much as he did. But I think he was always a little wary of me, worried that I was a bit crazy and might have another go at him.
One incident comes to mind. GM took a bunch of children round to the cowshed (when it was on the side of Tapovan) and gave then all as much Haagen-Dazs icecream as they could eat. It was summer and very hot. But she didnít give Seamus any. When he asked, she looked daggers at him. At that time, you couldnít get icecream of any kind in GSP, let alone Haagen-Dazs in the heat of an Indian summer. Seamus had to bite his tongue and watch the kids scoff and dribble and throw bits of icecream at each other. I could sort of relate to this because I'd never had Haagen-Dazs (still haven't) but Americans would talk about it all the time. So I became incredibly curious what it tasted like but there was no way to find out. Very frustrating, especially when I heard how much had been wasted.
There had always been grumpy and nasty people there but in 1993 and 1994 it seemed to get much worse. The ashram had a way of bringing out the worst in people. Bad behaviour in the name of the guru was encouraged. I really enjoyed GSP - when GM was away. The Gestapo and the cosmic police, the informers, arse kissers, power trippers and petty tyrants would go with her and the ashram became a very pleasant place to be again.
The way people were thrown out of the ashram varied. People in the inner circles were thrown a huge party by the ashram. Some staff going for a short visit home might be told not to come back just as they were leaving. Some people were simply given 3 days to leave. One newbie in the amrit kitchen lost his temper and threw pots and pans at the cooks and across the floor. He went back to his dorm. An hour later, the ashram manager, some heavies and some security guards went to his bed, ordered him to pack immediately and he was escorted out of the ashram gates. Someone who talked to him later in the village said he was extremely upset and couldnít understand why he'd been kicked out. In almost every case, the timetable for leaving was less than 3 days. Rarely it might have been a week. In my case, it lasted 3 months and it took them two tries to get rid of me!
By the end of 1993 I was getting pretty fed up with the petty tyrants who made up the management hierarchy, and the petty rules that were added to constantly. Hardly a day went by without a staff meeting to announce the latest rules. Still I was determined to stay because at that stage I did not hold GM responsible for the managersí individual actions. Also I still believed the line that putting up with all the bullshit was helping to burn away my ego.
What I didnít know then was that they had a "Black Book" where-in they recorded everyoneís misdeeds. Each incoming ashram manager would peruse this book, taking note of troublemakers such as myself. I noticed that every time there was a change of manager, I would have a run in with them within a month. It was as if they had to stamp their authority on me. This incident would then duly be entered in the black book. After that, they would leave me alone. And so unknowingly I accumulated lots of "bad ashram karma". I believe I had an especially large record in it.
Apparently, GM had told management to prune any long termers who "werenít happy". After I left, they pruned most staff who had been there long term but werenít in the inner circle, even if they were "H.A.P.P.Y." Anyway, I was always going to be a prime candidate for pruning.
My first expulsion was in February 1994. I was doing a dish shift one night. There was a new Indian teenager ("Suresh") mopping the floor of the bakery. He started getting pissed off at me because I had to walk across the bakery floor with the clean dishes to get to the lift. Each time I did this I left a trail of footprints on the wet surface. There was no way of avoiding this as the dumbwaiter had been closed since the Indian teenager had been killed in it. To piss me off, Suresh started opening the lift door downstairs so that I couldnít use it. I had to press the buzzer
until someone downstairs closed the door. This was adding more and more time to my dish shift. By 11pm I had worked off 28 years of bad karma and was quite tired and irritable. I was pressing the buzzer for more than 10 minutes and I could hear Suresh laughing downstairs and I got madder and madder.
I should have just abandoned the clean dishes and gone for the ice cream. Instead, I walked downstairs in a rage. I picked Suresh up with one hand and threw him against the wall, his feet about 6 inches off the ground, and screamed at him "DONT EVER F****N' DO THAT AGAIN!!!!". And with that I threw him, one handed, clear across the kitchen into a pile of large cooking pots. Then I turned and went upstairs, raided the ice cream freezer and went up to the roof to eat it with my friend Sudhir. Nalini, the Amrit Gestapo Officer duly reported me to the ashram manager.
The next day I was called to Utpaladeva's office. (Utpal was actually one of the good guys, just carrying out orders, but later on he did try to make it easier for me....one of the few acts of compassion I saw in 6 years!). He informed me I had to leave. He didnít ask me what happened or why. Nor did he say when. I shouldnít have been surprised but it came as a shock. I decided to appeal and wrote a letter to Gurumayi. Swami Anantananda was dispatched to sort me out. He had a number of interviews with me over the next couple of weeks and when he had decided that I was not totally out of control, he reported back to GM (I presume).
Another week rolled by and he came back to me and announced that I was on "probation". This meant I had to be on my best behaviour Ė or else. It lasted till the end of April when Sw.A announced that I could stay. Just three days later, I had another incident. The generator serviceman had come for the monthly engine checkup. Normally he would check in at reception, get a badge and make his own way to the generator plant. This time, reception insisted that I come in person and wouldnít say why. When I got there, they were very evasive and wouldnít explain why I had to come in person. We had an argument over it, which I lost. Voices were raised but there was no yelling.† I decided to make a formal complaint to management about receptionís treatment of the serviceman.
That should have been the end of it. But because it involved me (ashram troublemaker) and the daughter of a trustee, Swami A was brought in again. He talked to me and then to the Indian women in reception. When they sensed there was trouble, they made up a story that I had screamed and cursed and threatened them. With my word against theirs, I had no chance.
When Anantananda told me I had to leave, I felt as if the ground had opened and swallowed me. After he left, I wailed and cried and finally decided to commit suicide. About 8pm that night I went up to the top floor of the Mukteshwar Building and climbed out onto the outer ledge and thought things over while preparing to jump. I was there for about two hours. No one noticed me.
I had nothing outside the ashram. I had lost all contact with my friends, and I was not on speaking terms with my family. In fact I didnít even know where they lived. They had also burned all the things I had left in storage with them. The only things waiting for me in NZ were an arrest warrant and some unpaid fines. In the end I decided not to jump, only because of the impact it would have on the people around me.
About 10pm that night I got off the ledge and went to my room, curled up in a ball and refused to eat, drink or talk to anyone. I donít know if one or two days went by before people started getting concerned. By that stage, I was badly dehydrated, could barely walk and wasnít thinking too clearly. I was carried down to the clinic and put on a drip. A LOT of people came to see me then which was extremely embarrassing.
When I was finally alone, Anantananda came in and gave me a speech. It sounded like it was from GM, certainly wasnít his own words. I wish I had a copy of it now. I think it was intended to get me to pull myself together, but it was so off the mark it was laughable. It sounded like it could have been written for someone else because it sure wasnít about me! This was one
of the indicators I later used when I started thinking really hard about GM's credibility or lack of. Still no deadline was given for leaving.
My girlfriend and I took a two-week trip to the Himalayas and then she flew to her sisterís wedding in the States.† My two best friends had left on a yatra round Maharashtra and when she went I felt very much alone. I still hadnít been given a date to leave by. I had no seva and some people wouldnít talk to me. I had been to hell and back and I was at an ultra low point emotionally. Going back into the world was a daunting prospect as I had burned all my bridges. What I really needed was some reassurance that things would work out, some glimmer of hope. At this point someone persuaded me that I should say goodbye to Gurumayi before I went. After all I had put in something like 24,000 hours of seva and lived in the ashram for 5Ĺ years.
That final darshan was both a disaster and a blessing. When I went up to the chair, she looked the other way. The darshan girl got her attention and she looked at me with total disgust and said ďWhat do you want?Ē I said ďIíve come to say goodbye.Ē ďAndÖ..?Ē she said and looked away again. I was already at rock bottom and this was such a kick in the teeth. It was obvious she didnít give a shit about me, except in as much as the sooner I was gone the better.
For me this had been my test of the guru and she had failed spectacularly. She didnít know what I was going through, she didnít give me any support when I needed it and she didnít care about me even a little bit.† While I was devastated and although it took me some time to process this, this event became the litmus test that showed me Gurumayi is no saint and not even a half way decent person.
There were various small humiliations before I actually left. When I went to collect my passport they told me I needed the managerís permission first Ė so I had to get the managerís permission to collect my passport so I could be expelled. The housing office refused to give me back my linen and blanket deposits because they had lost their records of these. There had already been the embarrassment of the personnel office refusing to give me my stipend because I wasnít doing seva, even though I was. When people left GSP, there was always a crowd to say goodbye. In my case there was no one, and I have to say that hurt. I left the ashram a week after the final darshan by local bus. I donít think anyone even noticed that I had left.
In August 1994 I wandered into a cafť in Leh, Ladakh and there to my surprise was a fellow kiwi devotee. Suneel could best be described as full on. He never did anything half-heartedly so as a devotee he was full on. So I was more than a little surprised when he told me of Gurumayiís abortion. He said he had heard it from an old timer in Sydney that he regarded as reliable. Suneel was not one to gossip and he had no reason to lie.† The story was that George was the father and that the abortion had been carried out during a three week period when Gurumayi had disappeared from GSP.† This three week absence had set the rumour mills on fire but abortion had never been mentioned. I knew from the garage walas that Gurumayi had come and gone in the early hours of the morning. This in itself was odd. Normally there was a big fanfare whenever Herself came or went.
To Suneel it made no difference if the rumour was true, he was still the loyal devotee. For me however, it meant I needed to re-evaluate my entire time in SY. Guru's are legendary, of course, for outrageous behaviour, the so-called crazy wisdom. In the end I came to the conclusion that I had no experience of GM other than as an ordinary, if slightly unusual, human being. That being the case, then even the suggestion of an abortion calls into question GMs integrity. This might be a rumour but then so were the allegations about Baba for a long time. And these rumours have come from within SY rather than from without.
A few things do give the rumour some credence. There is George's statutory rape conviction, showing he has few morals when it comes to gratifying himself.† Stories of his sexual predation of many of the darshan girls abound. One has Gurumayi interrupting him having sex with a darshan girl in Babaís house. Iíve also heard that Gurumayi and George had sex, both before and after her sanyass ceremony.
When Swami Nityananda was dethroned, it was revealed that a couple of the swamis were pregnant (Hemananda and Purnananda). GM had them get abortions saying that the offspring of such an improper union would be born as demons. This shows at least that GM is not averse to abortion. In fact, sexual activity amongst the swamiís was rampant.
I expected that the ashram would be a place to practice spiritual qualities - discipline, compassion, tolerance, even mindedness, harmlessness, lust-free-ness, moderation, insight, openness, etc, all those things that are so hard to do in the world because weíre constantly being distracted.† Instead I found GSP to full of greed, lust, hate, envy, deceitfulness, obsession with appearance, secrecy and superficiality. Over time, I saw that good people lost their virtues and took on these negative qualities. The people who were valued were those were able to set aside their personal values, integrity and morality and replace them with blind obedience to the guru. If this meant law breaking or hurting people, then so be it.
It took me a long time to realise that the lack of spiritual qualities in management and the inner circle were not simply individual shortcomings but the result of a culture deliberately cultivated by Gurumayi.
If the guru insisted on kindness in the ashram, then unkind people would not even want to come or stay. A kind person would question any command that was hurtful, even from the guru.
In a guru-worshiping cult, the guru has the power to set the tone of the group as a whole.
For instance, do you give someone like George - known for his cruelty - unrestricted authority? Do you reward people for being snitches, and spy on your devotees? Do you set your ashram up with the focus on making money, or on being a source of charity? Do you encourage openness or keep everything secret? Do you threaten those that defy you, or do you engage in dialogue? Do you treat movie stars differently from ordinary people? Do you encourage people to wear $1000 saris in a fashion parade, or do you feed an Indian family for 3 years on the same amount? When someone tells you that one of your managers has committed a crime, do you punish the messenger or the manager?
SY did teach me a lot about personal politics, something I had been completely ignorant of before. The companies I have worked for since all have their politics, but nothing like as bad as SY.
I think SY attracted two main kinds of people. The majority were good, community minded people with a spiritual background who were prepared to accept that the spiritual journey required hard work, sacrifice and taking some things on faith. Give them a hit of shakti and they were prepared to accept almost anything from the guru as being true, especially when the
carrot of enlightenment is such a big carrot. Then there were those who found in SY an outlet for their own power and ego trips, a large body of easily manipulated people, and a ready made culture designed for avoiding personal.
We were constantly reminded, in the ashram, not to gossip. However the climate was one where all information was confidential or secret, and there was a complete dearth of information about the activities of the swamis, GM, and other personalities. In particular, swamis who left SY were never mentioned. In this climate, rumour and gossip are bound to proliferate. Combined with SY seeding false rumours, there are bound to be conflicting stories creating confusion and making it difficult to establish the truth. This is ideal for SY as it makes it easy for them to dismiss such accounts as unsubstantiated rumour spread by malcontents..
Hereís one of my favourites:
"How do you do Nothing?" asked Pooh, after he had wondered for a long time.
"Well, it's when people call out at you just as you're going off to do it: 'What are you going to do, Christopher Robiní and you say† 'Oh, nothingí and then you go and do it".
"Oh, I see," said Pooh.
"This is a nothing sort of thing that we're doing now".
"Oh, I see." said Pooh again.
"It means just going along, listening to all the things you can't hear, and not bothering."
The House at Pooh Corner