I can’t say I feel like any one conned or tricked me into Siddha Yoga. I came willingly">
I can’t say I feel like any one conned or tricked me into Siddha Yoga. I came willingly">
I can’t say I feel like any one conned or tricked me into Siddha Yoga. I came willingly">
I can’t say I feel like any one conned or tricked me into Siddha Yoga. I came willingly, eagerly even. I was 16 years old, and fascinated with Eastern mysticism. I had decided, "I need a guru," and I set out on that quest. I was reading everything I could get my hands on: Zen, the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads. It was during this time that I borrowed "Where Are You Going?" from a friend (who coincidentally was not in SY). I read it and loved it, and had my first dramatic spiritual experience right after completing it. What amuses me was how casual I was about it then - wow, that was great, what a cool book, this Muktananda guy is great! And that was that, no follow up, no spiritual attachment. Just a wonderful moment in my spiritual journey.

Soon thereafter I was with another friend at her mailbox. She received the Correspondence Course that day, and I got all excited. More to read! More knowledge! She dug up the first lesson and let me read it. It seemed like good stuff, and at the end of the lesson it made reference to GM - the living successor to Muktananda! Oh my God! What a coincidence! Well, not really - my female friend had given that book to my first friend. But it thrilled me as divine coincidence or karma.

So I was all excited now. My friend took me and a few other friends to the ashram one week in April. GM wasn’t supposed to be there, but had arrived a week early (more divine coincidence!). I had my first Evening Program™, my first Chant™, and my first Darshan™. All the trappings, all the ritual, all the smiling faces... I was hooked.

Being 16, I had very little chance to immerse myself in SY. I was in boarding school, and had to content myself with the Correspondence Course. No problem: my sadhana was actually wonderful at that point in my life. I would occasionally get a week or weekend in South Fallsburg, went to the Philly ashram for New Year’s... but I didn’t feel part of the community. Lucky me.

I remember one early moment of disillusionment. I was up in SF for a week at the end of the summer, and my family came to pick me up. I was of course excited to share my new life with them, and gave them a tour of the ashram grounds, which anyone will admit can be impressive and beautiful. We had reached the temple, and I was standing with them at the window looking in. A very officious, imperious, but overtly pleasant woman accosted us. She reprimanded us for such an impolite thing as looking through the window, which apparently was impious and somehow disturbing to the meditators within. I had thought it better than taking my parents, who were dressed in shorts (horror!) tromping through the temple. I was mortified, and I learned later my parents were mortified and hurt for me. My parents never took to SY, thankfully, but were always cautiously supportive of me. Unlike many in cults, I never lost touch with my family.

An important footnote to this time of my life was that I reread "Where Are You Going?" I more carefully read the preface, which described Muktananda and his legacy. It described how he installed two successors. I thought nothing of it, I mean, I assumed this Nityananda guy was running other ashrams besides the one I’d been to. Nothing sinister about that, right? I filed it away and went on with my sadhana.

Once I went to college I became more heavily involved. I visited the ashram for longer periods of time, I took on at-home seva, and I was part of a fairly large local center. I started to get good at the longer chants, and fluent in SY jargon. I started to feel a commensurate swell in pride. Nonetheless I started to get uncomfortable with the ongoing social pressure I started to feel in SY. Of course there’s the unspoken assumption that everyone will have their own silk asana, chanting book, meditation shawl, library of tapes and books, and hundreds of cheesy pictures covering their walls. Then there’s "Have you taken an intensive? No? Well, you haven’t received shaktipat yet." Hello, that’s a contradiction with other teachings that you can receive shaktipat anywhere, anytime. "Did you take the Blue Pearl Course? Oh you did. Did you have a vision during that talk?"

This is such an important point. The implication is that you’re lacking if you don’t have "kriyas" and visions every time. And why not? It must be about your samskaras, your impurities. If you just let the shakti do its work... There was nothing more fulfilling than being part of a large ecstatic chant, of getting swept up in my own bliss and feeling a part of this large phenomenon. And there was nothing more lonely than sitting in the middle of a chant, straining to feel something, anything, while everyone around me swayed and kriyad. If it’s good, it’s the grace of the guru. If it’s less than good, there must be some impurity in you. You get into comparing, in the guise of sharing.

During one of my trips to the ashram, I was introduced to Swami Mukundananda. If you don’t know him, he’s a gruff old man who apparently was a millionaire businessman before donning the robes. It shows - he was one of the most materialistic yogis I’ve ever met. He used to make these godawful collages of Lakshmi and sell them for outrageous amounts of money - but that’s not the point to this story. In my socializing with him, I at one point asked him, "So who’s Swami Nityananda? How come we never hear about him?" I can only imagine what went through his head. But what he said to me was such bland pabulum that I can barely remember it. Something about how he left, it was all on video and open public record. Besides the fact that I didn’t know this was totally untrue, I assumed from his tone of voice and delivery that it was no big deal, just a barely memorable moment in SY history. What left me uncomfortable me was, why did I never hear about it if it was all so above-board?

The mystery began to reveal itself when I was babysitting for my local center leader. She had been around for years. In her house I discovered a whole stack of old Siddha Paths. Much to my shock, there were pictures of the elusive Nityananda all throughout them! It was like looking into another world. How strange to see my revered guru’s face next to this man I didn’t know, as if they were equals! And yet I had never seen him before. I had attended so many satsangs and programs, met so many people who had been around during the time of Nit’s reign, people who must have pranamed to him, had visions of him, and wept in his presence… and yet I never heard any mention of him. Never!

As if finding those magazines wasn’t enough of a shock, I discovered a true gem - the actual packet sent to devotees from SYDA about Nit’s "resignation." I had the whole history of that era, from the Siddha Path showing him pranaming to GM, to the letters full of vitriolic things written about him only a few months later. I don’t know how I justified all this to myself (amazing isn’t it, what we can do) but I split off a new part of myself - the SY spy. I xeroxed those documents, and began my own little reference file of "proof," while still self-identifying as a good yogi. I didn’t feel I was out to expose SY (yet), I just liked having all the secret facts at my disposal.

From thereon in, it was the little things, the little inconsistencies that started to accumulate. One of the main things for me was the constant contradiction and misuse of the teachings. Everything was true or important depending on when it was used. The concepts of tapasya, samskaras, the guru as a mirror, negativities — I saw them all used to silence people, literally used to cut people off.

And give me a break, George Afif - who can meet him once and have a good feeling about the organization? This is GM’s right hand man, for God’s sake! That’s even without hearing rumors of his taste for young darshan girls. He brought up another issue though - why are all the inner circle so rude and mean? As yogis we all justified to ourselves that it was their karma to be so close to GM, because they needed more shakti, they had more samskaras to deal with. Their cruelty was "tapasya" for us, the cleansing fire, there to strip us free of attachment. What pathetic bullshit. Watching all these petty tyrants play their little power games only filled me with revulsion and pity, not everlasting bliss.

What’s worse, I started down that path too. A young, attractive, rich white male - who better to be a hall monitor or a lead chanter... oh, I was so close to working darshan before my fall! Just think of where I’d be if I’d stayed! I got so bad, so jealous and petty myself. Always scoping who sat where during evening programs, who GM looked at... fortunately it was this inner feeling of nastiness that started to wake me up. As someone devoted to my own growth, that’s when I knew I’d stopped growing in SY.

My day-to-day sevas were usually grunt work. "Facilities Coordination" was a fancy title for schlepping furniture around. But it allowed me something most SYers didn’t get: a peek at almost every corner of the ashram. A sense of how much was hidden away. A chance to see the grimy substrate to the beautiful grounds. A chance to see one of the few old two-person thrones still in existence. A sense of the big picture. For a few moments I was beyond the careful insulation and separation that is so important to disinformation (Have you ever heard the joke about SY? Oh you haven’t? Well then I can’t tell you. It’s confidential.)

Also informative was working in the bookstore warehouse. I got a sense of the huge international commercial empire the Foundation was running. I saw shipping crates loaded with unlisted items to be smuggled into India. I saw unofficial connections with local stores, who benefited from the Foundation’s tax-free status. Most important to me, I took part in the large scale shredding of old, unsellable documents. These were chiefly old Siddha Paths that had any reference to the time of the co-successors. The bookstore went through them and cut out any usable pictures, laminated them, and sold them in India. What remained was burned or shredded. I saw the continued campaign of disinformation that had kept me misled and confused about Nityananda for years. Just like in Orwell’s 1984, I was part of the constant revision of history, but let it happen anyway due to my own doublethink. Thank God part of me was awake, and stored it all away. I took my own copies of these old magazines and put them away in my collection.

It was after that summer that I slowly began pulling away from SY. Leaving SY was a long, slow process. I basically stopped going to the ashram and the local satsang. The process was helped along by dating a woman whose brother was in the Moonies, by the New Yorker article, this wonderful web page, and by meeting someone who was leaving SY herself. The process was significantly set back again by dating a darshan girl I’d met at one of the SY Singles Soirees. Fortunately, as soon as that relationship ended, so too did any physical ties to SY. What remained was the twisted worldview. I couldn’t take my puja down for months, even though I never looked at it or pranamed to it. I was still terrified I might be forsaking the "one true path." I didn’t want to be reincarnated as a tiger in a waterless region! How could I reconcile all the good things I’d experienced in SY with all the negative things I was discovering? Was throwing out SY throwing out any hope of happiness and growth? The main teaching I had to overcome was the belief that anything good, any spiritual growth, is directly attributable to the guru. I never even thought of owning my own happiness, my own bliss! Once I did this, I could actually say out loud, to myself and the universe,

Gurumayi is no longer my guru. I renounce Siddha Yoga.

That was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. But life has only been better since then. Wow, you mean I can still have dramatic spiritual experiences? You mean I can enjoy sense pleasures without guilt? You mean I can discover a productive, meaningful career helping people? But GM never told me that!

Jan 99