Eastern Religion in the West: The First 100 Years
OH! pleasant exercise of hope and joy!
For mighty were the auxiliars which then stood
Upon our side, we who were strong in love!
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!
Wordsworth's ode to the French Revolution seemed appropriate to those of the Baby-Boomers with a mystical bent for as they came of age in the 1960s it seemed that the Wisdom of the East was arriving on every other 707 from Asia to rescue them from the dismal promise of a job in the city and a home in the suburbs and church on Sundays.
Unfortunately this captivating fairy story of how Indian Holy Men and their devotees have established ideas like karma and enlightenment, puja and meditation into the New Age of Western popular culture has, as is traditional, a dark twist. The magical promises of realisation and enlightenment or magical powers and tantric sexuality have turned out to be damp squibs and the Holy Men often, if not nearly always, have been as sleazy and phony as a politician or snake-oil salesman and they have wasted the hopes and lives of thousands, if not millions, of those who trusted them while they secretly indulged in the very physical pleasures they claimed to be above.
This movement is based on a few separate strands:
- the 19th century translation and publication of Hindu and Buddhist scriptures
- the writers and hustlers who created the dream of a Mystic East where yogis and swamis had occult powers
- the recruitment of a few remarkable men who travelled to the West and their sympathisers and financers
- the removal of racist immigration barriers that allowed Asian gurus to try their luck in the USA
- the American Way which promotes and produces profit from religions that glorify asceticism and self-sacrifice
The Boston Transcendentalists
19th century American authors and intellectuals Emerson, Thoreau and Bronson Alcott read, discussed, and wrote about the Bhagavad Gita. Alcott's son-in-law Edwin Arnold wrote "The Light in Asia" a Victorian-flavored biography of Gautama Buddha, which sold half a million copies. It was all rather rarified but provided respectability at a time when Hinduism was considered an abomination by many.
Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831 - 1891) arrived in the West: 1873
Far more important than the high-falutin' brahmin Transcendentalists was Madame Helene Blavatsky, a free-wheeling, cigar smoking Russian emigré and occultist / spiritualist / plagiarist and her Theosophical Society. Blavatsky wrote two massive unreadable tomes of unmitigated bullshit that captivated thousands - Isis Unveiled and The Secret Doctrine. She claimed to reveal secret teachings from the East learnt from a secret cabal of deathless, immortal spirit adepts like Koot Hoomi. In a few decades the Society had gone international and had even set up branches in India. After her death the Society became enmeshed in infighting and splitting amongst it's top administrators and gradually sunk into obscurity but it provided bookstores and meeting place in many cities that kept alive the ideas of spiritual Masters with paranormal powers from the mystical East.
The TS never recovered from the controversies generated by the claim, begun by controversial occultist and homosexual paedophile, Charles William Leadbeater, that a young Indian boy Jiddu Krishnamurti was the manifestation of a new World Teacher. The Order of the Eastern Star was created to support him but Krishnamurti was wildly unsuitable for this role. His greatest achievements were his golf handicap of plus 2 and his dashing style in suits. In 1929 he withdrew from his Messianic role, dissolved the Order of the Eastern Star of which he was the raison d'être and disassociated himself from the Theosophical Society shortly before he was going to be denounced by Leadbeater as coming under the power of the Dark Side. He read a speech: "Truth is a pathless land …" Krishnamurti returned most of the money and property bestowed upon him and retired to California until he realised he needed more money.
Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) arrived in the West: 1893
In September 1893 Swami Vivekananda made a speech at the World Parliament of Religions that created quite a stir in the largely American audience. He was kept busy for the next two years lecturing and teaching raja yoga and attracting support (mature single ladies of means are especially important for Indian missionaries). Vivekananda was pretty careful to tailor his message to his audience as his guru was the truly wild, flamboyant and crazy Sri Ramakrishna (1836-1886) of Dakshineswar (outside Calcutta). He was acknowledged throughout India as a saint of celestial proportions but not a comfortable guest for afternoon tea. Most books written by monks of the society do not discuss the truly awesome strangeness of Ramakrishna who was at one time the lion of Bengali society despite his peasant coarseness and earthiness and his overt passionate love for Vivekananda as a young man. He was accused of being transvestite for his living out of his role as a woman devotee and his immmersion in the role of Muslim, Christian, etc though sometimes perfunctory was at others times complete. Vivekananda's gospel also bore very little resemblance to that of his master and this caused much controversy amongst Ramakrishna's immediate group of disciples, now it is on longer commented on.
The Vedanta Society still has some ashrams and temples in the USA and has published many books about Vedanta over the last century. They achieved a certain amount of publicity through the association of Christopher Isherwood with the Vedanta Society.
D. T. Suzuki (1870 - 1966) arrived in West: 1897
Zen Buddhism was first introduced in the West by D. T. Suzuki (1870-1966) who arrived in the USA in 1897. He wrote many books and presented a version of Zen Buddhism now seen as an overly-intellectual idealisation that was philosophically more modern and Western than traditional and Asian. Suzuki studied at the University of Tokyo. Early in his youth he became a disciple of Soen, a noted Zen master of the day, and under his guidance attained the experience of satori (sudden enlightenment), which remained of fundamental importance throughout his life. He stayed 13 years (1897-1909) in the United States, collaborating with Paul Carus as a magazine editor and pursuing his Buddhist studies. He attracted interest by a translation, "The Discourse on the Awakening of Faith in the Mahayana" (1900), and the publication of "Outline of Mahayana Buddhism" (1907). The latter half of his life he spent in teaching, writing, and lecturing both in Japan and abroad, mostly in the United States, and contributed substantially to the respectability of Buddhism in Western countries. Suzuki died on July 12th, 1966, at Kamakura in Japan.
Most of the authorised Japanese Zen teachers who came to the West in the 1960s were drunks and sexual abusers.
Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895 - 1986) arrived in West: 1912
Krishnamurti's career was so strange and his persona so dignified and his teachings so nebulous and his friends and admirers so classy and the reverence that surrounded him so palpable that the complete uselessness of his teachings and the scandals of his life were rarely publicised. Virtually no overt scandal attached to him until his "daughter" Radha Rajagopal Sloss wrote Lives in the Shadow With J. Krishnamurti." It is possible that his early close association with Charles Leadbeater, who had secret homosexual paedophile relations with many boys may have affected his later relations with women.
Krishnamurti was extemely fastidious in his surroundings, clothing and appearance, in old age he combed his hair in one of the most complex styles ever used to cover baldness. He was extremely shy and frightened of contact with people he didn't know well and seemed incapable of dealing with conflict in a reasonable manner. The consciousness of which he incessantly spoke did not seem to alter his normal human characteristics, he suffered the usual irritabilities, unhappinesses and disturbances of life as well as extra ones of hypersensitvity and emotional pressure.
Krishnamurti's life was a series of extreme breaks with those closest to him, his thirty year relationship with his business manager and confidant, Rajagopal, ended in protracted legal cases. In 1954 he summarily ordered the elderly Lady Emily Lutyens (whom he always called 'Mum') to cease publication of her autobiography because of the embarrassment his letters quoted within it would cause him and his "work". In 1969, he suddenly broke with his long time secretary, Alain Naude, and in 1973 with the long time administrator of his Indian society, Madhavachari.
From most perspectives, Krishnamurti was a reasonably admirable chap. Despite being almost worshipped by his close followers he did not indulge in overtly reprehensible behaviour. While living in discreet style, even luxury in youth and old age, he was a life long vegetarian who refrained from any drugs (even tea and coffee) and was generally admired and liked by those who met him. Most of the money he raised in donations seems to have gone to his schools and learning centre and supporting his proselytising although he had a long string of expensive cars. Following his teachings and example would probably produce worthwhile effects though no-one ever achieved the states of consciousness of which he spoke and his schools produced no classes of exceptional children. Krishnamurti's life as a teacher were barren. While many came to listen to him, none were able to transcend their normal consciousness as he claimed was possible. It's quite likely that a small book he supposedly wrote as a child, "At The Feet Of The Master" had more effect on people than everything else he said and wrote.
The book that has made the most people consider the possibility (if not the certainty) of extra-terrestrial life is not by Carl Sagan or a serious scientific discourse on SETI but was "Chariots of the Gods" by Erich von Daniken. The books that have done more to create belief in Eastern religions are "The Third Eye" by Lobsang Rampa, "Autobiography of a Yogi" by Mukunda Lal Ghosh aka Paramhansa Yognanda and "Be Here Now" by Richard Alpert aka Ram Dass. These books are among the most credulous ever written. Only the "Autobiography of A Yogi" was actually written by someone from Asia, a guru whose major power was he could believe anything and everything.
Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952) arrived in the West: 1920
Mukunda Lal Ghosh was born in 1893 to the family of an Indian railways executive. In 1910, at the age of 17, he met and became a disciple of Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri. He graduated from Calcutta University in 1915 and took formal vows as a monk, Swami Yogananda (bliss (ananda) through yoga).
Yogananda's lineage myth: Lahiri Mahasaya, a devout government accountant is initiated in a cave in the Himalayas by his guru, the deathless and ageless Babaji who materializes "a vast palace of dazzling gold" and instructs Lahiri in the ancient science of Kriya Yoga which had somehow been forgotten even though Babaji was immortal and could have reminded anyone, anytime. Babaji had a pretty poor view of family life: "The millions who are encumbered by family ties and heavy worldly duties will take new heart from you, a householder like themselves. You should guide them to understand that the highest yogic attainments are not barred to the family man."
Lahiri instructed students in Kriya Yoga and taught that the life of the wandering ascetic was no longer appropriate. Instead, the Yogis of the New Age should earn their own living, not be dependent on society for their support. Naturally this commandment was quickly ignored.
In January 1894 in Allahabad, during the Kumbha Mela, India's great religious festival, a disciple of Lahiri, Sri Yukteswar (1855-1936), met Babaji who told him: "India can teach the universal methods by which the West will be able to base its religious beliefs on the unshakable foundations of yogic science. You, Swamiji, have a part to play in the coming harmonious exchange between Orient and Occident. Some years hence I shall send you a disciple whom you can train for yoga dissemination in the West. The vibrations there of many spiritually seeking souls come floodlike to me. I perceive potential saints in America and Europe, waiting to be awakened."
That disciple, no surprise, was Yogananda (1893-1952). In October 1920 Yogananda was invited to address the International Congress of Religious Liberals in Boston, Massachusetts. He spent the 1920s proselytising in the USA and founded the Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) in Los Angeles. SRF does not publicise it's membership but it was unable to use the astonishing sales of the Autobiography in the 1960s and later to grow into a large organisation. It's annual Convocation attracts no more then 6,000 participants despite the incredible claims made for it's methods. "Kriya yoga is an instrument through which human evolution can be quickened", explained Yukteswar. "A half-minute of kriya equals one year of natural spiritual unfoldment."
One thousand Kriya practiced in eight hours gives the yogi, in one day, the equivalent of one thousand years of natural evolution: 365,000 years of evolution in one year. In three years, a Kriya Yogi can thus accomplish by intelligent self-effort the same result which nature brings to pass in a million years.
Yogananda emphasized his idiosyncratic interpretation of the underlying unity of the world's great religions, and taught meditation methods he said would allow direct personal experience of God. He was the epitome of an Anericanised Indian yogi. He had a very un-Hindu optimism and the American can-do spirit. He turned the guru-disciple relationship into a weekly, mail-order religion. To initiates he taught secret techniques of "Kriya Yoga", which he claimed were ancient mystical techniques that had been lost in the Dark Ages (they weren't) but reintroduced by his "Masters."
In the late 1960's possession of a copy of 'Autobiography of a Yogi' was de rigeur amongs "hippies" or those in the "counter-culture" (though there were a lot less of them then than their media presence now suggests) the Self Realisation Fellowship's membership did not increase to reflect the interest in the book. It's hierarchy had lived too long and it appeared old-fashioned. It has a pseudo-oriental centre at the aptly named "Swamis" surfing beach in Encinitas, Southern California and temples and meditation centres throughout the West.
Yogananda could and did believe anything as a selection of Autobiography chapter headings shows. Yogananda, himself, could produce no miracles in the West. He certainly couldn't emulate the yogi who never eats and his premature death was caused by his obesity.
- The Saint with Two Bodies (Swami Pranabananda)
- A "Perfume Saint" Performs his Wonders
- The Sleepless Saint (Ram Gopal Muzumdar)
- Materializing a Palace in the Himalayas
- The Resurrection of Sri Yukteswar
- The Woman Yogi who Never Eats (Giri Bala)
Yogananda's teachings and life as related in his books are a combination of bodlerised Hinduism, a lowbrow "perennial philosophy" and many tales of magic, divine miracles and sadhus who live without eating, Catholic stigmatists, levitation, "deathless" gurus, tiger fighting swamis, saints who can manifest more than one body and so on that may either inspire with awe or derision. His own life appears to be singularly free of scandal though he was terribly obese for a man epitomising the Essence of Self-Realization and it's no surprise he died at the relatively early age of 59. Scandal would have been easier to hide in those days.
Once Yogananda died dissension and disagreement and dissatisfaction arose amongst his close disciples. Its part of the American way that if you know something that others might want to know then you immediately begin to think about selling it. Not content to be cogs in the very straight-laced and boring SRF wheel other disciples of Yogananda began to set up shop on their own. Shelly Trimmer's parents were "students of Western mystery teachings." He became a student of Yogananda's and claimed Yogananda transmitted "the deeper, more esoteric, aspects of the teachings to" him and empowered him "to carry on the lineage, to teach - but in a more hidden and less 'institutional' manner." Trimmer moved to the north woods of Minnesota, where he lived with his wife and children. One of his students became the self-titled Goswami Kriyananda. He began teaching kriya yoga, and by 1983 his Temple of Kriya Yoga in Chicago was offering instruction for students outside his inner circle. Roy Eugene Davis, ordained by Yogananda in 1951 and a kriya teacher since 1954, founded the Center for Spiritual Awareness in Lakemont, Georgia. Davis has written or published some 20 books and is still very active leading retreats and seminars in the 1990s.
J. Donald Walters, as Swami Kriyananda, was a close disciple of Yogananda in the late 40s and early 50s. He took vows of final renunciation in 1955 and was vice president of SRF from 1960 to 1962. He left the Self-Realization Fellowship in 1962 and set up the Ananda World Brotherhoodwith himself as the guru. He has been involved in litigation for years with the Self Realization Fellowship. Unfortunately the power of a Spiritual Master often leads to abuse, especially when leaders abuse their power over their followers for their own sexual and financial gain. These abuses now come up against the fruits of the feminist movement and litigatiousness of modern society.
This is exactly what has happened with Swami Kriyananda and the Ananda church. The full details of the case are available at The Ananda Awareness Network. They are as sordid as usual. Celibacy is very difficult, if not impossible, for the great majority of humans. Yogananda claimed that the sincere practice of Kriya Yoga was enough to eradicate sexual urges in his followers. In Walters's case, at least, his master's teachings failed.
In 1924, the U.S. imposed an extreme restriction on the number of Indians it would allow to emigrate to the USA. This restriction was only removed in 1965.
Avatar Meher Baba (1894 - 1969) arrived in West: 1931
Merwan Sheriar Irani was born February 25, 1894, in Poona, India, into a Zoroastrian family. His personal history is only available as written by his followers and is a fascinating and strange legend that can be seen at these Meher Baba pages.
'Meher Baba' became "realised" at 20 years old after an unusal process which included being kissed on the forehead by an old Poona lady, becoming dazed and apparently insane but finding Shirdi Sai Baba, the famous guru (see Satya Sai Baba page) who sent him to Upasni Maharaj who hit him on the forehead with a well thrown stone exactly where the old woman had kissed him and it was five years before he recovered.
During the 1920's he gathered disciples and founded a community at Ahmednagar, India, In 1925 he became silent and never again spoke but communicated by spelling words on an alphabet board and through hand gestures.
In 1931 he went to Europe & USA and gathered a small group of western disciples. He travelled between India and the West 6 times in the 1930's. In the 1940's he travelled all over India collecting insane people he claimed to recognise as 'masts', people who appeared mad because of their "spiritual" experiences.
He made news predicting wars and other disasters. Predictions of wars and disasters have always come true.
There will be a terrible war in the future, and it will be more destructive and horrible than the last one. America will play the most important role in it. Millions will die, and the war will be so horrendous that there will not even be time to dispose of the heaps of corpses. It will be then that I manifest myself as the Avatar. [18 June 1927, Meherabad] - Source: Lord Meher 3: 949
However predictions of the manifestation of an Avatar have always been proven false by time and Meher Baba's were no different.
Meher Baba's major contribution to the spiritual ferment of the 1960s rested on the success of the "Don't Worry, Be Happy" poster.
Ramana Maharshi (1879 - 1950) became known in West: 1934
Ramana Maharshi was born Venkataraman Iyer in Tamil Nadu, South India. At the age of 16 he had a "spiritual awakening" and secretly left his family and caught a train to the sacred mountain of Arunachala at Tiruvannamalai where he remained until his death. He became a famous ascetic living in caves and an ashram gradually grew up around him. While he had the usual strange states of consciousness and recounted powerful experiences normal in a famous Indian saint he also had good organisational skills and a Protestant work ethic, unusual in Indian ascetics. His fame was spread as many of the tens of thousands of pilgrims to the Annamalaiyar Temple would come for the Maharshi's darshan while there.
Ramana Maharshi became relatively well known in the West after 1934 when Paul Brunton, who had visited Arunachala in 1931, published the book A Search in Secret India in which he extolled Ramana. He achieved a wider fame after W. Somerset Maugham wrote "The Razor's Edge" using Ramana as the model for the "holy man." The fact that Maugham had fainted and remained unconscious for some time whilst at the ashram added a particularly "spooky" mystical authority to the Maharshi. Whilst Brunton's book was a best-seller, Maugham's book was even turned into a Hollywood movie.
Ramana Maharshi stressed "Self-enquiry" as the most direct way of realizing Self-awareness, when asked about liberation and Vedanta generally. He empowered no followers to teach or create a lineage in his name. There was no "official" lineage, a simple teaching and little doctrine. This allowed any person who chose to declare themselves a Realised Advaita guru to do so without receiving criticism from Maharshi's lineage holders. The most influential of such people was Hariwansh Lal Poonja (1910? - 1997) who has become well-known in New Age circles as Poonjaji aka Papaji. A modern cottage industry has arisen in American gurus who blithely proclaim all over the internet that they had received "transmission" from Poonjaji, achieved "Sudden Realisation" and were officially enlightened. This is controversial in many ways not being that Poonjaji made some very nasty slurs on these people.
Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (1918 - 2008) arrived in West in 1959
Mahesh Prasad Varma was born in 1917 or 1918 to the family of an Indian civil servant and became an accounts clerk after getting degrees in science and mathematics at Allahabad University. In 1941 he began working for Swami Brahmananda Saraswati or Guru Dev, the head of one of India's monastic orders who died in June 1953. Mahesh began his public career in 1955 at Cochin, South India, preaching the divinity of his master and initiating householders in his technique of meditation though this was strictly forbidden by the Master as Mahesh was of a lower caste. He gathered followers, created an organisation, left India in 1958, toured Asia and arrived in San Francisco on 29th January, 1959.
"By the grace of my master, I have found a simple technique, a simple formula, to transform the inner man to the great height of the spiritual level, and to bring it to every man everywhere, I have come out." - Maharishi 1960
TM© is a system of meditation that attracts people who know nothing about meditation. The "technique" is a simple mantra meditation based upon a Sanskrit word of one of the many Hindu names of God. Each recipient received a mantra determined by their age and sex at time of initiation though it was claimed that this was a complex method depending upon the individual recipient. His uniqueness stemmed from his public claim that only twenty minutes of meditation a day were required to experience bliss and the incredibly optimistic manner in which the effects of the meditation were described. For ten years he travelled through USA and Europe gradually increasing the numbers of those initiated and developing an organisation, the Spiritual Regeneration Movement, which was greatly facilitated by the interest of some wealthy followers. Despite his public optimism he did notice:
"A hundred people are initiated, and after a month only about 25-30 are found meditating, and after 6 months there will be only five, then no-one." - Maharishi 1964
He first gained public notoriety in 1967 after the Beatles became followers and went to his ashram in India. Further publicity following their very public disenchantment with him probably negated any initial media positivity. George Harrison's comments on a television interview program: "We've only been doing it a matter of six weeks maybe, but there is definite proof that it's something that really works" probably encapsulates the experience of most people who try a system of meditation. After an initial enthusiasm the effects do not prove adequate to keep the person meditating (even twenty minutes a day). Harrison was no fine example of the effects of TM as he soon moved on to Krishna Consciousness and his womanising, adultery, booze and cocaine abuse and general meanness and grumpiness are well documented despite the spiritual spin-doctors.
Transcendental Meditation was the first Indian based "spiritual practice" to use a capitalist profit-making method of gaining and initiating new members. He had been, after all, an accounts clerk. The Maharishi franchised the teaching of TM even though there was virtually nothing to teach. Certified TM teachers' income is based on the number of people they can attract, inspire and initiate. It is a fact of life that people interested in meditation to improve their lives are equally as interested in gaining wealth to improve their lives. The method is so simple and the personal mantra is chosen from a list so that the Maharishi could easily have taught it on television or through a video. This would have demonstrated a real faith in his method but would not have created a wealthy organisation and a group of true believers dependant upon him. Initiation was cheap (and even free) in the 1960s when the Maharishi first became famous but was later made expensive presumably to make it appear valuable. The David Lynch Foundation requests donations to provide "scholarships" for people to learn TM. This is a scam that provides income for TM teachers for something that is basically available for free. There has been little publicity over Maharishi's sex life though it is accepted amongst his ex-students that Mia Farrow was not the only young lady he propositioned. In the film "David Wants To Fly" Maharishi's former personal assistant explains that one of his jobs was to bring women to the Maharishi's room for sex. Another ex-disciple, Judith Bourque, reminisces about her torrid love affair with the Maharishi, which ended when he found another young woman. She has written a book about it, Robes of Silk, Feet of Clay.
In the late 1970's Maharishi did something that showed, if nothing else, his confidence in his own techniques and knowledge or his chutzpah. The TM organisation publicly declared that practitioners of TM could attain superhuman powers. Though these were ordinarily disparaged as unwanted side effects of meditation in the Indian tradition and are commonly accepted in certain sections of popular culture though they have never been demonstrated in the West, their public display would revolutionise the scientific, technological world-view that our society is based on. Alas, it was not to be.
Here was the opportunity for TM to publicly show in an incontrovertable fashion the validity of it's claims. Media disdain for the Maharishi meant that these claims were publicised in a disparaging humorous fashion but finally on Wednesday, July 19, 1986 the Maharishi proclaimed a public demonstration of the TM-Sidhi © techniques at the Capital Convention Centre in Wahington DC. Unfortunately for the world and Maharishi's public image, yogic flying turned out to be the ridiculous spectacle of meditators hopping like frogs and absolutely not defying gravity. The photos of meditators apparently floating done with the use of high speed cameras (and probably trampolines) indicates a contempt for truth completely unbecoming in an organisation supposedly devoted to Natural Law, Pure Knowledge and Cosmic Consciousness.
Dalai Lama (1935 - ) became known in the West: 1959
The Dalai Lama is the saintly head of Tibetan Buddhism, the umpteenth reincarnation of the Buddha who has ruled Tibet, the spiritual Shangri-La in the Himalayas, since time immemorial. There the poor but saintly and ever so happy peasants toil cheerfully to support the monasteries in which live the thousands of dedicated monks whose esoteric and magical powers and deep meditational practices allow them to overcome cold, hunger and gravity while creating the spiritual energy that keeps this world from turning to the dark side of the force. At least that's the Hollywood version of Tibet.
The historical reality is a little different. Tibetan history is extremely complex, ridden with conflict, violence and power politics intertwined with struggles for religious dominance between the indigenous Bon shamanism and Buddhist sects. The first Dalai Lama was Sonam Gyatso (1543-88), head of the dominant Gelukpa (Yellow Hat) monastic sect. This title was bestowed him by a Mongol chief Altan Khan in 1578 and applied retroactively to his two predecessors so that he is called the third Dalai Lama. Basically the Dalai Lama was a puppet of a foreign power whose aim was to control Tibet's foreign policy without having to waste the expensive military resources that conquest and direct control would require. The 2nd (4th) Dalai Lama was a grandson of this ruler and with the aid of Mongol military force he crushed the Karmapa and Nyingma (Red or Black Hat) sects and became both the spiritual and temporal ruler.
The Dalai Lama appears to be a charming and inquisitive person whose public persona has done a lot create a warm and fuzzy feeling for Tibet in the West. However there is considerable controversy in the Tibetan Buddhist community with many of their "reincarnated" gurus having been involved in gurus/sex and drug scandals. There have been violent disputes over just who is the official "reincarnated" tulku and there have been protests against the Dalai Lama.
Members of the International Shugden Community (New Kadampa Tradition) publicly protested against visits of the Dalai Lama to various countries. This appears to have arisen from the creation of a new cult in the West based on the person of Kelsang Gyatso who turned a community of Buddhist students into rejecting all other Tibetan lamas and traditions as sources of authority. This has centered on the worship of an entity called Dorje Shugden, worship of whom was apparently banned by the Dalai Lama because of the "protector's" exclusivist sectarian sentiments. There were even anti-protest protests.
Yogi Amrit Desai (1932 - ) arrived in the West: 1960
Amrit Desai, 28, arrived in Pennsylvania in 1960 to study at the Pennsylvnia College of Art. This may have been a ruse to enter the USA as Asians were not allowed to immigrate but he quickly became a very successful yoga teacher/entrpreneur. By 1966 he had established the Yoga Society of Pennsylvania (YSP) and had trained 75 teachers. By 1970 he had developed 150 yoga classes, all taught by YSP instructors. "It became the largest yoga society in America," says Desai. "More than 2,000 students graduated from classes every 10 weeks." In 1969 he returned to India to see his guru, Swami Kripalvananda whose autobiography includes the usual Indian guru stories of an immortal master, Dadaji in this case, resurrection, instant initiation into new secret teachings and a recognition that Dadaji was the spitting image of a statue of the 28th incarnation of Shiva. Simplicity itself, Desai's guru was Bapuji and his guru was the deathless Dadaji and he was really an incarnation of Shiva.
In 1974 Bapuji initiated Desai and empowered him as a guru in his own right even though he had a family and Bapuji had initiated 3 official renunciate swamis. Desai did well as a Yoga teacher but he did even better as a kundalini-raising guru bestowing shaktipat.
Within the Kripalu parampara (lineage), shaktipat is perceived as a profoundly embodied psychophysical experience marking a partial awakening of prana, or energy, of kundalini shakti. After receiving shaktipat the yogi or yogini typically experiences an array of automatic movements and preliminary manifestations called kriyas that could include shaking, crying, dancing, chanting, visions, and spontaneous or automatic asanas (postures) and mudras (advanced postures or hand gestures) - Gleig & Williamson
In 1983 Kripalu moved from Pennsylvania to Lenox, occupying a former Jesuit monastery and Vanderbilt country estate in the Berkshires. Kripalu had 300 residents, served 12,500 guests annually with its numerous yoga and holistic health programs, and oversaw 40 affiliate groups around the country. In 1989 Desai told Hinduism Todaythat brahmachariya celibacy holds much of Kripalu's power. Men and women live separately, but also eat in different halls and travel in separate cars. There is good harmony too. Notes Desai, "My life is such. No conflicts." A senior staffer half-jokingly confides the only thing they haven't figured out is how to consistently get the staff up for the 5:00 AM meditations. By 1994 Kripalu was considered one of the best holistic health resorts in the US.
Desai had moved into the role of Gurudev, the (semi-)divine teacher with renunciate followers (monks), giving satsang, diksha and shaktipat providing spiritual guidance, and creating his own form of Teaching.
Desai prescribed new norms of behavior for members of the charismatic community after initiation that included foregoing normative sexual relations (that is, celibacy for nonmarried residents and moderation for married residents), and living a life of simplicity and selfless volunteer service.
In 1994 Desai was accused of extramarital affairs with five female residents of the Kripalu Fellowship. In what is possibly unique in the annals of guru scandals Desai admitted the acusations were true and asked for forgiveness. In another almost unique response the Board of Directors forced him to resign as Spiritual Director. He was almost the last of his peers to remain free from scandal. In 1995, Andrew Cohen, self-proclaimed World Teacher, was able to purchase "Foxhollow," a 220 acre estate in Massachusetts, that once belonged to the Vanderbilts that was part of Desai's Kripalu Yoga Center. The property had come on the market because Yogi Amrit Desai, the married celibate founder and spiritual leader of Kripalu Yoga Center who demanded strict celibacy from his students, owed $3 million to settle some legal claims made against him due to his sexual exploitation of some of his female students. Desai had also been making a lot of money from his position while the followers laboured for a pittance doing seva (service). Some things never change.
The Kripalu Center For Yoga and Health reorganised as a "transnational secular yoga retreat" and has continued to thrive. It is no longer based on the Hindu guru-disciple ashram model which has proven such a failure in the West.
A man with the energy and drive of Desai was not going to remain sulking in the shadows. He began the Amrit Yoga Institute and calls himself Gurudev Amritji Desai. Naturally his website does not mention the years he lied to his followers and his children, cheated on his wife, abused his position of trust, made a fortune from his dedicated disciples and played the role of Gurudev. Oh that's right. He's still playing it. We can be sure that his spiritual practices have certainly raised him above any shame that a less enlightened person might feel. Actually Desai has stated that he believes those years of fucking his female disciples, lying and cheating was "a blessing" that "accelerated his own personal reflection and growth." How much more spiritually advantageous it would have been if he had been even more of a hypocrite? His daughter Kamini wrote:
"My father's greatest teaching is not in the words he has spoken or the experiences he has conveyed, but in the example he has given of what it means to surrender to life and the mistakes we make as the medium to liberation."
Andrew Cohen commented:
I remember my own disappointment, for I had seen Yogi Desai as the last of the few modern pioneer masters of yoga in the West who, up until that point anyway, had remained free from scandal. What is going on here? I found myself asking over and over again. These great men were true masters after all, men who not only had experienced glorious heights of bliss and ecstasy that most only dream about, but in this case, who also had the power to transmit that experience to others. … So what gives?
The answer is simple. You do not have to be "great men and true masters" to inspire other people. You just have to tell them what they want to hear in a way they find exciting and presto, it's done. There's nothing spiritual about it. If you accept that spirituality, realisation and enlightenment do not actually exist, then it all makes sense.
- Homegrown Gurus: From Hinduism in America to American Hinduism - Ann Gleig & Lola Williamson
Sri Chinmoy (1931 - 2007) arrived in the West: 1964
Chinmoy Kumar Ghose was born in Bangladesh in 1931, the youngest of seven children. He was orphaned in 1944 and went to live at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, a spiritual community near Pondicherry made famous by Sri Aurobindo a philosopher/yogi/guru. As an adult he worked as the secretary to the Administrative Head of the ashram. There he met Beverly Siegerman (whom he renamed Alo Devi) an educated and well-traveled woman who was at the ashram for spiritual development and she became involved in an intimate relationship with Chinmoy and helped him move to New York and get a green card and a job at the Indian Consulate.
When he was able to give up his day job and become a full-time guru Devi was his spiritual as well as his physical consort. She and Chinmoy were enlightened, Yin and Yang, Shakti and Shiva, Prakriti and Purusha. Chinmoy said they were "the obverse and reverse of the same coin." She was revered by the disciples as the Queen of the Universe. Jayanti Tamm was born into the cult and grew up worshipping Guru and Alo. When she was eleven she learnt through gossip that Alo had been demoted. Chinmoy had begun a whispering campaign against her saying she had "fallen." She was sent on long trips and her throne removed from the stage. He was sick of her nagging and her outrage at "the influx of gopis, female disciples, who were always at her and Guru's house. In particular, it was my idol, Prema, and her counterpart, Isha, whose constant presence and elevated status irritated Alo the most."
Like the Maharishi he had lived and worked in an ashram and learnt his trade as a guru by observing both Sri Aurobindo and "The Mother" and understanding how talk and act to impress seekers.
He may be the most unorthodox and eccentric guru of the modern age. He was the guru of gimmicks. He claimed world records for weight and people lifting, number of songs written, books written, paintings painted and possibly some others. He gained widespread media attention, strained credibility and prompted the Wall Street Journal to label Chinmoy "the stunt man of the spiritual world." Especially questionable are his claims for world record weight-lifting. Pictures show that he uses a form of leverage to lift extraordinary weights. As he's 5'8" tall and is not a particularly large man then his weight lifting would be pretty impressive if it was not so obviously phony and his reported statements so disingenuous: "I don't blame people who suspect my performance," Chinmoy said. "My own mind suspects it. How can I blame them?" Strangely he didn't claim any records for sexual athletics by a Spiritual Master or Enlightened Guru but then his performance in this field was no more than average at best.
Chinmoy decided he should be called Lord Chinmoy because he was an Avatar like Krishna:
When Lalita asked if I wanted to head to London to assist with the latest project, acquiring for Guru the lofty and revered title "Lord" from the queen of England, without hesitation I declined. Even if Guru had had a vision where Krishna appeared before him and told him that since Krishna was referred to as Lord Krishna, as a fellow avatar Guru should be officially dubbed Lord Chinmoy, I had had enough. I knew Guru had assigned his top British public relations team to begin work on this latest urgent assignment, and even if he had not, I did not care. I was tired in a deeper and more profound way than I ever had been before. - Cartwheels In A Sari
He came to the attention of the media in the early 1970's when he attracted some famous guitarists, John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana (renamed Mahavishnu and Devadip ), as followers. His followers included Narada Michael Walden a successful musician and producer and and Roberta Flack a singer. He had an insatiable yearning for reflected glory. Chinmoy's press kit contains long lists of religious leaders, heads of state, government officials and celebrities he has met or written to. While most gurus since the 1960's have kept a low profile in the media, Chinmoy's followers go to great if not completely questionable lengths for any publicity. Chinmoy was possibly the guru most dedicated not so much to having celebrity followers, L. Ron Hubbard deserves that honour, but to being photographed with them. If this cannot be arranged because the celebrity is aware of Chinmoy being a charlatan then it can nearly always be bought by arranging a donation to their favourite charity, sometimes a very large donation.
The Sixties Counter-Culture
Timothy Leary with his LSD and marijuana messianism helped create a sympathetic group of young Americans open and eager for the message of Eastern Hindu and Buddhist meditation practices. He also helped turn Richard Alpert, a straight, uptight, depressed, anxious, non-religious Jew into Dick Alpert, a stoned, freaked-out, uptight, depressed, anxious, non-religious Jew who was ready for a religious conversion of a life-changing standard.
Leary had scammed his way through life and found a cause in declaring LSD as a guaranteed door to spiritual experience(s) though he gave no indication that he'd actually had one. Leary's sloganeering was vacuous and insubstantial. He was basically a snake-oil marketer. Leary could have had a brilliant career on Madison Avenue with his one-liners. At some point he stopped marketing psychedelics and just kept marketing Timothy Leary.
Ginsberg, a relentless networker and promoter of his and the other so-called "Beat" authors' works, became a close confidant of Leary and a strong publicist for the mystical uses of LSD.
While Leary and Ginsberg helped publicise the use of consciousness-altering drugs and provided advance publicity and a stoned pool of credulous seekers for Eastern spirituality they knew next to nothing about the topic. Ginsberg had spent some time in India mainly hustling for drugs but came back acting as a 2-bit guru. At the infamously violent 1968 Democratic Convention Ginsberg spent hours in the park chanting OM to calm things down. This was a complete failure and to add insult to injury an Indian gentleman passed him a note explaining his pronunciation was all wrong. Keith Richards had him tagged as a talentless phony.
Allen Ginsberg was staying at Mick's place in London once, and I spent an evening listening to the old gasbag pontificating on everything. It was the period when Ginsberg sat around playing a concertina badly and making ommm sounds, pretending he was oblivious to his socialite surroundings.
While LSD and marijuana and "rock" music must take some of the blame (or credit) its often forgotten that people went from LSD to Eastern religious practices not because they'd had mystical experiences and attained peace and bliss but because they hadn't.
The man who made the real difference and opened up the USA (and in so doing the rest of the West) to Eastern religious practices was Lyndon Baines Johnson.
President Lyndon Baines Johnson (1896 - 1977): 1965
The man who made the greatest contribution to the post-1960s evolution of religion in the USA and the rise of Asian gurus and teachers was the President of the USA, Lyndon Baines Johnson. In 1965 he signed into law the Hart-Celler Act removing the restrictive immigration rules that had allowed only a handful of Asians to immigrate to the USA since the 1920s. There appears to be only one person of Asian ethnicity at the ceremony.
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896 - 1977) arrived in West: 1965
Abhay Charan De was born in 1896 in Calcutta, India; he grew up, married, started a pharmaceutical business and had 5 children. He met his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami, a prominent Vaishnavite guru in the tradition of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, a medieval Hindu religious leader, in 1922. He became his student and, in 1933, his formally initiated disciple. In the following years, he devoted more of his time to assisting his guru's work and less to his family and business and in 1954 (to his wife's horror) sent her and the children back to her father. He travelled to the holy city of Vrndavana, where he lived in humble circumstances in the historic temple of Radha-Damodara. He entered the renounced order of life (sanyasa) in 1959 and began his writing and translating Hindu scriptures.
Prabhupada was a single-minded, narrow-minded fanatic who believed that living a 15th century Indian peasant life, being ruled by a celibate, patriarchal, priestly caste and worshipping Krishna and chanting the Hare Krishna mantra was the path to heaven on earth. He was a fool as only single-minded, narrow-minded fanatics can be. He taught his followers what they should think and how they should live and the results were disastrous. Many young girls and boys were raped and beaten, starved, humiliated and kept away from their parents for years. He personally selected the men he believed were his finest and most trusted devotees and gave them power over devotees and they all broke their vows and acted improperly and/or illegally. Many Eastern gurus lied, cheated and abused their followers. Prabhupad created an organisation of such criminal gurus. The Hare Krishna mantra was tested and found to be completely useless. So Prabhupad has taught us something worthwhile.
He begged passage on a cargo ship, travelled 35 days (he had two heart attacks on the journey), and arrived in New York City with $8 worth of rupees in September 1965, to fulfil the mission of his spiritual master of spreading the Vaishnavite worship of Krishna to the West. He established the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), in July of 1966, and gathered devotees by public preaching, dancing and devotional chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra, (Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Hare Hare Krishna Krishna Hare Rama Hare Rama Hare Hare Rama Rama), street begging and distribution of free food at his temples by his shaven-headed saffron-robed followers. He received much publicity through the interest of Beatle George Harrison who became a follower in 1969. By the time of his death on November 14, 1977, he had guided the Society and seen it grow to a worldwide confederation of more than one hundred asramas, schools, temples, institutes, and farm communities and had initiated over 4,000 followers. Their public presence and media image was always far greater than the number of converts due to their chanting and dancing in city streets and the disapproval caused by their appearance and clothing, street begging and worship of statues of Krishna and his consort Radha and of 'His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada' (Srila Prabhupada for short). Prabhupadha also engendered public controversy with his fundamentalist, medieval Hindu viewpoints, especially on the place of women and cows in his society, the evils of Western society and his refusal to accept the astronauts landing on the Moon as being real since the Moon was a heaven for demi-gods and Krishna, not for NASA.
His followers believe that Prabhupada's persona was flawless and perfect. He was a 'pure devotee' who knows real love of God and had reached the stage of being in a direct and personal relationship with Krishna - the Supreme God. His devotees were taught that he was incapable of making a mistake but in fact he was a fool. No scandalous accusations have been made about Prabhupada personally but ISKCON was the most corrupt and evil New Religious Movement of our times. He was a sick man of 73 on his arrival in the West and, presumably, no longer prey to physical desires. So it is paradoxical that his followers and organisation should have become involved in the grossest violations of both society's ethical norms and his own much stricter ones. Murder, drug smuggling and abuse, sexual abuse and wide spread paedophilia and child abuse are among only some of the proven crimes that his empowered gurus and other disciples became involved in. Chris Butler, Siddhaswarupananda Paramahamsa, who hooked onto Prabhupad's bandwagon for a while and declares himself the true authorised successor is an arsehole but at least he's not a criminal arsehole - as far as is known.
As all the gurus that he empowered acted improperly (if not illegally), the blame for their actions cannot be placed onto a few individual bad apples. Prabhupada concentrated on ends and to some extent ignored means, a combination nearly always fatal to spiritual endeavours. His organisation's main mission was the printing and distribution of Prabhupada's books and the creation of new opulent temples and initiation of more devotees. From early in it's history the amount of money gathered became more important than the methods used. Like the Moonies, the Krishna's became involved in deception and cheating in their public collection of money and irretrievably cheapened and degraded the name of Krishna in the West. From there it was a small step to outright lies and then to theft and drug selling and smuggling. In photo on left, Prabhupad walks in India with (from right) Balimardan, expelled for embezzlement & illicit sex & meat-eating & Bhavanada for homosexuality.
By 2000 the Hare Krishnas had developed into a priestly caste whose temples were used by the growing Indian community in the West for their religious rituals. There had been 10,000 living in the temples in the late 1970s. Twenty years later ther were 800. They survived by providing temples for the Indian diaspora to worship in. They had long since stopped growing and were aging and as most of them were baby boomers they were well into their 60s by 2017. In 2003 they settled a $US400 million lawsuit against the Hare Krishnas in America that alleges that children between the ages of three and 18 were sexually abused or mistreated at American and Indian Hare Krishna ashram-based boarding schools during the 1970s and 1980s. ISKCON is not arguing against the abuse claims. It wants to settle the matter by filing for bankruptcy. This kept it out of the courts, protected its assets, and allowed it to pay compensation to victims who came forward by June 30, 2003.
Swami Satchidananda (1914 - 2002), arrived in West: 1966
In 1969, about 500,000 young, mostly stoned or wishing to be stoned or pretending to be stoned young Americans gathered for the rock concert near Woodstock. Opening the event with a brief speech and blessing was the tall, bearded, longhaired Swami Satchidananda in orange robes of the sannyasin. "My beloved sisters and brothers," he began, mimicking Swami Vivekananda's invocation at the 1893 World Parliament of Religions in Chicageo. "I am overwhelmed with joy to see the youth of America gathered here in the name of the fine art of music. The future of the whole world is in your hands. The entire world is going to watch this. The entire world is going to know what the American youth can do for humanity." Very little if Woodstock provided an example. Hanging around, doing little but listening to rock bands for a weekend while stoned or appearing so is doing nothing for humanity.
Eventually the entire world, or at least that part of it interested in Eastern spirituality and yoga knew that Swami Satchidananda was sexually abusing some of his students. In 1991, protesters waving placards ("Stop the Abuse," "End the Cover Up") marched outside a Virginia hotel where he was addressing a symposium. At least 11 women, including two of Satchidananda's former secretaries, have reportedly claimed that the swami used his authority as a spiritual leader to coerce them into having sexual relations with him. Susan Cohen, his former secretary whom he named Swami Atmananda confronted Satchidananda during a speech in Charlottesville, Virginia, by standing up and shouting, "How can you call yourself a spiritual instructor when you have molested me and other women in the community?" Satchidananda responded that he would not allow Cohen to upset his equanimity, "Should my ego be disturbed by it and miss the inner peace?"
Joy Zuckerman aka Swami Krupaananda left Yogaville after a friend confided in her that Satchidananda had made sexual advances toward her. Ms. Zuckerman organized the protest at Satchidananda's keynote address today at the PSI Symposium at the Omni Hotel in Charlottesville. Ms. Zuckerman, Ms. Cohen and other former followers staged a similar demonstration at a conference the swami gave in Montreal in May. "Initially, I felt he was the good role model I had needed," Ms. Zuckerman said. "He said he was just here to serve humanity and had no ego or selfishness. I think, very subtly, he switched the teachings so they were to serve him."
Sylvia Shapiro was a 19-year-old student of Satchidananda in California when he asked her to accompany him on one of his trips to visit followers around the world in 1971. "He was my guru and it was very exciting to be chosen for this," said Ms. Shapiro, now a New York lawyer who is married and has two children. On the trip, Ms. Shapiro was taught to wait on Satchidananda. She learned to cook Indian food, to photograph his public appearances and to give him his twice-a-day massages. "In Manila, he turned it from a massage into oral sex," Ms. Shapiro said. "I was very upset. He didn't want to talk about it. He said he knew best and I shouldn't worry about it." Ms Shapiro remembers it as a stressful time. The greatest influence in her life, her guru, who taught his unmarried followers to remain celibate, was urging that she have sexual relations with him, she said. Naturally the Swami denied any wrongdoing but what is it with these gurus and their desire for regular massages? Are they teaching non-attachment except for massages?
After the allegations became public many devotees abandoned Satchidananda and hundreds of students left IYI schools, but the Swami never admitted to any wrongdoing. Satchidananda was simply a cult leader who left behind a legacy of personal pain. Like many cult figures, Satchidananda drew followers through their dreams of self-improvement through yoga and the teachings of an enlightened Master. IYI and Yogaville were largely defined by his personality. Swami Satchidananda taught obedience by asking his followers to kiss his feet and bow before him while sitting on a throne while forcing others into performing sexual favors. Is this really a Holy Man and a celibate Saint? Or was the Swami really a scandalous guru who used his authority to deceive and abuse his followers?
Satchidananda claims he does not look for praise or blame.
I believe that God is using me as an instrument. I am just there, like a river is there. Those who want to come and take a bath may do so. Those who do not want to do not have to."
Yogi Bhajan (1929 - 2004) arrived in West: 1969
Harbhajan Singh Puri renamed himself, Siri Singh Sahib Bhai Sahib Harbhajan Singh Khalsa Yogi Ji (Yogi Bhajan) and created his 3HO religion: Healthy, Happy and Holy. Despite the beards and turbans this cult has no relationship to the Sikh religion and only a tenuous one to Kundalini Yoga. It uses the name but is Bhajan's creation. Despite, or because of those turbans, 3HO became a large and successful religion and valuable multi-national conglomerate with a string of Golden Temple natural food restaurants, holistic health clinics, a publishing company, month-long summer yoga camps and Akal Security which has reportedly earned billions in contracts relating to U.S. security. You can achieve miracles if you have people prepared to work for nothing.
Yogi Bhajan has a mythical lineage and his guru and teacher was the otherwise unheard of Sant Hazara Singh. He supposedly gave him kundalini transmission in 1945 at 16. He told The Miami Herald that he had a helicopter lower him into the mouth of a cave in the Himalayas, where he kneeled for three days until the yogi master inside consented to teach him. In 1971 Yogi Bhajan also claimed to have received transmission from an otherwise unknown Tibetan Lama named Lilan Po, who confirmed him as the next and only Mahan Tantric (master of White Tantric Yoga), a bogus spiritual position in a bogus spiritual lineage. Bhajan claimed to be a well-known holy man back in India but he had been merely a civil servant, a customs inspector. Bhajan was a highly energetic and creative religious leader though his fabrications were rather ridiculous and laughable. Bhajan was active in making interfaith connections but in reality he claimed to the one and only:
Yogi Bhajan is unique among spiritual teachers because he is also the Mahan Tantric of this era. This means that he is the only living master of white tantric yoga in the world, since there can only be one on the planet at any given time. He is a world teacher, a very special instrument whom God has appointed and anointed to awaken the millions of sleeping souls on this planet - Kundalini Yoga: The Flow of Eternal Power, S. Khalsa, 1996
Yogi Bhajan's teachings are his own and supposedly a synthesis of Kundalini Yoga, Tantra, Sikhism and New Age practices. They are not based on Sikh teachings despite what his Western followers masquerading as Sikhs claim and his Yoga was in many cases just made up as he went. His audience and followers knew nothing about the Indian religion back in 1970 and so they accepted his most outrageous ideas.
"Kundalini yoga, as presented by 3HO, is a safe and comprehensive system of exercise, breath control, and meditation. The practice uses some hatha positions, but adds meditation, movement, and breath. It's a very active, almost calisthenic yoga." Kundalini yoga mainly works on the nervous and glandular systems, and its effects register more quickly than do those of hatha, adds Siri Ram, "because we don't hold the postures but move in them."
He even claimed he was the official religious and administrative leader of all Sikhs in the Western world. Sikhs avoid any association with Bhajan's group and Yogi Bhajanism is by not part of the five-century-old Sikh tradition whose homeland is in the Indian Punjab. Like many other gurus he liked being photographed with famous people.
The 10th and last Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, stated that there would be no more Sikh gurus after him and the the Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh Bible) would be the source of the teachings thereafter.
Bhajan was accused many times of sexual abuse, rape, pedophilia and violence. Akal Security lost Federal Courts contracts after federal fraud investigations. Bhajan became obese and died of heart failure at 75 thereby disproving at least one of the claims he had made for his religous practices (remember 3HO: Healthy, Happy, Holy). A small group of his business administrators then sold off one of the most profitable of the food businesses ripping off over $20 million from the Sikh Dharma religious organizations and Yogi Bhajan's family. Not So Happy and not so Holy either.
Like other Yoga and Hindu inspired groups, Bhajan's enterprises sell beauty and health products.
Swami Muktananda (1908 - 1982) arrived in the West: 1970
There are gurus who sit in perfect silence and stillness, who speak as if their wisdom arises from a peaceful ocean and whose words drop carefully from their perfectly composed lips. Swami Muktananda was not one of those. If you saw him on the street without his robes you'd think he was a street person. His face and hands were constantly twitching, his fingers touching, rubbing and squeezing and with his weathered face, unkempt beard and wearing sunglasses day or night you'd think he was crazy. There are spiritual groups in which everyone appears perfectly composed, still and deep in meditation and initiation is only for people who have done years of spiritual practice and service. Siddha Yoga was not like that, at least not in the beginning. There was chaos, dancing, singing, chanting and movement. The initiation sessions were chaotic. In 1974 they were regularised as weekend long Intensives - pay for enlightenment and get a profound transformation - or your money back. I'm kidding. There were no refunds but people with the maturity and character to demand their money back weren't eating Muktananda's baloney. Muktananda was brought to the West by Albert Rudolph, a home-grown, self-proclaimed guru. Muktananda was a disciple of Bhagawan Nityananda, one of those lie around in a loin cloth all day gurus that are a dime a dozen in India.
Muktananda reiterated many times the value of celibacy for the practitioner (sadhaka). He advocated restraint, even for those married, to convert sexual energy into spiritual energy. Muktananda oversaw the initiation of sixty-five monks (sannyasis) between the years of 1972 and 1982.
For at least some of his career in India and the West, Muktananda secretly fucked many of his female devotees, especially young ones using the pretence of his tantric powers and their spiritual development. Despite the fact that the gurus of SYDA have twice been publicised in scandalous behaviour completely unworthy of anyone purporting to being a Spiritual Master the organisation went from strength to strength and attracted famous figures who dabbled in it's exotic claims. The simple explanation of Muktananda's behaviour is that he was just another phony "fallen guru" who used his reputation and power to sexually abuse women. True believers say the accusations are false or he was practising secret Tantric sexual practices that were hidden from the public who were "not ready" to understand these Tantric practices.
A long time Indian devotee had sent 2 of his children to live with Muktananda in the late 1970s. A teenage girl Malti Shetty and her younger brother, Subhash. In 1981 Muktanada decided that Subhash should be his successor. 6 months later he announced Malti and Subhash would be joint co-successors. At the Ganeshpuri Ashram near Bombay in May of 1982, Brahmin priests performed elaborate yagna rites and Sanskrit chants filled the air as the 74-year old Muktananda passed his spiritual mantle to Swami Chidvilasananda, 27, and her brother, Swami Nityananda, 21. To all concerned, they were co-gurus until death.
Six months later it was announced that Nityananda was stepping down. This shocking news was explained as giving blissful grace to devotees by SYDA spin doctors. This is another standard way phony gurus explain away events that shock their devotees. Nityananda had had at least 6 sexual liaisons with women in the preceding years. Chidvilasananda took control and after much pressure and some violent, physical beatings Nityananda gave up his role and membership in SYDA. The whole sordid story was documented in an article called "O Guru, Guru, Guru" by Lis Harris, published in the New Yorker in November 1994. As documented in "The Guru Looked Good" SYDA administrators attempted to stop the article being published with black magic but Ms Shetty was up against women stronger than she. Nityananda was left with no means of support so he tried to restart his career as an empowered guru but without the finances of SYDA he has struggled and was a distant second to his sister.
Bhagawan Nityananda (1897 - 1962) became known in West: 1970s
Albert Rudolph aka Swami Rudrananda aka Rudi had begun to talk about Bhagawan Nityananda in the early 1960s. However Rudolph died in a plane crash in 1973 before he achieved fame and he became nothing more than a footnote in the Swamified history of the USA most famous for his association with two more successful and evil gurus, Swami Muktananda and Franklin Jones aka Adi Da. It does appear that Rudolph may have received dietary advice from the "Belly Baba", Nityananda.
It was Swami Muktananda who publicised him during the years of his success in the West. Bhagawan Nityananda became known as Muktananda's guru.
According to his disciples, Nityananda was found as an abandoned infant and when a young adult became a wandering yogi in the Himalayas and other places. In 1920, he settled in southern India and gained a reputation for creating miracles and wonderful cures. He began an ashram near Kanhangad in Kerala which is now a pilgrimage centre though he had moved to Ganeshpuri by the mid-1930s. He lived the usual divine Indian guru lifestyle, sitting around with his eyes closed and a beatific smile on his face, apparently doing nothing, being fanned, clothed and fed by his disciples, having his feet massaged, getting fat and performing all sorts of miracles and giving spiritual teachings without actually performing any actions and saying very little but very meaningfully. A thriving town developed around him with finances supplied by the pilgrimage trade. He became unable to eat and unable to sit and died at 10.42 A.M on 8th August 1961. He is most famous in the West for being the guru of Swami Muktananda.
Osho Speaking About Nityananda Maharaj:
One of the great Hindu monks, Nityananda, the master of Swami Muktananda - Muktananda was very well known in America. Nityananda had only one unique quality: his belly. I don't think in the whole history of man anybody had such a big belly! When he lies down you can see a strange shape.
When I saw him I told him, "You don't have a belly, your belly has a head and legs, because that is your major part!" But he is worshipped, he is thought to be enlightened. And his belly is proof enough. And now this man cannot be celibate: he is eating so much that he will create sexual energy. What is he going to do with that energy? Anything that he will do will be a perversion; and the easiest way is always homosexuality, because if he is found with a woman, all his respectability and great sainthood will disappear. He has to be with a man, and then nobody suspects.
Swami Rama (1925 - 1996) - arrived in West 1970
Swami Rama, born Brij Keshore Kumar, spiritual director and founder of the Himalayan Institute in Honesdale, Pennsylvania claims a lineage. "It links itself to an unbroken lineage of sages even beyond Shankara. Our Himalayan tradition, though a tradition of Shankara, is purely ascetic, and is practiced in the Himalayan caves rather than being related to institutions in the plains of India." He calls the tradition Bharati ("he who is the lover of knowledge") and says it is one of the 10 original swami orders of Shankaracharya and is one of the four purest lines.
His background is controversial and at least some of it is spurious. He claims he was born into a learned, wealthy Brahmin family, was orphaned at an early age and raised and instructed in the Himalayas by his Bengali teacher and surrogate father, Sri Madhavananda Bharati. In 1949, he was appointed Shankaracharya of Karvirpitham in South India, an ancient high religious office at age 24. In 1952 he renounced this position, and, after an 11-month solitary meditation retreat in a tiny Himalayan cave, Swami Rama headed west. He claimed to have graduated from a homeopathic medical school in India, and studied psychology and philosophy at Hamburg University, the University of Utrecht and Oxford University.
Drs. Elmer and Alyce Green had already demonstrated that ordinary people could learn to voluntarily control physiologic functions through bio-feedback such as brainwaves, muscle tension, heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature and blood flow in the skin. During a series of biofeedback experiments in 1970 and 1971 at the Menninger Foundation, Swami Rama could produce the same effects and that he voluntarily stopped his heart from pumping blood for 17 seconds. These claims are suspect however as they also claimed he telekinetically moved a knitting needle ie moved it from a distance with nothing but thinking. If true this would be a world changing event forcing a total paradigm change in scientific thought but no other confirmed tests have ever been made.
We do know, however, that the Swami could not control his penis and he has been regularly charged with fucking some of his female devotees and has responded with nasty slurs and lies. You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to deduce that the great celibate Himalayan Master fathered at last one child in his ashram.
Andrew Cohen is unique. He was repudiated and rejected as a spiritual master by his mother but Swami Rama also has a unique distinction. He has been repudiated and rejected by his son. Robert Walter was 12 when he discovered that his father was the renowned Indian yogi Swami Rama. One of Swami Rama's earliest disciples in the United States, Shirley Walter, served as a founding director of the institute in the U.S. She also started the institute's center in Schaumberg, Illinois, and directed the center in Glenview, Illinois for many years. In early 1971, Swami Rama asked Shirley to meet with him alone and seduced her, despite her protests that she was married and he had taken vows of celibacy. She soon discovered she was pregnant. The Swami, who had taken vows of celibacy, frequently warned Robert and his mother, Shirley Walter, of the dire consequences should their relationship become known. Robert traveled with him to India and spent time at the Himalayan Institute's headquarters. There he lived among "His Holiness Swami Rama's" most devoted disciples, witnessing their extreme beliefs and cultish behavior. He learned that his father had had sexual relations with many women and after his father's death in 1996, he learned that Swami Rama had a wife in India and two children.
In order to attain samadhi, the yogi takes a vow of celibacy. The word celibacy does not mean mere suppression of the sexual urge. Brahmacharya means walking in Brahman, the absolute Reality or pure Consciousness, being conscious of Brahman all the time. Brahma means shakti, the primal force within, and charya means how to direct. A brahmachari is able to master and direct his energies toward the attainment of the highest state of consciousness. Brahmacharya is not limited to the control of the sexual urge but also involves the control of mind, action, and speech. - Perennial Psychology of the Bhagavad Gita by Swami Rama, pp. 240-241
On September 4, 1997 in the United District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania a jury returned an award against the defendant Himalayan International Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy of the USA in the amount of $275,000 in compensatory damages and $1.6 million in punitive damages for the sexual misconduct of the Himalayan Institute's former 'spiritual leader' Brijkishor Kumar, popularly known as the 'Swami Rama'. The award was in favour of the 19-year-old Jasmine Patel (Jasmine Patel, plaintiff Vs. Himalayan International Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy of the USA).
Jasmine Patel was 13 or 14 years old, when she was introduced to Swami Rama by her parents who treated him as their enlightened spiritual guide and family guru. In the summer of 1989 Jasmine joined the Institute's 'Self-Transformation Program' from when the swami started abusing her, ending up in full-blown sexual relationship, the American Court order states. It also states, several other women's similar experiences with Swami Rama.
In the above quoted verdict, the American jury found that Swami Rama (a) had fucked the plaintiff Jasmine Patel, (b) he had abused his position as the plaintiff's guru to secure her consent to the sexual relations; (c) he had breached the standard of care and fiduciary duties inherent in the relationship between him and the plaintiff; (d) he had intentionally inflicted emotional distress on the plaintiff; (e) had acted maliciously and with conscious disregard for the welfare of the plaintiff; (f) and he was acting within the scope of his agency relationship with the Himalayan Institute when engaging in sexual relations with Jasmine Patel.
Apart from holding the Himalayan Institute liable for compensatory and punitive damages on a respondent superior theory, the American jury also imposed direct liability on the Institute, finding that (a) it had been negligent in allowing Swami Rama to be a sexual predator for a number of years; (b) the actions and inactions of Himalayan Institute constituted the intentional infliction of emotional distress; and (c) the Himalayan Institute had acted maliciously and with conscious disregard for the welfare of the plaintiff.
These sleazebag gurus just go on as if their scandals and lack of realisation haven't been exposed to the public. Many of their followers are too invested to leave and new ones will never be told and the money keeps rolling in.
The 1st Convocation of the 'Swami Rama Himalayan University' was held on 1st April, 2016 in the University premises. The Honourable President of India Dr. Pranab Mukherjee, graced the occasion.
Swami Rama founded the Himalayan Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy, based in Pennsylvania with centers worldwide, as well as various service and teaching organizations. He was also one of the first Yogis to be studied by Western scientists. Journalist Katharine Webster spent two years investigating the allegations of sexual abuse against Swami Rama, publishing an article in a 1990 edition of Yoga Journal or Click Here for an HTML version that documented the experiences of women abused by Rama.
"He would fixate on a woman and make her a sort of valet, and then he would tell her it was necessary to perform these acts to further her spiritual development," said Cliff Rieders of Williamsport, one of the woman's lawyers.
Baba Hari Dass (1923 - ) arrived in West: 1971
The "Silent Master" Baba Hari Dass taught a traditional version of eightlimbed (ashtanga) yoga at his Mount Madonna Center in California. He has not spoken since 1952 and uses a chalkboard to communicate. If there is any scandal attached to Hari Dass it has been kept as quiet as the man himself.
He left home at 8 years old to become a wandering sadhu. He learnt from a local brick-layer and had a talent for building and his story includes his work on several ashrams and temples. From 1954 until 1968 he spent 14 years associated with Neem Karoli Baba. He was appointed the main teacher of Ram Dass for five months but transforming Richard Alpert into an ascetic yogi was a task too difficult even for Hari Dass. Hari Dass left Neem Karoli's ashram under circumstances which have not been clarified though Hari Dass' wish for a structured disciplined environment and interpersonal problems appear to be the reasons. In 1970 a group of American friends and students of Ruth Johnson-Horsting, a sculptor and a professor of Arts at the University of California in Davis, who were interested in traditional Yoga went to India and invited Hari Dass to come to the USA. Ms Johnson-Horsting who had taken early retirement after a family tragedy sponsored Hari Dass and became one of his his most prominent students known to others as "Ma Renu."
Hari Dass has inspired the creation of a mini yoga-and-Hindu-empire in California. He is slowly dying after have suffered a "neurological condition" in 2013 though his devotees have not provided specific information during the five years of regular health updates posted on babaharidass.org. One presumes he had a stroke or something similar. The Hanuman Fellowship is not paying for Dass' care as this is being financed by donations. A non-profit organisation cannot pay to support a single individual. Hari Dass would probably have become more influential if the section extolling him had not been removed from Be Here Now at the orders of Neem Karoli Baba. Professional jealousy maybe?
"I was taken back to the temple. It was interesting. At no time was I asked, do you want to stay? Do you want to study? Everything was understood. there were no contracts. There were no promises. there were no vows. there was nothing.
The next day Maharaji instructed them to take me out and buy me clothes. they gave me a room. Nobody ever asked me for a nickle. Nobody asked me to spread the word. And that day I met a man who was to become my teacher, Baba Hari Dass.
Hari Dass Baba is quite an incredible fellow, as I found out. I spent 5 months under his tutelage. He is 48 years old. He weighs 90 pounds. He is a jungle sadhu. he went to the jungle when he was 8 years old. He is silent (mauna). He has been mauna for 15 years. He writes with a chalkboard. He only uses His voice to sing holy songs. He reads and writes Chinese, English, French & Hindi. He taught me always in beautiful English.
Hari Dass Baba - this little 90 pound fellow - achitecturally designed all of the temples and schools, supervised all the buildings and grounds, had many followers of His own, slept 2 hours a nite, His food intake for the last 15 years had been 2 glasses of milk a day. Thats it. His feces are like 2 small marbles each day. His arms are about this big around, tiny, but when the workmen can't lift a particularly heavy rock, they call for "Chota Maharaj" - the little great king. As in a comic strip, He goes over and lifts the rock, just with one pointedness of mind …" - section removed from Be Here Now
His main centre is the Mount Madonna Center "a learning community inspired by the example of our teacher, Baba Hari Dass. Located on 355 acres of redwoods and grasslands, our peaceful haven is a place where you can step back, slow down, and reconnect to your center, to nature, and to a more authentic flow of life." The Mount Madonna practice includes vegetarian diet, purifications, devotional singing, rituals, mudras, a traditional fire ceremony, selfless service, meditation, and hatha yoga and the selling thereof.
Hari Dass' disciples finance an orphanage in India which houses 50 children. A drop in the bucket but worthwhile, nevertheless.
He has published many books including translations of Hindu classics.
I can't help but wonder what might have happened if all the Eastern religious teachers of the past 60 years had emulated Hari Dass.
Guru Maharaj Ji aka Prem Rawat (1966 - ) arrived in West: 1971
Prem Rawat attained brief public notoriety and ridicule as the "Guru Maharaj Ji" (Param Hans Satgurudev Shri Sant Ji Maharaj), the teenage fat boy guru whose apparent skyrocketing following in the early 1970's had journalists in the "West", especially the USA and Great Britain, astonished and eager to write about his Divine Light Mission. This success was partially caused by the media publicity as a 14-year-old Indian guru was ridiculous enough to make the major news media, something that only the Maharishi and his brief love affair with the Beatles had done before.
The so-called Guru Maharaj Ji was not one of the Indian gurus "club." He claimed He was the Divine Incarnation of the Age and all other gurus were worthless weeds. Strangely enough this did not endear him to his peers. The fat young guru did not endorse Yoga, Tantra or Vedanta. He claimed to heve 4 secret meditation techniques that only he could empower though these were well known in India. The period of apparent sky-rocketing growth in number of "premies" ended with the failure of the "most Holy and significant event in human history", Millenium '73. The debts left by this failure and his personal extravagance nearly bankrupted the organisation.
For another few years stories about Rawat became more derisory as knowledge of his bleeding ulcer, his materialistic and extravagant life style, his claims to Divinity and the worship of his followers became common. His marriage to a much older and taller devotee in 1974 was followed by his own mother disowning and disinheriting him in 1975 for his meat-eating, drug abuse and general "playboy" lifestyle. Since the early 1980's, he has continued to minister to his core of devotees in self-imposed obscurity until this century when he has attempted to become known as an internationally respected teacher of peace and renowned philanthropist through the use of phony public relations publicity.
Prem Pal Singh Rawat was born on December 10, 1957. His father's self-proclaimed title was Param Hans Satgurudev Shri Hans Ji Maharaj. Prem Rawat claims he was a descendant of Indian Royalty, and Hans also claimed to be the living incarnation of God of his time from whom Prem inherited his position. The process of Prem's incarnation, as he described it often, began on July 19th, 1966 when his father left his body in samadhi (died) and ended on August 1st to the ecstatic recognition of him as the new Perfect Master by thousands of his father's followers in the party of the century.
In the early 1980s the guru renamed himself. Prem Rawat or Maharaji (his translation: "Ultimate Ruler" formerly known as "Guru Maharaj Ji") dropped off all public Indian trappings from his cult's activities and now claimed to be nothing more a mild-mannered inspirational speaker and wealthy private investor living in well-deserved luxury in Malibu. He claims to work tirelessly to bring people the possibility of inner peace and bliss, a possibility that is completely unique and absolutely "the best thing happening" and that only he can reveal and inspire so not really all that much has changed. His face and body show the effects of a hard drinking and smoking lifestyle and reveal the emptiness of his claims to provide the supreme Knowledge to his "students" who seem to have forgotten the hopes they had for enlightenment and perfect bliss that the young guru promised them. Still the wealthier ones get together most years at his compound at Amaroo in Australia to kiss his feet and renew the ties of devotion to their Master, for whatever that's worth.
As of 2017 Rawatism is continuing it's slide from obscurity to history.
Sathya Sai Baba (1926 - 2011) became known in the West: 1971
Sathya Sai Baba's first major publicity in the West came from the book "Sai Baba, Man Of Miracles" by Howard Murphet. Murphett used Madame Blavatasky as a respected source of information about miracles but surely even Madame B. would have cringed at the cheap magician's tricks that made Sathya Sai Baba the most successful and powerful guru in India. Sai Baba's success in the West has not matched that in India. One hopes that is because of the vulgarity and tawdriness of his shtick but it's probably because he has never left India and he does not fit in with the mainstream Hindu/Buddhist "boys club" gurus that have achieved international success. Sai Baba was not part of this club because he claimed to be above all other gurus and Masters. He was the Great Avatar.
… there are degrees of "avatarhood", and many of the great spiritual teachers of India are believed to have embodied rays of the divine radiance and to have been partial or minor avatars. The few, the Teachers of teachers, those who have brought about a great forward movement in man's spiritual evolution, are called the major avatars. - Sai Baba, Man Of Miracles - Howard Murphet
Satyanarayana Raju was born on 23rd of November 1926 in Puttaparthi, a small village in the Andra Pradesh region, in the Central-South of India. On October 29, 1940, at the age of 14 he declared himself as Bhagavan Sri Sathya Sai Baba the reincarnation of a famous Indian guru, Shirdi Sai Baba. He is very short, portly, dark skinned, dresses in orange and has a frizzy mane of black hair. An ashram, called Prasanthi Nilayam (the Abode of Divine Peace) was built on November 23, 1950 and has grown extensively as Sai Baba has become more famous. More than one million people, including the President and Prime Minister of India, assembled in Prasanthi Nilayam for Sathya Sai Baba's 70th birthday celebrations.
While he was well-known in India and amongst the spiritual cognoscenti Sai Baba achieved wide spread fame in the West due to claims he was a homosexual paedophile and a common conjurer. These claims were documented in 2 television documentaries in which his fraudulent magic tricks were easily seen due to the magic of slow motion. The real mystery of Sai Baba's success is how otherwise intelligent and sophisticated people could believe that God would incarnate in the world and prove his divinity with low-grade magic tricks.
The Sathya Sai Organisation claims to have millions of followers with over 1,200 Centers in 137 countries throughout the world. The members have a common bond --love of Sathya Sai Baba -- and a common goal --spiritual growth. They study his teachings and the sacred literature of all religions, have group devotional singing, spiritual meditation, and practise selfless service to the community, society, the world, and the environment. There are no membership fees, members are never required to purchase books or materials and donations are never solicited. There is an extensive number of hospitals (photo below right) and educational institutions in India constructed and financed by his devotees. Center members are expected to do their best to practice a Nine-Point Code of Conduct.
Many gurus and their followers are reluctant to publicly proclaim the group's beliefs about their guru but Sai Baba's followers are not. Sai Baba is the avatar of the age, the incarnation of God, omniscient (including complete telepathic knowledge of all his devotees' thoughts and actions), omnipotent, able to raise the dead and perform miracles. The major focus of the group is the intense love, devotion and worship of the guru. Devotees (including Murphett, Hislop & Sandweiss) have written numerous books about their relationship with Sai Baba and if you've read one you've read them all. They display a disarming openess about their emotions, experiences and thoughts in relation to him with no apparent attempt to hide their intense unhappiness, disappointments, desperate wishes to be acknowledged by him and to be in his close physical presence. Detachment or indifference to emotions are not attitudes displayed by his followers nor does their intense experiences of his divine qualities limit their social fears or still their longing for further close peronsal contact with him. Obvious 'mistakes' about them made by Sai Baba when talking to them are not edited out of the books nor are his historical errors.
It is ordinarily very difficult to prove or disprove claims of individual miracles, resurrections, telepathy, etc performed at various times and places but Sai Baba regularly performs three types of miracles. He frequently materializes numerous small objects - jewellery, rings, pendants, etc. for his followers ie creates them out of nothing in public and presents them to the people with him. He continually "materializes vibhuti", ash from his palms, and ash in amazingly large quantities from an "empty" urn - Vibhuti Abheshekham - and annually at the Mahashivarathri festival until 1976 where he "gave birth" through his oesophagus to 'lingams' (photo below right).
Ram Dass formerly Richard Alpert (1931 - 1990) became known in West: 1971
Richard Alpert was born around 1930 in Boston, Massachusetts. He became a university lecturer in psychology but despite 5 years of psychoanalysis by 1961 he was very depressed, very anxious, drinking heavily and smoking pot while the fear before every lecture produced diarrhoea and tensions. He was nominally Jewish but felt no spirituality in his religion, no love in his family, was disillusioned with his understanding of psychology and experiencing a deep malaise when he met Timothy Leary. Leary had returned from a European holiday he financed by passing bad cheques ie stealing but this didn't stop Alpert from becoming his drinking buddy and adoring disciple. He believed Leary had "an absolutely extraordinary intellect" and who knows, at this time, maybe he still had. Leary also helped turn Richard Alpert, a straight, uptight, depressed, anxious, non-religious Jew into Dick Alpert, a stoned, freaked-out, uptight, depressed, anxious, non-religious Jew who was ready for a religious conversion of a life-changing standard.
After taking psilocybin in 1961, his life became dominated by the taking of "psychedelic" drugs in as great a combination as was possible. His excitement and belief in the transcendant and revolutionary social effects of these drugs seems silly now after thirty years of their (ab)use. By 1967, despite his survival of an extraordinary amount of drugs with faculties reasonably intact he was once again deeply depressed and in despair touring in India suffering from physical discomfort & paranoia caused by hashish withdrawal when he met a young Californian calling himself Bhagavan Das who became his guide and introduced him to his guru. The two of them became among the most successful religious hucksters of the 20th century. At the time it seemed unlikely that these two had the spiritual credentials to influence a large scale religious transformation and hindsight has only confirmed this. Alpert described their first meeting with wide-eyed wonder and zero skepticism:
I met this guy and there was no doubt in my mind [that he "knew"]. It was just like meeting a rock. It was just solid, all the way through. Everywhere I pressed, there he was! (Dass, 1971).
The guru was Jagat Gurudev Baba Neem Karoli Maharaj. "Maharaji" (or "Greatest King" - in India gurus are usually given honorifics by their followers that would be considered excessive in European societies) appears to be ugly and grossly fat, nearly always dressed in a tartan blanket and who does very little but lie around on a couch eating and occasionally getting into strange postures. This is not a picture I find compelling. Alpert soon convinces himself that Karoli is actually omniscient, omnipotent and etc, etc as many have convinced themselves before though the evidence as recorded in Be Here Now is not convincing to a skeptical person. Neem Karoli certainly appears less harmful than most of the gurus who've developed a Western following and some of his followers seem pretty ethical. It's not as if there aren't plenty of other weird looking Indian gurus who've convinced their followers they're God.
Ram Dass seems to be good-hearted and sincere. His ability to admit when he has been wrong has also come in handy, as has his ability to create the most spiritual, convoluted and exculpatory excuses for his stupidity. In an article amusingly titled "Egg on My Beard" he explained that by the end of 1973 he "felt more and more depressed and hypocritical" though he'd written in "Be Here Now" that he was "floating about on an ocean of love." In 1974 Ram Dass demonstrated that he had zero credibility in discerning a spiritual fraud by falling under the spell (metaphorically) of Joya Santana and then writing a 5,000 word article explaining why this both hideously embarrassing, incredibly stupid and spiritually beneficial:
Originally Joyce Green, she had what Ram Dass called "powerful charisma and chutzpah," and she claimed to be in touch, psychically, with Neem Karoli Baba, who had died the previous year. She told Ram Dass her job on earth was to prepare him for his future as a world spiritual leader. "I easily let myself be convinced," he confessed in a mea culpa in Yoga Journal titled "Egg on My Beard," saying he'd conned himself into believing an "incredible tapestry of half truths and lies." - American Veda by Philip Goldberg
That should read "another incredible tapestry of half truths and lies." Ma Jaya continued a successful if despicable role as Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati, a guru greater than God, for decades despite Ram Dass' disowning her.
Ram Dass soon became a travelling psychic/spiritual circus. By 1975 he was traveling with a road manager and a group of backup musicians for the chanting and singing the praises of his now dead Master. Neem Karoli became famous outside India even though Ram Dass and Bhagavan Das were the witnesses most unlikely to be believed by a skeptical, judicious and prudent audience. However they were just perfect for the audience they had, willing to believe, anxious to believe and desperate to stay on the cool, trendy bandwagon.
Because he is a public figure who compulsively discusses his private life in public it is possible to determine the results of his spiritual practice and his devotion to his guru over a thirty year period. In public seminars conducted in 1997 marketed as 'Truth and Transformation' he reveals that 30 years since writing 'Be Here Now' he has gained no spiritual insight or experience from meditation and that his cherished beliefs about his guru are just that - beliefs.
Neem Karoli aka Maharaji (1900 c. - 1973) attained fame in the West: 1971
Neem Karoli Baba aka Maharaj-ji, was a Hindu guru who became famous in the West due to the publicity generated by 2 of his followers, Richard Alpert (aka Ram Dass) and Kermit Michael Riggs (aka Bhagavan Das). Ram Dass soon became a travelling psychic/spiritual circus. By 1975 he was traveling with a road manager and a group of backup musicians for the chanting and singing the praises of this now dead Master. Neem Karoli became famous outside India even though Ram Dass and Bhagavan Das were the witnesses most unlikely to be believed by a skeptical, judicious and prudent audience. However they were just perfect for the audience they had, willing to believe, anxious to believe and desperate to stay on the cool, in-crowd bandwagon.
In 1967, despite Alpert's survival of an extraordinary amount of drugs with faculties reasonably intact he was once again deeply depressed and in despair touring in India suffering from physical discomfort & paranoia caused by hashish withdrawal when he met a guru, Jagat Gurudev Baba Neeb Karoli Maharaj. "Maharaji" or "Greatest King." In India gurus are usually given honorifics by their followers that would be considered excessive in European societies. Neeb Karoli is a famous guru in India and Alpert soon convinces himself that Karoli is actually omniscient, omnipotent and etc, etc as many have convinced themselves before. Like Bhagawan Nityananda, he appears to be ugly and grossly fat, nearly always dressed in a tartan blanket and he does very little but lie around on a couch eating and occasionally getting into strange postures. This is not a picture I find compelling but he certainly appears less harmful than most of the gurus who've developed a Western following and some of his followers seem pretty ethical. It's not as if there aren't plenty of other weird looking Indian gurus who've convinced their followers they're God.
Once a person is recognised as a famous guru, his disciples will explain away any bizarre behaviour as being for spiritual benefit:
We'd be sitting outside and Maharajji would pull my hands under the blanket and make me massage his legs, almost pulling me under the blanket. I loved touching him, but I was not sure how far you can go in touching Maharajji. I'd be working on his feet and calves, and he'd grab my arm and pull my hand up to his thigh. So I'd do his thighs for a little bit and then my hands would start wandering down to his calves again, because all of a sudden I'd look around and see all these people staring at me.
I was kneeling before Maharajji when he grabbed at my sari and started pulling at it. Then he was holding my breasts and saying, "Ma, Ma." I felt for the first time as if I were experiencing an intimate act free of lust.
There are stories about gurus doing things with women. But somehow around Maharajji there was a feeling of such purity that people could tell me anything he had done, and it never shook my total trust in him at all. It was clear that he needed nothing; he had no desires of his own.
Neeb Karoli has the usual Indian guru story though his is one of the weirder ones. He left home when young and moved often and was known under different names depending upon his domicile. One of his homes was under a Neem Tree near Mohaudbad. It was near there that the story goes he was evicted from a 1st Class section of a train as he was a sadhu and the train was unable to move until many apologies and prayers were made to him. The train station was named after him (his name can be transliterated in more than one way). An identical story is told of Bhagawan Nityananda. After many years as a wandering sadhu he was found by his father and ordered to return home and became a householder. He settled down with the woman he had married when he was 11 years old and fathered 3 children. He returned to the life of an Indian Holy Man in 1958.
ISKCON GBC Scoundrel Gurus appointed: 1977
Despite or because of his uncompromising views and personality and even though he was a sick man of 73 on his arrival in the West, Prabhupad was able to create and inspire a world wide movement that had significant public notoriety in the West because of their costumes and kirtan in City streets. It is claimed that Prabhupad had decided on a procedure after his death that a selected group of 11 male followers would take over. They were to be considered Divine by their followers which is a very dangerous power to have. They soon became involved in the grossest violations of both society's ethical norms and Prabhupad's own much stricter ones. Murder, drug smuggling, violence, sexual abuse and paedophilia are among only some of the proven sins and crimes in which his "empowered gurus" wallowed.
As all the gurus that he empowered acted improperly (if not illegally), the blame for their actions cannot be placed onto a few individual bad apples though there were certainly some of those. Prabhupada concentrated on ends and to some extent ignored means, a combination nearly always fatal to spiritual endeavours. His organisation's main mission was the printing and distribution of his books and the creation of new opulent temples and initiation of more devotees. From early in it's history the amount of money gathered became more important than the methods used. Like the Moonies, the Krishna's became involved in deception and cheating in their public collection of money and irretrievably cheapened and degraded the name of Krishna in the West. From there it was a small step to outright lies and then to theft and drug selling and smuggling. In photo on left, Prabhupad walks in India with (from right) Balimardan, expelled for embezzlement & illicit sex & meat-eating & Bhavanada for homosexuality.
Unfortunately the spiritual method he preached, chanting the 'Hare Krishna' mantra, was not powerful enough to allow all the devotees to remain practicing the regulative principles (no illicit sex, no intoxication, no gambling, no meat-eating and chant a minimum of sixteen rounds of maha-mantra japa every day) and enjoying the simple blissful lifestyle that he preached, practised and demanded of them. In fact the life he demanded of his followers increased the likelihood of problems. This was especially so in regards to the children of devotees. He preached that loving family ties were an illusion and hindrances to spiritual life but encouraged families (in many cases marriage partners were decided by him) to have children (sex was only allowed for procreation) and send them away to 'gurukula' schools. Therefore parents were not able to supervise their childrens' lives and the people Prabhupada appointed or accepted to control and educate them, physically, mentally and sexually abused them. In New Vrindaban, public, anal penetration of children at the front of the classroom was accepted by Kirtananda as acceptable, even desirable.
Rajneesh (Osho, Bhagwan) (1931 - 1990) arrived in West: 1981
The self titled Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh who near the end of his career renamed himself Osho was born Chandra Mohan Jain on 11th December, 1931 in central India and died on 19th January, 1990 in Poonah (Pune), India. He was probably the most infamous "guru" of the modern age because of his controversial teachings and shrewd use of the media. He did far more good for the general public who were amused and titillated by him than for his followers. Of course his followers will not agree. It's difficult to accept you were an ignorant stooge of the most absurd and evil guru of modern times while you thought you were on the cutting edge of spiritual evolution. As his story is so well known I will only briefly mention its highlights. A good discussion of his career is available here and an article about Rajneshpuram here.
His early life is now shrouded in myth but it seems he was a clever, rebellious boy who graduated from college in 1955 and took an MA in philosophy. He became a teacher and assistant professor in philosophy at Jabalpur University. In 1960 he began publicly lecturing on controversial issues attacking various sacred cows of Indian society. At this time he was living with his cousin Kranti but his career took off when he attracted his first "devotee", Lakshmi Thakarsi Kuruwa, a celibate, married civil servant. She became his receptionist, secretary and "business manager" until deposed by Sheela many years after. By 1966 he was a fulltime professional lecturer and in 1970 he declared himself Bhagwan ("God", "The Blessed One") and claimed that he had attained enlightenment 17 years before.
Over the next decade he attracted more Western followers and lost most of his Indian followers. He replaced his long time lover and cousin with an English woman, Christine Woolf (see picture left). His teachings centered around an eclectic mix of Eastern religion and techniques gleaned from the delusional "Personal Growth" movement which was the source of many of his new followers. His encouragement of promiscuous sexuality and public, cathartic, violent, erotic encounter groups was intensely disapproved of by prudish Indian society. His form of "dynamic meditation" was nearly the opposite of what is usually taught. He had a strong even "hypnotic" influence over many people who came to him in curiosity and though the number of his followers never matched the amount of publicity he received his ashram at Poonah grew until by 1981 there were up to 6,000 Westerners there every day.
In May, 1981 he secretly left India and flew to the US and by July had bought a large ranch in Oregon and commenced creating a large "commune" despite this being against zoning laws. There his indivualistic, independent freethinking orange people quickly morphed into obedient drudges who toed the party line or else. Controversy and legal actions escalated until September, 1983 when Rajneesh announced that the commune leaders had fled after committing numerous crimes over an extended period. Then in late October, Rajneesh was arrested trying to flee the country after being charged with numerous immigration crimes, spent a week in gaol and finally plea bargained his way into exile from the USA. After finding he was persona non grata all over the world he eventually returned to India where with a new name, Osho, and a much reduced number of followers, he remained until he died in 1990. A well-documented article published in the Oregonian on those years is available here.
Rajneesh had opinions about nearly everything and to view his opinions on some other famous gurus Click Here.
Nisargadatta Maharaj (1897 - 1981) became known in West: 1981
Nisargadatta Maharaj was from the spiritual lineage of the Navanathas. He was affectionately known as the "Beedhi Baba" as he was a chain-smoker who died of cancer of the throat. Satsangs at his home were hazy with tobacco smoke.
He was born in Bombay in 1897, and was brought up on a farm in Kandalgaon, a village south of Bombay. He was deeply interested in religious and philosophical matters. After the death of his father, he moved to Bombay in 1918, and in 1924 married Sumatibai, they had a son and three daughters.
He began work as an office clerk but he soon went out on his own and started a small business and in a few years he owned several small shops. In 1933, due to a friend's urging, he approached the great Saint, Sri Siddharameshwar Maharaj, and was initiated by him. After the death of his Guru in 1936, he abandoned his family and businesses and took to the life of a wandering monk. On his way to the Himalayas to find a cave, he met a brother disciple who convinced him that a life of dispassion in action would be more spiritually fruitful. Only eight months on the road isn't enough to make a guru famous in India but on the way home, bingo! He realized that "nothing was wrong anymore." There was only one small shop remaining in business - enough to support his family.
In his own words, "When I met my Guru, he told me, 'You are not what you take yourself to be. Find out what you are. Watch the sense I AM, find your real Self…' I did as he told me. All my spare time I would spend looking at myself in silence…and what a difference it made, and how soon! It took me only three years to realize my true nature." His message to us was simple and direct with no propounding of scriptures or doctrines. "You are the Self here and now! Stop imagining yourself to be something else. Let go your attachment to the unreal."
He built himself a mezzanine floor as a place for meditation and satsang. In the 1940s his mother, wife and a daughter died and in 1951 after a vision from his Master he began to initiate disciples. His Western career was based on the book "I Am That" which is a series of questions and answers as translated by Maurice Frydman (a remarkable Jew from a Polish ghetto) who spent a lot of time with Nisargadatta and in India. A section of this was published in the Yoga Journal of October 1981 along with numerous vulgar advertisements displaying some of the many ways Americans sell religion. This set him on a pedestal of non-dual Advaita Guruship matched only by Ramana Maharshi. From 1978 to 1981 during his sickness unto death from throat cancer, his talks were tape recorded, transcribed and edited and published under the titles of "Seeds of Consciousness" and "Prior to Consciousness."