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Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc.
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|Subject: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc. Sat Jan 14, 2012 5:01 pm|| |
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THE DOUBLE MIRROR: A Skeptical Journey into Buddhist Tantra by Stephen Butterfield –
In The Double Mirror, the author's personal history-- as a student of the late Tibetan master Chogyam Trungpa, known for his unconventional lifestyle and "crazy wisdom" teaching style-- is the framework for an incisive and eloquent examination of a profound spiritual journey. Writing both from a critical perspective and from his direct experience of Vajrayana practice, the author look at Buddhist tantric teachings and practices and their expressions in Vajradhatu, Trungpa's organization. While discussing how the institution may sometimes function like a "cult," Butterfield nonetheless experiences Buddhist tantra as an authentic system of profound spiritual transformation.
The Double Mirror explores the effects of Buddhist practice on personality, autonomy, perception, and health, and discusses what Buddhism has to offer American. With skeptical intelligence, Butterfield illuminates the stages, teachings, and assumptions of the Tibetan Buddhist path, offering a frank and insightful portrayal of the ideal and reality of spiritual life.
Stephen T. Butterfield was a student of the school of Buddhism founded by Chogyam Trungpa in the 1970's. At first enthralled by the authentic, liberating practices of Tibetan Buddhism, he also comes to grips with the inevitable corruption and authoritarianism inherent in any large organization. He grapples with the issues that every religious practitioner must confront, the paradox that the very practices so enriching and enlightening are contained within a structure full of ego, psychosis and greed. He discovers that Buddhism is not any more pure than Christianity, and that this is part of the thin line that a truthful, honest practitioner must always walk. He also describes the stages and teachings given at the stages within the Vajrayana tradition. Always honest in his critiques as well as praises, Stephen captures the journey of a seeker unwilling to settle for dogma, always seeking the truth behind the words, in actual experience. Although his conclusions are not always happy and comfortable, his appraisal of his Buddhist education is quite engaging.
THE GURU PAPERS: Masks of Authoritarian Power by Joel Kramer –
The Guru Papers demonstrates with uncompromising clarity that authoritarian control, which once held societies together, is now at the core of personal, social, and planetary problems, and thus a key factor in social disintegration. It illustrates how authoritarianism is embedded in the way people think, hiding in culture, values, daily life, and in the very morality people try to live by. The book unmasks authoritarianism in such areas as relationships, cults, 12-step groups, religion, and contemporary morality. Chapters on addiction and love show the insidious nature of authoritarian values and ideologies in the most intimate corners of life, offering new frameworks for understanding why people get addicted and why intimacy is laden with conflict. By exposing the inner authoritarian that people use to control themselves and others, the authors show why people give up their power, and how others get and maintain it.
SHOES OUTSIDE THE DOOR: Desire, Devotion, and Excess at San Francisco Zen Center by Michael Downing –
"Shoes Outside the Door is a not only a fine history of the San Francisco Zen Center and Zen in the United States, it is a cautionary tale, valuable to anyone embarked on a spiritual practice." --San Jose Mercury News. Eastern tradition collides with Western individualism in this provocative and compulsively readable investigation of Buddhism, American-style. A genuine spiritual movement becomes strangely entangled with elitist aesthetics, the culture of celebrity, multi-million-dollar investment portfolios, sex scandals, and an unsolved crime. Told Rashomon-fashion by a singular mix of hippies, millionaires, intellectuals, and lost souls whose lives are almost unbelievably intertwined, Shoes Outside the Door is the first book to examine the inner workings of the profoundly influential San Francisco Zen Center. In exploring the history of the most important institution in American Buddhism, author Michael Downing provocatively captures the profound ambivalence of people who earnestly seek both inner peace and worldly satisfaction.
Why did the richest, most influential, highest flying Zen center in America crash and burn in 1983? Novelist Michael Downing wondered the same thing, and after three years of interviewing members and poring over documents, his Shoes Outside the Door tells the story. Womanizing, BMW-driving Richard Baker was the abbot and visionary behind the rapid growth of the San Francisco Zen Center, but in many ways he was the antithesis of his teacher and predecessor, the inimitable and revered Shunryu Suzuki, who would choose the bruised apples out of compassion. After the early death of Suzuki, a blind and driven cult formed around Baker, seemingly filling the void until this "[banned term] Nixon of Zen" finally slept with his best friend's wife and brought his world crashing to the ground. Working with direct quotations from students and workers of the Center and its many enterprises, Downing delivers a page-turning exposé of a community that is as laudable as it is laughable. And as an outsider to both the community and Buddhism, he does it with wit and an even hand. --Brian Bruya --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly: This intense investigation/indictment from novelist Downing (Breakfast with Scot, etc.) uncovers the alleged abuses of power of Richard Baker, former abbot of the nation's most influential Zen center. Downing devoted three years to exploring how and why Baker, the only Dharma heir of Shunryu Suzuki, the founder of San Francisco Zen Center (SFZC), was toppled from the abbacy of SFZC by popular demand in 1983. He interviewed more than 80 participants in Baker's rise and fall, not including the disgraced abbot himself, who sent Downing a letter explaining his position. Downing tells the story with a novelist's attention to character and detail, and what unfolds is a gripping account of how the bright and charismatic Baker helped Suzuki and Zen gain a foothold in the West; took over SFZC; expanded its activities dramatically (by, among other initiatives, creating the fabled Greens restaurant); grew increasingly alienated from his followers while surrounding himself with celebrities and physical luxury; and finally stumbled by having an affair with the wife of one of SFZC's main backers. The problem with the book, and it's a serious one, is that Downing takes sides; for example, he refutes point by point the text of Baker's letter to him. What might have been a grand account of the making of a tragedy, then, is instead a mitigated tale of villainy. Yet because the debacle at SFZC holds lessons for anyone who cares about how religious structures, perforce hierarchical, can and should operate within a democratic society, this book deserves a wide reading, and not only by the many Buddhists who will buy it lickety-split.
MONKEY ON A STICK: Murder, Madness, and the Hare Krishnas by John Hubner and Lindsey Gruson
Reviewed by Sandy Andron, Ed. D.
There are parts of Monkey on a Stick that read remarkably like a breaking news story on the front page of your local daily newspaper. Like many tragic stories of this nature, the names, places, methods, locations, and victims are identified with the horrific circumstances detailed for the reader. The authors, newsmen by profession, are far more charitable than this reviewer when they ask at the conclusion of the book, ‘How had people who set out to make peace and love end up molesting children, running drugs, committing murder?”
Early in the text, and throughout the pages of this book is a litany of quotations that suggest that there were multiple agendas early on as the Krishna organization was gaining impetus. If "absolute power corrupts absolutely," as Lord Acton suggested so long ago, then the leadership of the movement might well be worshipping at that altar rather than at Kirishna's. Hubner and Gruson rightly point out that the Krishna movement degenerated into a number of competing cults that have known murder, the abuse of women and children, drug dealing, and swindles that would impress a mafia don.” Judge Howard Munson, cited in the notes (p. 387), in a 1980 case, expresses similar concern about the duplicity of the Krishnas.
The title of the book comes from an Indian parable. It explains that when a monkey steals bananas from a plantation in India, the farmers kill and impale the monkey on a stick as an example to other monkeys to stay away. Leaving it thus on display, the message to others is plain and obvious. One is reminded of the old stocks in Salem, of the witch trials, of branding, and of equally barbaric and merciless customs. Thus understood, however, we see the message as the caveat to members of the group not to defect, nay, not even to question the orders of the hierarchy. Some did. Some died.
Examples in the book are myriad. Beneath the dhotis (Indian robes) and the shikhas (pony tails) were lurking minds which directed their devotees to steal even from one another. In response to accusations that stolen property was found in a member’s van, the remarkable response is, ‘And why were you snooping around our vans?”, and further, that the theft was perpetrated out of “Love for Krishna. They were simply taking what they had to have to use in his service.” And finally, “Krishna smiles on every endeavor, as long as it is done in his service.” Convoluted thinking. No?
Airport solicitors were told- ‘I don’t care what you do, as long as you make your quotas.” Devotees who recoiled from questionable Krishna solicitation methods were told that they were simply exercising their First Amendment religious expression rights, and those who were still reticent were kicked out of the movement. Justifying stealing by calling it ‘liberating it [money and goods] for Krishna" just doesn’t wash. Nor does the rationalization of drug smuggling: the leaders told followers that the drug money went to build temples, and the more temples there were the more converts there would be, and this would mean fewer drug addicts. One day, bingo, no more drug users. Such reasoning wouldn’t acquit in Logic 101!
When arms caches which would equip a small army are found, when hate literature, larceny, and political totalism are discovered among the Krishna, when children are raped in front of other children and devotees are instructed that "three things are better when you beat them: your drum, your dog, and your wife," it is not surprising that deaths also occurred in the groups and that the seeds of destruction were planted just as surely as the corpses of recalcitrant followers.
What motivated one woman to say she had played so many parts in so many scams that she felt like an actress in a second-string repertory company is not explained in this book any more than what prompted others to commit murder and still others to direct them to do so. But that is not for journalists to decipher. They are chronicling the degeneration of a would-be religious organization mired in what the Krishna themselves call maya (illusion). Far from their stated goal and ideal of egolessness, Krishna leaders sought power, even divinity. They failed.
The vignettes on leaders and devotees throughout Monkey on a Stick - which connect the stories of many people by the ongoing investigation of a policeman - are at times confusing, since individuals’ Krishna names and former names are used interchangeably. But the book nonetheless reads well, and is often riveting, and the whole is certainly greater than the sum of its parts. For those interested or involved in cult-related work, the book is a must for your reading list. It is the definitive work to date exposing the inner workings of the Hare Krishna movement.
This book review appeared in The Cult Observer, 6(4), July/August, 1989, p. 18.
CARTWHEELS IN A SARI: A Memoir of Growing Up in a Cult by Jayanti Tamm
In this colorful, eye-opening memoir, Jayanti Tamm offers an unforgettable glimpse into the hidden world of growing up “cult” in mainstream America. Through Jayanti’s fascinating story–the first book to chronicle Sri Chinmoy–she unmasks a leader who convinces thousands of disciples to follow him, scores of nations to dedicate monuments to him, and throngs of celebrities (Sting, Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela) to extol him.
When the short, bald man in flowing robes prophesizes Jayanti to be the “Chosen One,” her life is forever entwined with the charismatic guru Sri Chinmoy, who declares himself a living god. A god who performs sit-ups and push-ups in front of thousands as holy ritual, protects himself with a platoon of bodyguards, and bans books, TV, and sex. Jayanti’s unusual and increasingly bizarre childhood is spent shuttling between the ashram in Queens, New York, and her family’s outpost as “Connecticut missionaries.” On the path to enlightenment decreed by Guru, Jayanti scrubs animal cages in his illegal basement zoo, cheerleads as he weight lifts an elephant in her front yard, and trails him around the world as he pursues celebrities such as Princess Diana and Mother Teresa.
But, when her need for enlightenment is derailed by her need for boys, Jayanti risks losing everything that she has ever known, including the person that she was ordained to be. With tenderness, insight, and humor, Jayanti explores the triumphs and trauma of an insider who longs to be an outsider, her hard-won decision to finally break free, and the unique challenges she confronts as she builds a new life.
Tamm's parents met in the Manhattan apartment of the guru Sri Chinmoy and quickly married each other at his insistence; when they violated his commandment not to have sex with each other, however, he regrouped by declaring that their daughter, Tamm, would become his greatest disciple. The cult leader was a skilled manipulator, and Tamm's descriptions of her internalization of his predation, constantly blaming herself for not feeling worshipful enough, are wrenching. The outward pressures were equally difficult: she was forbidden a college education and sent abroad when she was caught violating the cultwide ban on dating—and the first time she was banished from the group, she begged for readmittance. Tamm, now in her late 30s and a professor at Ocean County College in New Jersey, is unsparing in her account of the psychological damage Sri Chinmoy inflicted on her and her family, from her parent's loveless marriage to her half-brother's gleeful acceptance of the role of the guru's enforcer. She reveals the difficulties in shaking off the guru's influence—under which she had spent literally her entire life before her final expulsion—and though readers might wish to hear more about how she eventually regained her identity, the harrowing details of her story create a sense of emotional devastation that will linger. (Apr.)
In this frank, clear-eyed memoir, Tamm recounts her youth as the chosen disciple of Sri Chinmoy, the wildly charismatic leader of a New York–based spiritual sect that counts celebrities and heads of nations among its millions of followers. “All of my childhood memories involve trying to obey and please guru,” Tamm writes, and with concise, absorbing detail, she describes her early years, spent playing board games such as “Disciple Chutes and Ladders” (“Did not meditate soulfully—Go back ten spaces”); her chaste but forbidden teen encounters with guys, after which the Guru reminds her, “The Supreme is your eternity’s boyfriend”; and a young-adult crisis that leads to a suicide attempt and, ultimately, her break with the cult. Tamm never sensationalizes the facts, and her narrative restraint only intensifies the emotional impact of each incident. Witty, compassionate, and often heartbreaking, Tamm’s story offers crucial insight into a cult’s inner workings and methods of indoctrination. All readers, though, will recognize universal coming-of-age themes as Tamm discards unwanted childhood lessons and begins to shape an independent adult life. --Gillian Engberg
WITHOUT THE GURU: How I took My Life Back after Thirty Years by Michael Finch
For 30 years Mike Finch gave his total allegiance, his energy, his devotion, his dreams, and his love to Guru Maharaji (the Lord of the Universe, Prem Rawat). He also gave Maharaji and his organizations two inheritances, a house, and hundreds of thousands of dollars. As Maharaji's former chauffeur Mike was close to him personally; he lived as a renunciate in Maharaji's ashrams, and was authorized to reveal Maharaji's secret teachings. The book is a narrative of Mike's time with Maharaji, and his struggle to surrender his life to Maharaji, and to achieve the liberation that Maharaji promised.
It is a story of being confined within a rigid belief system, realizing it, and learning how to break out from it. It is a story of how he came to live, think, feel, behave, and love, without 'the Guru', meaning both Maharaji, as the actual guru in his life; and in a more general sense of learning to face oneself and the world without any intermediary or negotiator, of any kind, in between.
Recommendation from Steve Hassan
I have recently made the time to finally read this fine book, although I was sent a review copy over a year ago. I am glad that Mike followed up and sent me another copy, and that we had the chance to sit down for lunch, along with a brief addition of his lovely life-partner Gail.
I have been doing my 'work' of helping former members and raising awareness since I left my own involvement with the Unification Church (yes, the Moonies) back in 1976. I say this here, because it is rare that I get to learn from a fellow traveler, a former member from another totalistic group, with insights and perspectives that dovetail with some of my own conclusions, but from a somewhat different orientation.
I heartily recommend this book for people to read. Not just former members of Guru Maharaji (aka Prem Rawat), not just former members of other eastern 'guru' groups, nor even other cult groups of every shape size and orientation. It is a book that the general public can benefit from reading - especially the last fifty or so pages. I also think people who have been devoted to a religion of any kind who have left it would find this insightful - but particularly former long term members of high demand groups and cults.
In my cult experience, my recruitment and indoctrination to have utter and complete belief in Sun Myung Moon as the Lord of the Universe paralleled Mike Finch's. They achieved my total submission to Moon and his beliefs and practices and organization within a few months. I dropped out of college, donated my bank account, turned my back on poetry, art, my family, friends to work for the Messiah and to 'save the world.' I was prepared to die or be killed for Moon. I was also absolutely sure I would spend the rest of my life doing his 'will.' That ended abruptly when I fell asleep while driving a fundraising van, and my family did an intervention and rescued me. When I learn about Lifton and brainwashing, Jonestown and other cults - like Scientology, Krishna, TM, Children of God, DLM - it became clear that all of these groups were deceptively recruiting and using social influence techniques and other mind control methods to enslave people. And so I began my crusade which has lasted these several decades.
Mike Finch: He walked out on his own, with the help and prodding of his life-partner Gail, who had woken up herself to the realization that not only was Maharaji not the Lord incarnate, but also that he was extremely abusive and harmful. She helped him see what he knew from his experience was true.
This book, and his web site where he continues his exploration, restarts his life and continues to evolve, surely is a very important guide for the multitudes of people who are still in cult groups after twenty or thirty years. He also offers them hope, that you can come out, and reclaim your personal power and move forward.
Read this book and share it with others!
THE RAJNEESH CHRONICLES: The True Story of the Cult that Unleashed the First Act of Bioterrorism on U.S. Soil by Win McCormack (Editor)
The Rajneesh Chronicles is a collection of in-depth investigative and analytical articles published in Oregon Magazine covering the establishment of the city of Rajneeshpuram in Central Oregon in mid-1981 to its dramatic disintegration at the end of 1985. While most press treated the Rajneeshees' antics as a humorous sideshow typified by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh’s dozens of Rolls-Royces, editor in chief Win McCormack and other of the magazine’s writers systematically exposed the full range of the cult's depraved behavior, including its involvement in prostitution and international drug smuggling, sexual exploitation of children, abuse of homeless people imported into Rajneeshpuram to register as voters, and the use of brainwashing techniques bordering on torture. The tale of the Rajneeshees has become an amorphous legend few inside or outside of Oregon understand. The Rajneesh Chronicles fully illuminates the shocking reality behind that legend.
THE MOTHER OF GOD by Luna Tarlo
This is a mother's account of her experience as a disciple of her own son - Andrew Cohen, a well-known American guru - and of her struggle to free herself from his control. What had been a close, affectionate relationship slowly becomes a nightmare of domination. The story begins quiely in India and unfolds with growing intensity as Andrew, his mother, and a few people who have gathered around him, travel to England, Holland, Israel, and finally the United States, but which time Andrew has attracted hundreds of devotees to his "meetings." The abuse of power, incessant fear, and the pyschology of obsession are all explored here from an intimate perspective. Since brainwashing cults and their grandiose gurus are proliferating - in this country and all over the world - this book is not only a mother's lament, but also a finger pointing to the growing appeal everywhere of authoritarianism and absolutism.
AMERICAN GURU: A Story of Love, Betrayal and Healing-former students of Andrew Cohen speak out
American Guru is a multifaceted account of life in the contemporary spiritual community known as EnlightenNext, and the controversial "teaching methods" of its New York-born founder, self-proclaimed "guru" Andrew Cohen. With contributions from several of Cohen's former students, William Yenner recalls the thirteen-year trajectory of his career as a leader and manager in Cohen's community--his early days as an idealistic "seeker," his years of service on EnlightenNext's Board of Directors, his ultimate disillusionment and departure,and his efforts to make sense of his experiences as a once-devoted follower of a "Teacher of Evolutionary Enlightenment." With wit and insight, Yenner and his colleagues have produced a riveting cautionary tale on the dangers of authoritarian spirituality, and an insider'scase study on the promises and pitfalls of postmodern discipleship. "William Yenner's courageous exposé, American Guru, is a powerful reminder that all of our tendencies toward idealization of dharma teachers must be carefully examined." -William Morgan, Psy.D., member of the Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy,co-author of Mindfulness and Psychotherapy "William Yenner's true, uncensored-and finally ungagged-moving personal story, in combination with the powerful reflections, recollections and contributions of other former community members, makes American Guru an essential source document for the study and understanding of authoritarian spiritual sects." -Hal Blacker, former editor of EnlightenNext magazine "American Guru is not a mean-spirited book. It is, rather, a refreshingly honest one." -David Christopher Lane, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy, Mt. San Antonio College Check out the book online at www.americanguru.net
ENLIGHTENMENT BLUES: My Years with an American Guru by Andre van der Braak
Enlightenment Blues is Andre van der Braak’s compelling first hand account of his relationship with a prominent spiritual teacher. It chronicles both the author’s spiritual journey and disenchantment as well the development of a missionary and controversial community around the teacher. It powerfully exposes the problems and necessities of disentanglement from a spiritual path.
“Enlightenment Blues is the account of a young man's sincere and protracted struggle to transform his life according to the teachings of the American guru Andrew Cohen. Ruthlessly honest and unsettling, Andre van der Braak gives a vivid first-hand account of an uncompromising experiment in establishing Indian spirituality in a modern Western setting. This story is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the allure and pitfalls of surrendering one's authority in the hope of spiritually transforming the world” Stephen Batchelor, Author Buddhism without Beliefs
“Narrated with the psychological subtlety and drama of a good novel, Enlightenment Blues is a precise, profound dissection of the guru-devotee relationship. It should be required reading for all who are currently engaged in or considering studying under a spiritual teacher.” John Horgan, author of Rational Mysticism
"A profound contribution. The maturity and balance of this book place it at the front rank of works on contemporary spirituality. All the major themes of the spiritual quest are here - reason versus emotion, the problem of the ego, the guru, self-doubt, the place of altered states. Andre van der Braak has the creative gift of being able to hold opposing ideas in his mind without moving towards premature closure. Hence this heartfelt account of his eleven years in the Cohen movement is a beautiful testament to one man's quest to discover his own reality. Enlightenment Blues deserves the widest readership." Len Oakes, Prophetic Charisma
“Enlightenment Blues is the personal story of one man’s eleven year journey into and out of a group of seekers of enlightenment with a charismatic leader who claims to be an exemplar of perfection. What distinguishes this book are the writer’s insights and honesty in portraying the workings of an authoritarian belief system that operates under the guise of spiritual revelations. Anyone who has ever belonged to such a group, or knows anyone who has, or who wants to understand what the appeals and dangers of surrendering to a guru consist of, would benefit from reading this book.” Joel Kramer, author, The Guru Papers
"Andre van der Braak’s story is our own story. We walked the ‘yellow brick road’ whether it was Zen or Yoga or Advaita. We desperately wished for or found a Guru who could help us find our way home and we wholly gave ourselves. Andre’s talk of it is fresh and innocent. He takes us by the hand through a hazardous trail. Neither bitter nor estranged, nor having lost his passion for the way, he remembers with us what really happened, and why.” Orit Sen-Gupta, Author, Dancing the Body of Light – The Future of Yoga
Andre van der Braak lived in Andrew Cohen’s spiritual community for 11 years, an involvement initiated shortly after Cohen had begun teaching. He was one of the original editors for “What is Enlightenment Magazine”. He was also an editor for Cohen’s first teaching text, Enlightenment is a Secret, which entailed reading over 4,000 pages of transcribed talks, and editing them into book form.
SORCERER'S APPRENTICE: My Life with Carlos Castaneda by Amy Wallace
Sorcerer’s Apprentice opens with Amy Wallace’s first meeting with Carlos Castaneda, the infamous anthropologist-turned-shaman, whose books described meetings with Yaqui Indian spiritual teacher don Juan. Castaneda’s rise was meteoric in the late 1960s as he wrote massive bestsellers, inspired many to experiment with psychedelics, and was dubbed “the Godfather of the New Age.” The possibility that Castaneda’s experiences may have been fabricated did little to compromise his legend.
As the daughter of best-selling novelist Irving Wallace, Amy was rarely shy around famous people. When her father insisted she meet Castaneda, she at first demurred. Little did she know that a delightful first meeting would begin a 20-year friendship, followed by her descent into the dramatic and deeply troubled affair chronicled in this book. Sorcerer’s Apprentice unblinkingly reveals the inner workings of the “Cult of Carlos,” run by a charismatic authoritarian in his sixties who controlled his young female followers through emotional abuse, mind games, bizarre rituals, dubious teachings, and sexual excess. Wallace’s story is both specific and universal, a captivating cautionary tale about the dangers of giving up one’s power to a tyrant–and about surviving assaults on body and spirit.
"Amy Wallace expertly maps the territory where mysticism merges into insanity, or perhaps the unmarked land between screwball comedy and terrifying tragedy. I can’t recall a stranger, sadder narrative than this."
—Carolyn See, author of Making a Literary Life
“Truth hurts … and so does Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Amy Wallace’s harrowing account of her years as Carlos Castaneda’s lover and disciple is a cautionary tale for our times, the story of a woman whose search for meaning took her to the brink, and [banned term] near cost her everything. In this painfully honest memoir, she takes us deep inside the Castaneda cult and shows us the mind games, ego trips, and petty cruelties that wore the guise of wisdom. ‘Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!’ the Wizard once tried to tell Dorothy. Amy Wallace has ripped the curtain down, and laid the wizard bare for all to see.”
—George R.R. Martin, author of A Game of Thrones
“Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a haunting and brutally honest memoir that reads like a tender love story and, at the same time, a taut psychological thriller. Amy Wallace writes with wisdom, grace, courage, and candor about one of the most charismatic figures of all our times, and she allows us to witness both the splendor and the danger of entrusting one’s fate to a powerful man or woman.”
—Jonathan Kirsch, author of The Harlot by the Side of the Road and The Woman Who Laughed at God
"I simply could not put this book down. Amy Wallace’s relationship with Carlos Castaneda was transformative, exciting, abusive, and painful. This is a cautionary tale, containing essential insights for all of us. Thank you, Amy, for having the courage to tell your story so that others may learn from it, and from the redemptive powers of your own healing."
—Susan Piver, author of The Hard Questions
From the Inside Flap
"Amy Wallace takes you behind the scenes into the bizarre personal and sexual life of one of the most influential yet elusive figures of the 60s and beyond—Carlos Castaneda. This book is her journey with the man and his inner circle from her unique vantage point as one of his lovers and wives. Her idealism and disillusionment mirror that of an era which left many, like Amy, searching for hope and unwilling to descend into cynicism and bitterness. Amy’s struggle to rebuild a new foundation, though a story of seduction and betrayal on many levels, is also about the author’s reaching for transformation and personal meaning. This book will greatly interest anyone who was ever affected by ‘the teachings of don Juan.’ "
—Joel Kramer & Diana Alstad, co-authors of The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power
"Carlos Castaneda told astonishing truths, with an empowering Gnostic brilliance. He also told astonishing lies, spinning out like wild silk from a crazy spider’s [banned term]. Sorcerer’s Apprentice tells the horrifying, heartbreaking tale of the lives entangled in his web. And it hurts like a son of a [banned term]. With far greater personal honesty than Castaneda ever managed, Amy Wallace drags us—first happily, then screamingly—deep into the Cult of Carlos: boldly capturing both the staggering beauty and the utter steaming nonsense of his world. It’s an [banned term]-kicking, soul-grinding book, beautifully written and breathtakingly acute. I suggest that you read it, and test your faith."
—John Skipp, novelist, filmmaker
"Amy Wallace has gone through the looking glass of Castaneda’s magic and come back out the other side with her wits, and wit, intact. What’s more, she has remembered it all with a novelist’s eye and ear, so the result is a harrowing and vivid look at life inside a charismatic circle—the petty tyrannies, the abusive cruelties, the sometimes unintended silliness. If this remarkable book is evidence, what enabled her to survive Castaneda and his cult is a lucid, generous, often funny intelligence that spares no one, least of all herself."
—Joe Kanon, author of Los Alamos
"Amy Wallace expertly maps the territory where mysticism merges into insanity, or perhaps the unmarked land between screwball comedy and terrifying tragedy. I can’t recall a stranger, sadder narrative than this."
—Carolyn See, author of Making a Literary Life
"Amy Wallace’s compelling memoir reveals what some of us suspected all along: Don Juan’s teachings are a yucky way of knowledge."
—Jon Winokur, author of The Portable Curmudgeon
"Carlos Castaneda was one of the shapers of human consciousness during the period between the Beatles and the end of the twentieth century. After his death he remains a major spiritual and intellectual force. Yet he cast a schizophrenic shadow over our civilization. On the one hand, he taught us that we are here for a brief time in a beautiful, wondrous manifestation, and we must throw off the shackles of materialism, academic reductionism, and commercial distraction to realize our destiny, to experience the vast, untapped potential of our body-minds; on the other hand, he made the task so daunting and ultimately (if one reads him literally) terrifying and hopeless that he paralyzed many of his devotees and readers into inaction, submission, addictions, and denial. Amy Wallace has finally come along to liberate us from the spell. She says, ‘I will show you Carlos as he was. Follow the authentic spirit guide in him, but reject the manipulations of a tragically flawed and jealous guru. You are free to meet the Eagle on your own terms.’ "
—Richard Grossinger, author of Planet Medicine
"I read Sorcerer’s Apprentice with absolute fascination. Like millions of others, I had always wondered what was behind the Castaneda myth. My own life once gave me the choice of going down the guru path, a choice I rejected because, to me, it’s morally wrong for one person to claim closer knowledge of deity than any other. It’s always a lie, and the fearsome consequences of that lie in the life of the unfortunate creature who takes the guru path, as well as his followers, is exposed here with breathtaking candor. Sorcerer’s Apprentice is an extremely powerful book and fair warning both to those who would presume to claim special favor in the spirit, as well as those drawn by their own needs to such people. Amy Wallace warns us with her honesty and her careful attention to crucial emotional details, that guru-worship is a disease. For those who have wondered whether or not Castaneda’s various guides were real in some objective sense, reading this book will clear up the mysteries that need solving. But it is also a compassionate book, deeply so, because compassion inevitably flows from honesty of this high an order. It is a triumph of Amy Wallace’s heart to have written this, and I thank her for the wisdom and enrichment of spirit that reading it has given me."
—Whitley Strieber, author of Communion --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
THE GURU LOOKED GOOD: A Memoir by Marta Szabo
from Amazon.com: Marta Szabo's The Guru Looked Good is essential reading for anyone once involved in Siddha Yoga, a similar spiritual group, movement or organization they questioned, corporate culture, or dysfunctional relationships where they gave their power away, betrayed themselves or felt betrayed.
Without knowing anything about me personally, Szabo clarified most of the nagging questions I'd had about the organization - I was involved in Siddha Yoga for over fifteen years and know friends and family who were involved much longer - and helped me put together a puzzle I believed unsolvable. Szabo brilliantly lays bare (without pointing fingers or attacking anyone else's "experience") the dysfunction festering at the core of Siddha Yoga, and the troubling dynamics surrounding it's charismatic leader.
In the past, almost everything I'd ever read about Siddha Yoga that was "critical" (mainly the magazine articles in the 1990s, in particular The New Yorker piece, O Guru, Guru, Guru by Lis Harris) seemed laced with a nastiness that felt personal and led me to question the motives of the authors. Szabo's book is the opposite - not an attack against an organization but rather one individual's personal account.
In a straightforward, here's-my-story-draw-your-own-conclusions way, Szabo inspired me look back at my own experience with Siddha Yoga and trust the things I'd always felt intuitively but couldn't articulate - suspicions and secrets I'd buried as successfully as Siddha Yoga had buried the truth of its own history.
Szabo helped me finally reconcile the disparity that was always present between my own personal experience (which was overwhelmingly positive) and the things about Siddha Yoga "the organization" that continued to gnaw in my gut. As I read TGLG, the things I'd hidden from myself and things Siddha Yoga had concealed rose to the surface and came together. After I finished TGLG I felt a combination of deep sadness and great relief.
Szabo's memoir will also be of particular interest to those who were damaged, abused or oppressed as children - and then later sought ways, successful or not, to make sense of themselves, to escape or heal through their relationships, spiritual seeking, drug use, or work in the world.
Speaking as someone previously involved, it has been interesting to note in recent years how Siddha Yoga's once center-stage-in-the-spiritual-community presence has gradually tiptoed off into the wings, and is now heading for the exit - perhaps due to the fact that so much of what Szabo exposes (by simply telling her own story) finally caught up with them.
Another review: This is an excellent personal account of a lengthy involvement in a cult by a woman who had already left another oppressive, high-demand cult leader, only to find herself caught up by a different one, the guru of Siddha Yoga. Szabo eventually finds herself treated as one of the privileged elite of the group, since she is a personal secretary to the guru, but she soon discovers the deadening emptiness of this privilege. As with all such groups led by a charismatic cult leader, it soon turns out that a higher spiritual life involves pleasing the guru's every whim, and that the real purpose of the group's existence, no matter what its claims about encouraging spiritual growth, is to pump up the ego of the cult leader. (For another example of this dynamic in action, I recommend Jayanti Tamm's _Cartwheels in a Sari_). Szabo eventually discovers that even a life of relative ease and privilege isn't worth throwing away her writing talent and ambitions for, and she courageously breaks free. I wish, however, that Szabo had chosen a better title for this book, because the title is not explicitly referred to in the text and seems needlessly vague. But this is a minor complaint; overall, the writing is very good and the book is an excellent read.
MY LIFE IN ORANGE: Growing up with the Guru by Tim Guest
London journalist Guest (the Guardian; the Daily Telegraph) shares the bittersweet story of his nomadic childhood as a member of the sannyasin, a group of people who swathed themselves in orange and lived in the various communes of the infamous Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. In 1979, when Guest was six, he was brought into the group by his mother, a lapsed Catholic who "surrendered herself to the world without a second thought," moving to England, Germany, India and Oregon to work for the cause of Bhagwan's Eastern mysticism (which involved, among other things, engaging in sexual freedom and inhaling laughing gas). Guest played with the ragtag children of the hippie adults working in these ashrams, sometimes going for long periods of time without his mother's love or guidance. He systematically observes the daily lives of the sannyasin and their master, refusing to trash the devotees or their spiritual beliefs, instead targeting the manipulations of Bhagwan, whom he depicts as a power-mad holy man who taught restraint, poverty and obedience yet collected Rolls-Royces and told jokes "cribbed from Playboy." Guest forgives his neglectful mother as he records Bhagwan's fall from grace through American tax evasion, lawsuits and denials of admittance from country to country until his empire crumbled. Honest and vivid, this is an absorbing book about survival and good intentions gone awry.
From The New Yorker: Guest's memoir recalls an ambulant childhood—a ranch here, an ashram there—among the disciples of the infamous guru Bhagwan Rajneesh, a Rolls-Royce-driving charismatic who instructed his followers to wear only the colors of the sun and to liberate themselves from bourgeois hang-ups. For his followers, the Bhagwan's communes were lands of plenty, filled with sex, drugs, t'ai-chi sessions, and primal-scream therapies. Their children, however, survived largely on their wits: Guest and his friends swipe beedi cigarettes from the commissary and get high on Darjeeling, but they're starved for belonging and belongings. One of Guest's attempts to spend time with his mother is thwarted by a sign that reads, "Motherhood Group in Progress. Please Do Not Disturb." Occasionally, his recriminations smack of a similar self-indulgence, but, as the guru's regime crumbles, Guest's account of paradise lost gains acuity from the fact that, for him, it was mostly hell in the first place.
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|Subject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc. Sat Dec 21, 2013 7:38 pm|| |
September 24, 2010 - New York Times
Fight ‘The Power’
By CHRISTOPHER F. CHABRIS and DANIEL J. SIMONS
Maybe it’s happened to you too. You’re reminiscing about a friend who moved away years ago, and then she arrives unexpectedly at your door. You can’t stop thinking about getting the phone call with the job offer, and it comes the next week. Or you have a vision of a family member becoming sick, and then you hear that he has been taken to the hospital.
According to Rhonda Byrne, these experiences are much more than mere coincidences. Byrne’s new book, THE POWER (Atria, $23.95), is the sequel to “The Secret,” which has sold more than 19 million copies in more than 40 languages and created an entire industry of spinoff products. Both books offer a self-help philosophy based on the “law of attraction,” which Byrne describes as a fundamental universal law akin to gravity. This was the “secret” of the first volume. In the second book — currently No. 1 on the New York Times how-to and advice best-seller list — it has been supplemented with talk of the “power of love.”
The law of attraction states that whatever you experience in life is a direct result of your thoughts. It really is that simple. If you think about being fat, you will get fatter. If you think about thin people, you will become thin yourself. If you think about your bills, you will get more bills, but if you think about checks instead, your mailbox will overflow with them. According to “The Secret” and “The Power,” your thoughts and feelings have magnetic properties and “frequencies.” They “vibrate” and resonate with the “universe,” somehow attracting events that share those frequencies back to their thinker.
“The Secret” and “The Power” deliver their wisdom in an ex cathedra voice reminiscent of the “Saturday Night Live” segment “Deep Thoughts.” And Byrne offers no scientific evidence for the absurd physics behind the law of attraction. But that doesn’t mean her books don’t take advantage of up-to-the-minute science. The problem is, it’s not the science she thinks it is.
The law of attraction has been around for millenniums; Byrne cites Plato, Galileo, Beethoven, Edison, Carnegie, Einstein and even Jesus himself as adepts. Just in the past century, it has been repeatedly expressed in essentially the same form as Byrne’s version by Wallace Wattles (“The Science of Getting Rich”), Napoleon Hill (“Think and Grow Rich”) and many other writers. Byrne’s idea of “the universe” plays the same role as Wattles’s “intelligent substance” or Hill’s “infinite intelligence” — a godlike agent that provides whatever we desire. Why is this particular pseudoscientific concept so persistent?
The message of “The Power” and “The Secret” might best be understood as an advanced meme — a sort of intellectual virus — whose structure has evolved throughout history to optimally exploit a suite of weaknesses in the design of the human mind. Had Byrne and the other purveyors of “The Secret” (including Oprah Winfrey, who repeatedly plugged it on her show) set out to reap huge profits by manipulating cognitive biases wired into the brain, they could hardly have done a better job. More likely, they caught the virus themselves and are unwittingly spreading it as far as they can.
The first trick they use is what psychologists call “social proof.” People like to do things other people are doing because it seems to prove the value of their own actions. That is why QVC displays a running count of how many viewers have bought each item for sale, and why advice seems more credible if it appears to come from many different people rather than one. “The Secret” is peppered with quotations from a group of about 20 “teachers” or “avatars,” many of whom are themselves popular self-help gurus. In “The Power,” Byrne also quotes sages like Thoreau, Gandhi and St. Augustine. This ploy, an example of a related logical fallacy called the argument from authority, taps our intuitive beliefs so forcefully that we psychology professors spend time training our introductory students to actively resist it.
Byrne also activates what might be called the illusion of potential, our readiness to believe that we have a vast reservoir of untapped abilities just waiting to be released. This illusion helps explain the popularity of products like “Baby Mozart” and video games that “train your brain” and entertain you at the same time. Unfortunately, rigorous empirical studies have repeatedly shown that none of these things bring about any meaningful improvement in intelligence.
“The Power” and “The Secret” are larded with references to magnets, energy and quantum mechanics. This last is a dead giveaway: whenever you hear someone appeal to impenetrable physics to explain the workings of the mind, run away — we already have disciplines called “psychology” and “neuroscience” to deal with those questions. Byrne’s onslaught of pseudoscientific jargon serves mostly to establish an “illusion of knowledge,” as social scientists call our tendency to believe we understand something much better than we really do. In one clever experiment by the psychologist Rebecca Lawson, people who claimed to have a good understanding of how bicycles work (and who ride them every day) proved unable to draw the chain and pedals in the correct location.
But ersatz theoretical physics has only so much persuasive power. Byrne also provides several bits of empirical evidence for her claims. For example, in “The Power,” we hear about an anonymous woman who left a long, abusive relationship and “never talked negatively about her ex-husband but instead gave only positive thoughts and words about a new, perfect, beautiful husband.” Sure enough, we are told, she soon met her “perfect and beautiful” new husband, and they now live happily ever after in Spain — which happens to be in Europe, the very continent the woman had dreamed of visiting!
The intuitive appeal of such stories illustrates the human tendency to see things that happen in sequence — first the positive thinking, then the positive results — as forming a chain of cause and effect. This is even more likely to happen when all the stories we hear fit an expected pattern, a phenomenon psychologists call “illusory correlation.” If we hear only about the crazy coincidences (“I was thinking about getting the job offer, and right then I got the call!”), not the unconnected events (“I thought about getting the offer, but it never came” or “I wasn’t thinking about the offer, then I got it”) or even the nonevents (“I didn’t think I would get the offer, and indeed I didn’t get it”), then we get a distorted picture. Even worse, we can misremember two things as happening in close succession when in fact they happened much farther apart in time, or even in the reverse order. When Byrne tells her readers to “make a connection” between the good things they do and the good things that come to them, she is focusing their attention on positive examples of the law of attraction, thereby reinforcing the illusion that it actually works.
The powerful psychology behind these rhetorical tricks can distract readers from the larger illogic of Byrne’s books. What if a thousand people started sincerely visualizing winning the entire $200 million prize in this week’s Lotto? How would the universe sort out that mess? But it’s useless to argue with books like “The Secret” and “The Power.” They demonstrate an exquisite grasp of the reality of human nature. After all, the only other force that could explain how Rhonda Byrne put two books on top of the best-seller list is the law of attraction itself.
Christopher Chabris is a psychology professor at Union College. Daniel Simons is a psychology professor at the University of Illinois. They are the authors of “The Invisible Gorilla, and Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us.”
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|Subject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc. Tue Dec 31, 2013 12:04 am|| |
INSIDE PEOPLE'S TEMPLE - from NEW WEST MAGAZINE - written just before the suicides - this article triggered the tragic events as more people left after the article came out and went to the media - August 1, 1977
PBS Special Documentary: http://youtu.be/9NQ5KBzD8w0
MSNBC Preview of their documentary: http://video.msnbc.msn.com/documentaries/27187801
“Jim Jones is one the state’s most politically potent leaders. But who is he? And what’s going on behind his church’s locked doors?.”
For Rosalynn Carter, it was the last stop in an early September campaign tour that had taken her over half of California, a state where her husband Jimmy was weak. So Rosalynn gamely encouraged the crowd of 750 that had gathered for the grand opening of the San Francisco Democratic party headquarters in a seedy downtown storefront. She smiled bravely despite the heat.
Mrs. Carter finished her little pep talk to mild applause. Several other Democratic bigwigs got polite receptions, too. Only one speaker aroused the crowd; he was the Reverend Jim Jones, the founding pastor of Peoples Temple, a small community church located in the city’s Fillmore section. Jones spoke briefly and avoided endorsing Carter directly. But his words were met with what seemed like a wall-pounding outpour. A minute and a half later the cheers died down.
“It was embarrassing,” said a rally organizer. “The wife of a guy who was going to the White House was shown up by somebody named Jones.”
If Rosalynn Carter was surprised, she shouldn’t have been. The crowd belonged to Jones. Some 600 of the 750 listeners were delivered in temple buses an hour and a half before the rally. The organizer, who had called Jones for help, remembered how gratified she’d felt when she first saw the Jones followers spilling off the buses. “You should have seen it - old ladies on crutches, whole families, little kids, blacks, whites. Made to order,” said the organizer, who had correctly feared that without Jones Mrs. Carter might have faced a half-empty room.
“Then we noticed things like the bodyguards,” she continued. “Jones had his own security force [with him], and the Secret Service guys were having fits,” she said. “They wanted to know who all these black guys were, standing outside with their arms folded.”
The next morning more than 100 letters arrived. “They were really all the same,” she said. “‘Thanks for the rally, and, say, that Jim Jones was so inspirational.' Look, we never get mail, so we notice one letter, but 100?” She added, “They had to be mailed before the rally to arrive the next day.”
But what surprised that organizer was really not that special. She just got a look at some of the methods Jim Jones has used to make himself one of the most politically potent religious leaders in the history of the state.
Jim Jones counts among his friends several of California’s well-known public officials. San Francisco mayor George Moscone has made several visits to Jones’s San Francisco temple, on Geary Street, as have the city’s district attorney Joe Freitas and sheriff Richard Hongisto. And Governor Jerry Brown has visited at least once. Also, Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley has been a guest at Jones’s Los Angeles temple. Lieutenant Governor Mervyn Dymally went so far as to visit Jones’s 27,000-acre agricultural station in Guyana, South America, and he pronounced himself impressed. What’s more, when Walter Mondale came campaigning for the vice-presidency in San Francisco last fall, Jim Jones was one of the few people invited aboard his chartered jet for a private visit. Last December Jones was appointed to head the city’s Housing Authority Commission.
The source of Jones’s political clout is not very difficult to divine. As one politically astute executive puts it: “He controls votes.” And voters. During San Francisco’s run-off election for mayor in December of 1975, some 150 temple members walked precincts to get out the vote for George Moscone, who won by a slim 4,000 votes. “They’re well-dressed, polite and they’re all registered to vote,” said one Moscone campaign official.
Can you win office in San Francisco without Jones? “In a tight race like the ones that George or Freitas or Hongisto had, forget it without Jones,” said State Assemblyman Willie Brown, who describes himself as an admirer of Jones’s.
Jones, who has several adopted children of differing racial backgrounds, is more than a political force. He and his church are noted for social and medical programs, which are centered in his three-story structure on Geary Street. Temple members support and staff a free diagnostic and outpatient clinic, a physical therapy facility, a drug program that claims to have rehabilitated some 300 addicts and a legal aid program for about 200 people a month. In addition, the temple’s free dining hall is sad to feed more indigents than the city’s venerable St. Anthony’s dining room. And temple spokesmen say that these services to the needy are financed internally, without a cent of government or foundation money.
Jones and his temple are also applauded for their ardent support of a free press. Last September, Jones and his followers participated in a widely publicized demonstration in support of the four Fresno newsmen who went to jail rather than reveal their confidential news sources. The temple also contributed $4,400 to twelve California newspapers – including the San Francisco Chronicle
– for use “in the defense of a free press,” and once gave $4,000 to the defense of Los Angeles Times
reporter Bill Farr, who also went to jail for refusing to name a news source.
In addition, at Jones’s direction the temple makes regular contributions to several community groups, including the Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Center and Health Clinic, the NAACP, the ACLU and the farmworkers’ union. When a local pet clinic was in trouble, Peoples Temple provided the money needed to keep it open. The temple has also set up a fund for the widows of slain policemen, and the congregation runs an escort service for senior citizens.
To many, the Reverend Jim Jones is the epitome of a selfless Christian.
The reverend was born James Thurman Jones, and grew up in the Indiana town of Lynn. While attending Butler University in Indianapolis, where he received his degree in education, Jones opened his first temple (in downtown Indianapolis). Although he had no formal training as a minister and was not affiliated with any church, his temple grew. It featured an active social program, including a “free” restaurant for the down-and-out. And the congregation was integrated, a courageous commitment in the years before Martin Luther King became a national figure – particularly in Indianapolis, once the site of the Ku Klux Klan’s national office.
Then at around Christmas of 1961, according to a former associate named Ross Case, Jones had a vision. He saw Indianapolis being consumed in a holocaust, presumably a nuclear explosion. Fortunately for him, Esquire
had just run an article on the nine safest spots in the event of nuclear war. Eureka, California, was called the safest location; another safe area was Belo Horizante, Brazil. Jones headed for Belo Horizante, and Case went to Northern California.
Jones eventually returned and visited Case in Ukiah. Jones liked California, and twelve years ago this month, he and his wife Marceline incorporated Peoples Temple in California; Jones and some 100 faithful settled in Redwood Valley, a hamlet outside Ukiah.
Jones’s congregation grew, and he soon became a political force in Mendocino County. In off-year elections, where the total vote was around 2,500, Jones could control 300 to 400 ballots, or nearly 16 percent of the vote. “I could show anybody the tallies by precinct and pick out the Jones vote,” says Al Barbero, county supervisor from Redwood Valley.
Then, in 1970, Jones started holding services in San Francisco; one year later he bought the Geary Street temple. And later that same year, he expanded to Los Angeles by taking over a synagogue on South Alvarado Street.
One success followed another, and his flock grew to an estimated 20,000. Jones’s California mission seemed blessed.
Although Jones’s name is well-known, especially among the politicians and the powerful, he remains surrounded by mystery. For example, his Peoples Temple has two sets of locked doors, guards patrolling the aisles during services and a policy of barring passersby from dropping by unannounced on Sunday mornings. His bimonthly newspaper, Peoples Forum
, regularly exalts socialism, praises Huey Newton and Angela Davis and forecasts a government takeover by American Nazis. And though Jones is a white fundamentalist minister, his congregation is roughly 80 percent to 90 percent black.
How does Jones manage to appeal to so many kinds of people? Where does he get the money to operate his church’s programs, or maintain his fleet of buses, or support his agricultural outpost in Guyana? Why does he surround himself with bodyguards – as many as fifteen at a time? And above all, what is going on behind the locked and guarded doors of Peoples Temple?Ten Who Quit the Temple Speak Out
Beginning two months ago, when it became known that New West
was researching an article on Peoples Temple, the magazine, its editors and advertisers were subjected to a bizarre letter-and-telephone campaign. At its height, our offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles were each receiving as many as 50 phone calls and 70 letters a day. The great majority of the letters and calls came from temple members and supporters, as well as such prominent Californians as Lieutenant Governor Mervyn Dymally, Delancey Street founder John Maher, San Francisco businessman Cyril Magnin, and savings and loan executive Anthony Frank. The messages were much the same: We hear New West
is going to attack Jim Jones in print; don’t do that. He’s a good man who does good works.
The flood of calls and letters attracted wide attention, which, in turn, prompted newsman Bill Barnes to report the campaign in the San Francisco Examiner
. The Examiner
also reported an unconfirmed break-in one week later at our San Francisco office.
After the Barnes article, we began getting phone calls from former temple members. At first, while insisting on anonymity, the callers volunteered “background” about Jim Jones’s “cruelty” to congregation members, in addition to making several other specific charges.
We told the callers that we were not interested in such anonymous whispers. But then a number of them, like Deanna and Elmer Mertle, called back and agreed to meet in person, to be photographed, and to tell their attributed stories for publication.
Based on what these people told us, life inside Peoples Temple was a mixture of Spartan regimentation, fear and self-imposed humiliation. As they told it, the Sunday services to which dignitaries were invited were orchestrated events. Actually, members were expected to attend services two, three, even four nights a week – with some sessions lasting until daybreak. Those members of the temple’s governing council, called the Planning Commission, were often compelled to stay up all night and submit regularly to “catharsis” – an encounter process in which friends, even mates, would criticize the person who was “on the floor.” In the last two years, we were told, these often humiliating sessions had begun to include physical beatings with a large wooden paddle, and boxing matches in which the person on the floor was occasionally knocked out by opponents selected by Jones himself. Also, during regularly scheduled “family meetings,” attended by up to 1,000 of the most devoted followers, as many as 100 people were lined up to be paddled for such seemingly minor infractions as not being attentive enough during Jones’s sermons. Church leaders also instructed certain members to write letters incriminating themselves in illegal and immoral acts that never happened. In addition, temple members were encouraged to turn over their money and property to the church and live communally in temple buildings; those who didn’t ran the risk of being chastised severely during the catharsis sessions.
In all, we interviewed more than a dozen former temple members. Obviously they all had biases. (Grace Stoen, for example, has sued her husband, a temple member, for custody of their five-year-old son John. The child is reportedly in Guyana.) So we checked the verifiable facts of their accounts – the property transfers, the nursing and foster home records, political campaign contributions and other matters of public record. The details of their stories checked out.
One question, in particular, troubled us: Why did some of them remain members long after they became disenchanted with Jones’s methods and even fearful of him and his bodyguards? Their answers were the same – they feared reprisal, and that their stories would not be believed.
The people we interviewed are real; their names are real. They all agreed to be tape-recorded and photographed while telling their side of the Jim Jones story.Elmer and Deanna Mertle of Berkeley
They beat his daughter badly: Elmer Mertle.
After Elmer and Deanna Mertle joined the temple in Ukiah in November, 1969, he quit his job as a chemical technician for Standard Oil Company, sold the family’s house in Hayward and moved up to Redwood Valley. Eventually five of the Mertle’s children by previous marriages joined them there.
“When we first went up [to Redwood Valley], Jim Jones was a very compassionate person,” says Deanna. “He taught us to be compassionate to old people, to be tender to the children.”
But slowly the loving atmosphere gave way to cruelty and physical punishments. Elmer said, “The first forms of punishment were mental, where they would get up and totally disgrace and humiliate the person in front of the whole congregation. . . . Jim would then come over and put his arms around the person and say, 'I realize that you went through a lot, but it was for the cause. Father loves you and you’re a stronger person now. I can trust you more now that you’ve gone through and accepted this discipline.’”
The physical punishment increased too. Both the Mertles claim they received public spankings as early as 1972 – but they were hit with a belt only “about three times.” Eventually, they said, the belt was replaced by a paddle and then by a large board dubbed “the board of education,” and the number of times adults and finally children were struck increased to 12, 25, 50 and even 100 times in a row. Temple nurses treated the injured.
At first, the Mertles rationalized the beatings. “The [punished] child or adult would always say, ’Thank you, Father,” and then Jim would point out the week how much better they were. In our minds we rationalized ... that Jim must be doing the right thing because these people were testifying that the beatings had caused their life to make a reversal in the right direction.”
Then one night the Mertles’ daughter Linda was called up for discipline because she had hugged and kissed a woman friend she hadn’t seen in a long time. The woman was reputed to be a lesbian. The Mertles stood among the congregation of 600 or 700 while their daughter, who was then sixteen, was hit on her buttocks 75 times. “She was beaten so severely,” said Elmer, “that the kids said her [banned term] looked like hamburger.”
Linda, who is now eighteen, confirms that she was beaten: “I couldn’t sit down for at least a week and a half.”
The Mertles stayed in the church for more than a year after that public beating. “We had nothing on the outside to get started in,” says Elmer. “We had given [the church] all our money. We had given all of our property. We had given up our jobs.”
Today the Mertles live in Berkeley. According to an affidavit they signed last October in the presence of attorney Harriet Thayer, they changed their names legally to Al and Jeanne Mills because, at the church’s instruction, “we had signed blank sheets of paper, which could be used for any imaginable purpose, signed power of attorney papers, and written many unusual and incriminating statements [about themselves], all of which were untrue.”Birdie Marable of Ukiah
“I never really thought he was God, like he preached, but I thought he was a prophet,” said Birdie Marable, a beautician who was first attracted to Jones in 1968 because her husband had a liver ailment. She had hoped Jones might be the healer to save him.
On one of the trips to services in Redwood Valley, Marable noticed Jones’s aides taking some children aside and asking, “What color house did my friend have, things like that,” she says. “Then during the services, Jim called [one woman] out and told her the answers that the children had given as though no one had told him.”
She became skeptical of Jones after that, and remained skeptical when her husband’s health did not improve; the cancer “cures” Jones was performing seemed phony to her. Yet eventually she moved to Ukiah and ran a rest home for temple members at Jim’s suggestion.
One summer she was talked into taking a three-week temple “vacation” through the South and East. “Everybody paid $200 to go on the trip, but I told them I wasn’t able to do so,” she added.
The temple buses were loaded up in San Francisco, and more members were packed aboard in Los Angeles. “It was terrible. It was overcrowded. There were people sitting on the floor, in the luggage rack, and sometimes people [were] underneath in the compartment where they put the bags,” she said. “I saw some things that really put me wise to everything,” she added. “I saw how they treated the old people.” The bathrooms were frequently stopped up. For food, sometimes a cold can of beans was opened and passed around.
“I decided to leave the church when I got back. I said when I get through telling people about this trip, ain’t nobody going to want to go no more. [But] as soon as we arrived back, Jim said . . . ‘don’t say nothing.” She left the church in silence.Wayne Pietila of Petaluma and Jim and Terri Cobb of San Francisco
Wayne Pietila and Jim Cobb guarded the cancers. “If anyone tried to touch them, we were supposed to eat the cancers or demolish the guy,” said Cobb, who is six-feet, two-inches tall. Pietila was licensed by the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Department to carry a concealed weapon; reportedly he was one of several Jones aides with such a permit.
It was during the Redwood Valley healing sessions in 1970, when nervous hope for relief from the pains of age spread among the congregation, that Cobb and Pietila would guard the cancers. Finally Jones would ask for someone who believed herself to be suffering from cancer. That was the signal for Cobb’s sister, Terri, to slip into a side restroom and shoo out whoever might be there. Then Jones’s wife Marceline and a trembling excited old woman would disappear into the stall for a moment. Marceline would emerge holding a foul-smelling scrap of something cupped in a napkin – a cancer “passed.” Marceline and the old woman would return to the main room to screams, applause, a thunder of music. Jim Jones had healed again.
But one time, Terri got a chance to look into the “cancer bag.” “It was full of napkins and small bits of meat, individually wrapped. They looked like chicken gizzards. I was shocked.”
Wayne Pietila recalled another healing incident. On the eve of a trip to Seattle in 1970 or 1971, as Jones was leaving his house, a shot cracked out and he fell. “There was blood all around and people [were] screaming and crying, just hysterical.” Jones was lifted to his feet and helped to his house. A few minutes later, Jones walked out of the house with a clean shirt on. “He said he’d healed himself,” Pietila said. “He used [the incident] for his preaching during the whole Seattle trip.”Micki Touchette of San Francisco
The Touchette family followed Jones to California in 1970. They lived in Stockton for a while, then moved up to Redwood Valley, where they bought a house and converted it into a home for emotionally disturbed boys.
During 1972 and 1973 Micki and other temple members were expected to travel to Los Angeles services every other weekend. One of her jobs was to count the money after offerings. Micki, a junior college graduate, had the combination to the temple’s Los Angeles safe. She says. “It was very simple to take in $15,000 in a weekend, and this was [four] years ago. [To encourage larger offerings, Jones] would say, ‘We folks, we’ve only collected $500 or $700,’ and we would have [in reality] several thousand.”
In addition to attending Wednesday night family meetings and weekend services, Micki also was part of letter-writing efforts directed by church officials. “We’d write various politicians throughout the state, throughout the country, in praise of something that they had done. I wrote Nixon, wrote Tunney; I remember writing the chief of the San Francisco Police Department,” she said. Micki, who lived in temple houses apart from her parents, would often be handed a sheet listing the points she would have to include in the letter. “It would tell you how and what to say and you’d word it yourself.” She says she also would regularly use aliases she made up.
When Micki left the church in 1973 along with seven other young people, including Terri and Jim Cobb and Wayne Pietila, none warned their parents or other relatives. “We felt that our parents, our families . would just fight us and try to make us stay.” Furthermore, they were all frightened. “At one point we had been told that any college student who was going to leave the church would be killed . not by Jones, but by some of his followers.” Both Terri and Cobb recall the statement being made – by Jones.Walter Jones of San Francisco
When Walt Jones, who never believed in the church, followed his wife Carol to Redwood Valley in 1974, Jim Jones asked them to take over a home for emotionally disturbed boys. The home belonged to Charles and Joyce Touchette, Micki Touchette’s parents. Walt says he was told that the Touchettes were in Guyana, and that the people who had replaced them, Rick and Carol Stahl, had done such a poor job that “the care home, at that time, was under surveillance of the authorities because of the poor conditions. Some of the boys had scabies due to the filth.”
In 1974 and early 1975, before Walt and his wife were granted a license to run the home, county checks (of approximately $325 to $350 per month for each child) for the upkeep of the boys were made out to the Touchettes and cashed by a church member who had their power of attorney. “The checks,” said Walt, “were turned over to someone in charge of all the funds [for the church’s care homes] at the time. [The temple] allotted us what they felt were sufficient funds for the home and supplied us with foodstuffs and various articles of clothing.” Jones says the food was mostly canned staples, and the clothes were donations from other temple members. Walt is uncertain how much of the approximate total of $2,000 a month of county funds earmarked for the upkeep of his boys actually ended up in his hands; his wife kept the books. But, he claimed, “it was very inadequate.”
After the Joneses were granted their own license in 1975, the checks from the Alameda County Probation Department (which placed the boys in the home) were made out to him and his wife. “But still the church requested that we turn over what remained of the funds,” says Walt Jones. “Approximately $900 to $ 1,000 [per month] were turned over to the church.” And he added, “I do remember that there were times when all of the checks were signed over to the church.”Laura Cornelious of Oakland
They took her best watch: Laura Cornelious.
Laura Cornelious was one of the privates in the Peoples Temple’s army. She was in the temple about five years before leaving in 1975 – just one of dozens of elderly black grandmothers who attend each meeting of the San Francisco Housing Authority Commission that Jim Jones chairs.
The first thing that bothered her was the constant requests for money. “After I was in some time,” she says, “it was made known to us that we were supposed to pay 25 percent of our earnings [the usual sum, according to practically all the former members that we interviewed].” It was called “the commitment.” For those who could not meet the commitment, she says, there were alternatives, like baking cakes to sell at Sunday services – or donating their jewelry. “He said that we didn’t need the watches – my best watch,” she recalls sadly. “He said we didn’t need homes – give the homes, furs, all of the best things you own.”
Some blacks gave out of fear – fear that they could end up in concentration camps. The money was needed, she was told, “to build up this other place [Guyana-the ‘promised land’], so we would have someplace to go whenever they [the fascists in this country] were going to destroy us like they did the Jews. [Jones said] that they would put [black people] in concentration camps, and that they would do us like the Jews . in the gas ovens.”
Laura Cornelious was also bothered by the frisking of temple members (but never dignitaries) before each service. “You even were asked to raise up on your toes [to check] your shoes.”
The final straw, she says, came the night Jones brought a snake into the services. “Viola . she was up in age, in her eighties, and she was so afraid of snakes and he held the snake close to her [chest] and she just sat there and screamed. And he still held it there.”Grace Stoen of San Francisco
They have her five-year-old boy: Grace Stoen.
Grace Stoen was a leader among the temple hierarchy, though she was never a true believer. Her husband Tim was the temple’s top attorney, and one of its first prominent converts. Later, while still a church insider, he became an assistant D.A. of Mendocino County, and then an assistant D.A. under San Francisco D.A. Joe Freitas. Tim resigned to go to Jones’s Guyana retreat in April of this year.
Grace agreed to join the temple when she married Tim in 1970, and gradually she acquired enormous authority. She was head counselor, and at the Wednesday night family meetings, she would pass to Jones the names of the members to be disciplined.
She was also the record keeper for seven temple businesses. She paid out from $30,000 to $50,000 per month for the auto and bus garage bills and also doled out the slim temple wages. And she was one of several church notaries. She kept a notary book, a kind of log of documents that she officially witnessed-pages of entries including power-of-attorney statements, deeds of trust, guardianship papers, and so on, signed by temple members and officials.
She recalled why Jones decided to aim for Los Angeles and San Francisco. “Jim would say, ‘If we stay here in the valley, we’re wasted. We could make it to the big time in San Francisco.”
And expanding to Los Angeles , Jones told his aides, “was worth $15,000 to $25,000 a weekend.”
During the expansion in 1972, members would pile into the buses at 5 P.M. on a Friday night in Redwood Valley, stop at the San Francisco temple for a meeting that might last until midnight and then drive through the night to arrive in Los Angeles Saturday in time for six-hour services. On Sunday, church would start at 11 A.M. and end at 5 P.M. Then, the Redwood Valley members would pile back on the buses for the long trip home; they would arrive by daybreak Monday.
Some of the inner circle, like Grace Stoen, rode on Jim’s own bus, number seven. “The last two seats and the whole back seat were taken out and a door put across it,” she said. “Inside there was a refrigerator, a sink, a bed and a plate of steel in the back so nobody could ever shoot Jim. The money was kept back there in a compartment.” According to attendance slips she collected, the other 43-seat buses sometimes held 70 to 80 riders.
Jones’s goal in San Francisco, Grace said, was to become a political force. His first move was to ingratiate himself with fellow liberal and leftist figures D.A. Freitas, Sheriff Hongisto, Police Chief Charles Gain, Dennis Banks, Angela Davis.
Sometimes Jones nearly tripped up. Once, said Grace, when Freitas and his wife dropped in unexpectedly, temple aides quickly pulled them into a side room and sent word to Jones in the upstairs meeting hall. Just in time. The pastor was wrapped up in one of his “silly little things,” said Grace. “He was having everybody shout ‘Shxx! Shxx! Shxx!’ to teach them not to be so hypocritical.” When Freitas was shown in, everyone just laughed at the puzzle district attorney. (D.A. Freitas confirms making an unexpected visit to the temple, but does not recall anyone using the word shxx
Jones became impatient at the pace his success. Eventually Mayor Moscone placed Jones on the Housing Authority Commission, and then intervened to assure him the chairmanship.
Strangely, as Jones’s successes mounted, so did the pressures inside his temple. “We were going to more and more meetings,” said Stoen. “[And] if anyone was getting too much sleep – say, six hours a night – they were in trouble.” On one occasion, she said, a man was vomited and urinated on.
In July of 1976, after a three-week temple bus trip, her morale was ebbing lower, her friends were muttering about her, and there were rumors that Jones was unhappy with a number of members. “I packed my things and left [without telling Tim]. I couldn’t trust him. He’d tell Jim.”
She drove to Lake Tahoe and spent the July Fourth weekend lying on a warm beach. She dug her toes in the sand, stretched her arms and tried to relax. “But every time I turned over, I looked around to see if any of the church members had tracked me down.”Why Jim Jones Should Be Investigated
It is literally impossible to guess how much money and property people gave Jim Jones in the twelve years since he moved his Peoples Temple to California. Some, like Laura Cornelious, gave small things like watches or rings. Others, like Walt Jones, sold their homes and gave the proceeds to the temple.
According to nearly all the former temple members that we have spoken with, extensive, continuous pressure was put on members to deed their homes to the temple. Many complied. A brief reading of the records on file at the Mendocino County recorder’s office shows that some 30 pieces of property were transferred from individuals to the temple during the years 1968 to 1976. Nearly all these parcels were recorded as gifts.
Interestingly, several of the “gifts” were signed or recorded improperly. The deed to a piece of property signed by Grace and Timothy Stoen was notarized on June 20, 1976. Grace Stoen told New West
that on that date, when she was supposed to be in Mendocino signing the deed before a temple notary, she and several hundred temple members were in New York City. Grace Stoen said she signed the deed under pressure from her husband, Tim, months before it was notarized. And similar irregularities appear on a deed the Mertles turned over to the temple. A thorough investigation of the circumstances surrounding the transfers of the properties is clearly required.
In the last few issues of Peoples Forum
, the temple newspaper, there are several references to the claim that 130 disturbed or incorrigible youths were being sent to the temple’s Guyana mission. A church spokesman confirmed that these youngsters were released to the temple by “federal courts, state courts, probation departments” and other agencies. An article in the July issue of the temple newspaper on the Guyana mission’s youth program reports that, “In certain cases when a young person is testing the environment . physical discipline has produced the necessary change.” The article goes on to describe a “wrestling match” that sounds all too similar to the “boxing matches” some former temple members described. If there is even the slightest chance of mistreatment of the 130 youths the temple claims to have under its guidance in Guyana, a complete investigation by both state and federal authorities would be required.
An investigation of the “care homes” run by the temple or temple members in Redwood Valley may also be in order. Both Walt Jones and Micki Touchette have stated that anywhere from $800 to $ 1,000 of the monthly funds provided by the state for the care of the six boys in the Touchette home were actually funneled to the temple. If those figures are accurate, as much as $38,000 to $48,000 may have been channeled into the church’s coffers during the four years the Touchette home was open. It is known that at least two other “care homes ”for boys were run by the church or its members. In addition, at least six residential homes licensed by Mendocino County were owned or operated by the temple. They housed from six to fourteen senior citizens each, and the county provided upwards of $325 per month per individual. An investigation should be launched immediately to determine if any of the money paid for the care of the elderly actually went to the temple.
Files at the Mendocino County recorder’s office show that the temple has sold off a number of its properties. The Redwood Valley temple itself is currently for sale for an estimated $225,000. The Los Angeles temple is also for sale. The three Mendocino “care homes” that are still operating are up for sale. Several former temple members believe Jones and a few hundred of his closest followers may be planning to leave for Guyana no later than September of this year. The ex-members we interviewed had the ability to walk away from the temple once they found the courage to do it. Whether the church will permit those who move to Guyana the option of ever leaving is questionable.
Jones has been in Guyana for the last three weeks and was unavailable to us as this magazine article went to press. In a phone interview, two spokesmen for the temple, Mike Prokes and Gene Chaikin, denied all of the allegations made by the former temple members we interviewed. Specifically, they denied any harassment, coercion or physical abuse of temple members. They denied that the church attempted to force members to donate their property or homes. They also denied that Jones faked healings. They confirmed that the temple’s churches and property in Redwood Valley and Los Angeles are for sale, but went on to deny that Jones’s closest followers are planning to relocate Guyana any time soon.
Finally, something must be said about the numerous public officials and political figures who openly courted and befriended Jim Jones. While it appears that none of the public officials from Governor Brown on down knew about the inner world of Peoples Temple, they have left the impression that they used Jones to deliver votes at election time, and never asked any questions. They never asked about the bodyguards. Never asked about the church’s locked doors. Never asked why Jones’s followers were so obsessively protective of him. And apparently, some never asked because they didn’t want to know.
The story of Jim Jones and his Peoples Temple is not over. In fact, it has only begun to be told. If there is any solace to be gained from the tale of exploitation and human foible told by the former temple members in these pages, it is that even such a power as Jim Jones cannot always contain his followers. Those who left had nowhere to go and every reason to fear pursuit. Yet they persevered. If Jones is ever to be stripped of his power, it will not be because of vendetta or persecution, but rather because of the courage of these people who stepped forward and spoke out.
Caption: p. 31
The holy host: At a 1976 temple lunch, Reverend Jones sat between two friends, S.F. mayor Moscone (left) and Lieutenant Governor Dymally.
“.Peoples Temple members beat his sixteen-year-old daughter so badly, says Elmer Mertle, that ‘her [banned term] looked like, hamburger’.”
“.Jones held a snake close to the terrified old woman. ‘Viola screamed,’ said a member. ‘And he still held that snake there’.”
“. . . ‘Jones would say that we could make it in, the big time,’ says Grace Stoen. ‘Expanding to L.A. alone was worth $15,000 a weekend’ .”
San Francisco Chronicle
Reporter Marshall Kilduff and New West
contributing editor Phil Tracy were assisted by freelance newsman George Klineman.
Last edited by Jcbaran on Tue Dec 31, 2013 12:32 am; edited 1 time in total
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|Subject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc. Tue Dec 31, 2013 12:23 am|| |
The full documentary about TM / Transcendental Meditation is now viewable free on-line on YouTube. This is really worth watching.... you have to wade through some stuff about the filmmaker's relationship to his girlfriend, but it ends up really showing the inner workings and shadows of this billion dollar organization. Highly recommended. DAVID WANTS TO FLY:
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|Subject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc. Fri Jan 17, 2014 1:57 pm|| |
Two books noted here:
Inside looks at one of Japan's new religious movement that is a mixture of Imperial worship, energy healing, bizarre biblical mythology, monotheism, and extreme grandiosity. Many similar groups sprang up after World War II - each with their own messiah - and they all seem to continue in the grand mythology that Japan is the divine center of all creation, the end is coming, their members are the only elite that will survive, etc. - and many have lots of money which they use to build their huge cathedral / head temple. This group's healing story is based on the idea that nearly everyone on the planet is possessed by all kinds of evil spirits and they alone have the magical ability to purify people.
All the Emperor's Men by Gary Greenwood (Kindle only - through amazon.com)
Publication Date: December 27, 2013
An inside view of the Imperial Cult - Mahikari.
What connects Aum Shinrikyo's ranch in Australia, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the 1995 Tokyo subway gassings, huge caches of looted World War II gold, the Star of David, certain high-level Japanese politicians, the Rape of Nanjing and the ongoing Fukushima nuclear catastrophe? MAHIKARI! - the Japanese new religion that proclaimed itself the Chosen People headed by the new Messiah and which is awaiting a coming global Armageddon. A former top sect leader from Canberra, Australia, unravels the dark secrets of this mystery sect. Never has anyone penetrated the veils of mysticism, deception, black magic and secret agendas so deep and returned to tell the story. This is a true story. It is NOT fiction!
DOJO: Magic and Exorcism in Modern Japan by Winston Davis
"This informative and highly readable book is a study of one of the so-called new religious sects of Japan called Sukyo Mahikari.. The book goes beyond providing information on Japanese religious ideas and acts and relates to religious studies in a wider sense, including the question of the circumstances fostering the survival of occultism."—Edward Norbeck, The American Anthropologist
"Stone by symbolic stone, Davis is able to reconstruct the architecture of hopes and actions that transform a humdrum meeting room into 'a sacred space where revelations and miracles can take place.' Many others have written about Japanese religious pragmatism, Davis is one of the few to demonstrate how it can be convincing."—David W. Plath, Journal of Japanese Studies
"Among the new religions which proliferated in Japan after the war . . . is a singular and hitherto unexamined exorcistic sect called Sukyo Mahikari.... It believes in spirit possession (one's ancestors, grudging samurai, vagrant animal souls) and also in the member's ability to rout these astral interlopers. In addition, these powers may be used to repair automobiles, TV sets, and the like... . Much of the book's fascination lies in the fact that it is all so immediate (the author was there daily, observing and recounting), and that the mass of material he presents is so spectacular, involving as it does possession by malevolent grandmothers, disgruntled samurai ancestors, bad dogs, and worse eats." —Donald Richie, The Japan Times
"Davis's excellent book . . . breaks entirely new ground. Here for the first time we have an in-depth study, based on first-hand experience and participation. ... It is by no means only the sociologist who will find exceptionally interesting material in...
About the Author
Winston Davis is Professor Emeritus at Washington and Lee University.
Review from Amazon - Great Book, Insightful, and Accurate
By Ash on April 24, 2006
As a former member of Sukyo Mahikari, I found this book to be very insightful. I was a Mahikari baby, born and bred in Mahikari...it took me a long time to break the mind control of this cult, and even now I am grappling with the left over damage; this book strongly reinforced what I already knew about Mahikari, but it also pointed out new paralells that I had not yet seen. Very helpful as far as aiding the healing process. I recommend this book to all former members as well as current members...not that current members would read it...that would be an indication of a spirit disturbance. To the above reviewer...this book is accurate and truly does depict the subtle mind control tactics used within this cult. Obviously you are still involved in Mahikari and not yet ready to accept the falacies in their practices and beliefs...it's alright though, it is only a matter of time. You can expect to see a post about your comment on my blog. Check it out:
AND this link which is about ten Japanese cults you've probably never heard of:
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|Subject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc. Sat Jan 18, 2014 11:35 pm|| |
another example - now coming back into the news - of one of the more infamous Japanese post-WWII cults - which all had remarkably similar wacky theologies:Justice looms for Doomsday cult that brought death to Tokyo subwayVictims of the 1995 sarin attack on the capital's subway hope for closure after a long wait as the last member of Aum Shinrikyo cult goes on trial
Kazumasa Takahashi who died in the gas attack is pictured with his family Photo: Androniki ChristodoulouBy Julian Ryall, Tokyo10:40AM GMT 16 Jan 2014
Mitsuru Kono hopes that once the executions begin, the nightmares he has suffered for the last 19 years might start to fade.
The legal hearings Thursday in Tokyo against one of the few remaining members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult could also serve to bring closure to a nation that was traumatised by an attack that was as bizarre as it was terrifying: an apocalyptic religious faction that preached armageddon and sought to overthrow the Japanese government but released nerve gas on the subway when its plans were thwarted.Shizue Takahashi whose husband Kazumasa was killed in the sarin gas attack is photographed on the Tokyo subway (Androniki Christodoulou)
Thirteen people died in the sarin gas attacks and as many as 6,000 commuters required hospital treatment. But the March 1995 attacks were only the final throes of an organisation that had for more than 20 years been convincing the young and the gullible that its leader, Shoko Asahara, was a reincarnated god.
As his church began to disintegrate, police finally pieced together a picture of Asahara at the centre of an organisation that abducted and murdered its opponenets, required members to undergo "religious training" so severe that it had killed several of them, manufactured weapons, truth serums and nerve gas and forced followers to use halluconogenic drugs. It even had ambitions to build a nuclear weapon.
Mr Kono knows that he will once again be afflicted by what his doctors have termed "memorial syndrome" in the run up to March 20 this year, the anniversary of the sarin attacks, and the state of his health may be even more precarious this year as the Tokyo District Court holds the first hearing of the case against Makoto Hirata.
Mr Kono, a survivor of the sarin gas attack rides the subway (Androniki Christodoulou)
After nearly 17 years on the run, Hirata turned himself into police in Tokyo in January 2012. His mug shot posted in police stations, post offices and train stations across the country, Hirata had been wanted for his alleged involvement in the abduction in February 1995 of a Tokyo notary public looking into the cult's activities.
Kiyoshi Kariya, 68, was taken to the cult's fortress-like compound in the foothills of Mount Fuji, where he was given a home-made truth serum. After apparently dying of an overdose, Kariya's body was incinerated.
Hirata has also been questioned over his role in the sarin gas attack on the subway system two months later and the attempt to assassinate Takaji Kunimatsu, the then-head of the National Police Agency, as the authorities launched their investigation into the cult.
"My health deteriorates every March," Mr Kono told The Telegraph. "My doctors tell me that I need to try to remain calm, to take things very easy and I hope it will not be so bad this year."
But he is not sure that will be possible, given all the media coverage that Hirata's trial will inevitably attract.
Mr Kono, now 72, was was travelling to work in the morning rush hour of March 20 when he was caught up in Japan's worst incident of domestic terrorism. In the third carriage of a train on the Hibiya Line as it came to a halt in Kodenma-cho Station, the first hint that something was amiss was a powerful smell that he describes as being reminiscent of putrefying onions.Collects of Kazumasa Takahashi who died in the gas attack (Androniki Christodoulou)
"I never saw the attackers or the newspapers that they wrapped around the bags of liquid sarin before piercing them on the train, but the prosecutors showed me photos afterwards and I was only about 15 feet away," he said.
"There was a strong smell and the driver of the train announced that there had been some sort of bomb attack at Tsukiji Station, so I got out onto the platform," he said.
After that, much is a blank.
Mr Kono has hazy memories of getting outside the station, where he passed out. He was in and out of consciousness as he was driven to hospital in a car; the more than 6,000 people affected by coordinated attacks on five trains beneath the city by cult members had overwhelmed the emergency services.
"I was attached to drips and tubes when I came around and I couldn't think," he said. "I could not even remember my own phone number to call my family."
Mr Kono's family eventually tracked him down that evening, but they were unable to see him as he was in an isolation ward.
"They told my wife about my condition. She did not think I was going to survive," he said.
Released after 13 days, Mr Kono is still receiving treatment for internal complications from ingesting the sarin, a nerve agent developed in Germany during the Second World War but classified as a weapon of mass destruction and outlawed by the United Nations.
"Every morning, my feet and my legs and feet are cold and rigid," said Mr Kono, who also has problems with his vision.
But experts say he and the other commuters aboard the trains were fortunate. The sarin had been concocted at short notice in Aum Shinrikyo's laboratories because Asahara, the half-blind founder of the cult, rightly feared the police were planning an investigation of its activities.
If they had been given time to refine the liquid to its most potent, colourless and odourless form, it could have been 70 recent more powerful and effective in a confined space.
The sarin did claim the life of Kazumasa Takahashi, who was a senior member of the staff at Kasumigaseki Station and ingested a lethal amount of the gas as he tried to remove a leaking bag from a train.
His wife, Shizue, has attended 430 hearings involving members of the cult and will be in court for Hirata's apppearance today.
Shoko Asahara (Lt) and Makoto Hirata (Getty Images/AP)
"The bag of sarin that killed my husband was left there by Ikuo Hayashi and in court he said that he did not deserve to live," said Mrs. Takahashi, who heads the Tokyo Subway Sarin Incident Victims' Association. "But I never felt like he made a real apology to us."
Hayashi, a doctor who had graduated from the elite Keio University, avoided the death penalty and is serving a life prison sentence.
"On the anniversary, I will go to my husband's grave and there is a meeting of our group later in the day," she said. "And I will be meeting the media as it is important that this case is never forgotten."
Asahara founded the cult in 1984, melding teachings from Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism with interpretations from yoga and Nostradamus. Declaring himself a reincarnation of Christ, he promised to wash away the sins of his followers and railed against conspiracies against Aum by Jews and the British Royal Family. He also predicted the imminent outbreak of a third World War.
The cult recruited heavily from Japan's top universities, reaching out to young men who were socially inept and seeking to make friends, but who were also experts in engineering and the sciences.
Asahara stood in the general election of 1990 but, after failing dismally at the polls, the cult's activities took a more sinister turn.
Followers of Asahara had already abducted and murdered a lawyer assisting families to free their relatives from the cult, along with his wife and their infant son, before Aum purchased AK47 assault rifles and a Russian helicopter. It was reportedly attempting to obtain the components for a nuclear weapon and its chemists started manufacturing sarin and VX gas in 1993.
Eight people died in a June 1994 attack on a court hearing a case against the cult in Matsumoto and, when the cult realised in the early months of 1995 that a raid on its compound on Mount Fuji was imminent, it went on the offensive.
To date, 189 members have been indicted for crimes ranging from murder to abduction, the production of weapons and creating nerve gas.
Thirteen have been sentenced to death, including Asahara. None of those sentences have been carried out, however, as prosecutors wanted to be able to call convicted cult members as witnesses in the remaining cases.
Hirata and two others will be the last members of the cult to be tried, with prosecutors seeking the death penalty in Hirata's case. Three death row inmates will be testifying during the hearings, which are scheduled to be completed in early March.
And once the final sentences are passed, Mr Kono hopes that the executions are carried out swiftly.
"I lost the life that I used to have because of these people," he said. "Friends ask me why the executions have not been carried out already and it is difficult for me to explain. Almost 20 years have passed already. The executions cannot come soon enough."
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|Subject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc. Sat Feb 08, 2014 7:03 pm|| |
Relatively short video on Rajneesh in Oregon - the rise and fall of the cult, illegal activities, etc:
And a longer video on the same story:
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|Subject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc. Sat Feb 08, 2014 10:28 pm|| |
Mother Teresa 'saint of the media', controversial study says
Kounteya Sinha, TNN Mar 2, 2013, 07.20AM IST
From the Times of India
LONDON: A study conducted by Canadian researchers has called Mother Teresa "anything but a saint", a creation of an orchestrated and effective media campaign who was generous with her prayers but miserly with her foundation's millions when it came to humanity's suffering.
The controversial study, to be published this month in the journal of studies in religion/sciences called Religieuses, says that Teresa — known across the world as the apostle of the dying and the downtrodden — actually felt it was beautiful to see the poor suffer.
According to the study, the Vatican overlooked the crucial human side of Teresa — her dubious way of caring for the sick by glorifying their suffering instead of relieving it.
Instead, the Vatican went ahead with her beatification followed by canonization "to revitalize the Church and inspire the faithful especially at a time when churches are empty and the Roman authority is in decline".
Researchers Serge Larivee and Genevieve Chenard from the University of Montreal's department of psychoeducation, and Carole Senechal of the University of Ottawa's faculty of education, analysed published writings about Mother Teresa and concluded that her hallowed image, "which does not stand up to analysis of the facts, was constructed, and that her beatification was orchestrated by an effective media campaign".
According to Larivee, facts debunk Teresa's myth. He says that the Vatican, before deciding on Teresa's beatification, did not take into account "her rather dubious way of caring for the sick, her questionable political contacts, her suspicious management of the enormous sums of money she received, and her overly dogmatic views regarding ... abortion, contraception, and divorce."
At the time of her death, Teresa had 517 missions or "homes for the dying" as described by doctors visiting several of these establishments in Kolkata. They welcomed the poor and sick in more than 100 countries. Two-thirds of the people coming to these missions hoped to a find a doctor to treat them, while the other third lay dying without receiving apt care.
'Miracle of medicine'
According to the study, the doctors observed a significant lack of hygiene, even unfit conditions and a shortage of actual care, food and painkillers. They say that the problem was not a paucity of funds as the Order of the Missionaries of Charity successfully raised hundreds of millions of dollars. Researchers said that when it came to her own treatment, "she received it in a modern American hospital".
The three researchers also dug into records of her meeting in London in 1968 with the BBC's Malcom Muggeridge who had strong views against abortion and shared Mother Teresa's right-wing Catholic values.
The researchers say Muggeridge had decided to promote Teresa. In 1969, he made a eulogistic film on the missionary, promoting her by attributing to her the "first photographic miracle", when it should have been attributed to the new film stock being marketed by Kodak.
Following her death, the Vatican decided to waive the usual five-year waiting period to open the beatification process. According to the researchers, one of the miracles attributed to Mother Theresa is the healing of Monica Besra, who suffered from intense abdominal pain, after a medallion blessed by her was placed on Besra's abdomen.
Larivee said, "Her doctors thought otherwise: the ovarian cyst and the tuberculosis from which she suffered were healed by the drugs they had given her. The Vatican, nevertheless, concluded that it was a miracle. Mother Teresa's popularity was such that she had become untouchable for the population, which had already declared her a saint."
Larivee however signs off on a surprisingly positive note and says there could also be a positive effect of the Mother Teresa myth. "If the extraordinary image of Mother Teresa conveyed in the collective imagination has encouraged humanitarian initiatives that are genuinely engaged with those crushed by poverty, we can only rejoice," they signed off.
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|Subject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc. Sun Feb 09, 2014 7:34 pm|| |
Steve Gelberg's thoughtful assessment of his involvement with the Hari Krishna movement and his reasons for leaving will resonate with many of us. Josh, thanks for posting that.
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|Subject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc. Wed Feb 19, 2014 11:52 pm|| |
I just read "Beyond Edan" written by John Steinbeck's son and daughter-in-law. Although the book isn't particularly well written, it gives a harrowing insider's look at Trungpa Rinpoche and his organization. His followers refused to acknowledge his alcoholism and sexual misdeeds even after he died of acute alcoholism. Thanks for mentioning the book.
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|Subject: Article from the Times of India - about a recent book about Rajneesh Thu Apr 17, 2014 4:00 pm|| |
Bhagwan Rajneesh, not a nice man to knowParakram Rautela-07 August 2013, 07:49 PM IST
The trouble with Don’t Kill Him
, a memoir by Ma Anand Sheela
about her life with Bhagwan Rajneesh
, is that it tells us very little about the man. Apart from the fact that she loved Him (she spells him with a capital H) we come away having learnt very little that is new about the godman who infused spirituality with heady doses of capitalism. The material world is all around us, he said, so why try to ignore it? That would be like being surrounded by water, and trying to avoid it.
Ma Anand Sheela was born Sheela Ambalal Patel. She studied linguistics at Baroda University and art at Montclair State University in New Jersey, America, where she majored in ceramics, before she was introduced by her father to Rajneesh and, well, devoted herself to him.
She was in her early twenties at the time. She is now 63.
By the time Rajneesh left his ashram in Pune and moved into the commune (it was called Rajneeshpuram) built for him in Oregon, America, in 1981, Sheela had become his personal secretary, second in command and the person who got things done in Rajneeshpuram.Ma Anand Sheela with Osho
By some measures, she was just as colourful as her guru. Asked by a news anchor whether her boss was a pimp, after allegations by a former Rajneesh sannyasin that his followers had begun to prostitute themselves to be able to pay for his discourses and “therapies”, Sheela shot back: “YOU must know pimps because you must go to prostitutes yourself.”
Asked in another interview why she was in Australia when nobody wanted her there, she retorted: “What can I say? Tough titties.”
The lines have immortalised her, not necessarily endearingly, on YouTube.
But she’d had enough by 1985, saying in her book — it was published in India this year, it first came out in Germany in 1996; Rajneesh himself died in 1990 — that she could no longer sate Rajneesh’s incessant demands. By that time, Rajneesh had bought himself 96 Rolls Royces and owned watches and pens worth millions of dollars. “He wanted only the best,” writes Sheela. And is reported to have said at the time that “being God’s secretary is not easy”.
Sheela tendered her resignation and left for Germany. Rajneesh promptly accused her and the sannyasins who left with her of attempting to kill Vivek, the British woman living with Rajneesh at the time, his personal physician Devaraj, and the attorney general of Oregon. Rajneesh also claimed Sheela had decamped with $55 million of ashram funds.
Over the phone from Basel, Switzerland, where Sheela now runs two care homes for the disabled — “They’re communes, run according to Bhagwan’s teachings — she says that was the end of Rajneeshpuram. “Bhagwan’s anger got to him, which is why he made the allegations. He then got into all sorts of legal trouble, and was later deported back to India.” Sheela herself later pleaded guilty to immigration fraud and wiretapping, after being extradited from Germany to the US, and spent 39 months in an American prison.Ma Anand Sheela at Rajneeshpuram in Oregon, USA
Apart from a bad temper, Sheela also accuses Rajneesh of a number of other failings.
Her book paints him as being childish — he was never satisfied with his expensive toys, he always wanted more. He was adept at manipulating other people to do his bidding — badges of enlightenment would be conferred on rich followers in exchange for large infusions of cash (what we would call donations). And he was vindictive — the claim about the $55 million was an outright lie.
“Well,” says Sheela, “he was childish. Every man has his pluses and minuses.”
Her book however seems to more easily remember the minuses. That Rajneesh might have been addicted to drugs, the sedatives Valium and Meprobamat. And that when Vivek got pregnant — Sheela writes that she did it on purpose — Rajneesh insisted on an abortion and had Vivek sterilised.
In answer to Sheela’s accusations, a somewhat upset Osho International Foundation replies: “What Sheela has written is 98% lies. Her accusations reveal that she has completely misunderstood Osho whom she called her master.”
The foundation adds that it (the book) “is an account of a perverted mind looking at the enlightened consciousness.” And that Osho had called her “a criminal mind”.
It is true that Sheela herself was no babe in the woods. While she was in charge of Rajneeshpuram, the commune was accused of voter fraud. Local Oregonians at the time claimed the ashram was bringing in thousands of homeless people (read extra voters) to try and win political control of the county in which the ashram had been built.
Sheela leaves the incident out of her book but ask her whether the charge was true and she says yes. Then very quickly adds that “every President has done exactly the same thing to win his election”.
Rajneesh’s pluses also do not find mention in Sheela’s book. But over the phone, she does offer an explanation of his teachings. Ma Anand Sheela today
That the commune was the answer to modern man’s loneliness. That we should embrace death, because “it is easy to die when we have lived well”. Sheela says she has seen that in her care homes. And of course free love. “It is better to be honest about what you want, with yourself and the other person, rather than to bow to religion’s strictures and lock your mind up in a prison.”
While she accuses Rajneesh of the failing, Sheela’s own book can be irritatingly childish too, with the world divided into wide swathes of Us and Them. Obviously, more people tend to fall into the Them category, the ones who did not understand Rajneesh’s world view. The few who do fall into the Us category, tend to be caricatured as being “gifts from Existence”. They helped the commune, or they helped Sheela, but we’re never really told why they might have.
In the same way that we’re never really told about Rajneesh the man.
Sheela, can you explain the effect he had on you?
“I was in love with him.”
But what sort of man was he?
“He was many things to many people. To conservative Christians he was the devil. To his followers who came to study spirituality, he was an enlightened man. To others, he was a god. And for me, he was a beautiful man.”
In the end, says Sheela, he was what you made him.
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|Subject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc. Fri May 30, 2014 1:59 pm|| |
750 sickened in Oregon restaurants as cult known as the Rajneeshees spread salmonella in town of The DallesSalad-bar attack by followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was the largest act of bioterrorism on U.S. soil
[url=http://www.nydailynews.com/authors?author=Mara Bovsun][/url] NEW YORK DAILY NEWS -Saturday, June 15, 2013, 7:20 PM
JACK SMITH/ASSOCIATED PRESS Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (far r.) had hundreds of followers and made millions from various schemes before being embroiled in plot to spread salmonella and take over a community in Oregon.
Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh breezed into rural Oregon in the early 1980s to spread love, enlightenment and, for those who did not believe, a little bit of salmonella.
On Sept. 17, 1984, the Wasco County health department fielded what seemed a routine call, a case of food poisoning after dinner at a restaurant in the town of The Dalles. It was nothing out of the ordinary; from time to time some bacterium makes its way into someone’s salad.
But this was different. The phones kept ringing with reports of people falling ill after eating in local restaurants. Within a week, the Centers for Disease Control pinpointed salmonella typhimurium. By then there were more than 750 cases in a town of 10,000.
CDC sleuths determined that the mass poisoning was not the result of poor food handling, but a deliberate attack by an invading army, clad in red, that had set up a base in Oregon three years earlier. They were known as the Rajneeshees, followers of the charismatic spiritual leader from India.
The man who would become known to the world as the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was born Chandra Mohan Jain in 1931, son of a cloth merchant from central India. When he was 7, the death of his grandfather traumatized him. As he grew up, he prided himself on never establishing attachments, which gave him the freedom to do whatever he wanted to anyone.
Salmonella is a potentially deadly food-borne pathogen.
While he was in college his behavior became so bizarre that his parents tried to get him psychiatric help. Instead, in 1953, he became enlightened and found his life’s work — guru.
After graduating with a degree in philosophy, he traveled around the country, lecturing on religion and spiritualism. In 1960, a group of his admirers established the Life Awakening Center. He gave himself the honorific “Bhagwan,” which translates to “god,” and a cult was born.
His first commune, in Pune, India, attracted 6,000 upper-crust worshipers. It fell apart in 1980 over tax evasion, drugs, smuggling and violence. Rajneesh vanished, surfacing in New York. In July 1981, his followers spent $6 million on 64,000 acres in Oregon.
There, on a place formerly known as the Big Muddy ranch, the Baghwan built his American empire. It would eventually attract about 2,000 followers, dubbed “sannyasins,” all draped in the signature color of the cult — red — and wearing beaded necklaces with a picture pendant of their guru. Followers came from wealthy and elite circles, including Hollywood heavyweights and heiresses from such companies as Learjet and Baskin Robbins.
Linda Rosier/New York Daily News The salad-bar attack was a practice run for a massive attempt to incapacitate Oregon voters by slipping bacteria into the water supply.
They paid generously for their path to fulfillment. The Bhagwan lived like a maharaja, with a fleet of 93 Rolls-Royces and piles of jewelry, mostly diamond-encrusted Rolex watches.
He lived in seclusion, emerging every so often to ride in one of his cars, and spoke to only one person, his trusted aide Ma Anand Sheela, 31.
There was meditation and prayer, but also lots of sex, drugs and money-making schemes, like a mail-order catalog offering Bhagwan pillowcases, bottle openers and guru tchotchkes.
None of this was particularly disturbing to the few residents of Antelope, Ore., the nearest town. It was all live-and-let-live at the start. Then, the Rajneeshees started building — greenhouses, roads, dairy barns, malls, hotels, cafeterias and medical clinics. A city rose on the ranch, flying in the face of local laws designed to maintain the region for agriculture.
BILL MILLER/ASSOCIATED PRESS The bhagwan was also deported. He died in 1990, at 58, of heart disease.
Goodwill evaporated when the people of Antelope started seeing red at town council meetings, with cult members seeking seats in local government. Locals pushed back, with such desperate measures as the attempt to disincorporate Antelope when a Rajneeshee takeover seemed inevitable.
To boost political clout, the commune started the Share-A-Home program, aimed, on the surface, at giving the homeless a place to live, offering bus tickets to Rancho Rajneeshee and room, board and beer, all free. The catch: The street people had to vote for the cult candidate.
But it wasn’t enough for the Bhagwan’s followers to simply swing the vote. The Rajneeshees needed to destroy the competition. They declared germ warfare.
First to fall ill were Wasco County executive William Hulse and commissioner Raymond Matthew. They were conducting a late-August inspection of the ranch when they got a flat tire. While waiting for repairs, they accepted some ice water. A few hours later, they were sick, wrote journalist Win McCormack in his compilation of Oregon Magazine stories, The Rajneesh Chronicles. Hulse ended up in the hospital with a nearly fatal case of salmonella.
Arne Dedert/AP Ma Anand Sheela was sentenced to 10 years for the attack, only served three and was deported.
Those poisonings were a prelude to the salmonella-in-the-salad-bar attack, the largest act of bioterrorism on U.S. soil. That scheme was a practice run for a massive attempt to incapacitate Oregon voters by slipping bacteria into the water supply.
The bugs were brewed in the laboratories of the Rajneesh Medical Corp., where scientists were attempting to develop, among other tools of mass persuasion, a more deadly strain of typhoid and an easily transmissible version of the AIDS virus.
The Bhagwan insisted he had nothing to do with the litany of criminal activities going on at the ranch. He called Sheela a fascist, pinning the blame on her and her “gang.”
Sheela fled the country and was tracked down in Germany. She was sentenced to 10 years, but served less than three, and was deported.
The Bhagwan was also deported. He died in 1990, at 58, of heart disease.
The commune collapsed. Today, the ranch is a Christian youth camp.
Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/justice-story/guru-poison-bioterrorrists-spread-salmonella-oregon-article-1.1373864#ixzz33E7qeHFW
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|Subject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc. Fri May 30, 2014 2:08 pm|| |
This article below relates to the book, Cartwheels in a Sari - which was posted higher up in this topic area. This account mirrors what we see in many authoritarian groups - total control of devotees' body, speech and mind, manipulation, demand for absolute obedience, humiliation, shunning, random demotions and promotions at the whim of the teacher, no oversight or questioning allowed. Sound familiar?
On the outside, groups can be widely varied - Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, New Age, radical political, psychology-based, whatever.... different robes and practices and narratives and teachers..... but on the inside - there can be striking similarities between very different groups. I saw this when I ran Sorting It Out.
4/14/2009 @ 10:20AM - Forbes.com
Under The Thumb Of Cult Leader Sri Chinmoy
Cults are notorious for convincing people to do the unthinkable. In March, a member of the now-defunct One Mind Ministries pleaded guilty to starving her son to death. Allegedly, she and other cult members stopped feeding the 1-year-old because he wouldn’t say “amen” at mealtime.
Back in 1993, David Koresh’s Branch Davidian sect ended in a conflagration after a 51-day standoff with the FBI. In 1978, over 900 members of the People’s Temple died at Jonestown, Guyana, in a mass murder-suicide; and in 1997, scores of Heaven’s Gate followers killed themselves in California.
But not all cult members’ stories end so tragically.
In her fascinating new memoir, Cartwheels in A Sari, Jayanti Tamm describes growing up in a cult within mainstream America–and how she eventually managed to break free. With a succinct and earnest writing style, Tamm delivers a coming-of-age story overflowing with heartbreaking and hilarious moments.
Read his 2007 New York Times obituary, and Sri Chinmoy comes across as a kind-hearted spiritual leader who championed world peace through his art, music and athleticism. His meditation center’s Web site likens him to Jesus Christ, Buddha and Krishna. Well into his 70s, crowds gathered to watch the old man’s extreme weightlifting feats, which included lifting an airplane (with the help of an apparatus).
Celebrity followers have included Olympian Carl Lewis and musicians Carlos Santana and Roberta Flack. And a host of prominent people–Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton and Princess Diana, to name a few–have applauded Chinmoy’s dedication to promoting unity and world peace.
Tamm, on the other hand, depicts a charlatan who masqueraded as a god and convinced hundreds of thousands to worship him. Her parents were among the first disciples. Chinmoy arranged a “divine marriage” between a Yale-educated hippie and a single mother, then told them to practice abstinence. (Most disciples, however, were directed to remain single.) When Tamm’s parents disobeyed and conceived her, Chinmoy invented a myth to explain her birth. He declared her the “Chosen One,” a miracle child he’d selected to be his most devoted follower.
When she was a year old, Tamm’s family moved to Connecticut and opened a meditation center in their basement. She writes, “The sole point of everything was Guru … Our house felt like a Guru museum, replete with photo gallery–pictures of Guru occupied every single free space upon the wall.”
From Tamm’s description of Chinmoy, it’s hard to help but draw parallels to Warren Jeffs, the imprisoned leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, whose picture still adorns the walls of classrooms on the Yearning for Zion ranch in Texas.
Tamm says the guru always had the last word in her household. TV was mostly forbidden, but she was allowed to watch The Muppet Show and Little House on the Prairie. The guru disparaged education, so instead of doing her homework, she spent hours memorizing aphorisms and songs he wrote. Consuming alcohol, caffeine and meat; dancing; sex and dating; socializing with outsiders; and owning pets were prohibited.
But the guru contradicted himself and made hypocritical decisions. Despite his ban on pets, as a preteen, Tamm worked long, unpaid hours during the summer cleaning cages in Chinmoy’s Queens basement, where he kept his collection of exotic pets from around the world.
She also says the guru controlled his pupils by pitting them against one another. He created a caste system that allowed him to demote or promote members at will. He encouraged members to keep tabs on one another and turn in rule-breakers. Tamm says he once held a fundraiser where disciples paid $25 apiece to hear him describe their worst qualities. At one meditation session, he held a contest for the ugliest girl–a young member with a boil on her face won the distinction.
When Tamm was ejected repeatedly for dating, she felt compelled to beg for forgiveness and return to the organization. But at 25, she was so unhappy that she attempted suicide, and Chinmoy banned her permanently without explanation.
Tamm’s memoir is the first book to document Chinmoy’s life and expose the insular existence his followers adopted. As Tamm notes, the 7,000 current members worldwide, and countless others who have encountered Chinmoy, are likely to have had different experiences and perceptions. She doesn’t pretend to have the definitive story. But her account reveals a great deal.
Krystle M. Davis is an assistant news editor at Forbes.
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|Subject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc. Fri May 30, 2014 2:39 pm|| |
Some videos of note - these from a former follower of Andrew Cohen:
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|Subject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc. Fri May 30, 2014 3:07 pm|| |
Kashi Ashram: Claims of Rape, Child Abuse, and KidnappingBy Terrence McCoy Thursday, May 16 2013
The night the dark-haired guru declared herself greater than God, the chanting started at dusk.
Scores of sweaty followers squeezed around a platform and closed their eyes. Their features slackened, and they rocked to a rhythmic mantra echoing inside the cramped hall. Before them, sinking into an ocean of pillows, was Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati: the guru. In the candlelight, her gold-wrapped wrists and white teeth glowed like fire. She was the one who could swallow their pain and make it vanish.
A hush settled over the room. "When the Christ first came to me," she called out in a Brooklyn accent as thick as her long, equine hair, "when I anxiously waited for him to appear, afraid that he would and more afraid he wouldn't, I turned on every light in my house. When he appeared then, my house looked dark — to his brightness, the house looked dark."
Courtesy of the DiFiore Family
Ma Jaya celebrates her birthday in the late '80s. Her clothing reflected her interfaith teaching.
Courtesy of the DiFiore Family
Ma Jaya and her daughter walk in procession toward a night prayer at Kashi Ashram.
Ma Jaya spoke with a heavy Brooklyn accent and often reminisced about her New York childhood.
The guru paused, and a chubby blond girl wearing white-rimmed glasses began plucking a one-stringed instrument. The guru smiled, and her grins infected the audience like a contagion. Her black eyes were big. Her smile widened. The moment was near.
"But," the guru began, quelling the mantra with one word, "the guru is greater than God. Flesh man knows. The guru you can see and touch and feel. God, unless you're perfect, you cannot."
She closed her eyes. "The guru," she intoned as the supplicants melted into a trance, "is greater than God."
The phrase would reverberate across the decades. From this 1977 retreat in California until her death last year, Ma Jaya's infallibility was nearly unquestioned by her followers. At an isolated Florida ranch near Sebastian, 20 miles north of Vero Beach, she cocooned herself with hundreds who'd abandoned home and family to worship her like a deity. Together, they formed what would become the Kashi Ashram. "I am the breath," she told them. "I am inside you."
For many, to exist near Ma Jaya — a beguiling New Yorker with a tenth-grade education — was rapture. To them, her dogma was beyond the mortal ken. There was incredible benevolence and service to the sick and dying, which eventually afforded her audiences with Pope John Paul II and the Dalai Lama and lured high-profile fans like actress Julia Roberts and folksinger Arlo Guthrie.
But there were also stories of profound cruelty and despotism. Eight former followers interviewed by New Times
say Kashi members were beaten for disobedience or spiritual cleansing. A man said he dunked his head into a vat of red paint because Ma Jaya had asked him to. Masked teenagers reportedly battered a 13-year-old boy with rocks inside socks because he'd angered their leader.
In the church's 35 years of existence, adherents claim abuses including beatings, pedophilia, forgery of official documents, and extortion occurred by order of Ma Jaya, according to a New Times
analysis of never-before-disclosed court filings, psychological studies, police records, and dozens of interviews with former members. "Kashi Ashram fits every criteria of a destructive cult," says Rick Ross, a nationally recognized authority based in New Jersey. "And the most defining element of a cult is a charismatic leader."
Now, months after Ma Jaya's death, her adult daughter has sued the Kashi Church Foundation in Miami court. She claims much more happened on the ranch than anyone knew and has pushed the church, which still has hundreds of members in New York, Atlanta, and Los Angeles, into quite possibly its most contested episode to date. In 1981, when she was 14 years old, Ma Jaya's daughter says she was raped repeatedly by a 25-year-old church member.
And her mother had ordered it.
Once — before the name changes
and the jewelry and the acolytes — the guru didn't exist. Five decades ago, there was only an impoverished and garrulous Jewish teenager named Joyce Green tending a quiver of umbrellas along the boardwalk on Coney Island. Every night, as the sun set, the 16-year-old returned to her family's basement apartment of peeling paint and mold in Brooklyn.
One day at the beach, a confident olive-skinned kid named Sal DiFiore sauntered up to the girl. To him, Joyce Green was beautiful, her black hair tangled and teeth gleaming. She loved to gab and was drop-dead funny, recalls DiFiore, today age 75 and still in Brooklyn. "None of her family was like that," he says. "They were very poor. You could tell by the clothes she wore. Her father was a loser."
After they married a year later, the young couple fashioned a traditional Brooklyn life of three children, lasagna dinners at 6 p.m. sharp, and Sundays with relatives. But even then, the young wife showed sweeping vanity and a combustible temperament, says DiFiore, who later divorced her. She gained weight easily, spurring several bouts of depression, says the ex-husband, who drove a Coca-Cola route. One day, while Green was devouring a meal, he looked upon her with disgust and said sarcastically, "You should eat a little."
The future guru never forgot that comment. She swore to drop the pounds and subscribed to a new counterculture lifestyle. Jostling yoga mats, incense, and books on meditation, she ditched the neighborhood gals and locked herself inside the downstairs bathroom. Then, in the middle of the night, strange smoke and sounds began escaping the doorway cracks. Within weeks, Joyce Green DiFiore vanished. And Sal DiFiore had lost his wife to — of all things — yoga.
Hippies deluged their Brooklyn home, babbling about meditation and spirituality. "I couldn't believe it," DiFiore says. They fawned over his wife, wept in her presence, and did anything she asked. DiFiore discerned something dark in his spouse. "She controlled those people," he says. "They were all superrich kids who were dysfunctional, and they would go to her for guidance. Her norm was high upbeat, like: bom bom bom bom. Then she'd be mellow."
Even today, after decades of analyzing these chaotic months in 1973, he can't comprehend his wife's sudden transformation. Or what happened next.
One night, DiFiore heard a loud crash. He rushed downstairs and saw the future guru frantically careening about the house. She'd had a vision of Christ, she whispered. Wounds, she said, had appeared on her hands. "What are you talking about?" DiFiore remembers exclaiming.
She showed him her pajamas. Red splotches blotted the fabric. "So I took the pajamas to a friend who owned a dry cleaner, and he said it was theatrical blood."
Word nonetheless rippled across the boroughs: There'd been a stigmata. Joyce Green DiFiore soon materialized in basements and parks across the city, delivering nightlong sermons. "I thought, 'Get skinny with Christ or fat without him,'" she later told the Palm Beach Post
. "I lost 65 pounds on the Christ diet."
But Christ wouldn't be the only apparition. In the same year, she claimed she had visions of a deceased and bald Indian guru named Neem Ka'roli Baba, who endowed her with the name Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati. Her following ballooned to include hundreds of inquisitive college-aged kids mostly convinced Christ had plucked this Jewish housewife from poverty to teach "all ways to God."
In 1975, Ma Jaya left her two oldest children, Jimmy and Denise, and her husband, who filed for divorce a year afterward. Jimmy was especially wrought up over the abandonment, his family said. Those feelings would be with him the rest of his life.
The guru, however, held onto her youngest, Molly. (At the daughter's request, New Times
has changed her name.) In 1976, Ma Jaya and her flock fled New York for a sprawling plot of grass and creek in Indian River County, in Central Florida. In one of the most Christian areas in the state — where steeples dominate most horizons — the nascent community built Buddhist and Hindu temples and followed an ascetic existence of celibacy and vegetarianism.
Hidden behind thick foliage, they locked out the world. "This was about finding a way to God," remembers one longtime resident who'd traveled from California. Hundreds of others arrived, bedraggled from the road, and there was Ma — grinning and bejeweled. She hugged them. She called them child. Together, they promised to serve humanity. And in the name of spirituality, Ma Jaya bestowed them with Hindi names and forbade recreational sex, according to interviews with eight former residents.
Without warning, she ordered marriages between devotees who barely knew each other. "Ma married Chandra and Madhava on the spur of the moment last Sunday," one follower named Lyn Deadmore scribbled in her journal on June 5, 1981. "They seem really happy about it." Weeks afterward, on June 22, Deadmore wrote in her diary: "She doesn't care how happy she makes us or how miserable she makes us." In an interview, Deadmore said members abetted her whims because they considered Ma Jaya to be divine.
(Anjani Cirillo, spokesperson for Kashi Ashram, denies that Ma Jaya arranged marriages or that Kashi members worshiped her. "I never heard anything like that," she said. "People married when people wanted. No forced marriages ever happened.")
Whether she was deified or not, every person interviewed for this article agreed that Ma Jaya's charisma was almost preternatural. "When you were around her, it felt like being stoned," Deadmore recalled. "The energy that surrounded her made you feel that way." This, however, is where consensus regarding the guru stops.
Indeed, an examination of court records and in-depth interviews reveals just one theme: obsession. Along the serpentine Sebastian River, Ma Jaya spurred powerful emotion at both extremes. Followers either loved her with such abandon that they couldn't discern a fault. Or they came to hate her so much that it consumed them.
Those who condemn Ma Jaya emerged in a vicious 2001 divorce between former Kashi resident Richard Rosenkranz and his wife, Gina, who remains in the ashram. In court filings, several ex-church members remembered scenarios they say constitute mind control. One afternoon in the early 1980s, Richard Rosenkranz dipped his entire head into a vat of red paint. "When asked what had happened, he answered that he'd gotten the message from Ma," onetime resident Helene Rousseau recalled in a sworn statement.
Or they recalled Ma Jaya's sudden fixation on children after she had several miscarriages with her new husband, Soo Se Cho. Rosanne Henry is a former Ashram resident who's now a psychologist in Littleton, Colorado. "My husband and I wanted to have a child in 1981," she remembered in a deposition logged in the Rosenkranz divorce case. "But we had to ask permission."
Before she entered labor on October 21, 1981, Henry says she dyed her blond hair raven to impersonate Ma Jaya. She even signed the guru's name on her daughter's birth certificate. Then, after she was wheeled out of Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami carrying her newborn, she spotted a van full of Kashi followers. Without hesitation, she handed over her daughter, who was secreted back to the ranch. (Henry testified to all this in court, adding she did this because she believed Ma Jaya to be the "Divine Mother.")
In all, four mothers from 1978 to 1982 signed Ma Jaya or her new husband as biological parents on birth certificates, the Palm Beach Post
reported in 1992. Ma Jaya told the newspaper she took the children to save them from abortion, though Henry denies that.
Another disputed tale emerged weeks after Henry's child was born, on the night of December 10. Ma Jaya's followers were called into the main house at Kashi Ashram in Sebastian for their nightly prayer session. The guru, in Palmetto Bay at the time, was on speakerphone, recalls Deadmore, who left the church in 1990. Dozens packed into a room cluttered with urns and statues. Over the phone, the guru launched into a perfunctory monologue. But then, according to three witnesses, she dropped a bomb. Like it was nothing. "I've married my [14-year-old] daughter [Molly]," she said, "to Datta Das."
Puzzled looks crisscrossed the room, the witnesses say. Datta Das was a 25-year-old man.
"I remember thinking, 'She can't possibly be old enough to be married,'" says Deadmore. "I thought she was 12. But I knew Ma wouldn't hurt her own child. There was no child abuse in Kashi at that time."
The masked men came for 13-year-old
Wang Chun Rosenkranz on a spring day in 1996, says New York jeweler Sal Conti. At a small garden temple beside Ma Jaya's two-story house, near a pond where residents sprinkled the ashes of their dead, the wiry, dark-haired boy waited. Ma Jaya had requested to see him, but, according to Conti's 2001 deposition and a police complaint, she didn't arrive. Instead, the two masked men grabbed the boy. They plastered duct tape over his mouth and restrained him. Then they whipped him over and over again with rock-laden socks.
Ma Jaya and Conti, who was then her confidant and treasurer, were allegedly outside her house at the time. "She was just ecstatic," Conti claimed. Wang Chun, he recalled, "came out completely bloodied."
Weeks later, the men donned their "ninja outfits" and again savaged the child, Conti testified. But this time, it was in clear sight of Ma Jaya's house. The guru watched the violence with Conti and several others. Wang Chun allegedly crumpled into a fetal position and wept. His face was awash in blood. Ma Jaya, Conti said, had a strange look on her face. "Hit him harder," she allegedly said. "Hit him harder."
The beatings were Wang Chun's punishment, Conti stated. The boy had declined to have sex with a young girl at the ranch. And Ma Jaya "didn't want to hear that," Conti explained. "She started calling him a pervert and cursing at him. The kid was whimpering and shaking, and she enjoyed that. You could see it in her face that she was enjoying it."
Wang Chun didn't respond to four messages left by New Times
. Spokespeople with Kashi Ashram, then and now, deny this story, and no criminal charges were ever filed. "The story's made up," said ranch spokesperson Cirillo.
Wang Chun initially told his father, Richard Rosenkranz, he'd been bloodied at the ranch but later withdrew the claim. While his parents' divorce case raged through 2002 and under the supervision of two Kashi members, the then-19-year-old told Florida Today
: "I stupidly said I was beaten by people here, which was a lie." Ma Jaya denied any involvement, calling Conti "very sad and very lonely."
But Conti wasn't the only one to bring significant allegations against Ma Jaya and the church, and soon it wasn't clear anymore whether this encampment, which had begun as a quest to find God through service and tolerance, hadn't fallen under the yoke of a megalomaniac and morphed into something much darker. During the 1990s and early 2000s, two dozen former Kashi residents alleged profound abuses ranging from psychological control to extortion to physical violence against both adults and children. Interviews, court filings, and a Rosenkranz-commissioned study of 21 former residents by now-deceased cult psychologist Paul Martin reveal the following claims:
• Ma Jaya either personally struck residents or ordered them beaten, according to nine respondents in Martin's study and eight former members interviewed by New Times
• Police were twice called to extract children living with Ma Jaya.
• Ma Jaya demanded money from followers, 13 former residents alleged. "Ma conspired to defraud me of my inheritance," Richard Rosenkranz said in a March 2002 affidavit.
• Ma Jaya severely burned a man with a votive candle in 1981 to punish him for sexually molesting a child, said three witnesses interviewed by New Times
and two additional respondents in Martin's study.
• The molested boy was "beaten at length by Ma" and "made to walk naked around the central pond with about 50 people watching," recalled one respondent in Martin's study. "His penis [was] painted black with a magic marker."
• Ma Jaya personally beat at least two children, Sal Conti claimed. "Ma slapped [a boy] across the face," he said in his deposition. "I had never seen someone hit that hard." A respondent in Martin's survey said she saw Ma "slug" a 2-year-old in the arm.
Kashi spokesperson Cirillo denies accusations of abuse and calls these former members "a few disgruntled people. Those allegations were very troubling for us," she said. "And all I can say is it's really difficult when you're in a spiritual teaching. And when it's not a place for you anymore, people have blamed us when they wanted to move on.
"When I hear people saying we're a cult, I say, 'What is this [banned term]?'" Cirillo added. "I don't get it. The allegations are a bunch of baloney."
They wouldn't disappear, however. In the early 1990s, reporters deluged the Kashi ranch like locusts. The Palm Beach Post
published an article headlined "Guru Ma: Saintly or Sinister?"and People
magazine described how Rosanne Henry had retrieved her 7-year-old daughter with an Indian River County court order and a five-member SWAT team in 1989.
After the child was returned to Henry's home, the girl believed Ma Jaya was God and prayed to her at the dinner table, according to a state health and rehabilitative services' psychological evaluation. (Retired detective Mary Shelly, who'd ordered the raid to remove the girl, declined to comment about Kashi beyond saying "These are some very vindictive individuals" when New Times
visited her Vero Beach home.)
After Henry took back her daughter, Ma Jaya descended into apoplexy, Conti said. "She was completely outraged that the kid was taken from her," Conti testified in 2001. "She was trying to scheme all ways to try and steal her back."
In the following months, Henry said Kashi delivered stuffed animals and bicycles to her front stoop in Littleton, Colorado. Agents of Kashi Ashram stalked her child. "At one point," Rosanne Henry said in her 2001 deposition, "I had to decide if I was going to hire a bodyguard for my child."
But Cirillo instead claims that Rosanne Henry had planned on an abortion and that the guru had saved the child's life. "Henry didn't want to take responsibility; she gave up her child. When she wanted her back, all she had to do was make a phone call. But instead, what did she do? It couldn't have been so simple. How do they justify their lying?"
The constant discrepancies between stories illustrate a broader issue that's bedeviled reporters, police, and psychologists who have investigated the Sebastian ranch. Ma Jaya has never been accused or convicted of a crime, except for battery in 1982 for attacking an Albertson's clerk in Stuart. (She was put on probation for one year.) And as Cirillo points out, only disaffected followers have entered any complaints.
Indeed, Ma Jaya was also a person of indefatigable service. At the height of the AIDS scare, she championed gay rights. She pushed graphic pictures of AIDS victims at Pope John Paul II in 1993. Three years later, she delivered an impassioned plea for equality at the Washington Memorial. She cared for the sick and dying at local hospitals, and hundreds looked to her for support. "Ma really walked the walk," said Los Angeles documentarian Janice Engel, whom Ma Jaya taught for decades. "No matter if you were gay, straight, it didn't matter. She would love you no matter who you were."
But her own children wouldn't agree.
On May 31, 2004, Jimmy DiFiore decided to die.
Ma Jaya's 43-year-old son stepped into the bathroom at his Staten Island apartment, put on an Elvis record, and unfurled a blanket. He analyzed his handsome and tanned face in the mirror, swallowed a powerful painkiller cocktail, and lay down. Unsheathing a blade, he cut into his left forearm from elbow to wrist and bled to death on the floor.
When the landlord discovered the body, black-and-white photographs of Jimmy and his mother were strewn throughout the house, even in the bathroom next to Jimmy. According to the state coroner's report, five drugs were found in his blood.
Of all the stories swirling around Ma Jaya and her Kashi ranch, perhaps the most tragic are those of her children. Jimmy was 14 when his mother left for Florida. He grew up street-tough, charismatic, and dirt-bike-obsessed, but there was a deep sadness behind his toothy smile. "He had so much going for him, but he was stuck," says his younger sister, Molly. "He couldn't get out of that time. He couldn't stop being 12."
When he was a teenager, his father, Sal, plunged Jimmy into boxing, where he took out his insecurities on lesser foes. Reared in a blue-collar home, he landed on a Coca-Cola delivery route after high school with his father, whose voice thickens when he remembers his son. The two were inseparable, and in August 1993, they even opened a father-son company called Alpine Vending.
But Jimmy kept Sal and his sister, Molly, who left the Kashi Ashram when she was 20, at a distance. Days would pass when he wouldn't leave his father's house, and depression swallowed him. He turned to painkillers, say those close to him. "Jimmy was always troubled," said his ex-wife, Rhonda. "He always had problems."
The most painful involved his relationship with his mother. Occasionally, Jimmy would be in the throes of conversation with family members when he'd fall quiet and look away. He'd glance up, brown eyes shiny, voice guttural. "Why did she leave us?" he'd say. "How could she just abandon us like that?"
"He talked about her all the time," his ex-wife said. "Every day."
His pain escalated as he disappeared into middle age, bounced among failed romances, and discerned disappointments both petty and profound. Sometimes he'd call his mom.
"Jimmy," Ma Jaya told him when they spoke, Molly remembers, "you're my eyes. You're my life and soul."
But the whispers inside his head only grew louder.
"I can't imagine being a family member of Ma," says 20-year-old Ganga Devi Braun, who was born into the church and raised by Ma Jaya, whom she loved fiercely. "It would be such a terrible thing. You want your mom to be there. Ma had so much love and energy, but it wasn't focused on her children... It was hard for her family to understand the love she was giving to other people."
The week before Jimmy slit his wrists, he was checked into a hospital in Staten Island, wracked with drug addiction and melancholy. Every night that week, he called Molly, who says she phoned their mother. "Jimmy needs help," Molly told her.
"You selfish [banned term]," she recalls Ma Jaya saying. "I have people dying of AIDS and a student dying of cancer on Kashi and have much more important things to worry about."
That weekend, Jimmy left the hospital and called Molly. "He only talked about our mom and how could she ignore us," his sister said.
After the suicide, Ma Jaya was shattered by grief. The morning of June 9, the guru wrote an email to her followers. "So many of you know how close Jimmy was to us, especially His Mommy. He proudly sat by His Mom watching Her take care of so many. All he had to say over and over is, 'I AM PROUD OF YOU MOMMY.' His last words to his Mom were THAT 'I LOVE YOU MORE THAN ANYONE MY MOMMY. I just want to sleep, Mom. I just want to sleep.'"
Jimmy's 13-year-old daughter, Alexa, discovered the note and was sickened with anger. The evening of June 12, she responded with an email. Her father, she wrote to the congregation, never said those last words. "I just want to show people what a terrible 'thing' Joyce is," Alexa typed. "What a [banned term]. This may be hard to hear or believe, but as long as you have lived on the ranch, you have been LIED to. My grandmother didn't care about my dad when he was alive, and she definitely doesn't now... My dad had a lot of mental problems, and Joyce just added to them. She helped to kill him."
Then the girl signed the note: "I have heard of many people Joyce brainwashed. One day, she will get caught, and I can't wait."
Weeks ago, the night of Ma Jaya's commemoration
, the chanting spread like hayseed in wind. A mass of white-clad Kashi followers encircled a fire and a portrait of Ma Jaya beside an open-air Hindu temple. Chimes and drums pulsed. The blaze burned higher and higher. The droning built to crescendo. Individual consciousness evaporated.
From across the nation, more than 100 followers came to this recent anniversary of Ma Jaya's death. A billboard bearing the guru's countenance clung to the side of the ranch's main house. Her black eyes, crinkled with mischief, looked upon her monks below. They lay before her and, one by one, kissed the ground.
Then there came a Brooklyn twang. "And this dance between night and day goes on," Ma Jaya's recorded voice echoed across the pond and grass.
"And this night I dedicate to all of humanity. Let the calmness come over you. The sweetness. Let joy of life embrace you. For this is Kashi."
Attendants wept with the memory: On a Friday night in April 2012, Ma Jaya died in her bed at age 71 of pancreatic cancer. She'd wanted to "leave her body" on the ranch and had forbidden any attempt at resuscitation.
After she died, scores of people streamed down the streets of tiny Sebastian. Folksinger Arlo Guthrie, who followed Ma Jaya's teachings for decades, mourned her without reservation. "I've met a lot of people that were very important," he told reporters. "But I can honestly say no one I ever met in my entire life was as funny and as sincere and as courageous and as unapologetic as she was."
Actress Julia Roberts was next. She had discovered Ma Jaya while preparing for her role in the 2010 movie Eat, Pray, Love
. "There are few people in one's life that create only the warmest and most powerfully positive impact imaginable," she emailed the memorial service. "She was one of those people to me and my family."
Meanwhile, hundreds of miles north, in a bedroom nestled inside a brick house in Bradford, Pennsylvania, Molly's iPhone chirped with a fresh message. "Yes, Molly, it's true," the message said. "At 9:49 p.m. last night."
Molly, then 44, with hair dyed blond, put down the phone and felt relief flecked with sadness. "I pushed the emotion way down inside," Molly says now. "And then my husband came home, and I lost it. I cried. A weight was lifted off of me... It was the happiest day of my life."
Later, she wept in bed beside her husband, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh-Bradford. "I had memories of a man groping me," she recalled. "I said to my husband, 'I think something happened to me as a kid.' It was a picture show."
Molly claims in that moment — only after her mother had died and couldn't defend herself — did she recall what had happened 30 years before. When she was age 14 in 1981, she says, her mother married her to a 25-year-old church member named Kevin Brannon so he could impregnate her.
Earlier this year in state court in Miami, Molly sued Kashi, Brannon, and Carolyn Hutner, who represents Ma Jaya's estate. "Beginning in 1979, she was 'groomed' by Ma Jaya into believing she must engage in sexual intercourse with an adult member to give another child to Ma Jaya," the lawsuit says. "Such 'grooming' included... drugs and alcohol in an effort to normalize [Molly to the idea] that girls her age were supposed to have sex with adults of the Kashi cult, get pregnant, and give their babies to Ma Jaya."
This preparation, the civil suit charges, also involved Brannon repeatedly raping her with Ma Jaya's encouragement. "I remember zoning out [during sex] and going somewhere else," Molly said in an interview. "It was what was expected of me."
On December 10, 1981, Molly says she squeezed into a white wedding dress at a 5,000-square-foot house on Old Cutler Road in Palmetto Bay. That afternoon, she claims her mother married her to Brannon — then called Datta Das — at a small ceremony inside the house. "I remember my mother's hair," Molly said. "Her hair was always long and normally jet-black, but then it was gray. I remember it was in the living room, and there were mirrors behind us, from floor to ceiling. To the right, there was a bar. I remember sitting around the bar afterward and eating cake."
The lawsuit is more specific: "During the 'marriage' ceremony, [Brannon] was instructed by Ma Jaya and did grope, fondle, and sexually stimulate [Molly.]" Two people who say they stayed at the Palmetto Bay house and spoke to New Times
on the condition of anonymity, said they witnessed Ma Jaya announce Molly's marriage to Brannon later that night. (In a motion to dismiss filed in March, Brannon denies he married or had sex with Molly, calling the allegations "reckless" and "inherently false." Both he and his attorney, Elizabeth Boan, declined further comment.)
A week later, the lawsuit alleges, Ma Jaya ordered a church member to administer a pregnancy test to Molly. It was negative.
Kashi Ashram also denies the story, labeling it another manifestation of familial drama. "Ma and [Molly] were estranged for many years," spokeswoman Cirillo says.
Then, after Ma Jaya died, Molly was excluded from the inheritance, Cirillo says. "This is a bunch of baloney. She's not in the will; then, all of a sudden, she remembers this? Baloney." (Molly's lawyer, John Leighton, says his client discovered she wasn't in her mother's will only after she'd filed litigation. Says Molly: "I don't care about money; I just want people to know the truth.")
Carol Lourie, who was associated with the ranch for years and once criticized it, says she's dubious of Molly and her story. "I find her motives very suspicious. She could have brought the lawsuit when her mother was alive."
Despite the looming legal battle, Ma Jaya's recent commemoration glowed with mirth and smiles. Children ran and played among parents drinking tea. In the shadows of new houses rising in the woods, attendants traded favorite Ma Jaya stories — that time she named a student "God" because he was so handsome. Or how she always gave a lollipop to every child. The next day, as rain pounded the ashram, some of her followers disrobed and swam in the opaque pond where Ma's ashes had been scattered — and were again one with the guru.
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|Subject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc. Fri May 30, 2014 4:46 pm|| |
A few years ago, the Oregonian newspaper out of Portland, OR, did an in-depth five part series on the Rajneesh story - 25 years later. It also includes background information, videos, tons of photographs and slide shows, interviews, etc. I am not going to cut and paste them all here... much too much, but the link is below, for those that are interested in this bizarre tale that includes the largest bio-terrorism attack on the U.S. in history.
I had some friends who were members, but got out. For some years there in the late 70s and early 80s, Rajneesh was the big eastern spiritual guru/god with tens of thousands of followers in India. He renamed himself OSHO - using the Zen word that he liked - many of his books were Zen inspired. His ashram was like a spiritual / psychological Disneyland with all kinds of workshops, ecstatic dancing, tantric sex groups, encounter groups, mixing together meditation, mysticism, philosophy, therapy, along with grandiosity and group delusion, and so on. Things did decidedly "out of hand" to say the least, especially when Rajneesh came to Oregon to take over the state and be a king.
One of the reasons Rajneesh was so popular was that he took the crazy wisdom concept to a whole new level with dozens of lovers, something like 100 Rolls Royces, saying and doing deliberately outrageous and provocative things just to rile people up, playing the God game in the most dramatic way, using mass forms of dancing and meditation to whip people into a kind of frenzy. It was very exciting and so different than the typical Indian ashram or Zen center. Some people love this kind of excitement - it spirituality on steroids and so seductive. He was certain he was God in person and showed no doubt - and people love that too.... they think...it must be true.
I worked with both 60 Minutes and the New York Times in exposing him and his secret plans - I actually appeared on ABC's Nightline in an interview talking about the cultic nature of the organization.
Actually, the group still thrives in India... maybe thrives is the wrong word, but it continues to be a kind of mega-retreat center, I am sure it is toned down and much more mainstream now. don't think there are any big gurus there, but don't really know the scene. But I don't think this group has much presence here in the U.S. You might remember, but in the late 70s and early 80s, at least in the SF bay area, you would frequently see his devotees in their orange-red robes in restaurants and on the street.
Here is the intro to the Oregonian 5-part series
Editor's note: In a nearly unbelievable chapter of Oregon history, a guru from India gathered 2,000 followers to live on a remote eastern Oregon ranch. The dream collapsed 25 years ago amid attempted murders, criminal charges and deportations.
But the whole story was never made public. With first-ever access to government files, and some participants willing to talk for the first time, it's clear things were far worse than we realized.
What follows is an inside look -- based on witness statements, grand jury transcripts, police reports, court records and fresh interviews -- at how Rajneesh leaders tried to skirt land-use and immigration laws only to have their schemes collapse to the point they decided killing Oregonians was the only way to save their religious utopia.
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|Subject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc. Fri May 30, 2014 8:32 pm|| |
I knew a Rajneeshee who led workshops and a number of my colleague therapists attended. They were interesting for the energetic cathartics they produced. But when she announced the Baghwan was moving to Eastern Oregon, I thought to myself, "this will not go well". The catastrophe that it was made it rough on everyone who was practicing any form of Eastern religion in Oregon. Even the Carlsons let their hair grow out because they didn't want to be the target of paranoia.
It was interesting as a child of the sixties to see the inside story of Castaneda. We were all speculating whether he was a real person or a fictional character of an inventive writer.
Regarding Jonestown I had some good friends, an interracial couple with a child, who telephoned a mutual friend from Jonestown, Guyana, saying they were afraid and desperate and had to get out. He wired them the money they needed and they got out safely with their young child just a few months before the end came.
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|Subject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc. Mon Jun 02, 2014 10:12 am|| |
here is the latest on the Rajneesh scene in India. The ashram has become quite the spiritual resort / retreat / destination. Reportedly 200,000 people visit each year.Meditation in India: Bent out of shape - KARNIKOWSKI- Last updated 05:15 31/05/2014
PIECE DE RESISTANCE: The lagoon-shaped swimming pool, shaded by lush green trees.
The man in the maroon robe is talking to himself. Not that anyone's taking much notice.
Maybe they're all too busy watching the girl in the maroon robe whirling around underneath that tree, face tilted to the sky, laughing hysterically.
Or maybe, after a few days spent in the Osho International Meditation Resort, this kind of behaviour just becomes normal for the 200,000 "beloveds" that visit each year.
Having just arrived, it doesn't seem normal to me. Nor does the HIV test I'm required to undertake, the two robes (maroon for day, white for night) I must buy from the boutique to help add to the retreat's "collective meditative energy", the list of rules (no coughing or sneezing in the auditorium, no cream scarves to be worn with white robes), or the prices: at $55 for a room, $27 a day for resort entry and $22 a day for food, it's 10 times more expensive than a regular Indian ashram.
Then again Osho, perhaps better known as Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and as famous for advocating sex as a means of attaining enlightenment as he was for his collection of 93 Rolls-Royces and scores of gem-studded Rolexes, wasn't a normal guy.
Once I'm allowed full access to the retreat, however, I realise it's almost worth the rigmarole for a glimpse of the gorgeous grounds alone.
Spread across a massive 16 hectares, it's how you might imagine a New Age version of heaven to be - all stone Buddha statues, bamboo groves, pristine white marble walkways, water features and an enormous black pyramid structure housing the main auditorium.
The piece de resistance is the lagoon-shaped swimming pool, shaded by lush green trees and surrounded by maroon cozzie-clad retreaters (cozzies are also regulation and must be purchased on arrival. Ker-ching!)
The on-site Osho Guesthouse is equally spotless, calm and elegant. Our room isn't what you'd call luxurious - it's quite small and there are no fancy teles or stereos - but for an ashram it's ridiculously posh. There are even Egyptian cotton sheets on the bed.
But Osho didn't believe in slumming it. Why, he argued, should his paradise on earth be shabby and grotty when it could be clean and beautiful? On one level I agree but on another I start to think all this lavishness might make the experience slightly ... inauthentic. I decide not to judge until I've actually done what I came here to do.
There are 10 styles of "active meditations" on offer, each involving various physical activities from running, to dancing, to whirling.
Osho believed that moving released tensions, which block the natural flow of energies in our bodies, allows us to become more peaceful and relaxed. Having spent years struggling with traditional seated meditation, it sounds like a great idea. Until the shaking starts.
I've picked Kundalini Meditation to start, and for the first 15 minutes of the one-hour session I, along with about 100 other visitors, am directed to shake my entire body to xylophone music as though I'm having a fit.
It's uncomfortable and embarrassing, and only slightly less awkward than the 15 minutes of free dancing that follows.
The upside is that by the time we get to the actual sitting down and meditating part, it seems like a treat and is definitely less painful than usual.
The No Dimensions Meditation is up next, which involves spinning around in a circle for half an hour, followed by gentle tai chi-like movements and straight meditation. Despite being hideously dizzy for most of the first bit, I leave the session feeling decidedly more relaxed and centred.
I cannot say the same for the effects of the evening meeting. The ashram goes into lockdown each night for this 2½-hour session, which starts with 20 minutes of free dancing, this time interspersed with shouts of "OSHO!"
This is followed by 10 minutes of seated meditation, then a few minutes of something called "gibberish and let go", where we're directed to shout out everything we've ever wanted to say in a language we've never spoken.
A gong sounds and the room is filled with nonsensical gobbledegook that sounds like radio static. For a few moments I'm so spun out by the whole experience I just stare at everyone else, before finally managing to blurt out a few Asian-sounding phrases.
Just as I'm getting the hang of it, another gong sounds and we have to "fall down like a bag of rice".
It's only then that we get to meet Osho himself, the man who is variously described as a fraud, a trickster, a genius, a guru and a god.
Well not the physical man of course - he died in 1990 - but a video of him talking directly to the camera starts to play on the auditorium's high-tech movie screen.
He's just as strange as I'd imagined he would be, with a long, grey, pointy beard, batwing-sleeved robe with wing-tipped shoulders, thick beanie and remarkable pair of triangular eyebrows.
In between spouting wisdom from a variety of religions, he talks, in his strangely elongated, hypnotic way, about how he was poisoned by US government agents when in custody for alleged immigration violations in 1985.
At that point I switch off. And I'm not sure, for the remaining 24 hours of my stay, that I ever really switch back on. I do spend an inordinate amount of time by the pool, and in the three very good vegetarian restaurants.
And on my second night there, while playing hooky from the evening meeting at a restaurant down the road, I do find something close to enlightenment at the bottom of my third G&T. Which, I decide, is just my kind of normal.
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|Subject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc. Mon Jun 09, 2014 12:23 am|| |
Indian court asked to rule on whether Hindu guru dead or meditating Indian court has been asked to rule on whether a revered Hindu guru is dead or alive – and whether it is a matter of religious faith or scientific fact
His Holiness Shri Ashutosh Maharaj is thought to have died of a heart attack in January Photo: ALAMY
By Dean Nelson, New Delhi
7:39PM BST 28 May 2014
The family and followers of one of India's wealthiest Hindu spiritual leaders are fighting a legal battle over whether he is dead or simply in a deep state of meditation.
His Holiness Shri Ashutosh Maharaj, the founder of the Divya Jyoti Jagrati Sansthan religious order with a property estate worth an estimated £100 million, died in January, according to his wife and son.
However, his disciples at his Ashram have refused to let the family take his body for cremation because they claim he is still alive.
According to his followers, based in the Punjab city of Jalandhar, he simply went into a deep Samadhi or meditation and they have frozen his body to preserve it for when he wakes from it.
His body is currently contained in a commercial freezer at their Ashram.
The late – or living – guru, who was in his seventies, established his sect in 1983 to promote "self-awakening to global peace" and to create a world "wherein every individual becomes an embodiment of truth, fraternity and justice through the eternal science of self-realisation".
Today the group has thousands of followers around the world and owns dozens of large properties throughout India, the United States, South America, Australia, the Middle East and Europe, including its British headquarters in Hayes, Middlesex.
While he is thought to have died from a heart attack, his devotees believe he has simply drifted into a deeper form of the meditation he promotes as a pathway to self-realisation.
A statement on the group's website reads: "His Holiness Shri Ashutosh Maharaj ji has been in deep meditative state (Samadhi) since 29th January 2014."
According to one of his aides, who asked not to be named, "Maharaj has been in deep meditation. He has spent many years meditating in sub-zero temperatures in the Himalayas, there is nothing unusual in it. He will return to life as soon as he feels and we will ensure his body is preserved until then", he said.
His body is held in a guarded room in a deep freezer on his 100 acre retreat in Nurmahal, Jalandhar, where only a few elders and sect doctors are allowed to enter.
Although Punjab Police initially confirmed his death, the Punjab High Court later dismissed its status report and local governmental officials said it was a spiritual matter and that the guru's followers cannot be forced to believe he is dead.
Now his wife and son have filed a court application calling for an investigation into the circumstances of his death and for his body to be released for cremation.
His son Dilip Jha, 40, claims his late father's followers are refusing to release his body as a means of retaining control of his vast financial empire.
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|Subject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc. Mon Jun 09, 2014 1:02 am|| |
Shouting out in traditional English pantomine voice
"He's behind you"
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|Subject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc. Fri Aug 08, 2014 9:05 pm|| |
The Mystic' Is Coming to LondonBy Matt Shea Jan 30 2013 - from vice.com
Are you afraid of death? Feeling unfulfilled? Do your attempts to grasp meaning from the universe constantly fall short, encasing you in an eternal chasm of emptiness? Does that despair force you into deep, ponderous thoughts, like, 'Woah, dude, what if my blue is, like, your yellow?' Well, next weekend Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev will fix all your spiritual woes. He's holding a mini yogic retreat – a kind of pop-up ashram – at London's ExCel Centre for a mere £650 a ticket, because [banned term] spending £3 warding off existential nausea with a pint of lager like everyone else.
Sadhguru's Isha Foundation boasts over two million followers who believe that its program of “Inner Engineering” is as scientific as it is religious. Watch any of his YouTube videos and you’ll see why people love "The Mystic" so much – he's intelligent, non-threatening, charismatic and funny, which I'm guessing is everything you should look for in a spiritual guru. Hinduism provides the perfect framework for his teachings because it absorbs any problematic criticism into its thousands of communities, leaders and ideas, like a wriggly, amorphous spiritual amoeba.
Make no mistake, though; the Isha Foundation is an exploitative cult and The Mystic deserves his fair share of atheist vitriol. He makes his members swear to secrecy, charges a small fortune for their enlightenment, brainwashes them and dupes them into free work under the guise of volunteerism. One follower described being forced to work ten hours a day, seven days a week, given nothing but a straw mat to sleep on. Which sounds neither spiritually enlightening or particularly legal.
“Things came to a hilt when I was eve-teased (sexually-harassed) by a sanyasi (senior monk) when I was alone in the dining room,” the follower complained.
Sadhguru was also charged with murdering his wife. You might think that would put people off following him as a near-deity, but don't worry, he has explained his wife's death as a case of "Mahasamādhi" – leaving one’s physical body during meditative enlightenment – which makes it totally OK.
“If you spent enough time in Isha, you'd witness a lot of fake, and perhaps real, delusional states of bliss,” one ex-member said. “The believers go into bouts of spasms and unconsciousness. People go really crazy. Sadhguru encourages the 'madness' as a way of reaching bliss. In fact, he often brags about the number of people who go into altered states just by being in his presence and then have to be carried out of the hall.”
“We're told not to divulge any information on what goes on during the programs. We're told that revealing it can lead to a variety of issues for ourselves, stuff like health problems, spiritual problems and cheating the newcomer from his or her spiritual experience,” said another ex-follower.
Other accounts suggest signs of brainwashing in the centre: “I went to a three day intensive with Sadhguru and it was the worst experience of my life," the ex-follower told me. "My mind was questioning everything. I felt so alone and wondered many times if this was brainwashing. I feel I haven't been the same since and have persistent anxiety and worsening depression. I refused to go back the next day and they were at my hotel door knocking to come in. I talked to Sadhguru and said I was OK, not to fear and that I didn't like change. I could tell he knew that I didn't believe in anything he was selling.”
But it's difficult to truly attack something as nebulous as the Isha Foundation. Sadhguru has proven that he's more than capable of parrying any complaint or question with murky spiritual truisms and charming humility. “The only thing I know is this piece of life,” he says. He claims he hasn’t read the Bhagavad Gita
(a 700-verse scripture that's part of the Hindu epic, Mahabharata
). He’s been a delegate to the United Nations Millennium Peace Summit, sat on the World Economic Forum at Davos and seeded numerous successful charities through his organisation, but this is all masquerading PR.
The Isha Foundation is a very 21st century kind of cult. Despite the fact that attendees bow down before Lingams, sing songs about Shiva and faint when their leader enters the room, Sadhguru claims that it’s all a science with no religious affiliation. Like Scientology’s Dianetics, Isha’s “Inner Engineering” sells itself as a spiritual “technology” for well-being. Of course, it’s an expensive technology: £650 for premium seating at a Shambhavi Mahamudra program (like the one next weekend in London), plus £95 for the pre-requisite “online enlightenment course.”
Psychiatrist Robert Lifton of Harvard Medical School gives three defining characteristics of a destructive cult: a process of coercive persuasion or “thought reform”, a charismatic leader who becomes an object of worship, and economic, sexual, or other exploitation of group members by the leader and his/her in-group. Isha hits all the marks, but the extorting guru game isn’t anything new. Forty years ago, “Orange People” were a common sight in Totnes, Devon.
They were the followers of Osho, a guru who established a colony in Oregon, where he housed a fleet of Rolls-Royces and committed bioterrorist attacks against locals who opposed him. This video of Sri Swami Vishwananda – a guru living in Germany – “vomiting gold” in front of an ashram of crazed Western devotees became even more horrifying when it came to light in 2008 that he had been using his brahmacharis (novice monks) as personal sex slaves. Despite all that, both Osho and Vishwananda still have large followings, so Sadhguru killing his wife and ruining people's lives probably isn't going to be too much of an issue for him.
We never hear about scandals in Hinduism, but it’s got all the sex, death and intrigue that you’d find in any run-of-the-mill Abrahamic religion. The Isha foundation has yet to make headlines, but it’s treading a familiar path – "The Mystic” on his way to being the Osho of our times. Follow Matt (@Matt_A_Shea) on Twitter.
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|Subject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc. Thu Aug 14, 2014 10:37 pm|| |
Charismatic Modern Gurus, by John SnellingPosted on 24 February 2014 by Buddhism Now
Of course, in following a spiritual path — as in anything in life — one needs information, support and the guidance of experienced people. We could call those who supply these essentials teachers — though perhaps spiritual friends
is a better term. Traditionally in both East and West such people have lived modestly and often in seclusion, avoiding the public gaze. Some, however, on account of their very rare gifts and achievements, attained fame and sizeable followings. The Buddha is an example from the distant past, Sri Ramana Maharshi from more recent times.
No one would deny that the spiritual care of others is the gravest responsibility with which a person can be invested. Granted this, we have a right — a duty even — to ask how those responsibilities are being discharged today.
Anyone monitoring developments in the modern Western spiritual supermarket — including its Buddhist counters — must have cause for concern at the activities of some modern teachers, whom we might call charismatic gurus
(or just gurus,
for short), to distinguish them from authentic spiritual teachers or spiritual friends. These people often, though not invariably, succeed in attracting sizeable followings. A few enjoy mass followings. Not merely is the behaviour of some inconsistent with what has been traditionally thought proper for those setting themselves up as spiritual teachers, who should always be exemplars of what they teach, but their methods often seem aimed more at subtly entrapping rather than liberating their students.
Many Westerners who turn to the new religions — Buddhism, Hinduism, New Age cults, etc. — are of course very vulnerable. The mainstream Western religious traditions, long estranged from the wellsprings of true inspiration, have signally failed to provide them with satisfactory spiritual support and guidance. It has moreover been persuasively argued by the American commentator Ken Wilber (in his book Up from Eden)
that contemporary society does not provide the conditions necessary for proper psychological and spiritual development.
So vulnerable people quite naturally turn to where what is deficient seems to be on offer-In the short-term the guru and the cult may offer support, guidance and conducive conditions for healing and authentic spiritual development. In the long-term, however, there is sometimes a very high price to pay. There is in short usually an initial giving, but later a subtle withholding is brought into play. This of course is the basic mechanism of addiction1
An authentic teacher, like the Buddha himself (see The Kalama Sutta2),
will always seek to put his spiritual charges in touch with their own internal spiritual centre — with the Buddha within. While some of our modern gurus purport to be doing this, they often fail to confer the sacred talisman that bestows self-reliance. Perhaps this is not really so surprising. To allow their followers to become free would after all be to risk depleting the willing labour force that creates and runs their centres and publicity machines, and which also provides that intoxicating adulation to which some gurus become so addicted.
Rarely in my experience is a guru a complete fake. He or she is usually a spiritually talented person who has had some kind of profound spiritual experience. Communications and manipulative skills, often of a high order, are usually present too. But somewhere things have gone wrong. We might ask what; and how do such people still manage to gull so many people so successfully?
What the misdirected guru perhaps does most effectively is catch and work with the spiritual projections of his/her followers. At the centre of these lies the popular myth that prefigures enlightenment as an ecstatic experience that at once solves all personal problems and inaugurates an individual millennium of limitless personal ‘growth’3
The rub of course is that the devoutly wished for consummation never arrives — and this gives the guru his/her own special grip. If the devotees haven’t got it, they’ve failed . . . haven’t tried hard enough . . . haven’t been worthy. More effort, more sacrifice is required. The prize is always elusive, always receding. However, if doubts arise in the victims of such manipulations they may well find themselves with deep problems. There is always considerable collective pressure and what amounts in some cases to brainwashing in guru cults. These influences serve to reinforce group myths — of the guru’s omniscience, paranormal powers, uniqueness, special mission, etc. Another is of the great sacrifice the guru is making in imparting his/her wisdom — always out of pure compassion. Needless to say, frank discussion of problematic matters is never encouraged.
There is also the standard myth that guru and cult alone offer the True Way. To leave would therefore be to return to the wilderness — the dreadful aloneness and lostness that the devotee sought to escape from in the first place.
To go might also be to lose all that has been invested in guru and group to date (a devotee might have a certain status, perhaps even a role or office). Leaving could also be perceived as a kind of failure — one isn’t up to the demands of the training.
A powerful double bind may also be brought to bear on the doubting disciple. Gurus and cults usually give the ego a rotten press. The devotee has an ego — why else is he/she suffering? — and so feels fundamentally bad. And what are doubts but the old ego bucking against the compassionate guru’s training disciplines? If they are aired, they can be turned back: ‘That’s your problem . . . ‘ Caught in such a vice, what else can arise but a highly disenabling internal conflict.
Inevitably a high degree of mystification is maintained in guru cults. In the case of the newly transmitted Eastern religions, all the oriental trappings like robes, rituals and elaborate religious names can of course have a valid place. But on the other hand they can also serve to precipitate the devotee into a colourful and exotic but essentially alien world whose values and conventions are far from clear. In extreme circumstances rationality and discrimination may be suspended — and then anything goes. One has in modern times seen the bizarre contortions to which some devotees have had to resort in order to explain away the glaringly obvious faults and failings of their beloved gurus. In desperation, the transrational Zen or ‘Crazy Wisdom’ models may be invoked by way of explanation — the more bizarre the behaviour, the more it betokens the presence of enlightenment, the ways of which as we all know are utterly incomprehensible to the unenlightened.
So, denied access to self-reliance, inwardly divided, mystified, the doubting disciple hasn’t the resources to stand up to the intimidating certainty of group mythology and group pressure. There is no possibility of realistic evaluation, common sense has flown out of the window, there is no centre to hold. If the decision is made in desperation to leave, the devotee will often return — duly contrite . . .
Another invaluable asset of the successful guru is confidence — and this particularly impresses the vulnerable devotee, who feels signally unsure. For the guru, however, constant exposure to the sight of wide-eyed and wondering devotees will itself strengthen his/her confidence further. The process will then shuttle back and forth, reinforcing the guru at every stage. Being on the receiving end of such powerful reinforcement can induce a kind of bliss-state in the guru. This is so intoxicating that it seems to confirm the guru’s sense of special spiritual destiny. I have observed gurus manifestly unable to stop talking during formal teaching situations; I have seen them emerge from them lit up and energized. Clearly being up there in front, dispensing wisdom to receptive devotees, is a very big buzz
The $64,000 question of course is whether the charismatic guru is really operating self-lessly in the transpersonal mode (from the Buddha Mind, etc.) or whether the psycho-spiritual energy charging the situation is inflating his/her own ego — in which case he/she is indeed possessed or demoniac in the classical sense — I would suspect in many instances the latter to be the case — to a greater or lesser degree. If so, then wisdom and compassion are not in control but dark primordial forces, which in their most extreme collective manifestations can lead to truly terrible results.
The charismatic guru of the kind we have been discussing here is very much the product of our times — of modern communications media, mass society, wealth and psycho-spiritual needs. He/she also represents the apogee of the alternative religious career structure and can, if successful, achieve the status of a kind of superstar or great dictator — with concomitant rewards — financial ones certainly, but perhaps also that more alluring commodity, power.
The purpose of this article is not to induce general cynicism and disillusionment. Authentic spiritual friends are certainly available today, though, as always, not in large supply. They also tend to keep a low profile, not seeking publicity or actively recruiting.
Moreover, in the spiritual life one has always got to take risks and experiment. The way is never smooth, easy or clear cut. One has to learn from it all, even from misdirected gurus, if only negative lessons.
But in the last analysis Buddhism, like any authentic spiritual Way, is about realism and facing things as they are. There is no place here for ostrich strategies, however pious. We dearly need therefore to look squarely at what is happening today, at the dark side as well as the light. For, contrary to what many naïvely believe, the spiritual world is not simply good. It has its shadow too, and a large one4
. As C.G. Jung has pointed out — the greater the light, the greater the shadow. Without losing sight of the good, we should not be afraid to investigate that shadow. If we shrink from doing so, however, we will in all likelihood become its victims.
In my own life I have twice had the chastening experience of having to try to ‘talk down’ people who had fallen victim to the guru syndrome. What was clear on both occasions was that one was not dealing with an ordinary human with whom one could dialogue and debate. There was a deadness in the eyes, an unwillingness to listen, disquieting signs of the presence of the power complex (incipient coldness, cruelty and rage) . . . Blinded by their own light, they were unwilling and unable to face the reality of their own very considerable — and havoc-wreaking — shadows.
If, on the other hand, we are not intimidated and do bravely face up to the reality of both light and shadow in the spiritual life, then we might possibly succeed in steering our proverbial rafts across the tricky currents and reefs to the farther shore. To do this kind of work (and indeed for the whole of the spiritual life) we need self-reliance — which means a basic faith in the heart, our own heart. Of course there will always be seepage from the ego, but with care and alertness we can learn to anticipate its wiles. We should always be open to guidance too, and ready to accept feedback. But we should never lose sight of the fact that, however difficult the going may be at times, the living of the spiritual life is ultimately our own responsibility. It should never be abdicated to another, however venerable.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
1. Krishnamurti, that scourge of the modern guru (‘I’m allergic to gurus’), has pointed out that gurus actually take something away from their disciples.
2. See Kalama Sutta
3. This prefigured enlightenment is of course misconceived. All its benefits are the fulfilment of very definite ego aspirations. However, the classical texts always characterize enlightenment as subtle, unknowable, inexpressible — and transegoic (beyond ego).
4. In Christianity, the dark side is historically indicated by witchhunts, auto-da-fé
, inquisitions, pogroms, etc. etc. All the other great religions, including Buddhism, must have their shadows too.
Click here to read more from John Snelling.
From the August 1989 Buddhism Now.
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|Subject: B.K.S. Iyengar Wed Aug 27, 2014 1:31 pm|| |
The great yoga pioneer B.K.S. Iyengar recently died. Great yogi AND he was famous for being extremely tough, even abusive in how he taught students. Very old fashioned... and see how he treated women. Some appreciated his approach and saw it all as great teachings and others, not so much - or thought the technique was valuable but the excesses were not. So this piece is a nuanced remembrance that does not run away from shadows or critical thinking. We can handle the truth.... to contradict Jack Nicholson. We can handle complexity and contradictions and shadows.
WAWADIA update 13 /// Learning With Iyengar, Learning Against Iyengar
by mremskion August 23, 2014
The Lion of Pune is dead. So many accolades have flooded the web. I’ll review some of these sentiments and their tensions, and then finish with a tribute of my own, which will be somewhat different.
I’ve been moved by the respects paid by people who didn’t know Mr. Iyengar, but felt blessed by him nonetheless. For some he lived in a distant temple of the mind, radiating promise and nostalgia. A benevolent general, armed with every answer, should you ever have the courage to approach him. This, all while you carried that fading copy of Light on Yoga
around for years, battered and held together by rubber bands, as it helped to hold you yourself together, through all of the skidding disasters of your life.
(What a book! To stumble upon it in one’s twenties, perhaps a decade after the end of childhood sports and un-self conscious pleasure in movement, after one’s body had become an object of pubescent shame, adolescent melancholy, sexual tentativeness and the repressions of working life. To crack it open and be told Your body is sacred, look how it can move, look how it can breathe. Your body is a temple: hold your head high.
What an incredible relief. And bombastic medical claims to boot! Who wouldn’t love the author?)
Then there’s the poignant, if less effusive, testimony of folks who never practiced his method or displayed his portrait on their personal altar. Thousands acknowledge the profound impact of his teaching, even at several degrees of separation, upon the very possibility of “yoga” showing up on their radar. If you came of age in the postural yoga world from the 1980s onward, it is impossible for you to have avoided Iyengar’s influence and brash promises, bellowed to an increasingly disembodied world. Everybody who heard his call seems grateful, even if they didn’t follow it.
Next come the senior students, who offer tender and personal memories of his kindness, generosity, commitment and zeal. Many say he healed them directly of various ailments, just as he healed himself in his youth. Because of him, they’ve gone on to lives of great service and prominence within the ragtag hierarchy of yoga education. They bear his name on their letterhead, and owe much of what they do to the proclamation of his authority. Conditions both professional and psychological conspire to scrub their public gratitude free of the ambivalence so natural to long-term intimacy with someone as difficult as this man was.
His ornery excesses are forgiven with a smile that hides some strain, I think. Sylvia Prescott writes: “It’s true he might give somebody a slap, but that slap would wake up that part of the body so you didn’t forget it.”
Well I’m glad that worked out for her. But I wonder: what did it wake up in others that they couldn’t forget?
Judith Lasater writes,
- Quote :
- He was renowned for his impatience. This stemmed, I believe, from his passion for giving to us everything he had learned, from wanting so much to help us avoid the mistakes that he had made, from his desire to help the world be a better place.
I’m sure that’s partly true. But altruism can never fully explain impatience, or the anxiety beneath it.
The elegies of senior students tend to conceal how much they themselves reject or modify Iyengar’s mood in their actual teaching. It’s no secret: they’re almost all nicer than he was. No one today punctuates their knowledge with as much pomposity and violence as the master did. Those who try to mimic his wrath are marginalized – perhaps not quickly enough – as upstart pretenders. You’re not the master, they are told. You have no right to be that cruel. But for the vast numbers who carry his torch more gently, it seems their devotion has taught them as much what not to do, as what must be done. I always wonder if and how they consciously decided that they would not be as dictatorial as the person they wanted to emulate in every other way.
The point of my homage is this. We learn in at least two ways from people. These two ways mirror the stress of parents-and-child constellations. We learn through people, and we learn against people. The senior Iyengar teachers I’ve taken class with seem to do both at the same time, but they hide the against part.
I remember being in an intensive with Aadil Palkhivala in Chicago over ten years ago. He told a story about how “Guruji wanted to teach his ego a lesson” one day, and so asked him to hold full handstand in the middle of the room for twenty minutes. Iyengar strutted around the quivering young tough, describing to the crowd how poor his form was. When Palkhivala came down, his shoulders were in pain, and then frozen and useless for several months afterwards.
Like a character from Chekhov, he smiled as he told the terrible story, warm at the memory. I was confused about everything but this: it was clear that at least at that time Palkhivala would never do the same to me or anyone in that room. He was telling the story of a great encounter with a great man, but definitely that era was over. A few days ago, he wrote of his guru: “He taught me with intensity and with kindness.” I knew Palkhivala would never teach us with the same intensity. The paradox is that he clearly understood it was wrong, but he was expressing gratitude nonetheless. Or was he asking for empathy, under the guise of reframing and normalizing abuse?
There are many who got close to Iyengar’s intensity and learned just as much, if not more, by turning the other way. You will not readily find their tributes to the master, because it’s harder to write about learning against someone. The hagiography machine drowns out the nuance.
Of my thousands of yoga contacts on social media, there’s only one westerner I’ve seen dare to voice an openly conflicted response to Iyengar’s death. Denise Benitez, who studied and taught Iyengar yoga in the 1970s and 80s, expressed gratitude for the master’s “keen eye and passion for precision”, but was mindful of his “patriarchal, old-school guru” persona, known to “humiliate, bully, and shame his students”. Speaking to the necessity of learning-against, she recounts:
- Quote :
- In the 80′s, one of his senior male teachers was inappropriately touching women in classes. I was one of those women. When this was told to Iyengar, he said that all of the women who had reported this were lying. So on the occasion of his death, I am left with an unsettling mix of emotions — the passing of an era, the jewel of yoga that he brought forward, his narcissism and ferocity, the fact that he had been homeless, sickly and lost as a boy, and that yoga saved him, as it has saved so many of us. All I can do is wish his spirit well, with all my heart. May his soul rest at ease.
There’s no telling how many Benitez speaks for, but I imagine it’s a lot. So where is she now? What lemonade has she squeezed out of the 1980s?
She runs a studio in Seattle. It’s beautiful and warm. Maternal in a way, which speaks to the changing gendering of yoga pedagogy. The ceiling of the main room is festooned with dozens of hanging lights cloaked in enormous amber silk spherical shades. There’s no sense of a lurking father ready to interrupt, assess, judge, banish, prescribe or authorize. You don’t get the feeling in this room that you will be instructed in the yoga of what somebody else thinks you should do, or how somebody else thinks you should be. I think we could call it a feminist space.
There are darker stories than this you may or may not be aware of. It’s unlikely you’ll hear them while the cremation coals are still warm.
People clam up at funerals, and it’s hard to interrupt the choir. None of the stories are new or controversial. There are people who were injured in Pune, and elsewhere. People who were slapped with a flat hand across the face, or kicked in the head. People who were told repeatedly they had no intelligence or did not listen. People who couldn’t stay around for long enough to feel the man’s rumoured tenderness. People who could not stay because they knew they didn’t feel safe in his presence.
What did they go and do when they left his sphere? Happily, many nurtured their own creativity in response to having been shut down or shamed by someone who taught his own program with such strange fury. They left Pune, or the baroque certification process, and went to teachers who were softer, or masters of other disciplines. The second major wave of globalized modern postural yoga – featuring improved biomechanics, psychodynamic intelligence, and even books on non-violent communication (!) – seems to be riding on the injured bodies and minds of the first.
I’ve been researching yoga injuries for nine months now. Many people I interview describe their chronic injuries being correlated to the intersection of strenuous effort and dogmatic instruction that marks the details-fixation of the modern alignment movement. Many suffered because they were asked to cast their bodies to a template and drive themselves to express more “openness”, more “intelligence”, to transmute more prana. It felt really good to them, until it didn’t. Where did this template come from? Not tradition, not literature. From 19th century transnational physicalist health ideals? Maybe. From the symmetries of temple architecture in Maharashtra? Probably. But mainly from the frantic imaginations of a few men – not women – who everyone forgot were experimenting with a new claim: hatha yoga is therapy, and there is some ultimate way to do it.
Many of the injured figured out that if Iyengar was experimenting, they could too, but opt for humility and curiosity, relaxation, a sense of teacher-student equality, and careful attention to issues of transference and countertransference in the classroom. It is doubtless that Iyengar stimulated wonderment in the body. This contribution is matched by another: he showed modern yoga teachers – even his senior students – how not to do the interpersonal.
The debt to Iyengar that modern yogis owe is like the debt to a father. It can feel like you literally owe him everything. He is “the man” as Palkhivala says “to whom I attribute my birth itself.” Perhaps the best way of making good on that debt is to leave the father’s house, and recreate yourself.
It’s strange how the first therapeutic things you reach for in your life can be energetically similar to the things that are causing you pain. Early on, it seems that we need something familiar enough to trust, but different enough to change us. In my own case, Iyengar yoga woke up my flesh in an exquisite way. But it did so through the same power dynamics that I was trying to flee. From my Catholic childhood, being told what I should do to please God in great ritualistic detail was my natal template for learning. I needed to escape this. It felt for a while like an Indian version would help.
Mr. Iyengar, through his book and his students, spoke to me in the familiar and therefore authoritarian language of my upbringing, but with a message that sanctified rather than repressed my body. He took me out of the church by telling me my body was a church. This was good. I felt the vaulted space within me, the clerestory, the stained glass of shifting emotion. And a certain emptiness.
Back then, I assumed somebody should bark at me like priests did – because that’s how I was wired to receive knowledge, love, and acceptance. It took me a long time to realize that the barking was the real problem, much more stressful than any dogma. I’d had enough of the demands for self-improvement. Eventually I realized that I didn’t need or want to be told what to do, especially in my body, which seems to produce its own alignment and pleasure when I am gentle.
So for this I am supremely grateful to Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar: his anxious genius, forged in his own teacher’s fire, sent me hurtling away from him, to land in a softer and less certain world.
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|Subject: Indian Guru conflict Fri Nov 21, 2014 7:17 pm|| |
Is India’s Fallen ‘God-Man’ So Different From a Megachurch Pastor?
The guru Rampal is in custody after a deadly battle at his ruined ashram. But how different is he from American charismatic leaders?
For a while yesterday, #Rampal was one of the top trending topics on Twitter. Not ]Jean-Pierre Rampal, the genius flautist who died in 2000—but Rampal, a guru largely unknown to Westerners but notorious in his native India. How is it that a figure we’ve never heard of dominated social media for a day?
In fact, Rampal’s recent arrest shines a fascinating light on a guru culture that’s easy for Americans to stereotype, but difficult to truly comprehend—maybe because it’s less foreign than it seems.
Let’s start with a few of the facts. Born in 1951, Rampal—né Rampal Singh Jatin—is a former engineer who in 1999 established an ashram dedicated to his own highly personalized, iconoclastic spirituality. Rejecting Hindu particularism (and indeed, prohibiting many Hindu observances), he advocated a universalism with New Age overtones—but which in India is associated with the 15th-
century saint Kabir—insisting that the Vedas, Bible, Quran, and other scriptures are “nearly same.”
Because of these unorthodox views—the guru at one point criticized a revered Hindu sage—Rampal’s followers violently clashed with traditional religionists in 2006, and the guru relocated his ashram that year. In the clashes, one person died from bullet wounds, and Rampal himself was charged with murder. He has been dodging those charges ever since—most recently ignoring a summons for contempt of court that had required him to appear this past Monday.
On Tuesday, police raided Rampal’s compound in Hisar, about 100 miles from Delhi. Guess how the story ends. Water cannons on one side, rock-throwing on the other, and, when it was all over, five dead devotees—although police have not revealed the cause of death, they insist that they did not die in the raid, and say the bodies did not “bear any injuries.” Rampal is now in jail, along with at least 270 followers.
Predictably, media coverage has focused on Rampal’s (somewhat) lavish 12-acre estate, complete with indoor swimming pool, and on his cult-like authority over his devotees. There are also some truly bizarre stories, my personal favorite being that Rampal would bathe in milk, and the milk would then be used to make kheer, a type of rice pudding.
But while Western observers might label Rampal’s sect a cult, it’s really more like a megachurch.
First, there are plenty of would-be gurus out there, especially in India. Rampal is a uniquely populist one. As one follower told the BBC, “[Rampal] says everyone is a good person and everyone is equal and we should respect all. That’s something I liked about his teachings.” Such teaching is revolutionary in still-caste-divided India. It also resembles those of a 1st-
century sect leader in Palestine who was also popular with the poor. (See Matthew 5:3, Luke 6:20) One reason Rampal’s followers are so rambunctious is that they come from the “lower” classes of Indian society.
Nor was Rampal’s compound a place of sexual and pharmaceutical liberty, as was that of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in Oregon, for example. (The Bhagwan later returned to India, cut out most of the sexual shenanigans, and renamed himself Osho shortly before his death—his teachings are still popular today.) In fact, Rampal preached against adultery and “vulgar singing and dancing.”
- Quote :
- His teaching is revolutionary in still-caste-divided India. It also resembles those of a 1st-century sect leader in Palestine who was also popular with the poor.
Nor, finally, are Rampal’s self-aggrandizing pronouncements unusual in the Indian context. Yes, he has declared himself to be a reincarnation of Kabir. Yes, he has demanded absolute loyalty from his followers. And yes, that authoritarian, patriarchal guru-power structure, invariably, always leads to abuses.
But none of this is unusual. India is full of gurus, from the recently deceased (or is he?) Sai Baba to Indira Gandhi’s personal guru, Dhirendra Brahmachari. And while guru literally means “teacher,” in Hindu and Buddhist contexts, it often means much more. Disciples must surrender totally to the external guru (the teacher) and the internal guru (one’s own “higher power”) in order to break the ego and progress. Buddhist and Hindu literature is rich with stories of disciples finally learning to surrender in this way.
The phrase of choice to describe Rampal is “self-styled god-man,” which has been repeated ad nauseam in the press. But as Indian-American author Rajiv Malhotra tweeted, “All Hindu gurus r self appointed bcause there is no Vatican like central authority.”
And as for “god-man,” this, too, is traditional in nature. The divine/human line is not as clear in Hinduism as it is in, say, Christianity (with the exception of Jesus, of course). Fully enlightened beings may be avatars, incarnations of various deities. Rampal may or may not be one of them (I would guess not), but the claim is not, itself, that unusual when seen in cultural context. The miracles attributed to him are also par for the course.
Clearly, Rampal is a charismatic leader who has used his power in weird, possibly criminal ways. But every tradition has this: mana, shaktipat, ruach ha’kodesh; “charisma” itself comes from the Greek word χάρισμα, roughly meaning divinely conferred grace. Anyone who has been in the presence of a charismatic leader, sacred or secular, can confirm that there is some mysterious personality trait that such individuals possess. It may be woo to call it energy, or grace, or the Holy Spirit; it may just be some weird social trait. But I’ve met many such people (Bill Clinton, an assortment of gurus, rock stars), and it’s definitely a thing.
So, is Rampal really that different from a corrupt, charismatic megachurch leader felled by scandal? The theology is different. So are the clothes. The level of devotion is more intense than one might find in Lake Forest, California.
But in a country struggling with modernization, and with 27 percent of its population living in poverty, the miracles and messages of gurus like Rampal remain highly attractive, just like those of charismatic religious leaders here. We might look at what happened this week and think of David Koresh or Jim Jones. Maybe we might look a little closer.
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|Subject: modern guru gone wild story - from India.... hold on to your bodily parts Sat Jan 10, 2015 12:06 pm|| |
Guru who ordered 400 followers to be castrated 'so they could be closer to God' is investigated for grievous bodily harm in India
- Gurmeet Ram Rahim is already facing trial over the murder of a journalist
- And he has faced allegations that he sexually exploited female followers
- Latest investigation follows complaint from a former follower of his sect
By Afp and Damien Gayle for MailOnline -
Published: 11:58 EST, 8 January 2015 A guru who ordered 400 of his followers to undergo castrations he said would bring them closer to God is under investigation by police in India.The country's top crime fighting agency registered a case against Gurmeet Ram Rahim - known as the 'guru in bling' for his penchant for garish clothes and jewellery - over the operations at his ashram.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) said Rahim is being investigated for criminal intimidation and causing grievous bodily hurt after an alleged 400 castrations were carried out.
'Guru in bling': Gurmeet Ram Rahim is being probed by India's Central Bureau of Investigation after a former follower alleged he ordered 400 men to submit to castrations he said would bring them closer to godThe guru, who heads the Dera Sacha Sauda organisation based in Haryana state, is already facing trial for conspiracy over the murder of a journalist in 2002, as well as with claims of sexually exploiting female followers.The latest case was filed after one of his devotees, Hansraj Chauhan, lodged a complaint in court alleging he was manipulated into having the 'painful' operation at the ashram.'They were told that only those who get castrated will be able to meet god,' Mr Chauhan's lawyer, Navkiran Singh, told AFP. 'We will put all the facts of the case to the court and seek compensation for the victims.'
Such allegations disturb me, when I am doing good for humanity. Me and my legal adviser are going to challenge the allegations
Gurmeet Ram Rahim, guru Mr Singh said doctors carried out the castrations over a period from 2000, but for years his client had been too scared to come forward. The court asked the CBI to carry out an investigation into the alleged castrations.The Times of India reports that Mr Chauhan said he was castrated at Rahim's ashram by doctors acting on the guru's orders.A court-mandated medical examination determined that Mr Chauhan had indeed been surgically castrated. Rahim, 47, yesterday hit back at the accusations, telling a press conference convened to plug his new movie he is considering legal action of his own against his accusers.
'Such allegations disturb me, when I am doing good for humanity. Therefore me and my legal advisor are going to move the court challenging the allegations,' said Rahim.
Colourful: The guru, who heads the Dera Sacha Sauda organisation in Haryana state, is already facing trial for conspiracy over the 2002 murder of a journalist, as well as with claims of sexually exploiting female followersThe Dera Sacha Sauda says it is a social welfare and spiritual organisation with millions of followers in India and broad.
On its website, the group describes Rahim as a saint as well as an author, inventor, scientist, philosopher, philanthropist, peace activist and 'the ultimate humanitarian'.
Rahim stars in an action movie to be released later this month called 'MSG: Messenger of God' in which the guru fights criminals, sings songs and is shown dousing himself in water in slow motion after a rugby game.
India has been rocked by numerous scandals involving popular godmen who are mostly Hindu ascetics claiming to possess mystical powers.
In November, police arrested Baba Rampal Maharaj after a long and violent siege at his ashram in Haryana when he refused to comply with court orders in a murder case.
In a bizarre case, devotees of a dead guru are fighting a court battle in Punjab state to preserve his body in a freezer, insisting he is only meditating.
For many Indians, gurus play an integral role in daily life. They say they offer a pathway to enlightenment in return for spiritual devotion and often give donations to ashrams, temples and charity projects.
Trailer for 'Guru of Bling' Gurmeet Ram Rahim album
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2902208/Guru-ordered-400-followers-castrated-closer-God-investigated-grievous-bodily-harm-India.html#ixzz3ORHScO3J
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|Subject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc. Wed Jan 28, 2015 1:06 am|| |
just call it "tantra"... what a scam.
Guru sex scandal at Mount Eliza yoga retreat
Date: January 20, 2015 - Swami Shankarananda.
A sex scandal has shattered the zen-like calm of an ashram in Mount Eliza, with revelations its "guru" and director, Swami Shankarananda, allegedly had sexual relations with dozens of women attending the ashram.
Distressed former members of the Shiva School of Meditation and Yoga claim Swami Shankarananda, 72, had sexual relationships with up to 40 women, and say a number have since sought counselling.
At a prayer meeting in December, a board member of the residential ashram - which has about 500 members and up to 40 "seekers", or residents - announced the ashram was aware of sexual allegations against American-born Swami Shankarananda, also known as Russell Kruckman, and he would be standing down as director.
The ashram then released a statement to members saying it was aware the swami had had "secret sexual relations" with a number of women over time but he had never claimed to be a sexual renunciant or demanded celibacy from his disciples.
"It is well known that our lineage is a tantric path, involving worship of the Goddess with strict disciplines," the letter says. "...until now Swamiji has kept aspects of the teaching and his personal activities secret in line with age-old Hindi tantric scriptures."
"Swamiji now accepts that this is not appropriate, and he must be transparent both personally and in the teachings."
The letter goes on to say that while the board has been advised there is no basis for criminal complaint, the activities in question raise a number ethical questions, and free counselling is available.
"Swamiji has asked us on his behalf to reiterate his message for the year of holding the feeling - that is, stay away from enmity, and keep returning to love."
In an accompanying letter, the swami directly addresses the members of ashram, apologising and saying he had a "carrot in his ear", an apparent reference to a book he wrote in 2004 called Carrot in My Ear: Questions and Answers on Living with Awareness.
"My dear ones, I feel a lot of anguish ... l had a carrot in my ear. Truly. When contemplating Baba's life, I was most engaged by the dramas of succession. I profoundly underestimated the impact of his tantric sexual activities. And my own. I recognise at last their disastrous effect."
Swami Shankarananda vowed to stop his behaviour and make amends in an atmosphere of "love and generosity of spirit".
"I am open to a dialogue about the role of the guru and the sannyasa in the modern West and also the place of sexuality in spiritual life ... we are pioneers, after all, and getting it all right isn't easy."
A longtime member of the ashram - who did not have sexual relations with its director - said members felt "absolutely shocked" and "aghast" that the swami remained in his role.
The source described it as an abuse of power from someone who held "huge sway" over a number "impressionable" people.
"He's very charismatic, he's like a big teddy bear. Everyone loved this guy but he's just a master at this," they said. They claimed that women were told that sex with the swami represented a path to "enlightenment".
Some residents at the ashram are now scrambling to try to find alternative accommodation and many long-term members had left, they said.
Fairfax Media was told the management committee of the ashram is deeply involved in the everyday life of its members, including giving advice on their relationships and marital problems.
In a statement the Shiva School said Swami Shankarananda is not on the school's management committee but remains the spiritual head of the Shiva ashram.
The ashram has engaged mediator Callum Campbell, the chief executive officer of the Australian Mediation Association, who will undertake a confidential mediation process and then report back to the ashram with recommendations for any action.
There is no current Victoria Police investigation and Fairfax is not implying that there is any evidence of sexual abuse.
Swami Shankarananda established the Shiva School of Meditation and Yoga in 1992.
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|Subject: Another example of a seductive personality cult.. this guy is the babble king Sat Mar 07, 2015 9:43 am|| |
The Canadian Man Who Commands a Cult with His Gaze February 25, 2015 -
By Harmon Leonhttp://www.vice.com/read/inside-a-canadian-staring-cult-224
John de Ruiter was sitting on an elevated stage in a large armchair in front of a packed auditorium. The entire room was intently focused on him and the intense gaze emanating from his steely blue eyes. He's handsome, like a top-tier Porsche salesman. On each side of the stage were mammoth video screens, both projecting an extreme close-up of John's face. For the next hour, we all silently stared at John.
I was told that John can look straight into your soul; other followers said they can see an aura around John during his three-hour staring sessions, or "meetings," as they're called. His followers, who number in the thousands, consider John the "living embodiment of truth." He is the L. Ron Hubbard of staring.
John de Ruiter (simply "John" to his followers) was a humble Christian preacher and orthopedic shoemaker in rural Alberta before he founded the College of Integrated Philosophy in Edmonton, Canada. He's now worshipped as a new messiah by his worldwide followers.
The College of Integrated Philosophy holds regular "meetings" at the Oasis Centre, a $7 million facility near the West Edmonton Mall, hidden within an office park and manned by an army of enthusiastic volunteers. Before that, John held his meetings in a small bookstore off of Whyte Avenue. His followers, largely middle-aged women, are completely "John Gone."
When I heard about John, I was intrigued. Was this the emperor's new spiritual clothes or was there something more to this staring guru? I traveled to Edmonton to find out.
It's $10 a head to attend John's three-hour staring meetings, which consist of "dialogue and silent connection." Forty-five minutes before commencement, the Oasis Centre was already packed to capacity. Before settling in, I went to have lunch at John's café, inside the facility.
"I moved here because of John," said a middle-aged woman standing next to me in the food line. This was the umpteenth time I'd heard someone say this. "Before I met John I was living on a beach near Byron Bay and didn't even know where Edmonton was," the woman added. Now, she had moved to Canada in search of something she felt only John could offer.
"Have you ever taken acid?" she asked me. "That's what it's like when you hear John. You listen and then suddenly something snaps and you get it."
I hoped that I, too, would have an acid-snapping spiritual moment today. If it didn't happen during the first meeting, there was plenty more to choose from: "Friday night we have a meeting. Sunday we have two meetings. Then Monday we have another one," relayed a gray-haired woman while I grabbed a sandwich wrap. She was smiling broadly. "I go to all of them. I work here, so Monday I go to work and just continue to stay here for the meeting as well as Fridays."
John's upcoming world-staring tour includes seminars in Israel, Germany, India, Holland, and England—and while tickets to meetings are a measly $10, seminar tickets go for hundreds of dollars. Despite the hefty price tag, many of his devotees are willing to follow him around the globe.
"John goes to all these place. I go sometimes," said a kindly woman from New York. She had been a John follower for 15 years before she decided to make the move to Edmonton. "I've been to Israel four times with John."
I sat down at her table, along with some women from Israel, Germany, and the UK, all of whom stared intensely at me.
"It's very international," she continued. "You'll find that there are less Edmontonians than people from elsewhere, but they live in Edmonton now because of John."
"Are you going to sign up to talk to John?" asked the Israeli woman, who also moved to Canada because of John. "You put your name down if you want to talk to John, and you wait and see if your name comes up on the board."
"Maybe I shouldn't dive right into the deep end," I replied.
"No two meetings are the same—it all depends on who asks the questions," added an older Austrian woman who moved to Edmonton five years ago. When she first attended John's seminar in Europe, she couldn't speak a word of English. And yet: "I could understand everything he said; I just knew he was speaking very important truths." She told me that no matter where John moved, she would follow him.
"It might seem really confusing at first at what's going on," she said to me, before advising me to "listen with your heart."
"Have you ever taken acid?" she asked me. "That's what it's like when you hear John. You listen and then suddenly something snaps and you get it."
Before I had come to see the College of Integrated Philosophy for myself, I had spoken with Professor Stephen Kent of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, a cult expert who has been researching de Ruiter's activities for years.
"It's a community of striving, if not naive, followers," he told me, describing the majority of members as older Aquarian-aged people who've grown up expecting the world to be filled with peace and happiness but have been left disappointed. "De Ruiter is maybe seen as the last hope of their generation to provide the kind of world they wanted," he said. "People who want the world to be a good place and think it's attributing to its betterment. But in fact are spending hours and hours of time listening to not a whole lot of insight."
Kent said that John's following stems from the psychological process called "misattribution," based on the idea that humans are meaning-seeking creatures. Followers, he said, misattribute John's relative silence and his scarcity of words as indications of profound depth. "They expect a guru up there pontificating—but he doesn't say much. If you look at the message, there's not a lot of substance to it," he explained. "Many of the people are widely read in spirituality issues. They fill in the absence of the thoughts with their own knowledge and hopes and aspirations. So they give John meaning that he himself may not even realize."
Members have expressed disillusionment with John's group in the past—but few have publicly come forward about it. "They look around and perceive to see a large happy community—and then say, 'Oh the problem must be with me; everybody else sees the wisdom—so it's my problem.' Then they feel that it's their shortcomings," said Kent. "I'd say a lot of people have caught on, but they haven't spoken publicly about what they come to realize."
Kent told me the story of one woman who'd left the group after she saw John at a gas station filling up his off-road truck. She asked the attendant if he knew John, and he told her that John came in all the time to repair his truck from off-road trips over the weekends. The woman realized that the money she was giving the group had been partly funding John's off-road hobby.
"Over a period of time people have spent countless hours and a fair amount of money seeking out a product that is nonexistent. And when people finally realize what they've been doing for so long it hits a lot of them really hard," said Professor Kent. "People are assigning wisdom to John based on what they have picked up themselves over the years. That sense of wisdom gets reinforced with members."
Kent has also been told stories of arranged marriages to help foreign members move to Edmonton, where they become Oasis Centre volunteers. "I've heard that John will point at two people and say they should be married," he said. Kent gets frequent calls from concerned family members and friends. "The devotion to John takes over people's lives. It inhibits the ability to make rational decisions for themselves and for their loved ones."
John's most public controversy involved two sisters he was having a relationship with while he was married: Benita and Katrina von Sass. Not only did their father, businessman Peter von Sass, provide John financial support, but he also introduced John to his young nubile daughters. (The story made headlines because Katrina is a former Canadian Olympic volleyball player.)
The staring guru originally denied the affair, stating he was answering questions on a "personal level." He later told his congregation that "truth" had told him to sleep with the von Sass sisters. John's wife divorced him when she refused to join the sister harem; the von Sass girls eventually sued John, stating they were owed certain entitlements and payments from a decade spent as his common-law wives.
In an affidavit, Benita von Sass described John as "an opportunist and a huckster." She said that he had told her to "sexually submit to him" as it was "God's will," and that he claimed to be "Christ on Earth." At the time, she said, he was still having regular sex with the two of them in addition to his wife.
"There have been constant rumors about affairs, and members either don't take the seriously or don't care," said Kent. "They believe he is operating on a different level of wisdom that puts him in a different realm from the rest of us and give him permissions that normal people don't have."
Then he began staring, his eyes glistening like pooled Visine.
I knew this before I arrived at the staring meeting. Still, I tried keep my heart and mind open as instructed, since I wanted to understand how John could wield so much power with merely a look.
"What John emphasizes is it's not about anything he is saying—it's really about opening your heart and seeing what you see and what opens for you," said a volunteer from Holland, who recently moved to Edmonton after coming to John's summer seminar (within a week she was engaged to another volunteer). "Sometimes it could be far out there, based on so much knowledge and foundation and common understanding," she said, acknowledging that at some of the three-hour meetings, John doesn't speak at all.
I paid for my $10 ticket and drew an assigned seat. The gold circle is up front, where you get the most impact of John's direct stare.
"I'm in the boonies," lamented a woman who had been coming to meetings since 1996.
"You've been here for so long, you don't need any more close-ups," her friend replied.
The Oasis Centre's lavish auditorium was designed solely for John and his staring proclivities. Adorned with ornate chandeliers, a proscenium stage, and marble pillars, it's a venue worthy of a king—or a spiritual guru with followers who move from all corners of the world to be closer to his gaze. The College of Integrated Philosophy sometimes rents out the luxurious facility for wedding receptions, which can cost up to $13,000 during peak season.
I took my seat off to the side as roughly 350 people filtered in, filling almost the entire auditorium.
"I've been to about 4,000 meetings," said the young woman sitting next to me. "I started coming when I was seven." She was originally from Vancouver, she told me, "but my parents moved here because of John."
Once seated, a British woman came onstage to tell us about the scholarship fund for those who can't afford John's seminars. She was providing a training workshop for budgeting: "Those requesting a scholarship may be asked to look at their lifestyle and find new ways to contribute to these seminars financially," she said. "This could include simple suggestions like setting up a toonie jar, comprehensive budget planning, managing resources, considering downsizing, or renting a room or a garage out."
I tried to keep my heart open as John's devotees instructed, despite the fact that this woman had just encouraged his followers to rent out rooms in their homes to help pay for these expensive seminars.
Suddenly, the energy of the room shifted dramatically. There was no music—just silence and a few coughs. We were acutely aware of John's presence as he stood at the side of the stage for what seemed an incredible amount of time. Then he slowly walked towards his large comfy chair, his footsteps loudly reverberating throughout the hushed auditorium. The atmosphere was mausoleum-esque. John sat and slowly put on his headset, with dramatic effect. Then he began staring, his eyes glistening like pooled Visine.
What followed was the world's largest staring contest with John's face on the large video screen. It was hard not to break into a smug Richard Dawkins laugh, but this meeting was a no-nonsense affair, so I clamped down on my giggling. Occasionally the video monitors cut to shots of us staring at John. It was like being in church, if the pastor had had a stroke and all he could do was stare at you. This went on for about an hour.
Then, John went one by one and stared directly at each person in attendance. When he looked at me, my heart fluttered and I realized how uncomfortable it is to be stared at by non-blinking eyes.
I tried melting into his stare, to feel what his followers must feel—his handsome face, his pouty lips, his steely blue eyes. Staring at John was like staring at a glassy-eyed Dutch painting. It started to feel like he was staring solely at me, and it felt incredibly intimate because of the utter silence. The room was crowded, yet it was just me and John.
Then, abruptly, the spell was broken. John's large staring head on the video screen started to remind me of David Cronenberg's Scanners
, and I was afraid it might explode. Was I beginning to read too much into this?
Then it got weird.
A teary-eyed woman appeared on the large video screens. She had signed up to ask questions of John and took the chair directly in front of him. The woman was a fragile mess and spoke very slowly: "It's important for me to speak to you. I have a really hard time articulating. I don't have a question, I just love what I'm responding to.
John stared at her.
"I just so love responding. It's not even a choice; it's just happening. I have no direct experience what is now—but I love our bond." More staring. There was a long pause. Strained coughs. "I don't know what this is, but somehow we are in this together in some sweet way."
John and the woman were now staring at each other. We stared at them. Who would blink first?
Professor Kent had told me that in the old days, anyone could ask John a question. Now, there's a preliminary screening; if they don't like what the person is going to say, they don't get called on.
"How to see the speck of gold that has no weight—it is weightless?" a Dutch woman now asked from John's hot seat. There's a long, long pause.
John spoke, at last. His words were slow, soft, and deliberate: "You enjoy knowing the gold directly."
We waited for hours for John to speak, and now he was speaking; so I guessed his words must be very important: "It is real to you. The gold," John said slowly. "You respond to what you know is golden." Pause. "You see that which is most deeply real in you."
Slow and torturous, John threw out more fortune cookie Haiku statements: "The plow breaks the ground in yourself." Long pause. "When you are in flow, do what is golden; that which is not golden breaks."
John's followers stared intently, hanging on to every word, creating meaning out of it all. The Dutch woman kept questioning with equally slow delivery; it was like watching two people on mescaline hold a conversation.
"I feel small," she said.
"You feel that because your self is too small for you," John replied.
The woman's chest heaved with each question as John continued his dreamy, hypnotic dialogue. Sometimes she said things and John didn't respond—he just kept uncomfortably staring at her.
Then, John pulled what I assume is his most popular parlor trick: He shed one tear that slowly trickled down his cheek. I could feel the entire auditorium gasp.
"Tell me to stop because I could go on forever," said the Dutch woman. John remained quiet. The two ended up staring each other down for another ten minutes until John slowly took off his headset and walked offstage.
I felt confused—had I missed something? John seemed to give people a sense of happiness, but all I saw was underlying confusion and sadness.
"It's a lot to take in for the first time," I said to the kindly New York woman as we left for our dinner break in John's café.
"John opens the door for you and gives you the direction," she explained. "Once the door is open, you're there." I asked her what she meant. "It's not a practice like Buddhism," she said. "It's more direct. This is direct knowledge—a direct transmission, and John's a portal to it. He awakens the answers within you."
"Sometimes you can say a lot more without words," I replied.
A man from London overheard us and offered his own interpretation of the profound depth: "Life is uneventful; it's meant to be uneventful."
"Is that how it usually is, where he channels the answers within the person?" I asked the Austrian woman, trying to connect the spiritual dots.
"It's not channeling, it's so much more. It's what the person can see," she clarified, adding: "You came to a very special meeting. You're lucky!"
Since I made the trek to Edmonton, I decided to stay for the second session, which meant I was moving into my fifth hour of staring—and this one was maybe not as special, though it started similarly. Another attractive, teary-eyed woman stepped into John's hot seat. Her question had to do with hysterically sobbing on the drive home from a meeting.
"Your deeper womanist is more than yourself," John said slowly, and then stared for a long period of time before adding: "It has no past. It flows without a path."
"Can you say more about that?" she asked with frustration. "I really want to know more."
"Use the pathways into yourself. But it still has not path—as your deeper womanist moves through the pathways of yourself." Pause. "As it moves through yourself, it will change yourself." Pause. "Your deeper womanist."
"Is my deeper womanist an aspect of my being?"
John sat unmoved, unblinking. Was he channeling the answer or did he not have an answer? After several minutes: "Without a self it has no purpose."
The woman seemed frustrated by the painfully long silences between responses. "I am not affected by how you are not responding," she said.
John gave the woman his silent, steely stare. Was John helping the emotionally fragile, who are willing to believe everything he says (no matter how slowly) with blind devolution? Or was he a charlatan conducting an elaborate parlor trick for the vulnerable and weak? The man sitting next to me looked like he was dragged here by his wife, and began dozing off. Then silence. Then nothingness. Follow Harmon Leon on Twitter.
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|Subject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc. Sat Mar 07, 2015 9:51 am|| |
Getting Clear of Dodgy Gurus (My Experience with John de Ruiter)
Submitted by Kephas on Sat, 10/29/2011 - 05:31.
I recently completed a book covering my two years following Canadian guru John de Ruiter. I hope to publish later this year or early 2012.
A bit about myself. I was raised an atheist and never had much interest in “spirituality”—much less gurus—especially when as a teenager my stepfather joined the Rajneesh community and came back glassy-eyed and dressed in maroon. In my early twenties, however, I developed an interest in occultism and traveled around the world, mostly in Latin America where I apprenticed under a shaman. I have published several books between 1999 and the present, under various different names, and in the past few years my interests as a writer have moved more and more into psychology.
I first heard about de Ruiter in 2008 and was skeptical. Immediately after, I had a powerful, seemingly paranormal dream experience of/with him, and soon after that he came to London, where I was living at the time. I attended a meeting, was convinced at once that he was “the real deal,” and became a devout follower (though I never moved to Edmonton). I moved to Canada to live with a woman whom I later married, the same person who had first told me about de Ruiter, and was still a devout follower of his teachings.
Long story short, after two years trying to live his teachings and turn myself into the perfect de Ruiter clone, some outside interventions lead me to look more closely at my blind devotion to this man, and also at the man himself and his behind the scenes antics. I eventually came to realize—through talking to as many people as I could, including people who had known him in the past—that, although de Ruiter was not a con-man and seemed to genuinely believe in his status as a “living embodiment of truth,” he was a deeply deluded individual who was creating a kind of psychic dependency among his followers, and as such, leading them into slavery, not freedom.
That’s a very rough summation, by way of introduction. The reason I came to this forum is because I’d like to make contact with the people who are the potential audience for my book, it being one thing of value that has come out of all this. I now see that I went into de Ruiter’s community (and entered his reality tunnel) as an “undercover agent,” a method journalist who needed to find out how cults really work, and so had to succumb to cult mentality myself. At least, that’s how I prefer to look at it now, because it was an extremely educational experience, and it did give me a much deeper understanding, not only of how personality cults work, but of my own susceptibility to idealize external figures and hand over my power to define what’s true, for me, to another person. It’s that same tendency, which I now think exists in all of us, which allows cults to come about.
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|Subject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc. Fri Apr 17, 2015 9:19 pm|| |
Friday, Apr 17, 2015 05:59 PM EST
Secrets of the Scientologists: Why people do horrible things for belief
"Going Clear" gives a glimpse into how indoctrination really works. A 20th century tragedy reveals even more.
Tom Cruise, in a still from "Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief" (Credit: HBO)
“My goal wasn’t to write an exposé, it was simply to understand Scientology.”
So says Lawrence Wright at the beginning of HBO’s blockbuster documentary “Going Clear.” The film, which Wright adapted from his bestselling book of the same name, describes Scientology as a criminal cult that harasses former members who become critical of the church; physically and emotionally tortures some current ones; and once strong-armed the IRS into granting it tax-exempt status as a recognized religion. Beneath the sensational and harrowing stories, however, “Going Clear” amounts to a study of belief more broadly — of “why people believe one idea rather than another,” as Wright puts it.
One by one, former church members recount their involvement in the Church with a mix of shame, puzzlement and resignation. “I was really stupid,” says Academy Award-winner Paul Haggis, one of Scientology’s most famous apostates. “I was part of this for 30 years before I spoke out. […] Why didn’t I do it earlier?” Others are even more self-critical: “Maybe my entire life has been a lie,” says Spanky Taylor, an ex-Scientologist who alleged that, as a pregnant mother, she was held in a “prison camp” and punished with grueling physical labor for objecting to the way the church “denied medical treatment to her boss.” Their embarrassment about their pasts becomes even easier to understand when Wright describes the church’s creation myth: A galactic overlord Xenu expelled hordes of people to a prison planet (Earth) 75 million years ago, dropped them into volcanoes, then dispersed their spirits (or “thetans”) with nuclear bombs. These spirits still possess humans to this day, and Scientologists expend a great deal of energy and money trying to exorcise them.
But “Going Clear” avoids the trap of incredulity. Those interviewed for the film, while eccentric, are accomplished, well spoken and, most of all, sincere. Parallel to their stories of abuse and warped belief are understandable explanations of their choices: Haggis explains that as a young man, worried about his relationships and anxious to get his start as a documentary filmmaker, he was partially seduced by Scientology’s reputation for advancing careers, and was comforted by their undogmatic facade. Indeed, the Church’s website still boasts that “[u]nlike religions with Judeo-Christian origins […] Scientology does not ask individuals to accept anything on faith alone.” As a curious and hopeful 21-year-old, he contributed a modest $50 to begin his training. Like many of those interviewed for “Going Clear,” he says that Scientology more resembled a self-help organization at first glance.
But, while there seems to be an unbridgeable gap between self-help and alien exorcisms, Scientology’s rigid, diagrammatic structure provides a clue to how one idea can lead to the other. According to the documentary, after signing up, a Scientologist embarks on something called “The Bridge,” a step-by-step course of spiritual advancement, through which one could eventually achieve a “Clear” state of mind. (“Every step to ‘Clear’ had a price tag,” notes the film’s narrator.) Along “The Bridge,” Scientologists attend compulsory and successive “auditing” sessions, which Wright describes resembling a sci-fi version of Freudian therapy. Scientologists discuss the most intimate details of their lives during auditing, details which the church records diligently — and can later allegedly use for blackmail. It’s only after years of training, after they have told the church every private fact about themselves, that Scientologists hear about Xenu and humankind’s alien origins. Unsurprisingly, even after many years, Haggis and others still found the creation myth hard to stomach. Haggis even wondered if it was an “insanity test.”
Curiously, none of those interviewed in the film exited Scientology at that junction. As Haggis put it, “you have already paid for the next [session],” your social life centered around the church, and, besides, you weren’t required
to believe it. “If you were told [about Xenu the galactic overlord] on day one,” wonders the journalist Tony Ortega, “how many people would join?” He describes the Scientologist strategy as a “bait and switch.” But Scientology has perfected something more nuanced–a technique that separates the process of investing
in belief from that of belief itself: By the time Scientologists are told about the creation myth, they have many persuasive emotional reasons to believe in it, or rather, to try
to believe it.
In Philip Gourevich’s study of the Rwandan genocide, “We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families,” he describes another case where acts proceed beliefs. When the Hutu Power movement led mass killings of ethnic Tutsis in the mid-’90s, the true measure of allegiance was not belief, but action. “Everyone was called to hunt the enemy,” says Theodore Nyilinkwara, a survivor interviewed for the book. If a Hutu was reluctant, the militias required him to attend massacres, then, later, to kill a Tutsi. “So this person who is not a killer is made to do it,” says Nyilinkwara. “And the next day it’s become a game for him. You don’t need to keep punishing him.” Once a person has killed for an idea, their ethical opinion of themselves relies on embracing that idea. Vicious, conspiratorial state radio broadcasts spoke of outlandish Tutsi plots against the Hutus that people readily believed because they partially justified the violence.
In the language of the Mafia, says Gourevitch, “a person who has become invested in the logic and practices of the gang is said to be owned by it.” When Jason Beghe, an actor and ex-Scientologist featured in “Going Clear,” describes the strange sensation of self-policing — “the best traps are when you get a guy to keep himself in jail” — he sounds remarkably like Nyilinkwara. Once a person has acted on a belief, they don’t need to be continually pressured. Ex-Scientologists who alleged that they were placed in “The Hole,” a holding facility in California where upper-level church members were held and beaten, found themselves actually fighting to stay there. If the FBI came to rescue them from what some described as a “prison camp,” says one of the captives, Tom De Vocht, they would have responded: “We’re doing this voluntarily. We like
living in these conditions.”
The technique is so effective that it appears to be at work on L. Ron Hubbard himself, the science fiction writer and founder of Scientology. According to his ex-wife Sara Northrup, he once cynically claimed that “the only way to make any real money was to start a religion.” But as his power over others grew, she says, “he began to believe that he was a savior, that he really was this god figure.” Over time, “he degenerated into a really paranoid and terrifying person.” “If he were just a fraud,” adds Wright, “at some point he would have just taken the money and run.” Marty Rathbun, a former high-ranking Scientologist, says that the current leader David Miscavige “has to believe because, if he looks at it rationally and sees that it is as I say, it will destroy him.” “He’s done a lot worse than I’ve done,” he adds.
Scientology’s persuasiveness is not in the logic of its beliefs but in its ability to control behavior. People believe in Xenu and thetans because it becomes exceedingly difficult not to in light of all they have committed to the church. At the close of “Going Clear,” Haggis reflects on his time within Scientology: “We lock up a portion of our own mind. We willingly put cuffs on. We willingly avoid things that could cause us pain if we just looked.” Each time Marty Rathbun is confronted with his past, he keeps “dying deaths. I don’t know how many more deaths I have left.”
|Subject: Re: Books on the modern cultic experience, gurus gone wild, etc. || |