Friday, June 17, 2016

Lavanya - A Guest Post


I WAS NOT AS SPECIAL AS YOU AND I THOUGHT

This is the story of a few pivotal experiences of my 31 years in the Sri Chinmoy Centre. Telling it makes me feel sad, mad, ashamed, and foolish for staying and serving for so many years after I knew things were not as they should be, starting with our divine leader. Still, when I finally left the Centre, I swore to myself that I would never tell what I knew about him, and until recently I thought I never would. But when I left the Centre, I thought I knew what was true about Chinmoy, when actually I knew almost nothing. Now, as the real Chinmoy is gradually being revealed by piecing together all of our experiences with him, it seems I can’t keep my own story tamped down any longer. It needs to be told. 

It’s not a good story, not a happy story, and I am not a heroine – on the contrary. But life is telling me it’s time to speak up. I probably should have spoken long ago. I definitely COULD have spoken about 40 years ago. Maybe I would have spared a lot of people a lot of pain. But probably not. Even now, people don’t listen to what they don’t want to hear, myself included. From what we hear and read, it seems all the gurus are bad gurus, pretty much. You pick one, and you get what you get, because you are who you are. Things have to run their course. The things you need to learn, sometimes you need to learn them the hard way.

They say a liar thinks everyone is lying. Maybe an honest person thinks everyone else is honest. I was honest, and that was how I approached life and the world: I believed other people were pretty much like me, basically honest. But there were other traits that also made me who I was. I was not curious about other people’s lives. I was not nosey. I was not suspicious. I was not a philosopher or a deep thinker by nature. I didn’t get any satisfaction from speculating about things that I didn’t know and couldn’t know. I didn’t question authority. I didn’t think for myself. I didn’t even listen to myself. I was quiet and obedient. I was seen and not heard. I was book smart, but utterly foolish. I took Chinmoy’s word as law, and I literally tried to do exactly what he said we should, and do it cheerfully. I was innocent. 

Worse – I was ignorant. Not consciously deliberately ignorant, but I saw things I wasn’t meant to see, and I somehow let them pass. Such as: Chinmoy embracing “S” on the second floor of his house. I was stunned! Then I was jealous. He used to tell me I was his favorite child, but he didn’t embrace ME!! Did he see my shocked face over her shoulder before I retreated, or was she the one who saw me come up the stairs? I don’t remember for sure, but I think it was him. 

But why did I retreat? Why was I not bold enough to walk right up to them and put them on the spot? I don’t know. I was not a courageous person. I didn’t know how to speak up or speak out. If I had opinions, I didn’t have any confidence in them. I didn’t know how to stand up for myself or for what I thought. I wasn’t sure of myself. Still, why did seeing this not put me on my guard? Maybe I just wanted so much to believe in him. This was my guru, my lord, my God! Surely he could not be doing something wrong?

So I completely bought his explanation for the embrace: he said he was consoling her for problems with her husband. And then, not that much later, when she left the path, apparently in great anger, I didn’t think, I didn’t wonder, I didn’t ask questions. Once again, I accepted his explanation: she was jealous of me and “R.” Perhaps I was subtly flattered, and therefore didn’t consider: “Is it likely that someone would leave their guru because they were jealous of others?” Nobody does that. You stay and fight! You prove that YOU are worthy of his love. 

And after S left, in spite of what I had seen, which he KNEW I had seen, Chinmoy was still able to use her as a weapon against me. I was that weak! I had switched to part-time after my first two years in college, but it wasn’t the kind of school where you could just slide by. So my time was not 100% at the service of the master, and as a result, I was left out of many activities, especially short trips. I was insecure, jealous, depressed, and whenever I admitted having these emotions, or manifested them too overtly, he would scold me and threaten me, saying that the forces that had taken S away were entering into me and would take me, too, if I didn’t conquer them. 

So I tried really hard, and very sincerely, to conquer them. No insecurity, no impurity, no jealousy, no depression, no competition, no attachment, no possessiveness! Just love, devotion, surrender, surrender, surrender, unconditional surrender! How was my surrender? Was it unconditional? Was he my father-god? 

You can see where this is going… And yes, that’s where it went. I was initiated with the most special blessing of having sexual contact with the perfected being who I believed would take my soul to the Highest Absolute Supreme. All those who have wondered how I managed to avoid being abused, here is your answer: I didn’t manage to avoid it. I didn’t try to avoid it. I accepted it in the same way that I accepted everything he offered: as the truth, as a blessing, a lesson, an opportunity to make the fastest progress. In this case, a unique privilege, because I was so special; I was the only one, and I must never tell anyone else. Oh yes! This self-educated man from a third-world country was clever enough to know how to use both my strengths and my weaknesses to control me completely.

And somehow, somehow, I convinced myself for a few years that this was indeed a great and rare spiritual blessing. I know that most of the guys, especially, are completely misunderstanding this, so please put your imaginations on hold, and let me try to explain why so many smart women believed that sex with the master was not sex; it was a purification ritual, an opportunity to make spiritual progress, a way to overcome our resistance, a way to practice and prove our surrender to our master. Wasn’t it our goal to have no will but his will? To lose our sense of self, and be nothing other than his divine instruments?

Chinmoy didn’t behave like a “normal” male when he was with me. He didn’t show any kind of eagerness, and he didn’t appear to be aroused by me. Maybe he was just not that into me, but I also didn’t get a sexual vibe from him. Short-shorts and sleeveless undershirts notwithstanding, he always seemed quite unconscious of how his body might be perceived by women (even later, when he started weightlifting and showing it off deliberately). He struck me as basically asexual. His behavior when he was with me was kind of clinical and detached, like he was observing an experiment, not like he was personally participating in an intimate or pleasurable act. 

Maybe that’s what it was at the beginning -- like the divine marriages -- an experiment of some kind. Or maybe that was just the way his particular sexuality manifested itself. There was never what I would call affection, appreciation, or satisfaction expressed. “All right, good girl, you can go,” or words to that effect signaled the end of each encounter once he stopped bothering to meditate with me afterwards. Chinmoy was affectionate in other (fatherly or avuncular) ways, but at other times. 

When it came to these “special blessing” encounters, he was all business, and quite detached – often with eyes almost closed, like he was meditating. I’m not saying he WAS meditating, but he looked like he was, and that’s all that mattered at the time. There were no caresses, no kisses, no foreplay; it was just business. “Make me strong,” he would say at the beginning of our encounters, and that wasn’t easy; it was yet another chore, like vacuuming the carpet or doing the laundry. So try to stop imagining something fun, please. It was not fun in any way. It was just another obligation on the list, and not a pleasant one. If he had appeared to be enjoying the process, I might have been suspicious. 

But one fine afternoon, I went upstairs to perform one of my daily household chores – making up the master’s bed – only to find him in it with another. Both of them were sound asleep, along with all his countless inner beings, who for the second time had sadly failed to warn him of my imminent arrival. What they had been doing before sleep overtook them was obvious even to me. So I was NOT the only one, as he had repeatedly told me. That was a shocker; much worse than the embrace I had witnessed a few years earlier. 

So what did I do? We all have our weaknesses. Cowardice is one of mine. I should have, but I COULD NOT, wake them up and make a huge scene. In my early 20s, I didn’t have the kind of self-confidence that would allow me to confront my guru and a prominent sister disciple. Not both of them together, and probably not separately either. I was too polite, too respectful, too afraid. It was simply impossible for me to ever deliberately put someone else in such an embarrassing position, even if they deserved it. I retreated back down the stairs and left the house quietly. 

And I never told him, or her, or anyone else, what I had seen. It was burned into my memory, but somehow I never really made that memory part of my own story. I knew from that moment that my guru was a liar, and that his inner beings did not always protect him, as he often claimed they did. I never used what I saw against him. I never thought the obvious thought: “If he’s doing this with her and with me, isn’t it likely there are others?” I didn’t think worse of her or of him (except for the liar part). I barely ever thought of it at all, not even as the logical explanation when she began to dominate him (and me, of course). What level of cognitive dissonance was required in order for me to carry on as normal after seeing this?

We’ve been talking on FB about the phenomenon of not wanting to know the truth, and of knowing but not adjusting your life to reflect that knowledge. Call me the poster child for that strange psychology. Seeing his deception with my own eyes, experiencing his lack of omniscience in my own life, didn’t lead me to any logical next step, not even to wondering what else he might be lying about or getting up to. Was that because my sense of who I was depended so much on believing in who he was? 

At one point many years later, I heard from Chinmoy himself that Sevika was “making allegations” against him, which he swore were not true. How could I have believed him? But I did, sort of. I was alerted about them by Chirantan, too, and by another friend, but I assured them both that these claims weren’t likely to be true. I guess I couldn’t admit that they probably WERE true, because I wasn’t ready to change my life. I wasn’t brave enough to face the truth. (“You can’t handle the truth!” That was me.)

All the same, my dissatisfaction with the path and its leader was already strong at that time, and growing stronger. For many years I could see that he was not perfect, that he was not all-seeing and all-knowing, and without a doubt he was not as divine as he claimed to be. Again and again I was disappointed, angered, and embarrassed by his general behavior and by his treatment of me and others. But still I remained a hard-working contributor to his mission, and possibly an unwitting enabler of his worst activities. 

The last few years of my disciple life, when he pushed me away more and more, when I could see no future role for myself within the SCC, when he appeared to give in to all of R’s demands, I thought she must be blackmailing him in some way; there seemed to be no other logical explanation. I thought it, but despite all, not really. Who could dare to blackmail the guru and live to tell the tale? I never even imagined the seriousness of the threat she probably held over him. Why not? All I can say by way of explanation is: see paragraph 3.

So after all, I was just another one of the guru’s girls. Not the first fool; nothing special, just one of the crowd. Occasionally I wonder how I would have responded if I had known that there were many other women involved, or if he had tried to engage me in any of the group activities that came later. I’ll never know; I can only hope that my response would have been more appropriate. What I do know is that he had ways of beating down my resistance. How does a good disciple say no to the guru, to the god-man whose songs you sing, whose writings you read, whose poems you memorize, whose voice sounds like music, whose photo you meditate on, whose face looks at you from every wall and surface in your house? 

It took until somewhere in my late 30s for my fury and frustration to give me the courage to say, “I won’t; don’t ever ask me again!” to my Lord and Master. Although he shunned me brutally for weeks, and later tried several times to lure me back into his bedroom, somehow I held my ground. I was still responsible for cleaning the room, making the bed, picking his clothes up off the floor, and putting them away after they were washed and folded, but I would not pass the doorway if he was in the room. It’s little enough to be grateful for. And yet I stayed for another 10 to 15 frustrating, unhappy years, serving him in many other ways, out of habit, fear, love, hope, fear, friendship, sense of responsibility, fear, poverty, lack of confidence, and did I mention fear? Fear on so many levels – so subtle, so pervasive, so paralyzing, the fear of making a terrible spiritual mistake.

I couldn’t extricate myself from the life I had built around him and immersed myself in since I turned 18. I was bored, frustrated, overworked, unsatisfied, and depressed by my daily routines. And I was furious at Chinmoy for giving precedence to R when I was the one who actually worked hard for him, or so it seemed to me. I kept casting around for things that would give me some joy, and at the same time annoy the master. I cut my hair short. I wore earrings, nail polish, a black coat. I got a perm. He told me I should swim the Channel, so I jumped at the opportunity to join a gym with a pool “so I could practice.” I got in the pool exactly once; instead, I started weight-training, took aerobics and step classes, and discovered the pleasure of exercise-induced endorphins, which I never experienced from running. He didn’t like any of it, but he managed to tolerate it all. 

And every time I thought things couldn’t get any worse with Chinmoy, they did get worse. So I got worse too. When my women-only gym closed for renovations, I started working out and taking classes at Gold’s. I got a personal trainer (a guy!), and loved being pushed hard and seeing muscles in my arms. I leased a commercial embroidery machine and went for a week-long course in how to use it. I went to a 3-day convention for aerobics teachers in Nashville (with Nidrahara). On one Christmas trip I got a tattoo. I was doing my best to get myself invited to leave, but my instinct for self-preservation was strong. I didn’t actually want to destroy myself; I just wanted out.

Finally, I signed up for ballroom dance lessons. Oh my god, they were SO much fun, and of course Chinmoy HATED them, which was my goal, after all. But even this he tolerated for a couple of years, as long as I was discreet. Eventually one girl saw me on TV, sitting in the audience at the Ohio Star Ball. (Why was she watching a ballroom dance competition on TV, bad girl?) But I developed a pinched nerve in one foot, and I went to Nishtha & Pranika’s podiatrist to get orthotics for my dance shoes, naively trusting in the theory of doctor-patient confidentiality. Next time Nishtha went to him herself, I was busted, and this time I had pushed the master to his limit. (No doubt, Nishtha led a blameless life.) Chinmoy told me to give up the dance lessons or leave his path. I had to think about it; can you believe that? He offered me the thing I most desired and I actually did a Pros and Cons list! Fortunately, the dancing won. Or probably I should say that the path lost, because there was not much on the Pro side of that list; it was mostly Cons. 

Ironically, I had to give up the dance lessons right away anyhow, because of course I couldn’t afford them, once I was no longer being handed wads of cash. (Cash that I was very much aware had been earned and lovingly offered – not to me – by my hardworking, and often impoverished, sisters and brothers.) But I didn’t mind. I was free. Every evening after work, my time was my own. Every weekend, I could do whatever I wanted. I never had to sit through another esraj concert or Peace Concert. I never had to learn another song. I never had to wait patiently for the divine Miss R to appear. I never had to stay awake beyond human endurance for no good reason. I never had to listen to another endless scolding, or be snubbed and ignored for unknown reasons, or told what to do or wear or think, who to talk to, where to go and what to do or not do. 

I was free, more or less. Except for those pesky residual habits: dressing like a nun on holiday, being afraid of bad karma and hostile forces, feeling guilty about this and that. I was free, sort of, but I was also completely alone. All my friends and my customary support systems vanished at the moment of my departure. It was January 2000, and when my plumbing froze, I couldn’t call Achyuta to fix it. When my car broke down, I couldn’t call Vinaya. When I lost a filling, I had to find a dentist and pay him myself. I had no health insurance, no work history, no job, and no income. 

Fortunately, I had a brother who was not a fan of Chinmoy, and he offered me a loan to get me through the first few months. My friend “P” got me a short-term job editing a book for the United Nations (the first book ever to have my name in the credits!), and then Gayatri and Gangadhar got permission from Chinmoy to hire me to work at their divine enterprise. It took me about a year to get on my feet and figure out how to live within my suddenly modest means, and I was grateful for the help I got from anyone who offered it.

Gayatri once told me that some of the boys in the Centre were convinced that Chinmoy still spoke to me every day, even after I left. Not so. The last words he ever spoke to me were the ultimatum about giving up the dance lessons. He sent me a drawing of a lot of birds on my 50th birthday, along with a kind message and 50 roses, but I was most definitely not invited to return, or even to attend any events. In fact, the one time I finally worked up the nerve to invite myself to the tennis court on August 27, I was hurriedly intercepted by Ashrita, who insisted that I wait outside until he could ask whether I might have permission to enter. “Otherwise,” said he, “it could cause problems.” 

Several years after leaving the Centre, when I finally manned up enough to read Sevika’s testimony, I knew immediately that it was true, because I had experienced it myself, exactly as she described it. Did I feel like a fool? Of course, but not much more than I already did when I thought it was just me (and the other woman I had seen in his bed) who had been deceived by a guru who was much less divine than he claimed to be. But I felt angry and disgusted with him, and horribly responsible for bringing Sevika into his orbit. 

And despite all that, despite the fact that I dedicated so many years and gave up so many opportunities to spend my youth serving him, I’m still somehow grateful for what I received during those years – if not actually from him, at least through his auspices. I somehow can’t forget the image I had of him as divine and perfect, when he was young and still sweet-natured, beautiful, and inspiring. Even though it was just my illusion, carefully encouraged and nurtured by him, it was so convincing that it still lives on somewhere deep inside me.

Now, when I’m not feeling outraged at his hypocrisy and disgusted by his unspeakable treatment of so many women and young girls, I’m just deeply, deeply disappointed. We were trying our hardest to live up to his impossible demands, and he wasn’t even trying to be a decent human being. I still can’t wrap my mind around how he could behave so badly while at the same time continually berating us for falling short of his expectations. At least WE were trying!! I guess that’s how it is when you are dealing with a sociopath. Anyone on the “normal” spectrum can’t quite comprehend it.

Today it’s almost 17 years later. It sounds like a long time, but it feels like a moment. I am so grateful to be out of the Centre and mostly free of him, and to have gained some wisdom and perspective. A lot of that came from my sister and brothers at arms: you have been so loving and generous in sharing your time, your experiences, your pain, your resilience, your humor, your wit, and your own wisdom and perspective. Thank you all from the depth of my heart.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Introduction


Thirty-four years ago, I became a disciple of the late Sri Chinmoy. My discipleship lasted nine years and they were some of the best years of my life and, without a doubt, the most significant.

This memoir is about that journey and the enduring effects it had on me as a man.

It's also about a number of troubling revelations of sexual misconduct by Sri Chinmoy, which have been made by an increasing number of his female disciples, and how those revelations have affected my understanding of my guru.

It's not all doom and gloom, and I'd argue none of it is. I've met some truly unique and special individuals during the course of my spiritual development. I hope to introduce you to some of them.

Most importantly, I want to give you a glimpse of my experience. I hope it will inspire other current and former disciples to write their own memoirs.

Together, I'd like to think that someday our collective stories will make up a mosaic that will give future seekers a complete and diverse picture of what it was actually like to be a disciple of Sri Chinmoy.

Below, you'll find a table of contents or you can always use the links on the left.

Thank you for reading.

Sincerely,

Yogaloy

Please don't hesitate to write me with questions, comments, criticisms or corrections at yogaloy@yahoo.com. I'd love to hear from you all.

Table of Contents

BOOK ONE

I. Mahasamadhi.

1. A New Beginning.
2. A New York Goodbye.
3. Guru's Death.

II. Growing Up.

4. David Moretti.
5. Three Muskateers.
6. The Book.
7. Camp de Mar.
8. Shame as a Driving Force.
9. On to High School.

III. Searching for More.

10. The Seed Begins to Sprout.
11. Prahlad.
12. The Last Straw.
13. Awakening.
14. Novitiate.
15. Prakash.

IV. Early Days on the Path.

16. First Steps on the Path.
17. School Days.
18. A New York Dream.
19. Idolatry.
20. New York at Last.
21. Goodbye.
22. Tightening the Screws.
23. Planning.
24. A New Leader.
25. Alo Devi.
26. Making the Grade.
27. April '83.
28. "Outer" Graduation.

V. Coming Into My Own.

29. Rick.
30. Names.
31. Made Man.
32. God's Banner.
33. Back Home.
34. December 1983.
35. Phanindra.
36. A New Year.
37. The Summer Games.
38. Jigisha.

VI. Closer to New York.

39. Pulin.
40. The Gospel.
41. Anugata.
42. Rick Gets His Name.
43. My Worst Quality.
44. I Don't Get My Name.
45. I Get My Name.
46. I Become a New Yorker.

VII. Finally with the Master.

47. A Day in the Park.
48. Personal Mythology.
49. The 200 Pound Lift.
50. The 200 Mile Race.
51. Slowing Down for Context.
52. At the Gates of Trance.
53. Jeevan.
54. The Call.

VIII. Reaching My Limits.

55. August Drama.
56. Doubting Thomas.
57. The Gates Open.
58. The Limits of Power.
59. Full Moon, New Moon.
60. The Year Ends.
61. 7,063.

IX. Cracks in the Armor.

62. The Saint.
63. Birthday Blessing.
64. Premik.
65. Fight on the Block.
66. Peace Run '87.
67. Weight and Lifting.
68. Polishing the Rough Diamond.

X. Beginning of the End.

69. The Flame is Gone.
70. Sundar.
71. Lonely Winter.
72. Breaking Down.
73. Lexicon.
74. New Ventures.
75. The Nurse.

XI. Running Away.

76. A New Goal Forms.
77. The Note.
78. Five-Year Reunion.
79. Planning (Part Deux).
80. Audition.
81. Freedom.
82. Called Back.
83. The Sit Down.

XII. The Old College Try.

84. Sudhir.
85. Shambhu's Offer.
86. Runnin' on Empty.
87. Bansidhar.
88. The Run Concludes.
89. Happy Birthday Mom!
90. Sport's Day '89.
91. Gaining Perspective.

XIII. Last Days.

92. Settling Back In.
93. La Petit Mort.
94. The Palladium, The Prostitute & The Palanquin.
95. Preparing to Leave for Good.
96. The Last Supper.
97. Bhima & Tejiyan.
98. Interlude.

XIV. Starting Over.

99. Starting Over.
100. Meeting My Better Half.
101. Sumati.
102. A Visit to New York.
103. A Plan Develops.
104. Delayed Entry Program.
105. Berkeley.
106. Remembrance.

XV. Joining the Navy.

107. In the Navy.
108. Navy Intelligence.
109. The Games Begin.
110. Class 187.
111. Quitter.
112. Life Begins Anew.
113. Looking Back.
114. My New Home.
115. Navy Chow.
116. Mail Call.
117. Alone at Sea.
118. Call from the Big House.
119. Home from Sea.
120. The End in Sight.
121. One Year!

XVI. Getting Schooled.

122. Freedom!
123. Into Balance.
124. Re-Awakening.
125. Growing Family.
126. My Guru and His Disciple.
127. Lines of Communication.

XVII. The Last Test.

128. Confidence-Light.
129. One L.
130. The Blue Lotus.
131. The Board.
132. In Memory: Sudhir.
133. The Truth.
134. Night Terrors.
135. Bryon Granmo.
136. Savitri.
137. Last Words.
138. Sudhir's Call.
139. Conclusion.

XVIII. Epilogue.

140. My Hopes for the Center.
BOOK TWO


I. Taking Another Look.

141. More to Discuss.
142. The Golden Boy.
143. Zero Sum Game.
144. Cartwheels in a Sari (Part One).
145. Cartwheels in a Sari (Part Two).
146. Cartwheels in a Sari (Part Three).
147. Ashrita.
148. Ranjana.
149. Gaining Influence.
150. Akuli.
151. Objectivity.
152. Databir.

II. A Seeming Paradox.

153. Things Have Changed.
154. Paradox.
155. The Ethical Case.
156. Metaphysical Assumptions.
157. Sanyassa & Tyaga.
158. The Tantra.
159. Circling Back.
160. Realization.
161. Neuroanatomy & Yoga.
162. Crying Wolf?
163. Soliciting Topics.
164. Unconditional Acceptance.

III. New Revelations.

165. Organizational Cancer.
166. Beauty -- A Guest Post by Sundari.
167. Bihagee - A Guest Post.
168. Outing.
169. Comments.
170. A Quick Link.
171. Outing, Part Deux.
172. Hear Me Roar.
173. Karen Armstrong on Compassion.
174. "Even enemies can show respect."

IV. Grateful Nevertheless.

175. Organizational Chemo.
176. An Instructive Example.
177. Living Without Magic.
178. The Anvil.
179. Bithika -- A Guest Post.
180. Suchatula -- Guest Post.
181. A Break with the Past.

A Break with the Past



Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Suchatula -- A Guest Post

I have tried many times over the past 5 years to write about my experiences in the Centre (aka Sri Chinmoy Centre), what happened to shatter my faith in CKG (aka Chinmoy Kumar Ghose or Sri Chinmoy) and why I finally left but I always got stuck on all the details. Here is my attempt at telling you my story.

I joined the Centre in December 1986. I was friends with Nirbachita and Jeevan, who are the sister and brother of Yogaloy. In August 1986, Liz went to New York for an August Celebrations to see what her brothers were doing. She heard about CKG and the Centre from them and thought she'd check it out for herself. Liz came back to California and told me all about CKG, the Centre and all the cool people she had met. Right from the start I believed everything she told me about CKG. She gave me a Transcendental Picture and a few books to introduce me to his teaching. We started to attend the meditation classes in Cupertino, where Giribar was the Centre leader. For the first year I was not sure if that was the direction I wanted to go with my life. I was only 18 years old and I had just finished high school and started my first year of college. The perfect time for Centre recruitment! In October 1987, I asked if I could move to San Francisco to join the Centre there because I wanted to take my "spiritual life" seriously. For the next 20 years my life belonged to Sri Chinmoy, Master of the Universe, Avatar of the Era.

My life in the Centre was a good one. I was happy. I went through my struggles like everyone else, but for the most part I was happy. I got in "trouble" a few times. Once, when I was 20 years old, for growing fond of a member of the opposite sex. Oh boy! CKG called me and gave me the ultimatum. Either I take my spiritual life seriously or I leave the Centre. He said that I still had my looks and that I would have no problem getting a boyfriend. I asked to stay because I felt that I was really blowing a great opportunity to be a disciple of this great master.

Sometime after I was put into the "Children Singers" group so that CKG could keep an eye on me. By that point, I was feeling so guilty for being weak and letting my vital get me into trouble with "God." Being in that singing group was an entire story of its own. Basically, we were supposed to be the excellent disciples, to set an example for others to follow. We were scolded often for "liking" boys, wanting a boyfriend, some for cutting their hair, or anything else that displeased him. I felt that we were constantly getting tossed back and forth between "you are a good girl" and "you are breaking my heart." I did not really notice the manipulation until after I had left the Centre. We were all so eager to please him ALL THE TIME that we did not think we were being manipulated. Many of the members of the singing group were in the Centre since they were very little children. They grew up in the Centre, hence the name Children Singers (aka "Paree's Group").

Things changed over the years. As the world opened up and the Eastern Block came into play with tons of new Centres opening around the world, CKG started to tighten up the ship. At the time, however, I did not know it was because of the stories starting to come out on the Internet. CKG got very strict with us.

On the Christmas trips, we were to stay near by the hotel function rooms so that if he wanted to dictate poems or songs we would be there to write them down. In my personal experience, if I wanted to do anything, then I had to ask his permission. In New York, we would have to be at the court to sing while he played tennis. When there was no longer a tennis court he would ride his little carts in circles and we would stand along the fence singing. It was the same with the weight lifting.

Anyway, you get the idea, plus most of you were there and saw how it was over the years. We were the lucky ones. The privileged singers who got to spend loads of time in the presence of our great Master. I truly loved my life in the Centre, I loved my Master, who I trusted with my life, and I loved my friends, who were my real family. I could have happily lived my life in the Centre if only...

Turns out CKG was just prepping his next generation of sex slaves. He had already had his way with the women of the generation before us and now it was our turn to receive his "Special Blessings."

In December 2006, the Centre Christmas trip was in Turkey and Bulgaria. I was excited to go because I was about to celebrate my 20-year anniversary in the Centre. I remember on the flight over I was thinking how it had been such a long journey. I had gone through so much personal growth and I felt very happy with the progress that I had made in my 20 years on the path. I was 38 years old, I was confident and I felt that I had finally quieted my vital and no longer had any desire for a physical relationship. I had felt I no longer needed that experience in my life. I could happily live my life as a celibate "nun." I had made my prasad offering of 20 items and I carried it all the way to Antalya, Turkey.

The afternoon that I was to celebrate my anniversary, I was in my hotel room and I heard a knock on my door. I opened it and it was a prominent disciple from the Ottawa Centre asking me where I had been. She looked nervous and anxious. I said I was in my room and asked what was going on? She said Guru was looking for me and I should go with her to her room so he could call me. Soon after we were in her room, Guru called and started asking me questions about my life. When he first asked me if I was ready to surrender I was nervous and afraid. He said if I was afraid then I was not ready to surrender. He got angry and hung up.

The next day I had to go to the same person’s room so CKG could call me again. He asked how many boyfriends I had before I joined the Centre and with how many did I have sex. Did they "penetrate" me? When he asked that question, it made my heart start to race. Again I got nervous. I thought he was going to ask me to marry someone and have kids, but he said he would never ask me to do that. I had heard many years before that Guru had given Govinda – one of the other young singers -- a great opportunity by asking her to tell him about her past boyfriends and he would take away all her impurities. So, I thought that this was what was now happening to me. I thought it would be foolish to blow this opportunity out of fear of the unknown. I told him I was ready to surrender.

Sri Chinmoy asked me to go up to his hotel room. I do not remember what time it was, but it was late. I took my shoes off outside his door and knocked. He answered the door wearing short-shorts and a white singlet. He said come in, come in. I followed him into his hotel suite. There was a bedroom and a living room. The phone rang and he told me to remain very quiet. It was Shikha, another disciple of his, and he did not want anyone knowing that I was there with him alone in his room.

Again CKG began to ask me questions. He asked me what I thought about him, how did I see him? I told him that I saw him as my father, as my friend and as my Supreme. He asked me to embrace him and to touch his feet, then he asked me to place my head on his feet. He was sitting on the couch in the living room. I was nervous because I had never touched him before. He had blessed me on the head once or twice, but I never touched him. I did not know what to expect. I guess I thought I would have an amazing experience but I did not feel anything. He asked me if I felt anything. I told him that I had always wanted to do that and he just chuckled. He asked me how many years I had been on the path. I told him 20. He said that because I had been on the path for 20 years, the Supreme had very special love for me and that this opportunity the Supreme did not give to everyone.

Sri Chinmoy told me that he wanted me to have sex with a woman.

It was the woman from Ottawa who had come to get me from my room earlier. He said it was not a "lesbian" thing. I was shocked and pretty damn freaked out. My body started to shake and my mind started to swirl. I was so nervous and afraid. I did not know what to do. I was not expecting those words to come out of his mouth. Woman or man it did not matter. We were supposed to be a celibate group. How could he ask me to have sex with anyone?

I said, I do not know how to have sex with a woman, hoping that was going to get me out of this situation. He said she would show me what to do. He called her up to his room and asked us both to remove our clothes. We were standing in front of him while he sat on the couch watching us. He told us to embrace. Then he had us get on the floor. She started to do "stuff" to me and she would say, "He likes it when we do this." Clearly, she was "experienced" in doing what he liked to see.

CKG then instructed me to go down on her. I was hesitant and he got mad at me and sternly said, "Do it!" I might as well have been stoned because my body was shaking so much and my head was spinning. I felt like I was on something. When your body takes on that much stress from your mind it puts you in a numb state. I started to kiss her stomach and I couldn't do it. I said, "This is not working for me." He said you do not like it? I said no, I do not like it. He told us to both go wash our hands and get dressed. CKG then asked the Canadian woman to leave.

Once she was gone, he concentrated on me and told me that my mind was so strong. He said that this was a special opportunity that the Supreme was giving me. At that point, I was so shocked and crushed, I did not want or need any "special opportunities" in my life.

After leaving his room, I just wanted to die. This was not happening. How could this be happening? I trusted him with my life.

I had to stop by the Canadian woman's room to pick up some things I had left there earlier. She wanted me to go in and talk. I was so pissed at her. I told her to give me my things. She told me that she did not like it either, but you just do it. I said, No! If you do not like it then you do not do it! I took my belongings and went back to my room and jumped in the shower. I desperately needed to wash her smell off of me.
The next morning she called me and again wanted to talk. I told her to never call me again. Right after I hung up, CKG called. He asked if I thought my guru was a bad man?

How could I answer that? After being in the Centre for so long and trusting him, I did not know what to think? I did not want to think. I put on my running shoes and went out the door. I had no money of my own and I was in foreign country. What the hell was I supposed to do? So many thoughts go through your mind. Luckily, I ran into Aruna. She was the one person who I was happy to see. Aruna was one of my dearest friends. I met her when she was 11 years old. I saw her grow up in the Centre. She was a baby when her parents joined. She never knew life without Guru. She had utter faith in him. I did not even think of telling her what happened. My life was turned upside down. How could I do the same to her? Plus CKG told me to never tell anyone what happened, especially Palash or one other person. What would happen to me if I started telling people what happened? Would I conveniently disappear? Would I accidentally end up falling over a balcony? I feared for my life.

Over the next few days my mind quieted down and I started to think that maybe I could do what he wanted me to do. It still made no sense, but I did not want to blow this opportunity if that was what it truly was. I started to think how could CKG be wrong? After so many years in the Centre, I figured I must be wrong and he must be right. I started to doubt myself. The next time CKG asked me into a private meeting, it was with him in his little room outside of the function hall. He said that my soul was so sad because the supreme was giving me this opportunity and I did not want it. He was talking in his quiet and sad voice. I told him that my mind had quieted and I was ready to try again. He said he will let me know when and I had to be ready.

The next time I was approached by the same woman, we were in Bulgaria. I went back to her room two different times to do what he wanted us to do. Afterwards, he would call and ask us if we liked it or if we felt anything. Oh brother!

Bithika was my roommate on that part of the trip. She arrived a few days later. One day I had gone into the room and she was crying. The night before she had been out late. When she returned, she went straight into the shower. I figured CKG had asked her to do the same thing he had me do. I got super pissed off.

I was so mad that the next time he saw me he summoned me to his private room next to the function room and asked me what happened. He said he was frightened when he saw my face. My mind came back stronger than ever and I could not shake the feeling that what he was asking us to do was wrong. He had me kneel in front of him and again he concentrated on me. He said that I belonged to him. He touched my head and said, this belongs to me. Then he touched my heart and said, this belongs to me. And then with the back of his hand he touched the side of my breast and said, this belong longs to me. I could only think to myself, “no, it does not,” but I did not dare say that out loud. I was afraid of him.

Later that day I "won" the prize for having the best meditation. It was a grape (see the photo above). What a revelation! I now understood why people were winning the best meditation. It was all about damage control! He knew I was not happy and he needed to fix things fast.
After our part of that trip was over, I went with Bihagee to Sofia, Bulgaria to visit her parents. I never spoke to either Bihagee or Bithika during that trip about what was going on. I had no idea that Bihagee was also having the same "experience" that I had, only with another person.

Finally I came back to San Francisco and tried to get on with my life. I was messed up! CKG had given me his personal numbers and asked me to call him at certain times while he was still traveling. He asked me how I was feeling. When I told him that I felt like my vital door had been blown open, he laughed.

As the months went, by I grew more and more angry. By July 2007, I could take it no more. I told Palash how I was not doing well in the Centre and I did not know what to do. I never told her what happened because he told me not to tell her. She gave me the best advice, write guru a letter and tell him what's going on. I did but it was not what she was thinking. I told him that I did not feel at all spiritual and that I felt like I was deceiving my friends, my family and myself. I told him that I did not want to have sex with anyone but if I did have to have sex then I wanted it to be with a man but not with him and not with a woman. I was hoping to get thrown out of the Centre but instead he called me. He asked me for forgiveness. He asked, “Can you not forgive me as I have forgiven you so many times?” He said he would never ask me to do anything like that again.

August Celebrations came and he was completely on damage control. I was invited to the house every night, but he would never talk to me. I sometimes caught him looking at me though squinted eyes. I think he did not know what to do with me.


I was in San Francisco and we got a call. CKG had died. Guru died. It took some time for the reality to sink in. We flew out to New York for the memorial. All the time I was there I could only feel relief. I was finally free. So many people came for the funeral. I tried to feel something more but he had already killed all the love that I had for him. I loved my friends and I was sad that they were suffering, but I was glad he was gone. I played my part and went through the motions but I was like a zombie. Nothing inside. I stayed in the Centre for another year and a few months. I did not want to leave the life that I had known for over 22 years. I loved my friends. They were my family. We grew up together. They saw me struggle over the years.

By December 2008, I knew I needed to make a big change. I decided to go to Germany to stay with Aruna and her parents, Projjwal and Karali. We were all very close and I felt like if I was to make an attempt at saving my spiritual life, then staying with them was my best option. I booked my flight for Germany for February 14, 2009.

In January 2009, a disciple I knew named James was living in Norway. He started emailing a few of us from the SF Centre. He was bored in Oslo and wanted to see how we were all doing. I emailed him back and soon we were emailing each other daily. He was a refreshing change to my life. I enjoyed reading his emails and started to think that he was much more interesting than I ever knew.

One day he asked me if I had ever read Sevika's story. Strangely enough, I immediately got defensive and said you cannot believe what you read on the Internet. Then I stopped myself and thought, “What the hell am I saying???” I had never read anything on the Internet to do with anything against CKG. I decided to read her story.
Oh man!  As I was reading, I knew it was all true. There were things that she said that were so similar to what he asked of me. I could not deny the truth. I sent James a message and said we need to talk right now! I called him and he did not know what to expect. I told him that I believed Sevika's story and I told him what happened to me. James was so shocked and he completely believed me. He said he was going to leave the Centre and that I had to leave too. I knew he was right. By telling him, I had crossed the point of no return. I let everyone believe that I was going to Germany. I packed up my room to rent it out. When the day came for me to go, all my roommates went to the Centre meditation. My mother came to SF and picked me and all my belongings up and drove me to my brother’s house.

I was free! I was a major mess, but I was free!!!

Within a week I got a job and a car. I wanted to move on with my life ASAP. However, I got really sick. My life went through a traumatic experience. I no longer believed in anything and I could not see the point of living. Nothing made sense anymore. Luckily, James believed me and it was only his friendship that got me trough the most difficult time of my life. I honestly do not know what would have come of me if it were not for him sticking by me and believing in me. Although he was in Norway, we kept each other going by chatting on Skype almost everyday. He went through his own melt down. He also got very sick. Something happens deep inside when your faith in the person you trusted most turns out to be a fraud. The way your body shuts down is not in your control.

Finally, after months on our own thinking we would never see or hear from anyone in the Centre ever again, things started to change. Nirbachita, now out of the Centre herself, contacted me. After some serious patience on her part, I opened up to her and told her my story. By Nirbachita and Yogaloy knowing me, believing me and trusting me, so much has changed. Without them I am not sure if my story would have been told. I owe many thanks to them both.

It has been over five and a half years now since I walked away from the Centre. My life is very much worth living. I do not regret having been in the Centre because I met some of you wonderful people in the Centre. I am most thankful for meeting James. We would not have met if we were not in the Centre. I love him dearly.

All that said, nothing will ever excuse Sri Chinmoy for his behavior. As the many stories come out, we see more and more how he was manipulative, deceitful, and utterly self-satisfying. He preached the "Truth" but in the end he was the biggest liar. Those who know the truth about him and still support his lie are just as guilty as CKG himself. He was truly a sociopath in every sense of the term. I will never forgive him. I will give him no credit for my spirituality. I have struggled all these years with faith, trust and God. I figured, if that was God's way then I do not need God.  I do not believe in "God" nor do I feel the need to believe in God. I believe in myself and those I love. I believe in goodness and honestly. I trust my heart. It did not let me fall prey to CKG's deception after the fact. It gave me the strength to stand up for myself and tell him, No! It took me years after leaving to truly know that I was right and he was wrong. My only regret is that he died before he could be held accountable for his actions.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Anvil

Though it drives many of my readers crazy when I say it, I am and will always be grateful to Sri Chinmoy.

He changed my life for the better.

That's an objective fact. I may not know much, but I do know who I was before I joined the Center and who I had become by the time I decided to leave it. I was a better person.

For that, I'll always be grateful.

A lot of my friends have argued that Guru did nothing, that he added no value to our lives as disciples. In effect, they're arguing that whatever good experiences we had -- whatever progress we may have made in our personal development -- was the result of our own efforts, our own self-discipline.

I've no doubt this is true for them.

It's not so for me. For a few years in the mid-1980s, I experienced an exalted sense of being. Was it actually exalted? It felt that way to me, and Guru made it possible.

I'm not selling myself short. I played a part in my own experience, obviously, and perhaps the most important part. But to say that I could have achieved the breakthroughs in my meditations that I had all by myself would be inaccurate. I can only speak for myself in this regard, but when I meditated in front of Guru, he brought something powerful to the table.

A few months back, a friend of mine challenged me on this point. I told him that if I had been meditating on a rock -- rather than in front of Guru -- I would not have had the same profound (profound to me anyway) experiences I had had meditating with Guru.

"Have you ever tried meditating on a rock?" my friend asked. "Maybe you would have."

It's a fair point, I suppose. Maybe if I had devoted hours of concentrated effort meditating on a rock I would have had the same experiences. I doubt it, but perhaps. Even so, I'm still grateful to Guru.

And there are some very tangible reasons for me to be grateful.

Were it not for Guru, I would never have met any of these people: Sahishnu, Prakash, Sevika, Giribar, Ketan, Phanindra, Bipin, Pulin, Jigisha, Anugata, Ranjana, Lavanya, Jayanti, Premik, Shambhu, Sundar, Sunil, Shraddha, or Dhruva, Trishatur, Bansidhar, the Rocherolles (Gangadhar, Gayatri, Narendra, and Durdam), Bhima and Tejiyan, Sudhir, Pinak, Ashrita, Databir, Suchatula, Sundari, or Bihagee.

And that's just a short list.

Meeting these people alone was worth the price of admission, even if that price meant that Guru deceived me. It was, without a doubt, worth it to me.

Finally, even if Guru brought nothing to our relationship -- even if he was simply the anvil upon which I hammered my own identity -- then I am grateful for that anvil.

I'll always be so.

The photo above shows Hephaestus, Greek god of blacksmiths among other things.

Living Without Magic

I take my coffee black.

I prefer it that way, without the milk and sugar that makes it so much easier to get addicted to in the beginning. I feel the same about religion.

Magic and magical thinking are the milk and sugar of spirituality. It's what makes embarking on a religious life so attractive in the beginning.

Perhaps it's even necessary at the start, even though in the end it becomes a disability. Like the old analogy of the two thorns -- sometimes it's necessary to use one thorn (or negative quality) to help extract another one stuck in your foot.

Perhaps stories of saints, miracles, and the supernatural are necessary in the beginning to inspire one to tread the path of yoga. In the end, though, belief in these stories -- magic as I call it -- must be discarded, just as one discards the second thorn after it has helped you remove the one in your foot.

I'm not saying that the path of conscious personal development -- the path of yoga -- need be bitter like the coffee I'm addicted to (not all the time anyway). Nor am I arguing that we need to forsake the mystical and vastly unexplored world of our subjective consciousness.

But it's imperative at some point not to cede control of one's life over to the imaginary.

At some point, the individual must stand up on his or her own. At some point, one must stop relying -- stop hoping really -- for magical help from the beyond and instead take control of one's own life. This is especially true after one's spiritual master has died.

(Unlike some, I still believe in the utility of the guruvada -- the taking up of a guru on the path of yoga. Why a person would ever surrender their decision making ability to a brother or sister disciple after the master's passing, however, is beyond me.)

I found a nice little example of this point in an anecdote recalled by Mahendranath Gupta.

Mahendranath was known by many names, but I suppose most folks know him by the titles Paramahansa Yogananda gave him in Autobiography of a Yogi: "Master Mahasaya" or the "Blissful Devotee."

When I had read Autobiography as a kid, I'd assumed the title "master" meant just that: spiritual master -- a title denoting inner achievement or self-mastery. And, in part, that may have been how Swami Yogananda meant it in the book.

As I learned later, though, Sri M (as he's known within Ramakrishna circles) had been called "master" for most of his adult life.

In fact, Sri Ramakrishna himself referred to his intimate disciple as "master."

That's because Sri M worked as a schoolmaster by profession. He was about 27 when he first met Thakur and had graduated college with distinction. He had a small family to look after and was living at home with his parents and other relatives. His living situation was extremely stressful.

It was so stressful, in fact, that it was driving M crazy -- literally.

One rainy night -- on the verge of committing suicide -- M rushed out of his family home intent on not returning. His devoted wife insisted upon following him. After a few miles in the rain, the horse drawn carriage they were riding in broke down in the mud. More disconsolate that ever, M eventually sought shelter in the middle of the night from a relative.

The next day -- while strolling through the gardens of Dakshineswar -- M's cousin asked him if he'd like to visit a sadhu. That sadhu, of course, was Sri Ramakrishna.

The course of M's life was permanently altered.

For the next four years, M would visit Thakur just about every weekend (and at any other opportunity he could find). Then, after returning home for the night, M would stay up late writing down the events that had transpired that day with Thakur from memory. For the remainder of the week -- until his next visit to Dakshineswar -- M would go over and over the events of the previous weekend, drawing out the details of every conversation, every utterance.

That was M's sadhana for about four years, which resulted in the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna or as originally known the "Sri Sri Ramakrishna Kathamrita."

Then, in 1886, Sri Ramakrishna died.

M was devastated by the death of his master and friend. He found it difficult to write or even talk about the events surrounding Thakur's passing. In his grief, M looked for a sign of his master's unseen hand in his life. Then, one day, while waiting for a trolley to take him to work, M found his sign.

He tells the story this way:

Thakur had just given up the body.

I was then a teacher in the Oriental Seminary. I was headmaster of three schools at a time. I had to teach for an hour in each school. I had to go there by palanquin, at times also by tram.

Once, I was changing trams at the
Burrabazar when I saw a sadhu there. His face was similar to Thakur's. He had his seat there. He was like a child.

I would go and stand beside him daily. When the sun was bright, I used to hold an umbrella over him. Seeing him, Thakur would fill my mind.

Once, he favored me by asking if I could help him take a train to
Howrah. I said "yes." Thereafter I bought his ticket and helped him entrain to Howrah.

He then kindly gave me a small piece of paper saying, "Put it in a case and keep it with you as an amulet. You will never be in want -- your travails will end."

After the train left, I walked on happily carrying it with me until I reached the
Pontoon Bridge of Howrah. As soon as I cast a glance towards Dakshineswar, I was reminded of Thakur's words and felt downcast with shame.

I touched the paper with my forehead and threw it into the Ganga.

I felt ashamed of myself. I realized that Thakur was always looking after me. For he had said, "What is there for you to worry about? You already have the privilege of having a guru." The moment I remembered these great words of his, I was overwhelmed with shame.

Then I returned home reassured, full of bliss.
(M., The Apostle and the Evangelist, Vol. 8, pp. 217-218.)

Sri M is a good example for anyone treading the path of yoga. After the passing of his guru, he didn't forsake his master or forget about him. On the contrary, he spent the rest of his life -- which lasted until 1932 -- reflecting on those four years in the early 1880s.

He focused upon publishing his diaries -- the Gospel -- and encouraging all those he came in contact with, including the young Mukunda Lal Ghosh, to tread the path of yoga.

Sri M, however, did not engage in any further magical thinking.

The message is clear. For those of us who haven't already done so, let's give up the magical thinking that helped us through our spiritual undergraduate program in the Center. Let us release our dreams of rainbows and unicorns (and our nightmares of darkness and hostile forces).

Instead, let's stand up on our own two feet and find the spiritual life right here on Earth. Let's find the spiritual in the human gesture, not the mysterious divine symbol.

Ultimately, the path of yoga is about the individual. It's about becoming the supreme individual. To do that, one must give up all reliance on forces and guides outside oneself.

Until you're ready, willing, and able to shoulder the burden of your own life, you'll never truly be of use to anyone else.

At top, that's Sri M some years after his master's death. Just above is the more classic shot of him in old age, sitting near the Panchavati at Dakshineswar. Here's a nice site devoted to Sri M's home, with some interesting photos.