It wasn’t just Charlie’s departure that bothered Sevika.
She was also worried about how a certain group of disciples might affect me. The disciples in question were secretly (and derisively) referred to as “A-bombers” within the Center. They earned that moniker by devoting themselves not only to Guru, but also to his little-known consort or spiritual partner Alo Devi.
Alo wasn’t “in the brochure” as they say. I didn’t find out about her existence until just after I had joined the Center. And when I did learn about her, it was only through a whispering campaign and innuendo targeted against her.
As I would later learn, Alo was born in Canada and was named Beverly Siegerman. She was about Guru’s age. As a young woman, she traveled to India and landed at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry. That’s where she met Guru.
In 1964, at the age of 33, Guru left the Ashram and emigrated to the U.S., where he secured a clerk’s position at the Indian consulate in New York. (To read about this period in Sri Chinmoy's own words click here.) Ms. Siegerman, an educated and well-traveled woman at that time, was instrumental in Guru’s move.
I’m not a Center historian on this matter and, obviously, wasn’t there at the time, but it seems safe to infer that -- at least early on -- Guru relied heavily on Ms. Siegerman. (See, for example, this short story of those years and Guru's reference to Alo making him lunch -- apparently, every day.) He gave her the name “Alo,” which means “divine light.” And from those earliest of days through the mid-1970s, Alo’s status as “first disciple” grew to include a share of the throne (pictured below with Guru around the height of her influence).
By the time Guru gave up his day job for good, Alo not only lived in his house when in New York , but she also sat next to him on stage at functions, meditated on disciples, and gave out spiritual names to her devotees. It was not uncommon to hear Guru say, from time to time, that he and Alo were one and the same.
By the late 1970s, however, something had changed. While never openly demoting Alo or breaking from her, Guru began undermining any credibility that she may have had by circulating the news that Alo had “fallen” and that she wasn’t the divine being that some people thought she was.
Because the whispering campaign against her was just that, not everyone got the word. Guru didn’t want the word getting back to Alo. In fact, if a disciple raised the issue of Alo's status with Guru directly, he'd kick the disciple out of the Center altogether. That’s exactly how we lost one of our members that fall (1982).
The disciple -- Peter -- had heard the same whispers and innuendo that I had. Because the whispering campaign didn’t jibe with what he was seeing (i.e., Alo sitting up front with Guru, acting as the Mother of the Universe), Peter wrote Guru and asked, point blank, whether Alo was his equal. Guru summarily kicked Peter out of the Center that very week.
I didn’t see a need for such a letter myself. Not just because of what had happened to Peter, but because the secret information about Alo did not contradict my own understanding.
From the get go, nothing about Alo attracted me. She didn’t repulse me, but neither did I feel any special connection with her. Through the ensuing years, this feeling of neutrality allowed me to escape the petty, mean-spirited, and contemptuous attitude that many of the disciples "in the know" showed Alo and her devotees. Truth be told, though, her staunch devotees didn't make it easy to like them.
The hardcore, male A-bombers tended to be a little creepy. So much so, for example, that many of the S.F. Center disciples refused to help one such died in the wool A-bomber, even when he was out giving meditation classes and trying to recruit new disciples for Guru.
I, therefore, volunteered to help the guy. That’s why Sevika made a point to make sure that I knew about Alo. Sevika was on a mission to completely rid the S.F. Center of A-bombers. In this, I think she succeeded. Even this particular hardcore Alo devotee eventually saw the light.
I’m not sure what conclusions to draw about Alo. When I reflect upon my years in the Center, the one recurring regret -- the one recurring embarrassment -- to me was my absolute baseless certitude. I wish I could look back upon my time there and see some measure of humility when it came to passing judgment on others and their actions and circumstances. I don't want to repeat that mistake here.
I wasn’t around at the critical time Alo came to power or when she supposedly “fell” from grace. I, frankly, have no clue as to their true relationship. What attracted them to each other in the first place? I just don't know and, therefore, am hesitant to issue summary judgment on Guru and his treatment of Alo.
I think it's safe to conclude, however, that the way Guru dealt with the situation -- which was basically by not dealing with it directly -- lead to some low level dysfunction amongst the disciples. I'm sure Guru had his reasons, but I never heard what they were. As I'll discuss in further posts, there were plenty of things about the Center and Guru's decision making that I didn't always see eye to eye with. This was one of them.
Alo is still alive and well, apparently living in Hawaii at a Center-owned property there. My brother and I spoke to her at Guru’s memorial services, where, despite the passage of years, she seemed to recognize us both.
After receiving some feedback from friends both inside the Center and out, I have slightly revised this post from its original form. Specifically, I cut some of the rather judgmental language that had followed what is now the third to last paragraph.