FWIW, here's what I just contributed to that blog discussion:
I have met people who saw some gurus in their dreams when they (the people) were children, and people who heard the word "Muktananda" over the phone and got a blast of Shaktipat.
It's useful to remember that millions or tens of millions of Americans report having a huge spiritual experience at least once in their lives. It's just part of life, of being human. Sometimes it happens that people have amazing big non-ordinary experiences, psychotic breaks, spiritual epiphanies, etc.
There are millions of diverse situations when such things occur, and yeah, among those millions are a few who had them after having a dream or reading a book or hearing a funny-sounding Indian name over the phone.
After such an experience, there's a huge amount of interpretation that goes on. If you meet someone through SYDA, and they had some big experience earlier in their lives, chances are when they came to the ashram, they got lots of subtle and explicit peer pressure to interpret or re-interpret their memory of that experience according to "shaktipat" theology.
Maybe someone had a big experience when they were talking about Muktananda and eating yogurt. It's a matter of interpretation, of embracing a belief-system, that they end up thinking that they got the experience from Muktananda, rather than from yogurt.
It's useful to be literate about statistics. Someone says that 30% of all people arrested for reckless driving have marijuana in their system. That means precisely nothing; maybe 40% of all good drivers have pot in their system! So the fact that a few hundred people got an experience looking at Muktananda's photo means nothing unless you take it in the context of the millions of people who had some crazy experience thinking about Jesus, or seeing a flower, or looking at a child, or eating oatmeal.
It would be interesting to understand such phenomena.
Considering that our situation as human beings is that we get born into this world not knowing where we come from, where we're going, why we're here, or who we are... I wouldn't get too optimistic about understanding things.
Also, what's the need for understanding? The only point to understanding these special experiences would be to use that understanding to get more of those experiences. But why consider those big wow experiences so important?
OK, I like having them on rare occasions, but it's not like they're the purpose of life. I got a big experience from doing formal sitting meditation and self-inquiry for 3 or 4 days. It was cool, but took lots of effort. Also there are drugs that will give such experiences quite reliably. Some of these drugs are even legal, and compared to getting involved with SYDA, they're far far less expensive, dangerous, or addictive.