Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Eat, Pray, WTF?

The ultra-chick movie Eat, Pray, Love was released this week. Star Julia Roberts insured its success; I believe it's the second biggest film out there, after the ultra-guy movie The Expendables. EPL is based on the eponymous novel by Elizabeth Gilbert. The novel in turn is based on Gilbert's real-life year-long trip around the world, during which she experienced food in Italy, meditation in India, and a love affair in Bali.

Neither the novel or the movie names the female guru whom Gilbert encountered in India, and with whom she had the requisite earth-shaking experiences. But it's clear from all the evidence that it's Gurumayi Chidvilasananda (successor to famed guru Swami Muktananda).

I myself was part of that scene in my youth. I traveled with Muktananda in the US on his 3rd World Tour in the late 70s-early 80s. I then went to his ashram in Ganeshpuri India, staying there through his death in late 1982, plus over a year with his dual successors, Gurumayi and her brother Nityananda. The photo attached to this blog post is from those days in India; I'm third from the right. My sartorial choices were not uncommon for that locale, and made sense at the time.

As you might expect when dealing with such holy and spiritual people, the scandals (power, sex, money, lies) that emerged over time were jaw-dropping. Muktananda had diddled underaged girls (while claiming and promoting celibacy), and had sent goons to intimidate anyone who tried to reveal his secret. Gurumayi, at a minimum, helped keep this covered-up. She grabbed sole control of the org from her brother, and when he started to run independent programs, she sent her own goons to intimidate his followers. The usual stuff.

(Did Gurumayi consciously try to deceive her followers into believing that she was a divine being, bestowing magical invisible spiritual energy? Was it all for the sake of fame, fortune, and adoration? Or did she believe her own hype about her God-like status? Considering the human talent for self-deception, I'd guess it's the latter. But I can only guess. Damn, I do wish she'd come clean about her motives, purely to satisfy my curiosity. Her and Bernie Madoff.)

I was pretty clueless of all this dark underside while I was with the group. It was all slowly revealed in the press in the years after Muktananda's death, and on the net in the decades since I returned to ordinary life in the US from the ashram in India. See these links for more info on the whole sordid scene.

Gurumayi disappeared from public view a few years back, perhaps because she got tired of hiding the scandal, or perhaps just exhausted from pretending to be a superior being. Gilbert's visit immortalized by Eat, Pray, Love occurred after the scandals were well-known, but while Gurumayi was still actively playing guru.

None of this has great philosophical import: even if Muktananda and Gurumayi were absolutely pure and innocent, I don't find them very interesting or important teachers any more. Whatever valuable insights they did offer (under the mountain of nonsense) are available from countless other groups. But hell, I can't completely ignore a good sex-and-religion scandal.

It'll be interesting to see how the buzz around the movie develops, whether it leads to serious mainstream discussion of meditation practice, and/or of the ugly secrets and power struggles in Gurumayi's history. A couple of major news sources have already reported on the kerfuffle. See the New York Post article Eat Pray Zilch, and Salon's The "Eat, Pray, Love" Guru's Troubling Past.


Anonymous said...

Don't miss the hilarious Lewis Black segment re EPL on tonight's Daily Show.

Shaktipat said...

So.. you never knew or saw anything scandalous while you were there... but just believe automatically what others say, years after? How very enlightened. ;)
Well.. there has never been any great "Guru" without controversy, Mahatma Gandhi was also accused of fiddeling young girl... Sai Baba young boys, Osho with girls and women and drugs etc. -But the point is: All of the above have an enormous shakti, that radiates through all of this... and so, my conclusion is that even if these sex scandals are true, they are still enlightened... ;)
-Whatever the truth, I sure as hell will never believe the words of any other regarding these cases, only my own experience counts. -I`ve been to Ganeshpuri, and I`ve read a number og Gurumayi`s books... both of wich hold a very strong, gracefull and powerfull energy with them. For many years ago someone handed me a book; "My lord loves a pure heart" (by Gurumayi).. and at that point I knew nothing of either Nityananda, Muktananda or Gurumayi. But when I got the book in my hands... My God... then I knew.. and have known ever since. Don`t let others gossip confuse you, and ask yourself what really matters here...

Love and Light...


Stuart said...

Shaktipat wrote, All of the above have an enormous shakti, that radiates through all of this... and so, my conclusion is that even if these sex scandals are true, they are still enlightened

Hi SP. Note that you can use the same argument to excuse any sort of bad behavior. If someone molests children, or robs banks, or kills people, you can always say that the perpetrator "has enormous shakti" and is "still enlightened."

That's because foreign jargon like "shakti" and "enlightened" have no objective meaning. You can throw these claims around in whatever way you find convenient.

But why do you do that? Do you really think it's good for the world to excuse and rationalize the type of lies, violence, and selfish behavior that you're promoting here?

when I got the book in my hands... My God... then I knew.. and have known ever since.

Similarly, anyone, no matter how deluded or clueless, can claim "I know." Wouldn't it be more interesting to question and examine issues with a clear mind, rather than just make empty claims that you know something?

Anonymous said...

it's illogical to claim enlightenment as a disclaimer to harmful acts of any kind - and I do agree we need to define our terms..

AW said...

I am a devotee, and was born and raised in and around the Melbourne ashram. I've met Gurumayi twice, but Baba died nearly a decade before I was born. I personally find the idea that Baba was a kid-fiddler gross, but as to my own experience of Siddha Yoga it has no impact, because Gurumayi is my Guru, not Baba. I have always felt a stronger pull to her, and very little attraction to him. If he did do bad things in the past, that's disgusting, but there's nothing to be done about it now as he is long dead. Gurumayi is the Guru now and she's completely blameless.

I don't understand why people have a vendetta against Gurumayi. Okay, she might live pretty lavishly, but so what? All the jewels she wears were gifts, she didn't use SY money to buy them. She's a beautiful, enlightened soul who makes me feel at one with God. Why are people do determined to ruin that?

The people criticising SY need to lay off. If you don't want to be involved any longer, you don't have to be. But why ruin it for other people? SY makes me happy. What's so goddamn wrong with that?

Stuart Resnick said...

Hi AW.

You wrote: Gurumayi is the Guru now and she's completely blameless.

Gurumayi was very much aware of Baba's diddling teenagers. She helped hide it, she made it possible for Baba to fondle under-aged girls, and hide it from the masses. So I hardly say she's blameless.

Also, she's actually done violence. When Gurudev Nityananda was giving his own satsangs, Gurumayi sent goons to physically attack the attendees. Isn't that pretty disgusting also?

Finally, the teaching that Gurumayi has given has led to people like you who make up some magical "guru" to follow and worship. It's precisely because of the fact you confuse fact with imagination (you imagine that GM is an "enlightened soul" and follow your imagination, even though it doesn't mean anything).

The problem is you don't know how to look for Truth in your own experience, so instead you pretend that you get it from outside (from this magical "guru"). It sounds that not only do you want to make up stories about Gurumayi, but you want everyone to support you. It'd be much much better if you stopped chasing your imagination, and payed attention to your own experience instead.

Anonymous said...

Love how people who nothing to do with SY say that Gurumayi is hiding.
Any time you want, go to Ganeshpuri.
You'll find get there.
As well as SMA during retreats.

My atheist father got shaktipat from Gurumayi in a dream six months ago. Perhaps YOU couldn't feel the Grace flowing through her. ..but then, in order to feel that, you need to understand that YOU are the Guru. Your inner Self.
That's what she had always taught, and continues to teach.

She closed SMA to day visitors because the ashram was getting too trendy.
Two years before it closed to day visitors she said, "65, 000, 000 thousands people cane to visit the asgram this summer, and only 5, 000 were spiritual seekers. "

I don't blame her for closing the ashram.
You can still visit: if you write an essay detailing what you would like to study and achieve while you are there.

So many lies about Gurumayi.

I never lived at the ashram an she continues to work with me for free.

Then again, I exclusive the Self within as the Guru. It's not HER that is the Guru. .. it is the HAVE flowing through her.

I hope you find the path that is right for you.
You'll stagnate unless you look Within.


Stuart Resnick said...

Hi Bhakti.

You wrote, My atheist father got shaktipat from Gurumayi in a dream six months ago.

My cousin got super-mojo from the ghost of Cleopatra. My half-brother got blim-blam from the king of Jupiter. This is every bit as meaningful as your claim about your father getting shaktipat. You can make up anything in your imagination, and talk about it as if it were true. So what??

So many lies about Gurumayi.

There's nothing in your posting that indicates that you know anything about Gurumayi. Did you ever have any personal contact with her at all? Or is it all in your imagination?

I never lived at the ashram

This is not at all surprising. If you had actually spent a reasonable amount of time in personal contact with Gurumayi, maybe you'd know some facts, rather than just making up stories.

Anonymous said...

I have read some of the comments with interest. I can add some of my insights into the phenomena know as Siddha Yoga.

To me the Guru is the living embodiment of God's grace on Earth. I will explain why I believe this.

I have been involved with SYDA for over 40 years. I met both Gurumayi and Baba Muktananda.

I am the victim of a horrendous childhood and came to the Guru with a twisted and damaged psyche. It didn't take me long to realize this was a true path for me.

Spirituality is neither rational or demonstrable so I will simply list a few of the many miracles I've experienced and the massive healing I have experienced.

My alcoholism of 20 years was dissolved with no effort on my part. I now dislike the way alcohol makes me feel.

I used to experience deep, black depressions. I was either in the throes of darkness or clawing my way out of the pit. One day while reading an SYDA correspondence a bolt of white lightning leapt off the page, into my heart, and shattered a rock hard blackness into pieces. Behind the black was a brilliant white light. I never suffered from this emotional pain again. Shortly after my need for alcohol vanished

I woke up one morning and my lifelong rage, a result my upbringing, was gone. Now I can and usually do feel contentment.

I was meditating after I met Baba when suddenly an overwhelming lake of liquid gold poured into my brain. It was all encompassing and exhilarating beyond description. Clearly, to me, this was the Kundalini. A true Guru awakens the Kundalini that purifies the seeker of "impurities".

I once experienced the "peace that passeth all understanding”. I had thought of peace as a passive state of non-pain and contentment. This peace was active and alive. I only wanted to do was sit with this feeling and float. A few days later it passed.

The Guru has frequently spoken to me telepathically and subtly guided me with psychic nudges. I always knew when she wanted me to write her.

My heart that once was a pit of pain overflows with love and Joy.

Many times I have fallen into a brilliant white light losing all sense of self, time, and the world. This state is perfect and without form. I believe the light is God.

My journey on this path has been filled with miracles. The experiences Elizabeth Gilbert describes in her book "Eat, Pray, Love" are familiar to me.

I understand there are many people who have met the Guru who have not had uplifting experiences and even join in efforts to discredit Siddha Yoga.

I don't know why this is when many people, such as myself, have thrived in Siddha Yoga.

I am no fool. I have a postgraduate degree. I am an intellectual and a skeptic at heart. Anything unfamiliar to me must prove it is for real. Both Siddha Yoga and the Guru have proven themselves to me.

I am a converted atheist and a true believer.

I am aware of the negative stories about the Gurus. Many of these stories I have first hand knowledge of but my spiritual experiences trump any doubts I might have. I am content to shelve these incidents as things I neither understand or need to understand.

Stuart Resnick said...

Hi anony. You say that in your association with SYDA gurus, you got lots and lots of nice feelings. You describe these feelings using beautiful jargon like "Kundalini" and so on.

Also, you had very unusual experiences. This is life: people have weird experiences all the time, both pleasant and unpleasant.

It's fine if that makes you happy. Really. But aside from just feeling good or having weird experiences... there's also the possibility of learning to think clearly. That's what you seem to have lost.

For instance, you write, "A true Guru awakens the Kundalini that purifies the seeker of 'impurities'." Where did you get this idea of what a 'true guru' is, or what an impurity is? Where did you pick up the weird foreign jargon 'Kundalini' instead of using plain English?

You read these things in a book, or heard someone in a fancy costume preach them, or surrounded yourself with lots of people who repeated the same beliefs and jargon. Again, if that makes you happy, wonderful, have a fine life.

But rather than just get ideas from old books, and repeating these ideas like a tape recorder or parrot... it's also possible to think independently, to attend to your own experience, rather than some belief system. That's more interesting to me.