Eastern Religion in the West - Part 4

By editor - 28.2 2019

Sri Chinmoy (1931 - 2007) arrived in the West: 1964

Chinmoy Kumar Ghose was born in Bangladesh in 1931, the youngest of seven children. He was orphaned in 1944 and went to live at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, a spiritual community near Pondicherry made famous by Sri Aurobindo a philosopher/yogi/guru. As an adult he worked as the secretary to the Administrative Head of the ashram. There he met Beverly Siegerman (whom he renamed Alo Devi) an educated and well-traveled woman who was at the ashram for spiritual development and she became involved in an intimate relationship with Chinmoy and helped him move to New York and get a green card and a job at the Indian Consulate.

When he was able to give up his day job and become a full-time guru Devi was his spiritual as well as his physical consort. She and Chinmoy were enlightened, Yin and Yang, Shakti and Shiva, Prakriti and Purusha. Chinmoy said they were "the obverse and reverse of the same coin." She was revered by the disciples as the Queen of the Universe. Jayanti Tamm was born into the cult and grew up worshipping Guru and Alo. When she was eleven she learnt through gossip that Alo had been demoted. Chinmoy had begun a whispering campaign against her saying she had "fallen." She was sent on long trips and her throne removed from the stage. He was sick of her nagging and her outrage at "the influx of gopis, female disciples, who were always at her and Guru's house. In particular, it was my idol, Prema, and her counterpart, Isha, whose constant presence and elevated status irritated Alo the most."

Like the Maharishi he had lived and worked in an ashram and learnt his trade as a guru by observing both Sri Aurobindo and "The Mother" and understanding how talk and act to impress seekers.

He may be the most unorthodox and eccentric guru of the modern age. He was the guru of gimmicks. He claimed world records for weight and people lifting, number of songs written, books written, paintings painted and possibly some others. He gained widespread media attention, strained credibility and prompted the Wall Street Journal to label Chinmoy "the stunt man of the spiritual world." Especially questionable are his claims for world record weight-lifting. Pictures show that he uses a form of leverage to lift extraordinary weights. As he's 5'8" tall and is not a particularly large man then his weight lifting would be pretty impressive if it was not so obviously phony and his reported statements so disingenuous: "I don't blame people who suspect my performance," Chinmoy said. "My own mind suspects it. How can I blame them?" Strangely he didn't claim any records for sexual athletics by a Spiritual Master or Enlightened Guru but then his performance in this field was no more than average at best.

Chinmoy decided he should be called Lord Chinmoy because he was an Avatar like Krishna:

When Lalita asked if I wanted to head to London to assist with the latest project, acquiring for Guru the lofty and revered title "Lord" from the queen of England, without hesitation I declined. Even if Guru had had a vision where Krishna appeared before him and told him that since Krishna was referred to as Lord Krishna, as a fellow avatar Guru should be officially dubbed Lord Chinmoy, I had had enough. I knew Guru had assigned his top British public relations team to begin work on this latest urgent assignment, and even if he had not, I did not care. I was tired in a deeper and more profound way than I ever had been before. - Cartwheels In A Sari

[Chinmoy] He came to the attention of the media in the early 1970's when he attracted some famous guitarists, John McLaughlin and Carlos Santana (renamed Mahavishnu and Devadip ), as followers. His followers included Narada Michael Walden a successful musician and producer and and Roberta Flack a singer. He had an insatiable yearning for reflected glory. Chinmoy's press kit contains long lists of religious leaders, heads of state, government officials and celebrities he has met or written to. While most gurus since the 1960's have kept a low profile in the media, Chinmoy's followers go to great if not completely questionable lengths for any publicity. Chinmoy was possibly the guru most dedicated not so much to having celebrity followers, L. Ron Hubbard deserves that honour, but to being photographed with them. If this cannot be arranged because the celebrity is aware of Chinmoy being a charlatan then it can nearly always be bought by arranging a donation to their favourite charity, sometimes a very large donation.

The Sixties Counter-Culture

It's usually remembered that America in the '60s was a tumultuous decade of psychedelic drugs, be-ins, radical politics, civil rights marches, and Vietnam war protests. However, these events only included a small part of the American population though they were much more interesting on the TV than suburban life.

Timothy Leary with his LSD and marijuana messianism helped create a sympathetic group of young Americans open and eager for the message of Eastern Hindu and Buddhist meditation practices. He also helped turn Richard Alpert, a straight, uptight, depressed, anxious, non-religious Jew into Dick Alpert, a stoned, freaked-out, uptight, depressed, anxious, non-religious Jew who was ready for a religious conversion of a life-changing standard.

Leary had scammed his way through life and found a cause in declaring LSD as a guaranteed door to spiritual experience(s) though he gave no indication that he'd actually had one. Leary's sloganeering was vacuous and insubstantial. He was basically a snake-oil marketer. Leary could have had a brilliant career on Madison Avenue with his one-liners. At some point he stopped marketing psychedelics and just kept marketing Timothy Leary.

Ginsberg, a relentless networker and promoter of his and the other so-called "Beat" authors' works, became a close confidant of Leary and a strong publicist for the mystical uses of LSD.

While Leary and Ginsberg helped publicise the use of consciousness-altering drugs and provided advance publicity and a stoned pool of credulous seekers for Eastern spirituality they knew next to nothing about the topic. Ginsberg had spent some time in India mainly hustling for drugs but came back acting as a 2-bit guru. At the infamously violent 1968 Democratic Convention Ginsberg spent hours in the park chanting OM to calm things down. This was a complete failure and to add insult to injury an Indian gentleman passed him a note explaining his pronunciation was all wrong. Keith Richards had him tagged as a talentless phony.

Allen Ginsberg was staying at Mick's place in London once, and I spent an evening listening to the old gasbag pontificating on everything. It was the period when Ginsberg sat around playing a concertina badly and making ommm sounds, pretending he was oblivious to his socialite surroundings.

While LSD and marijuana and "rock" music must take some of the blame (or credit) its often forgotten that people went from LSD to Eastern religious practices not because they'd had mystical experiences and attained peace and bliss but because they hadn't.

The man who made the real difference and opened up the USA (and in so doing the rest of the West) to Eastern religious practices was Lyndon Baines Johnson.

 

His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896 - 1977) arrived in West: 1965

Abhay Charan De was born in 1896 in Calcutta, India; he grew up, married, started a pharmaceutical business and had 5 children. He met his spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami, a prominent Vaishnavite guru in the tradition of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, a medieval Hindu religious leader, in 1922. He became his student and, in 1933, his formally initiated disciple. In the following years, he devoted more of his time to assisting his guru's work and less to his family and business and in 1954 (to his wife's horror) sent her and the children back to her father. He travelled to the holy city of Vrndavana, where he lived in humble circumstances in the historic temple of Radha-Damodara. He entered the renounced order of life (sanyasa) in 1959 and began his writing and translating Hindu scriptures.

Prabhupada was a single-minded, narrow-minded fanatic who believed that living a 15th century Indian peasant life, being ruled by a celibate, patriarchal, priestly caste and worshipping Krishna and chanting the Hare Krishna mantra was the path to heaven on earth. He was a fool as only single-minded, narrow-minded fanatics can be. He taught his followers what they should think and how they should live and the results were disastrous. Many young girls and boys were raped and beaten, starved, humiliated and kept away from their parents for years. He personally selected the men he believed were his finest and most trusted devotees and gave them power over devotees and they all broke their vows and acted improperly and/or illegally. Many Eastern gurus lied, cheated and abused their followers. Prabhupad created an organisation of such criminal gurus. The Hare Krishna mantra was tested and found to be completely useless. So Prabhupad has taught us something worthwhile.

He begged passage on a cargo ship, travelled 35 days (he had two heart attacks on the journey), and arrived in New York City with $8 worth of rupees in September 1965, to fulfil the mission of his spiritual master of spreading the Vaishnavite worship of Krishna to the West. He established the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), in July of 1966, and gathered devotees by public preaching, dancing and devotional chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra, (Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Hare Hare Krishna Krishna Hare Rama Hare Rama Hare Hare Rama Rama), street begging and distribution of free food at his temples by his shaven-headed saffron-robed followers. He received much publicity through the interest of Beatle George Harrison who became a follower in 1969. By the time of his death on November 14, 1977, he had guided the Society and seen it grow to a worldwide confederation of more than one hundred asramas, schools, temples, institutes, and farm communities and had initiated over 4,000 followers. Their public presence and media image was always far greater than the number of converts due to their chanting and dancing in city streets and the disapproval caused by their appearance and clothing, street begging and worship of statues of Krishna and his consort Radha and of 'His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada' (Srila Prabhupada for short). Prabhupadha also engendered public controversy with his fundamentalist, medieval Hindu viewpoints, especially on the place of women and cows in his society, the evils of Western society and his refusal to accept the astronauts landing on the Moon as being real since the Moon was a heaven for demi-gods and Krishna, not for NASA.

His followers believe that Prabhupada's persona was flawless and perfect. He was a 'pure devotee' who knows real love of God and had reached the stage of being in a direct and personal relationship with Krishna - the Supreme God. His devotees were taught that he was incapable of making a mistake but in fact he was a fool. No scandalous accusations have been made about Prabhupada personally but ISKCON was the most corrupt and evil New Religious Movement of our times. He was a sick man of 73 on his arrival in the West and, presumably, no longer prey to physical desires. So it is paradoxical that his followers and organisation should have become involved in the grossest violations of both society's ethical norms and his own much stricter ones. Murder, drug smuggling and abuse, sexual abuse and wide spread paedophilia and child abuse are among only some of the proven crimes that his empowered gurus and other disciples became involved in. Chris Butler, Siddhaswarupananda Paramahamsa, who hooked onto Prabhupad's bandwagon for a while and declares himself the true authorised successor is an arsehole but at least he's not a criminal arsehole - as far as is known.

[Hansudatta] As all the gurus that he empowered acted improperly (if not illegally), the blame for their actions cannot be placed onto a few individual bad apples. Prabhupada concentrated on ends and to some extent ignored means, a combination nearly always fatal to spiritual endeavours. His organisation's main mission was the printing and distribution of Prabhupada's books and the creation of new opulent temples and initiation of more devotees. From early in it's history the amount of money gathered became more important than the methods used. Like the Moonies, the Krishna's became involved in deception and cheating in their public collection of money and irretrievably cheapened and degraded the name of Krishna in the West. From there it was a small step to outright lies and then to theft and drug selling and smuggling. In photo on left, Prabhupad walks in India with (from right) Balimardan, expelled for embezzlement & illicit sex & meat-eating & Bhavanada for homosexuality.

By 2000 the Hare Krishnas had developed into a priestly caste whose temples were used by the growing Indian community in the West for their religious rituals. There had been 10,000 living in the temples in the late 1970s. Twenty years later ther were 800. They survived by providing temples for the Indian diaspora to worship in. They had long since stopped growing and were aging and as most of them were baby boomers they were well into their 60s by 2017. In 2003 they settled a $US400 million lawsuit against the Hare Krishnas in America that alleges that children between the ages of three and 18 were sexually abused or mistreated at American and Indian Hare Krishna ashram-based boarding schools during the 1970s and 1980s. ISKCON is not arguing against the abuse claims. It wants to settle the matter by filing for bankruptcy. This kept it out of the courts, protected its assets, and allowed it to pay compensation to victims who came forward by June 30, 2003.

Swami Satchidananda (1914 - 2002), arrived in West: 1966

In 1969, about 500,000 young, mostly stoned or wishing to be stoned or pretending to be stoned young Americans gathered for the rock concert near Woodstock. Opening the event with a brief speech and blessing was the tall, bearded, longhaired Swami Satchidananda in orange robes of the sannyasin. "My beloved sisters and brothers," he began, mimicking Swami Vivekananda's invocation at the 1893 World Parliament of Religions in Chicageo. "I am overwhelmed with joy to see the youth of America gathered here in the name of the fine art of music. The future of the whole world is in your hands. The entire world is going to watch this. The entire world is going to know what the American youth can do for humanity." Very little if Woodstock provided an example. Hanging around, doing little but listening to rock bands for a weekend while stoned or appearing so is doing nothing for humanity.

Eventually the entire world, or at least that part of it interested in Eastern spirituality and yoga knew that Swami Satchidananda was sexually abusing some of his students. In 1991, protesters waving placards ("Stop the Abuse," "End the Cover Up") marched outside a Virginia hotel where he was addressing a symposium. At least 11 women, including two of Satchidananda's former secretaries, have reportedly claimed that the swami used his authority as a spiritual leader to coerce them into having sexual relations with him. Susan Cohen, his former secretary whom he named Swami Atmananda confronted Satchidananda during a speech in Charlottesville, Virginia, by standing up and shouting, "How can you call yourself a spiritual instructor when you have molested me and other women in the community?" Satchidananda responded that he would not allow Cohen to upset his equanimity, "Should my ego be disturbed by it and miss the inner peace?"

[Satchidananda at Woodstock]

Joy Zuckerman aka Swami Krupaananda left Yogaville after a friend confided in her that Satchidananda had made sexual advances toward her. Ms. Zuckerman organized the protest at Satchidananda's keynote address today at the PSI Symposium at the Omni Hotel in Charlottesville. Ms. Zuckerman, Ms. Cohen and other former followers staged a similar demonstration at a conference the swami gave in Montreal in May. "Initially, I felt he was the good role model I had needed," Ms. Zuckerman said. "He said he was just here to serve humanity and had no ego or selfishness. I think, very subtly, he switched the teachings so they were to serve him."

Sylvia Shapiro was a 19-year-old student of Satchidananda in California when he asked her to accompany him on one of his trips to visit followers around the world in 1971. "He was my guru and it was very exciting to be chosen for this," said Ms. Shapiro, now a New York lawyer who is married and has two children. On the trip, Ms. Shapiro was taught to wait on Satchidananda. She learned to cook Indian food, to photograph his public appearances and to give him his twice-a-day massages. "In Manila, he turned it from a massage into oral sex," Ms. Shapiro said. "I was very upset. He didn't want to talk about it. He said he knew best and I shouldn't worry about it." Ms Shapiro remembers it as a stressful time. The greatest influence in her life, her guru, who taught his unmarried followers to remain celibate, was urging that she have sexual relations with him, she said. Naturally the Swami denied any wrongdoing but what is it with these gurus and their desire for regular massages? Are they teaching non-attachment except for massages?

After the allegations became public many devotees abandoned Satchidananda and hundreds of students left IYI schools, but the Swami never admitted to any wrongdoing. Satchidananda was simply a cult leader who left behind a legacy of personal pain. Like many cult figures, Satchidananda drew followers through their dreams of self-improvement through yoga and the teachings of an enlightened Master. IYI and Yogaville were largely defined by his personality. Swami Satchidananda taught obedience by asking his followers to kiss his feet and bow before him while sitting on a throne while forcing others into performing sexual favors. Is this really a Holy Man and a celibate Saint? Or was the Swami really a scandalous guru who used his authority to deceive and abuse his followers?

Satchidananda claims he does not look for praise or blame.

I believe that God is using me as an instrument. I am just there, like a river is there. Those who want to come and take a bath may do so. Those who do not want to do not have to."