Boycott Satyananda’s Literature and Methods Until Reparations are Made for Sexual Abuse

Boycott Satyananda’s Literature and Methods Until Reparations are Made for Sexual Abuse

 

TRIGGER WARNING: descriptions of child rape, sexual assault, violence against women and children, cult abuse.

 

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“Sri Swamiji [Satyananda] always loved children, and children loved him. In fact, I may call myself his first love, although I know that many others have loved him and he has loved many other children before me.” — Swami Niranjananda

“You can take even the worst possible rogue as your Guru…. You should never look into the defects of the Guru. You must deify the Guru.” – Swami Sivananda, Yoga in Daily Life

“The next day, Akhandananda came up to me and said, ‘How are you feeling?’  And I said, ‘I’m very confused.’ He said, ‘Don’t worry about your mind.  Your mind belongs to me.'” — Royal Commission witness Jyoti (104:10908)

“The ashram was the kind of place where, if you scream, no‐one comes.” – Royal Commission witness APR (106:11099)

“You would only have to look at Yoga for the Young, which is a book that we were very involved in – all of us are in that book, and all my drawings, and the other kids did drawings and we all contributed to that book – that book was still sold by Satyananda Ashram years later, after people knew that some of us were sexual abuse victims.” – Royal Commission witness Alecia Buchanan (104:10899)

 

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Why I’m Writing

Something extraordinary happened in a Sydney conference room last week. A vast swath of the modern global yoga movement went on trial. Or pre-trial, as it happens.

Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse heard testimony from over a dozen witnesses who resided at Satyananda Yoga Ashram at Mangrove Mountain from the mid 1970s through the late 1980s, including eleven who were children or young teens at the time. The ashram was founded to spread the practices of yoga. But without exception, the former child residents told harrowing stories of pervasive physical and sexual abuse.

The Commission is empowered to summon witnesses, record statements and cross-examinations, and to analyze the resultant data for reporting to police and prosecutors. Its findings are a matter of public record, admissible as evidence in the charging of perpetrators. If convictions are secured, or if civil restitution is awarded, it is this testimony that may ultimately lead to the restructuring of the global Satyananda Yoga association, based in Munger, India.

In my opinion, yoga practitioners everywhere should be very interested in this story. The Satyananda organization wields an enormous amount of unseen influence over the content for modern yoga training through its vast catalogue of publications — most of which are attributed to Swami Satyananda himself. Virtually every yoga training director I know references this literature in their programming, directly or indirectly.

In response to the evidence I’ll summarize here, practitioners can support the process of transparency and healing by boycotting the literature and methods of the Bihar School of Yoga and the International Yoga Fellowship — distributed by the Yoga Publication Trust – until:

  1. it has sponsored an independent investigation of the proven sexual abuses of the late Swami Akhandananda, and the now-alleged sexual abuses of its founder, the late Swami Satyananda, and
  2. it awards financial reparations to the victims of Akhandananda, and
  3. it establishes a trust that anticipates reparation payments to abuse victims of Satyananda and any other authority figure in the organization who are yet to come forward.

In this post, I’ll summarize the testimony briefly for readers who would rather avoid sifting through the dozens of reports. Readers can use the section headings to browse. I’m not collating this highly triggering evidence in the spirit of sensationalism or with a prurient heart, but rather to argue more strongly for the action I’m proposing. I’ll give my reasons for calling for this boycott, and conclude with a few preliminary thoughts on how every other organized yoga lineage or movement might learn from these recent revelations in a constructive way. I can preview these thoughts here by saying that at this point in the tortured history of modern yoga, lineage and teaching content means very little compared to the open and transparent procedures any given organization puts in place to prevent abuse.

If I were to mark the following précis of what the Commission heard with citation links, the whole section would be burning red. Instead, I’ll limit in-text citations to the date and page number of the Commission transcripts, and then provide links to the open public sources beneath this post. The news media articles give simplified reports that are easy to navigate, but also fragmentary and somewhat repetitive. The most important sources are the transcripts themselves – documents that are riveting both for their horror and for the bravery of the witnesses who have finally been given a public forum.

 

Details Regarding the Abuse of Children at Mangrove Mountain

Not everything the Commission heard was news. Much of the testimony detailed the psychopathology of Swami Akhandananda Saraswati, the spiritual director of Mangrove Mountain beginning in 1974. Born in Orissa India in approximately 1942, Akhandananda was personally appointed by Swami Satyananda Saraswati to head up his Australian mission. In 1987, Akhandananda was charged with 35 counts of sexual offences against four underage girls. In 1989, he was convicted and imprisoned for fourteen months before the Australian High Court overturned the decision on a technicality. Akhandananda was released and died of alcoholism in 1997 or 1998.

Akhandananda’s name has been expunged from the websites of the International Yoga Fellowship – Satyananda’s India-based umbrella organization – but not from the memories of his victims. The Commission heard from child survivors Alecia Buchanan, Jyoti, Bhakti Manning, Tim Clark, and anonymous witnesses APL, APK, APA, APH, and APR about rape, sexual assault, physical beatings and psychological torture at the hands of Akhandananda and his long-term female partner, Shishy. Shishy offered a strained defense of her admitted brutality by testifying that she herself had felt sexually intimidated by Akhandananda from the time of meeting him at the age of sixteen, and that she endured harsher and harsher treatment from him as time progressed, culminating in rapes involving firearms and genital mutilation. (108:11272-3)

The former child residents of Mangrove Mountain presented detailed narratives of their lives under Akhandananda and Shishy in chapters that seemed to alternate between Dickens and de Sade. They described how Mangrove Mountain was sustained and enriched on the unpaid labour of devotees committed to the ideal of sannyas, or ascetic renunciation. Upon entrance, residents gave up possessions and property, and took vows of celibacy that their directors’ lifestyle openly mocked. As though children were “property” to renounce, the parents of many Commission witnesses signed documents entrusting custody of their children to Akhandananda and Shishy, along with access to their child welfare benefits. (105:10930; 104:10836)

Witnesses testified to a labour-camp schedule of 4am to 10pm days packed with cleaning, cooking, gardening, yoga, and meditation. Up to 120 residents competed for hot showers permitted during one hour of the day. (105:10952) Food was often scarce, protein-deficient, and sometimes withheld from the children as punishment for trifling infractions. Medical care often consisted of pseudo-Ayurvedic quackery. Alecia Buchanan recalls being prescribed black tea with chili, garlic and ginger for hemorrhaging that she believed resulted from being raped by Akhandananda at the age of sixteen. (104:10873) Anonymous witness APR testifies to a terrifying “Lord of the Flies” environment in which ashram children were allowed to brutalize each other, were routinely drugged with morphine for minor ailments, and were given illegal hallucinogenics imported from India in such heavy doses that they would collapse in the bathroom stalls. (106:11089-90)

For over twenty-five years, the administration at Mangrove Mountain – now a mixture of older and newer residents – has consistently denied responsibility for aiding and abetting the abuses of Akhandananda and Shishy, and failing to protect the children. Anticipating the attention of the Royal Commission, the ashram has over the last year staged several fumbling attempts at reconciliation with former child victims, only to then threaten them with libel action when they began to tell their stories openly on social media. But at the Commission, Mangrove Mountain lawyer Aaron Kernaghan delivered a general statement of apology and regret on behalf of the community.

This shard of light may have only aggravated the wound. In the view of many victims, much of the adult community of the time was guilty of abandonment and collusion. Former child resident Alecia Buchanan testified that Shishy was often in the room while Akhandananda raped her. Buchanan was 15 when it began. She also said: “Looking back now, I’m certain some adults at the ashram knew Akhandananda was abusing us girls. We were always coming and going from his hut and other people saw this happening. We were often summoned very publicly over the loudspeaker by the receptionist or by Shishy’s personal assistant, Muktimurti, words to the effect of, ‘Shantibodh, go to swamiji’s office’ late at night.” [emphasis added] (104:10875) Speaking before the Commission, Muktimurti, now in her late fifties, denied any knowledge of abuse in her testimony, even as numerous witnesses testified to her presence during beatings or public humiliations of the children. (109:11424-5) In 1987, Muktimurti testified for the defense in Akhandananda’s trial.

Former child resident Jyoti testified that at the age of 17, after having been raped by Akhandananda while they visited an ashram in Canberra together, she was dismissed from his room and had “to walk through the lounge room of the flat where the other people were sleeping. Those people were adults. There is no way they wouldn’t have worked out what was going on.”

“The next morning,” her testimony continues, “I had breakfast with Akhandananda and the other swamis in the flat. While we were eating, Akhandananda started saying silly things with sexual innuendo, like, “Oh, Jyoti likes sausages, don’t you’, and joking with the other swamis.” (104:10909)

 

“While he listened to All-India News”: Testimony Against Swami Satyananda

Again, the general tenor of Akhandananda’s abuse is already part of the public record, albeit from the pre-internet era of his trial. The more pressing news, which is currently ripping the global organization to shreds from the inside out, and which should also be giving grave pause to the entire modern yoga world, is that there is now testimony that Akhandananda was taking the lead in abusing women and children from his own guru, Satyananda, who died in 2009.

Shishy testified that in 1976, Satyananda arrived at Mangrove Mountain for a yoga convention, and that Akhandananda arranged for her to serve the great guru sexually. At the time, Satyananda – a self-proclaimed celibate and staunch advocate for celibacy amongst his followers – was travelling with another sexual partner, Amrityananda, who would be sleeping in the same room as the rapes occurred. Shishy felt confused and conflicted about the scenario, but also recognized it as similar to her own presence in Akhandananda’s quarters while he raped others. Shishy went on to testify how she was expected to serve Satyananda sexually whenever he was visiting Australia, or whenever she travelled to the ashram in Munger. (107:11164)

Mangrove Mountain seems to have served in part as a recruitment centre for women to be groomed as temporary or intermittent sexual partners for Satyananda. Victims were encouraged to believe that being raped by progressively more powerful men in the organization signified their increasing spiritual attainment. In brave and frank testimony, former child resident Bhakti Manning described how, after being initiated into sexual compliance by Akhandananda at the age of 15, she was also pressured into intercourse with another visiting Swami from India named Gorakhnath in late 1975.

In October of 1976, Satyananda visited from India to attend a convention in Sydney. “During the convention”, Manning testified, “I asked Satyananda for my ‘mantra diksha’, which are the words you do your meditation with. He asked if anyone had given me a mantra before, and I said that Akhandananda and Gorakhnath had. Satyananda then said words to the effect of, ‘Well, you started with Swami Gorakhnath and Akhandananda and you will continue with me.’ Later at Mangrove ashram, I asked him if I could live in the ashram in Munger, India, and he said, ‘Are you married?’ I said, ‘No.’ Then he said, ‘Yes, you can come to India.’ (105:11031)

Manning testified that she worked in an administrative role at the Munger ashram for seven years while also serving as one of Satyananda’s sexual partners. She came to feel that his earlier reference to training with Akhandananda and Gorakhnath did not refer to mantra at all, but to sexual servitude.

Manning testified that she believed that the many women who surrounded Satyananda at the Munger ashram were his sexual partners, and that their social power at the ashram depended upon his favour. She also described Satyananda’s sexual tastes as violent and humiliating:

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Manning: I think by the time I arrived in India, Swami Satyananda realised that physical violence was not the best way of manipulating people. He had refined his act. I am talking about sexual activity which was far from loving. Would you like me to – where you were told what position to assume, what to do, where – I remember on occasion when I was told to go and wash myself afterwards, I couldn’t walk.

Ms. McGlinchey (Shishy’s lawyer): Are we talking about very aggressive violent sex?

Manning: Aggressive violent sex.

McGlinchey: I’m not asking you to go into details, but involving what we might generally say as perverted acts?

Manning: Oh, I don’t say it was perverted. I just say that it was ‐ I was told what position to assume, and that may have been like on all fours with a heavy man on top of me when I weighed 47 kilos and had regular dysentery and diarrhea and it was just physically extremely exhausting to do those things. I recall times where I got genital herpes from him and I had been instructed to face his feet and straddle him that way. He must have noticed that there was something on my skin, and he just took a torch and shone it in my anus area, without saying anything. I recall having my head pushed under and told to take him in my mouth and him putting his toes in my vagina while he listened to All India Radio News….”

(106:11062-3)

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As with the experience of Alecia Buchanan and others with Akhandananda, Satyananda’s assaults were an open secret, according to testimony heard by the Commission. “On one occasion” Manning testified, “[Satyananda and I] had sex in the same room as older, senior female swamis. Often we had sex when one of the female swamis in particular, his constant companion at the time, was in the room.” (105: 11033) She testified that from as early as 1977 she was having various psychotic and paranoid symptoms resulting from the abuse. By the end of her tenure in Munger in 1983, Manning testified that she also began a sexual relationship with Swami Niranjananda that lasted a year. Niranjananda, also a purported celibate, took over the directorship of the Munger ashram that year, and today serves as the spiritual leader of the global movement. In her testimony, Manning did not indicate that her relationship with Niranjananda was non-consensual.

Satyananda’s alleged sexual crimes may have also involved young children. Anonymous witness APR remembers being raped and mutilated by Akhandananda and five or six other men in a public ritual at the age of six. Approximately a year later, Satyananda visited Mangrove Mountain, and subjected APR to another “initiation”. She reports: “For years I have had involuntary physical reactions to images of Satyananda. I have a non-distinct memory of my initiation involving more than the transfer of energy and the giving of a new name. I have impressions of him being on top of me; it makes me nauseous, but for years I have swatted away the thought that he had raped me, as my entire childhood I was raised to believe he was like God, pure love.” (106: 11093-4)

There is at least one other published account of Satyananda’s abuse, although it is not part of the Royal Commission’s documents, and it is not presented as a direct allegation. It comes from a woman named Janaki Vunderink, who in August 2013 posted this description of living in Satyananda’s ashram in Munger, starting at the age of fourteen in 1967, and staying through her nineteenth year. In this deeply intimate account of her spiritual journey, Vunderink hints at having had a confusing sexual relationship with the guru. “As it turned out,” she writes, “Satyananda was a very hostile and aggressive man, driven by lust.”

Vunderink had actually written about this encounter before, but without having named Satyananda explicitly. In 1993, she published a more detailed account of her experience at Munger. The article is in Dutch: “Opgroein in een Ashram als je 14 bent” (“Growing Up in an Indian Ashram at Age 14”) in The Willem de Ridder Papers (August 1993): 33-37. In 2001, Vunderink translated parts of this story into English for inclusion in Sarah Caldwell’s study in the anthropology of religion “The Heart of the Secret: A Personal and Scholarly Encounter with Shakta Tantrism in Siddha Yoga”. Here’s the most relevant passage. Note that this account recalls experiences dated to several years before the experiences testified to by Buchanan and Manning:

Janaki was first taken to India as a young girl, accompanying her mother, who was studying yoga in an ashram. She describes the slow process of her socialization in the ashram, eventually leading, in her young teens, to the guru’s introducing her to his sexual practices. At first these seemed innocent enough, cuddling and lying beside the guru with another girl. But after some months the guru’s sexual depravities began to show, as he forced the girls into nightly sexual relations with himself and eventually with young boys, whom he said he could control through their sexual slavery. He would watch through a keyhole while the orgies were conducted. He asked if she loved him and if she would do anything for him. When she answered she would, he then asked her, “Would you have sex with a dog?” There was no way she could go back on her word and felt she would rather die than displease him. Once she took rat poison because she felt her guru hadn’t been paying enough attention to her. When he found out he became extremely angry and beat her severely, shouting that if she were to die it would destroy his mission. Janaki began to see that the guru she had loved and idolized through her teen years was focused entirely on sex and power. Yet this same guru was widely revered, sought out as a master of hatha yoga and meditation, and treated with great respect in India. His depraved personal life seemed to bear no relation to his public status. (Caldwell, 42)

 

Some Thoughts for Satyananda Yoga Outsiders

For ten years, I’ve carried around a little blue book called Yoga Nidra, written by (or transcribed from talks by) Swami Satyananda. It was produced by the Yoga Publications Trust. At home, it sits on my shelf beside at least twenty other YPT volumes, with their primary-colour spines flashing like a row of crayons. Yoga Nidra details a technique I first learned and fell in love with during a yoga therapy training in California. The practice has been profound for me in many ways.

But I don’t know how I can continue to use this method, much less teach it to my students, now that this testimony against Satyananda has accumulated. The notion of leading people into a vulnerable, trance-like state by using a technique that was invented by an alleged rapist who then validated it by correlation with obscure medieval sources is intolerable to me. The power and utility of the methods emerging from Satyananda’s legacy rest on an implicit appreciation of the man’s integrity, which is now under serious attack.

Fatal attack, actually. The widely supported finding that only 2% of rape accusations are false should compel anyone interested in this story to presume that Shishy, Bhakti Manning, APR and Janaki are extremely likely to be telling the truth about their encounters with Satyananda. Dismissing this presumption is a failure of critical thinking complicitous with global rape culture.

For those of us who would like to lend support to the victims in their difficult healing process, I suggest the following actions.

As stated above, at minimum, yoga practitioners throughout the world can boycott all products and methods of the Satyananda global organization, until:

  1. the Satyananda headquarters at Munger uses the resources at its disposal — especially donation streams from its hundreds of satellite ashrams worldwide — to fund an independent investigation of the current testimony, and also endeavours to document possible abuses in other ashrams that Satyananda traveled to throughout the world, and
  2. allocates reparation money to the survivors of the court-proven sexual abuses of Akhandananda in Australia, and
  3. creates an escrow fund that anticipates reparation payments to those who are yet to come forward as victims of abuse by Satyananda and any other authority figure in the organization.

I would also like to propose two ideas in relation to these horrors to enhance the safe learning environments that yogic inquiry demands:

  1. If you are a teacher of Satyananda/Bihar Yoga School techniques – and especially if you have gained professional prestige from your use of them – it would be wise to issue a personal statement of acknowledgement of the abuses both proven and testified to, and to describe what you are doing to assure the safety of your students. This would apply to anyone who teaches the highly popular Yoga Nidra technique, for example. Or anyone who uses any of the highly influential YPT publications such as Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha and the Muktibhodananda translation of Hatha Yoga Pradipika. This acknowledgement can occur in conjunction with creating and publicizing a system for ensuring safe learning spaces for everyone.
  2. Because robust testimony against the late Satyananda and now some testimony about his successor Niranjananda call their integrity into question, it might be a good idea if the proposed boycott of all Satyananda-related books and methods continues until an independent commission of scholars is able to assess the accuracy of claims concerning the origins of the practices. These techniques are aimed at deep psycho-spiritual targets. Being confident that they are not the fabrications of rapists and their enablers would be a good thing.

It’s important to note that the work of the Commission is by no means finished, and the responses to the testimony it has collected from the current Mangrove Mountain administration and Munger are still emerging. The Commission’s Counsel Assisting is drafting a submission for release on January 30, 2015. After this, all parties concerned will have four weeks to respond to these preliminary findings. The Commission will reconvene in March.

Mangrove Mountain lawyer Aaron Kernaghan writes via email that he anticipates his clients releasing “a comprehensive statement” in response to the Counsel Assisting’s submission. Kernaghan also notes that “in addition to the oral testimony given during the hearing, there is a large quantity of documentary evidence (including additional statements from witnesses not called)…. Those documents are currently the subject of a non-publication order.” Also, every day, dozens of documents are being added to the Royal Commissions Exhibits Page for the case. In short: the story will continue to unfold.

Munger’s initial email response to the anticipated testimony of the Mangrove Mountain residents to the Royal Commission (dated October 7, 2014: see Appendix #1 below) leaves much to be desired. It appears that Munger would have initially preferred to simply amputate Mangrove Mountain than take any responsibility for the actions of its leadership. However, a second, more conciliatory email from Swami Niranjananda and the Bihar School of Yoga was read aloud by their lawyer on the final day of testimony (Appendix #2). Unfortunately, this second statement does not reference any of the testimony against Satyananda.

In considering this proposed boycott it should be noted that the Mangrove Mountain ashram can not on its own afford appropriate reparations to its victims, as it currently holds only 5.6M AUD in assets on paper, as per the testimony of Sarah Tetlow, who has been the CEO of the ashram for the past year. (110:11508) If victims are to be compensated, it will have to come from Munger.

A Broader Message for Yoga Teachers: Your Lineage Provides No Cover

Beyond these rather baseline proposals to help remedy this specific outrage, the lesson for other schools and lineages should finally be clear.

Your lineage doesn’t matter now. The history of your school doesn’t matter now. The name, purported attainments, cultural heritage and robes of your guru are no guarantee of integrity or safety. Even if you feel you stand confidently as part of a long line of ethical teachers, the well of faith in global yoga institutions has been irretrievably fouled, and the best way to prove your integrity as a practitioner is by showing what you do, exactly. You have to demonstrate the difference between communication and mystification. You have to demonstrate the difference between charisma and intimacy.

The venerable structure of parampara is surely still functional in some places. But far too many brands of modern yoga that have globalized can no longer claim any history of enlightened inheritance, either because of malfeasance in leadership or the blatant dishonesty of their claims. The parade of infamy is long and well-known: there’s no need to mention other organizations on the same page as the horrors at Mangrove Mountain.

Suffice to say: too many global brands of modern yoga are stained with scandal on a scale ranging from venal to obscene to abject. This does not mean that these organizations and their members haven’t been able to improve their transparency in the wake of failures, or that they don’t do good things in the world. But it does mean that all yoga schools — like all other institutes of higher learning — should at long last be disqualified as objects of faith.

If as a teacher you rely on the of any of these organizations or guru-legacies to enhance or secure your authority, it is clearly in the interest of your integrity and the health of the broader culture to be transparent about how you understand and position yourself in relation to their shadows. If you don’t, you really have no right to be taken seriously as someone who can provide care to others.

No one in yoga culture deserves anyone’s faith. Teachers deserve our inquiry. Where they come from and what devotees say about them is very thin gruel. You will know them by their fruits.

While nothing can fully atone for the grief of the former residents of Mangrove Mountain, the critical thinking and existential honesty that could arise out of this “never again” story might be a very good thing for yoga practitioners of the future.

 

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PLEASE NOTE: Comments that seek to correct any factual errors in this account are most welcome, and I will amend the text if necessary. Comments that claim to provide additional evidence will be published, but readers should understand that these may be uncorroborated. Comments that attack the integrity of the former child residents of Mangrove Mountain will not be published. Abusive comments will not be published. Any comments or messages of a threatening nature will not be published, and will be immediately reported to the appropriate authorities along with the I.P. addresses of the senders.

 

Appendix #1: Excerpts from an email from the Munger Administration to Mangrove Mountain, 10/7/2014

All his life Swami Niranjan has worked for the betterment of Satyananda yoga and his guru’s mission. In all its difficulties, problems and strife, he has supported Mangrove Mountain and the Satyananda yoga movement in Australia.

But these recent actions of Australia have shown that the institutions and the people involved have no respect for the support and encouragement given. What has been shown is that Australia is willing and happy to hide behind guru’s dhoti and suffer the ‘swamiji says syndrome’. Administrators of the institution are willing to involve him in the investigation of 20 year old sex scandals and tarnish his reputation, where they [did] not even dare to put their own names on behalf of the institution.

From our perspective there is no accountability or concern for yoga in Australia. No-one is prepared to take responsibility for the situation and events which are occurring.

After a lifetime in support of Australia, Swami Niranjan and Bihar School of Yoga indisgust withdraw their association and support completely from SYAA [Satyananda Yoga Academy Australia], SRI and YAMM [Yoga Association of Mangrove Mountain]. (110:11511)

 

Appendix #2: Statement read by Alex Terracini, lawyer for Bihar School of Yoga and Swami Niranjananda (110:11589-90)

Firstly, we wish to thank the Royal Commission for agreeing to our request for leave to appear. We have only recently become aware of the allegations regarding individuals in India and consequently our entry into the Commission process occurred only a few days prior to its commencement.

At the outset we wish to state that we support the work of the Commission in its investigations. We acknowledge the sexual abuse committed by Akhandananda in the 1970s and 1980s at the Mangrove Mountain yoga ashram in Australia. We havelistened to the stories of the victims, and we now endeavour to understand the trauma they have suffered and still suffer today. We have not wished to interrupt, broach, object or question any statements the victims as they recount their understanding of events. We have silent out of respect and concern Commission process be honoured.

It is only due to the courage and determination of the survivors intheir truths, and coming forward to be heard and to report experiences, that we have learnt the truth about the sexual abuse perpetrated at Mangrove Mountain in the 1980s and 1970s. Until the evidence presented during this Commission, the Bihar School of Yoga did not know the appalling extent of the abuse nor how widespread it was. We had not heard the stories which revealed the horrific nature and severity of the abuse. We did not understand the isolation and shame that has been the burden carried by the survivors for so many years, because their stories had not been heard and the harm done to them had not been acknowledged.

We are deeply shocked and saddened by the stories of the victims and the appalling destruction of their trust and faith of the actions of Akhandananda and Shishy, all this under the guise of the mission of yoga and spiritual life. Until now we’ve been under the misapprehension that the matter had simply been resolved by the criminal justice system, and after the incarceration of the perpetrator, the interests of justice had been served. We recognise now that nobody addressed the hurt, the shame and the harm that had been the ongoing effect of the abuse and the impact that the abuse had had on its victims, their families and indeed the whole organisation.

It is a matter of great distress and sadness that the yogic principles which we believe in and work for have been so grossly misused and maligned. The foundation of the yogic approach of life is based on ahimsa, an attitude of non‐violence to all living beings. Those who perpetrated acts of sexual, physical, emotional violence have not only completely failed to express anything of yoga in their lives; they have failed to express any fundamental human dignity or quality whatsoever. We sincerely hope that through the wisdom received by this Royal Commission, the hearing of the evidence, reconciliation for the victims of abuse can begin. We are deeply concerned and hope that the findings of this Commission posit improvements and processes within institutions which will ensure the health, safety, sanctity and dignity of all children. Thank you.

 

Notes:

Epigraph from Swami Niranjananda: http://www.biharyoga.net/living-yoga/message-from-swan/

Epigraph from Swami Sivananda: http://www.dlshq.org/download/yogadaily.htm#_VPID_9

Caldwell, Sarah. The Heart of the Secret: A Personal and Scholarly Encounter with Shakta Tantrism in Siddha Yoga. Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions, Vol. 5, No. 1 (October 2001).

 

Links:

(The following is a list created for the Facebook group “Satyananda Yoga – Reveal the Truth”)

Royal Commission Transcripts / Exhibits

Support services for sexual abuse survivors 

Australia news:

UK news:

USA news:

India news:

Audio:

Video/TV Report

Blogs/Opinion:

Other documents:

 
 

104 Comments

  1. Ted Polderman

    Writing about all this painful stuff, gradually more details come to the surface.

    – One of the three of us leaving the ashram in december 1967, has written an important critical and detailed report on the above mentioned matter concerning S.S., and handed it over to the ‘Stichting Yoga Nederland’, a Dutch yoga foundation. Until now I could not come into contact with him, so for the time being I will only mention his initials: R.E. This report was essential for the foundation to end all contacts with the ‘International Yoga Fellowship’ and the Bihar school of yoga.

    – Apparantly S.S. has handed down his poisonous teachings to at least one student / follower, resulting in continuation of sexual abuse: Akhandananda. I wonder if co-students of the first group were poisoned already. It was obvious that one student was particularly determined to acquiring so called sidhi’s, that is psychological powers, through tantric practices and so on. And this can lead very easily to the temptation to influence, dominate and abuse other people, like what Akhandananda said: ‘Your mind belongs to me.’

    • Janaki van den Brink (aka Macheld Vunderink)

      Hi Ted, were you part of the teachers training course in ’67?

  2. Ted Polderman

    Having met S.S. and reading the horrible experiences of victims, described above, I suggest strongly that any one involving in Yoga, teacher, pupil, etc., boycot not only S.S,’s literature but all literature of the ‘international yoga fellowship’ and the Bihar school of yoga, And not ‘until ..’ but forever. It is only useful to prove how dangerous these texts and there writers are, comparable with for instance nazi-literature.

    To be loud and clear, when you feel any desire involving in Kundalini / Siddha / Kriya yoga, realise you are playing with fire, dynamite. It must be quite obvious now that there is great risk you will harm, destroy, the lives of others, young, old, and of course, your own life. These yoga’s all have elements of so called black magic, meaning acquiring power over others, resulting inevitably in (self)destruction, not at all meaning self liberation; it is exactly the opposite of what yoga claims to provide: freedom, selfrealisation, being natural.

    Believe me, I do not exaggerate, I know very well what I am talking about!

    • Dear Tedd Polderman, thank you for your warning, I guess it saves some lifes… I am very ignorant in yoga but I do religious sutdies at university Geneva and I am very interested by advaita vedanta. I would like to ask you : is the Yoga Sivananda dangerous ? I searched but it does not seem a sect. Do they practice mind manipulations or is it safe ? Thank you again very much for your words. Anne

  3. Ted Polderman

    I am afraid that in my first reply (February 24, 2015 at 3:49 am) I might have suggested that Tantra is always connected with sex or sexual abuse. (‘dirty tantric practices happening’).That is not true and was not my intention. Tantra is often mentioned in literature and most of the time it has nothing to do with sex or sexual abuse.

  4. Rohit Kumar

    Hari Om Tat Sat!!!
    I had seen and listened to Swami Satyananda more than one time. I have never met until now a personality of his status. His departure from this world is an irreparable loss to humanity at large. His system of Yoga, though for the sake of legalizing the system is called Satyananda yoga or Bihar yoga, is actually yoga in its true spirit. I can say with loud voice that His gift to humanity in the field of Yoga is the best suited to all. In absence of his system there is seen only chaos in the name of Yoga just to make money and nothing else.
    As controversy in Australia is concerned, I dare say that it sounds a planned campaign to defame swami Satyananda Ji’s personality and to damage the authenticity of yoga that Bihar Yoga is providing to the world. Even if there is some reality in it, then a questions comes as to why after such a long gap of years it is coming up? Even if there is some truth in it, we should look into the greatness of someone’s deed and not to play around few faults which give nothing but sucks energy to both who are against and who are in support.
    I request you all to stop this stuffless issue to save the spirit of Yoga and leave yoga as a system to bring harmony into life instead of taking it as a money making tools.

    I am sure that Bihar School of Yoga is surviving under the sound care of Swami Niranjananda; the great disciple of Swami Satyananda. All storm will calm down and the system of Satyananda Yoga is all safe by God’s Grace!!!

    Hari Om Tat Sat!!!

  5. Kailas Mahesha

    Rohit, you are an IDIOT of the first order. I was very close to the Ashram in India and there were always rumors, even in India of inappropriate sexual conduct among the Swami’s. The only “planned campaign” here which was executed well was to do a coverup over the past 30 years, and now the cover up is blown, and you are stupid enough to call that exposure a “planned campaing”?!?!

    Truth is truth is truth — in the words of your “guru.”

    The truth is that these bastards were raping young children.

    Satyananda knew, condoned and participated in it, and so has Niranjan.

    Now if you want to throw away the “Buddhi”, the god-given rational reasoning, your creator gave you, and follow mindlessly assigning “Ji” to somebody’s name who should be put in prison, do so, and continue to be an IDIOT.

    Long before Satyananda, there was Yoga and a God.

    The lesson here is use your own brain, and don’t follow those who use their balls while preaching you to not use balls and your brain.

    Hari Om Tat Sat!!!!!

    • Robin Mitra

      I am an ex-disciple of Satyananda, in residence at Bihar School for 4 years in the 1970’s. If anyone still thinks what happened in Australia was the work of a depraved bad apple, think again. As a young sanyasin I was trained by the master of secrecy that whatever we did behind closed doors was our own business, but outsiders must never know, because they were not spiritually evolved enough to judge their betters. Satyananda was a rapist and abuser – of this I have firsthand experience. Rohit Kumar, I read you with respect and compassion – Satyananda was adept at living a double life, and thousands like you were fooled. Because of what happened in Australia, people with backgrounds like mine are finally coming forward, talking to each other, and speaking out.

      Kailas Mahesha – Myself and others would like to know the story about what happened at the ashram in Orissa, I assume it was Sambalpur, a place I know well.

      Anyone who wants to learn the truth about Satyananda, Niranjan and the Bihar School of Yoga – please consider joining the facebook forum Satyananda-Reveal the Truth.
      And many, many thanks to you, Matthew Remski!

  6. Priya Chauhan

    Satyananda Saraswati was a human with a golden heart . As all people visited to him to get rid from their problems.

  7. Today also people has adopted the techniques of Satyananda Saraswati into their daily life style to bring in changes into their nature and behavior.

  8. Satyananda Saraswati was the magnetic source of wisdom on all aspects of yogic philosophy, practice and lifestyle.

  9. Jayanth

    its very unfortunate that people who have suffered have been quiet all along. If there was truth in the alleged crimes…its should have been brought to the notice of public . but has this information helped me ? yes. as am i seeker and will not fall gullible to any guru hence forth. will only try to seek within.

  10. Why did SS become old and die, if kundalini yoga was meant to awaken the kundalini shakti to keep you immortal and ageless??

  11. Hawkeye

    There should be strict accountability in these issues. Swami Akhandananda seems to be a fraud swami who did not seem to have any yogic training. The fact that he died of alcoholic abuse itself reveals that he was a fraud as alcohol as an intoxicant is strictly forbidden for the yogi as it blurs awareness.

    The problem was the quality of leaders set up to administer such ashrams who treated it as their personal fiefdom instead of being accountable to the long cherished ideals and principles of the yogic tradition, namely non-violence and rigorous self-control.

    Also under the sannyasin disciplne, the sannyasin is not supposed to come in contact with females. What was swami akhandananda doing with females in the ashram. They should never have been brought to the ashram in the first place.

    There are a lot of transgressions of rules and regulations of the sannyasin order, which resulted in lack of accountability and ridiculous issues of this sort.

  12. Shanti

    Absolutely facinating. Time to take individual responsibility all round. Hopefully the paedophiles and rapists are made accountable, and the yoga community enrols in philosophy and logic 101; so that yogis learn to think for themselves and work on their own evolution of consciousness, which includes the intellect. Not much needs to be said about patriarchy and male entitlement over at least twenty-two centuries of predominant global abuse. May the women, always blessed with kundalini and spiritual realisation, finally come forward. We need feminine healing now. Om. Shanti shanti shanti.

  13. Why so many people took so much of time in speaking the truth. What compelled truth seekers to stay in such difficult situation for so long. People who wait for appropriate time to speak truth are generally not reliable.

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