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.
“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)
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:
- 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
- it awards financial reparations to the victims of Akhandananda, and
- 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.
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:
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….”
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:
- 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
- allocates reparation money to the survivors of the court-proven sexual abuses of Akhandananda in Australia, and
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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).
(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
- http://t.co/4tpJFH0RIv (Long url: http://estherrockett.com/2014/12/07/satyananda-yoga-mangrove-mountain-ashram-under-child-abuse-royal-commission-scrutiny/)
- Medical Tribunal report of the Mangrove ashram Nad – Henry Sztulman for inappropriate prescribing of narcotics mcnsw.org.au/resources/257/Sztulman.pdf
Good on you Matthew
I and my cohort in ‘my’ lineage doctrine:
— We were encouraged to have faith in ourselves.
This faith (in oneself) was the ‘last place’ for those of us who had no faith to give to a god or a ‘guru’.
I often wondered (to myself, thinking about this idea of having faith in myself) that somehow, this last-ditch-faith language must be a –clue– to the ‘mysteries’ of Yoga.
The irony being: That this faith placed in ones self was –not the last resort– but rather the first and only place for faith to be placed (and cautiously at that).
Thinking about the abuse and the trauma I’m deeply saddened to think that these young people, now adults, have a hard time finding self trust and self confidence.
This ashram, this organization: A lie so hideous and inhumane.
Matthew, I object at your sentence in the beginnings of your article: “Virtually every yoga training director I know references this literature in their programming, directly or indirectly.”
There is an entire world of full of Iyengar students, teachers, and training directors who wouldn’t mention Satyananda in a fit, which makes your “virtually every yoga training director” claim redundant.
One by one the stories surface. Sometimes is takes decades before women have the courage to speak up.There is a very well known guru who passed a way a few years ago, he is responsible for bringing modern vinyasa yoga into the mainstream. He abused countless women, out in the open in front of other students in the middle of class. He would grab boobs, crotches and buttocks routinely. Some women told him to stop and he did, others apparently liked the attention. Many people made excuses for him and others pretended not to notice. The stories have not surfaced in the public domain about this particular guru, but, eventually the women who were abused will begin to speak out. And the sooner the better, in my humble opinion. I know it’s not good for the business of Yoga to reveal these ugly truths, but unless the woman who were abused speak up, the old patterns continue to repeat themselves. One story of abuse often leads to another, I wonder where will this one lead us?
Keep up the exceptional work Matthew, the Yoga community is on your side. Well at least some of us are!
Deeply disturbing and heartbreaking revelations. Many of us influenced directly or indirectly by the Satyananda/Bihar lineage (including me — some of my teachers were descended from this lineage and I’ve taught from their translations.) are grieving yet another profound violation of spiritual trust. My heart and compassion go out to all those affected by these crimes, especially to the residents and families whose trust was so deeply abused.
Amid all the messiness of cultural transmission and appropriation, our generation has inherited the responsibility to re-vision what it means to offer embodied spiritual practice descended from Asian lineages. Almost every major lineage is wounded or slain by deep ethical scandal. It is up to us to do it differently. Our contribution to yoga and dharma organizations as they take root in the West must be a renewed and vital ethical imperative, including individual responsibility, transparency, oversight, accountability, and democratic governance.
I’m with Sean on this. Thank you for the thorough and clear overview, Matthew.
I agree with just about everything you said here, but i have to say that, coming from another Northern Indian tradition, I know that Satyananda did NOT invent Yoga Nidra. There are other traditions that use it, as well, some that started before his. Just an FYI.
Great to see yoga itself under question. But seems to be too much of a rescue mission Matthew. Why continue supporting this range of stretching exercises that mean nothing without the, mostly unacknowledged, faith component? Why not just acknowledge yoga as a faith-based aerobics programme ultimately designed to control your life – with men holding the supreme power? Critical thinking and yoga! as if! My son’s childcare introduced yoga, and the very first thing we did was teach him how to protect himself. This was before the RC. Should have tried to get the management committee to stop it but I reckon they will now! Why save yoga Matthew? I read the various FB pages written by survivors of the rape Ashram- they aren’t trying to save yoga. They see it for what it is. They warn against the inherent guru-ism. Why not give up yoga Matthew? Will you lose too much $$$?
Thanks Vikki. The culture you refer to is highly visible, but only a tiny fraction of the whole story. Broadly speaking, yoga has always been an anti-authoritarian practice, and many of its streams are highly skeptical in approach. Furthermore, there are entire swaths of yoga education that specifically omit the need for gurus. I’ve always understood and practiced yoga as a revolutionary response to external and internalized oppression, as well as some basic vulnerabilities in the human software, such as the belief in an atomistic self.
‘Broadly speaking’? I don’t think this is a time for broadness. Your article is quite specific. ‘Anti authoritarian’? Why is that good? ‘Omit the need for gurus’? So you admit guruism is inherent? ‘Revolutionary response’? Where’s the revolution? Name one ‘external oppression’ stopped by Yoga. ‘Internalised oppression’? What’s that? Are you blaming individuals for their experiences of oppression? How can you draw a line between ‘internal’ and ‘external’? And who does this? You? As the teacher? Why not give up yoga for one month? As in, stop making $$$$
Vikki, I don’t have time to give you a survey of the history of yoga, or explain what internalized oppression is, or show you the countless instances in which I show that it is the opposite of victim-blaming. You can start with Eliade, if you’re interested in the anti-authoritarian streams of yoga, or pick up a basic primer in Buddhism if you want to learn about the connections between intrapersonal and social revolution in yogic practice. There’s no mention of any need for gurus in Patanjali’s system, which is arguably most influential today. I make a modest living discussing these topics in yoga training contexts, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Feel free to try to destroy or outlaw the fact that people are interested in yoga throughout the world. I don’t think you’ll get very far.
So you would give up eating because they discover Salmonella in eggs? You’d give up walking in the countryside because there might be bears? I do not understand your post; why would people give up yoga because of a man who pretended to practice it? I teach yoga to kids and adults ( free of charge incidentally, since you clearly have an issue with the money side), every single day, why would I give that up? Why would I destroy our community? Sure, for some it’s only about making money but again, they are not practising yoga, they are practising something else. Are you suggesting that all yoga teachers only do so for money? And for those who do it to help others AND get paid, do you do not think people deserve to make money to eat? You taught your son to protect himself at school from a potential threat via a yoga teacher? I’m assuming you have a poor view of yoga based on that comment (before RC), can I ask why? Thanks for your time.
I assume you’re addressing me although you didn’t use my name. We taught our son to beware of the mysticism inherent in yoga. Like when the yoga teacher tried to teach the kids that a stone had magical properties.
‘It sucks out all your bad feelings’. I mean really!! Apart from that being a blatant lie, what happened if my son still had ‘bad feelings’? Is he wrong?Glad you make no $$ from teaching yoga. Do you also teach your clients about majic?
Wow Vikki, you certainly seem to have a lot of anger, yoga is not about money to everyone. Why are you even commenting here as the whole subject obviously infuriates you! Throughout history mankind has debased and manipulated every teaching and religion that has been given to him, unfortunately we need to accept this and find what resonates with our own personal Truth. Magic is espoused everywhere, prayer is magic, anything that cannot be seen or felt with our five senses is magic, how else can it be explained. Namaste Dawn
“The widely supported finding that only 2% of rape accusations are false”
Actually this number is widely refutted, there is no substance to it. As this recent article shows. The same article presents actual data from a 9 year study finding the number to be 40%.
Please note, this comment is only being made on the use of a trendy but incorrect statistic that along with the careless perpetuation of the term rape culture, may lead informed readers to disengage from an otherwise important story.
This comment in no way wishes to downplay the horrible reports coming to light about the ashram or any trauma suffered by anyone involved. Nor is it suggesting that the reports aren’t true.
Thank you for your article.
To the credit of the neoliberal Bloomberg writer, the article does focus upon the difficulty of discerning the false accusation rate. The Wikipedia entry paints a different picture. I’m not going to get into a discussion with you about whether rape culture exists or not. That may lead informed readers to disengage from an otherwise important story.
This article does not represent the whole and complete truth…… it is one side of the story and slightly misleading. I will not boycott any books written by this school, they hold a great deal of truth within them. The Bihar yoga has fed, clothes so many poor people in India, Mathew how many have you fed, clothed and supported latley. The Bihar Yoga Ashram has given so much to the international yoga community in terms of books and yogic knowledge. Mathew what have contributed? You wrote a couple books and articles full of distortion (that align with your own beliefs).
Lastly, I you have an idea for you why don’t give away the collection of your Bihar school of yoga books away.
It doesn’t attempt to present the complete story, but merely summarizes public documents. As the article states, of course there will be more data to digest. If it is misleading, you should show how in order to be taken seriously.
What’s most notable about your comment is your willingness to attack my credibility in working from public documents while completely ignoring the gravity of the testimony against Satyananda and the the Bihar School with regard to widespread physical, psychological, and sexual abuse. I’m grateful that, given your clear allegiances, there are many other people willing to advocate for transparency and justice.
innocent till proven guilty. so many good people in the past have been falsely accused, Jesus, Nelson Mandala, Gandhi to name a few.
You’ve just compared the eleven former child residents of Mangrove Mountain to King Herod, the Apartheid regime, and the British Raj. Congratulations: you’re done here.
Possibly the most brilliant retort I’ve come across on the Internet, Matthew! Oof, that gave me goosebumps 🙂
If only all childhood sexual abuse survivors could experience the dignity of validation & advocacy, like what you just gave with that response. Thank you for a thorough article Matthew.
I am also struggling with how to go about practicing Yoga Nidra since. I have found it immensely useful for work, school, parenting and especially as a prenatal practice. I was never initiated into this lineage but my husband was and he does note that the atmosphere of the Indian ashram did seem odd. We have recordings of Swami Satyananda conducting a yoga nidra and we have the book as well, the recordings of him did not set me at ease but there are other recordings (specifically of a female british woman) that are wonderful.
I agree that lineage does not guarantee integrity but like our family lineage which is also most likely corrupt by one or two individuals, do we abandon and disregard our roots? Is the support of our ancestors spiritually enriching?
I think what is attractive about lineage is a feeling that we belong?
To me, in a way this is similar to the debate about Bill Cosby, is the ‘Cosby show’ are these jokes not funny, entertaining or important anymore because of his tainted reputation and horrible acts he has allegedly performed?
I think your qualms about practicing Yoga Nidra and reading these books are valid. And yet, maybe we can move forward knowing that power and greed are an appalling combination and also take note that there are more people involved in creating a school, ashram, organization, family, book, practice and television show… I am not sure I can boycott this practice that i believe, has been developed by a group and has been such a useful tool to me? I do agree that we need to be totally transparent with our intentions when we are teaching this practice… But maybe this give us the freedom as teachers who may not have been ‘initiated’ into teaching this practice to evolve it into something more diverse, clear and positive?
So glad to hear from you. I think this is exactly the kind of soul-searching that is now required. I’m not one for faith usually, but I am confident that engaging with these difficult questions deeply will produce rich benefits for everyone.
Mokshamoma and Matthew,
Re ‘one or two individuals’ – best to stop hiding behind this phrase. This is exactly what the Mangrove Mountain Ashram did for 25 years. ‘Not us’ the cried ‘it was them’. The investigation was called the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The focus is very much on the institution which thrived on, ignored and belittled the abuses. The institution will pay reparation.
Yes, i agree the institution will and should pay reparation. It is appalling that the institution covered this scandal for 25 years. My comment about lineage encompasses those people who are working for and following this lineage, the people who have been initiated into what they feel was a community aligned with their ethical and spiritual beliefs and are not aware of the abuses. The ‘institution’ was not controlled by this entire community, only specific leaders who were corrupt. It is unfortunate and my comment is a posed as a question, ‘do we disregard something that may be useful?’… I really don’t know… And because it is a lineage, this practice (YN) was not created by the perpetrators, actually it goes deeper back to Sivananda and likely further. So the community involved is large, its complicated. Anyone who is abusive should be stopped, and made to pay reparation… There is no debate. I believe the debate and discussion is in how we continue on with practices that can be useful to a person (not just in selling and making money, at this point i don’t make money with yoga
). My intention is not to hide behind that phrase.
Have you ever seen ‘The Hunt’ (a movie from Denmark)? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hunt_(2012_film)
Children to lie, in a different way than adults, for different reasons – and they have very imaginative minds – they pick up what one has imagined, visualize it, believe it and repeat it.
Once you believe something it stays with you even when you are an adult.
I am NOT running to boycott Bihar School just yet.
(Even if Swami Akhandananda will be found guilty it does not mean everyone else has been involved. It would be sad to have had such a rotten apple in this renowned lineage but it does not delete the rest)
Swami Akhandananda was convicted of child sexual abuse. Or did you not read the article you are defensively commenting on? Have you taken no time to review the overwhelming testimony before implying that the former child residents of Mangrove Mountain are lying? Have you figured out that they are not children now? Did you miss the testimony of Shishy admitting to physical and sexual abuse of her charges?
I personally tend to believe people when they say they were abuse and raped. I do not tend to base my opinion on movies. So what if everyone was not involved? A culture of rape, torture and abuse is just that and no amount of backpedalling or innocent bystanders will change that.
Im in total agreement about this: 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 …. Etc. Who cares how famous your teacher was when he’s psychotic. Mad people often speak great truths. Lots of people are willing to follow them, revere them, build temples to their glory. Doesn’t mean we are safe to have them out on the streets. And definitely they should not be rewarded because they have the power to publish.
But take heart yoga lovers. A lot of this story is so far out there. It’s like this represents yoga as Jonestown represented Christianity. Erasing this cult from our culture is no loss at all.
Thank you so, so much for this well-researched and very thoughtful piece, that sadly only scratches the surface of much vaster web of deceit, hypocrisy and abuse within the yoga, guru and ashram worlds. Unfortunately these things are far too often swept under the rug. The old model of deifying our beloved teachers I think needs to be reconsidered in this day and age, as they so often seem to buckle under their own impossible standards and go undercover with behaviors that, under a veil of secrecy, become increasingly more depraved. Someday I hope these leaders figure out that most people respect and admire self-effacement, humility, and transparency. Nobody respects a liar, abuser and hypocrite. The Bihar School and all who are associated with Satyananda’s teachings have an opportunity here to set an almost unprecedented example of fearless adherence to yogic principles by publicly acknowledging, condemning and apologizing for these abuses, and as you said, take steps to make amends to the victims.
On a side note, I think the spelling is Niranjanananda, nor Niranjananda. 😉
What a sad and tragic story. It should give us all pause.
After reading the comments under the article there is some dispute to what degree this applies to Satyananda. Also, after doing some digging, the FBI in the states has done sophisticated meta-analysis on rape accusations in correlation with DNA evidence, and unfortunately somewhere between 30 and 40% of accusations mistakenly acuse the wrong person. I am in no way defending Satyananda, and the number of acusers lends serious credence to their claims, but some pause in rendering judgement may be warranted. After all, most of this is only now coming to light, and that’s what the court is there to do.
For me the take away message is the same – don’t put blind faith in a guru, trust yourself.
That’s what attracted me to the work I do now – there is no authority, but yourself. Your body is your guru.
I wanted to add that this does not in my opinion destroy the institution of teaching, whether it be an academic teacher, yoga or spiritual teacher or facilitator. It does, or should destroy any kind of blind faith we put in them, and any kind of relinquishment of our own personal authority.
Some people in the commentary, including the author it seems, are unfortunately coming to the wrong conclusion that the very science and practice of yoga itself is suspect. To me yoga at its core is anti authoritarian. It is at its essence an experimental science of trial and error. Always think for yourself. Most western practitioners I work with today have this attitude, thankfully. I never understood the guru worship thing. Perhaps I developed this allergy after seeing the Jim Jones insanity when I was in junior high school.
To what degree what applies to Satyananda? What are you saying here?
From reading the testimony it appears the founder, Satyananda, was himself engaged in a variety of abusive, exual and criminal acts. My point being, that now that this case is shedding light on this, we need to allow the process of discovery in court reveal just how far, and how bad it goes to the top. Until then, we should pause from passing judgement on Satyananda. Obviously, from what we know now, it’s not looking good, but let’s let the court do its job.
My other point was that to dismiss the entirety of yoga because of bad gurus, would be equivalent to dismissing chemistry as a science, because a prominent chemistry professorvused his knowledge to drug and abuse his students. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Also the science of yoga and guru worship are not the same thing, besides a cultural parallel. Patanjali emphasized yoga as a solitary inner science, and not ever one of relinquishing ones own personal authority. Quite the opposite. Let’s not conflate the two.
There’s nothing about my proposed boycott that precludes or interferes with any criminal or civil trial that may come. The testimony is overwhelming, and, I think, sufficient to initiate pressure on Munger.
As for dismissing yoga — you must be reading a different blog. Everything I do revolves around the hope of sharpening yogic inquiry. Anti-authoritarianism and anti-oppression work are part of that yoga journey for me.
For centuries, the priesthood has used entertainment, arts, literature, poetry, and truth itself, in its most elegant ways, to control people. Yoga and truth exist independent of any individual. The Bihar School of Yoga, just as the Catholic Church, which used Christ, has used the truths of existence, to manipulate the ignorant. And, that makes them pure evil, demonic and objects and the LEAST any individual who has any sense of justice should do is to definitely boycott their books, writings, etc. They are not even worthy to wipe one’s ass with.
If there is a God, there is no need for any intermediary. This is just horseshit that was created by those like Satyananda and those of his and other “lineages” seeking to have their feet washed, asses wiped and dicks sucked (literally). I was very closely associated with this Ashram, met Satyananda, Niranjan, and it’s absolutely clear that these guys are PURE evil. They had me sold with their donations and “helping the poor.” But this is no different than Pharmaceutical Companies and Tobacco companies, which start non-profits, give money away, build schools, etc. to build their appearance of helping the masses, while they stash away billions. And, I can assure you Satyananda, Niranjan, are all billionaires.
Thank you Matthew. As others have already said – well presented.
BOYCOTT AND BEWARE OF AKHANDANDA BEING USED AS SCAPEGOAT (“FALL GUY”) BY NIRANJANANDA AND BIHAR SCHOOL OF YOGA TO PROTECT THEIR ASSsets and OTHER ABUSES CASES IN INDIA.
I think Matthew deserves to be thanked for his courage to propose this BoyCott. Most of us are still reeling after the wake this expose. Matthew’s strength in proposing this BOYCOTT is precisely what is needed. Words are cheap (very cheap and very profitable). That is the lesson, if any here: actions speak louder than words.
And, I’d like to say, that Akhandananda is just the tip of the iceberg. And, suddenly BSY distancing themselves from the Australian institution is just politics and further exemplifies the fact that NIRANJANANDA and BSY are no different than any money-making, industrial institution.
And, we in the Yoga community should go an AMAZON, FB, TWITTTER, etc and expose these guys and the so-called “bringing Yoga door to door” movement for what it is really about.
I know for a fact that there are many other abuse cases right at MUNGER and RIKHIA. In fact, one “swami” in Satyananda’s order had sex with a 15-year-old and got her pregnant. This is in Orissa, and he heads up the Orissa ashram of Satyananda. Any investigation will verify this fact.
This is just the tip of the iceberg.
Great work Matthew.
Appreciate you bringing attention to this, however I think you cast a broad net by boycotting “methods”. Bihar yoga didn’t invent yoga nidra, which is a variation on many visualization techniques used both within yoga and all over the place. I only read his book on yoga nidra a few years ago, having practiced many forms of visualization for years. I didn’t find anything new that wasn’t in other training methods, including those used by athletes all over the world (without calling it yoga nidra). Many yoga systems use yoga nidra, and long before Bihar published their book. I’m sure there is a lot of other areas of overlap from other “methods” used by the Bihar yoga school with other modern yoga schools. Are we supposed to “boycott” those as well? Unrealistic, and borders on some of the religious “boycotts” and bans of various beneficial practices. You should use more discretion when encouraging such a boycott, as it can injure completely unrelated and innocent parties.
That said, I think the exposure of this will lead to many not buying their books, just like many won’t watch Cosby now. Would influence me.
In terms of “courage”, I’m curious why you wouldn’t advocate a similar boycott of ashtanga. Diane Bruni, in her comment above doesn’t mention Pattabi Jois, though that is exactly who she is referencing. There is much unaltered photographic evidence supporting her comment/allegations (of which you are no doubt aware). While I understand the allegations in your article are certainly more horrific, particularly since children are the victims, any sexual abuse in yoga is unacceptable and should be exposed. Why do you give Pattabi a pass?
The question of Yoga Nidra’s origins is complex. There’s a good discussion of this on my Facebook page currently. I think it will take a lot of scholarship to unravel the interweaving influences of Sivananda, Kripalu, and Miller’s sources. I’m going with what is immediately obvious: Satyananda’s blue book is famous, the Bihar School copyrighted the phrase, most historical reviews trace the modern phenomenon back to Satyananda’s childhood with Sivananda. Swami Janakananda is early another global popularizer at work long before Stryker and Miller: he was a direct student of Satyananda for two years before parting ways. For modern YN, many many roads seem to lead back to Bihar.
Is it not clear to you that I’m not advocating for the boycott of Yoga Nidra. I’m asking people to consider more carefully their relationship to this practice.
I’m not giving Pattabhi Jois any pass. I haven’t written about Amrit Desai, either, or Muktananda. My resources as a writer only allow a certain amount of investigation. Thoroughly covering the dynamics you mention would require months of investigative journalism. I am, however, interviewing Jois students on physical aspects of practice for the WAWADIA project.
Thanks for your reply, Matthew. I guess I have a problem with the entire premise of your boycott, which states, “Boycott Satyananda’s Literature and Methods Until Reparations are Made for Sexual Abuse.” I’m curious if you really think that this organization is going to make “reparations” for the alleged abuses based on a boycott. You are asking that people “more carefully consider their relationship to (yoga nidra)”. If they make the said “reparations”, then it is ok to return to the practice? How do you make reparations for sexual abuse of this nature? I know something about that personally, and I can tell you there is no way to repair it. If indeed the alleged abuses occurred (and it looks like they did), I would have difficulty ever considering any of their teachings worth the powder to blow them up with. Spiritual teachings with hypocrisy of this nature are useless. The reality, which I’m certain someone of your intellect understands, is that monetary awards will be sorted out by the lawyers for the respective parties, in court if necessary. Nothing will get repaired. So my problem with the premise of your article is that it implies that if the victims get some cash, then it’s ok to lift the boycott. I would disagree, and I find your fundamental premise screwed up (and a bit of grandstanding). If there is a need for such a boycott based on the allegations, then it should be a boycott. Period. And that will occur in the natural process, at least for me.
On the issue of Amrit Desai and Muktananda; they’ve both been extensively exposed, so don’t need your help. On Pattabi Jois, re-read Diane Bruni’s comment. I think the central issue is a lack of ethics. If you sit back and watch your cohorts get fondled by the “Master” and do nothing, what does that say about your ethics in other areas? Not much from my experience with certain of the astangis. That is why it is important. You are doing a project on asanas called WAWADIA. Who cares if you can put your foot behind your head (even safely), if you lack even basic ethics. And denying the existence of the scandal that is quite like an 8 hundred pound elephant in the corner flows over into denial of potential for injuries, etc. Interviewing astangis on asanas, without at least broaching this would be like the AP interviewing Bill Cosby about his art collection without broaching the issue of him being an alleged rapist. That wouldn’t take months either.
We’ve been busy working on this research during our holiday break. We truly hope it helps inform those who teach and practice Yoga Nidra.
But the bigger question here that is largely neglected is why so many men and particularly women are prepared to hand over the responsibility for their lives to another person whatever the reward. I think therein lies the question that I suspect has deeper implications than anyone may realize. Many have come on strong at the gurus for their abuse but I don’t hear anyone comment on whether or not it is appropriate for mothers to entrust their children to gurus. I think the general assumption that this is standard practice is truly chilling. I think the mothers should be on trial too. What is going on here is not okay. The new age phenomenon is largely just a global sex cult wherein sacred rites and practices are fetishised and desecrated. These gurus are just men after all, not that I am in any way implying that all men would behave in this abominable way. But is it appropriate for a mother to send her 15 year old daughter to a grown man’s bedroom at night for any reason?! And please people of this world, NO ONE CAN HELP YOU OR SAVE YOU OR ELEVATE YOU except yourself. Some may claim to teach you but even then all it is is a transfer of knowledge. You need to research for yourself. Everything is through the self. Stop embarrassing yourself and the human race. These gurus are just predators doing what predators do but WE are the ones who allow them to do what they do and still PAY them to do it! May G_d have mercy on us all.
One clarification: the notion of abandonment was not neglected in this article. It wasn’t the focus because there were no parents who testified to the RC:
you are totally ignoring the power dynamics at play in this comment. while you might – might – be correct that “everything is through the self”, no one is an island, and we live in a web of interconnectivity. if what you’re in direct contact with is unhealthy enmeshment, it is a very large ask to not remain personally unhealthily enmeshed. and i say that as a mother.
i think matthew’s call for a boycott of the bihar school’s publications does exactly address the fundamental problem of continuing to pay these “gurus”. as noted above, the main men are billionaires.
excellent, thoughtful, compassionate post, from my point of view. and i love that the issues raised are then routed into questions about direct practice. i have only a little experience with yoga nidra, but i’d be interested to hear how/ whether others are responding in terms of their personal practice.
Wow. All I can say is I agree with you about how ‘mom’s’ are somehow culpable. But we have to look at the ‘thing’.
The thing. The thing we need to look at.
— How women are brainwashed.
How the women are property. And the kids are property. Of men.
Property. Of the men.
— How women and children are the property of ‘the men’.
I hope you understand how this all works. For the men. It all works for the men. Since the women and the children are the property of the men. To be manipulated by the men. Put into the positions by the men. Doing the laundry for themen. Doing the cooking and cleaning for themen. The children doing the work for themen.
Then being called in late at night. For themen.
Then having the mens toes inserted into the childrens vaginas for themen.
Tanya? You still with me?
Am quite shocked reading about all this. I remember going to a Gynecologist since i wanted to take up a long course at Bihar school. For the course we needed to be tested not HIV positive and as well not having any other STD. My gynaecologist warned me, that if a institution ask for such a test, and divides people in that manner under the umbrella of spiritual growth, i should be asking myself in the first place if i want to go there. He thought that was wrong.
Testimony (and a commitment) was given during the hearings that compensation would be made to the victims. So I’m not sure I understand the motive underlying the boycott.
Yoga Nidra is totally plagiarized from the practice of observations of the sensations, which is ancient Siddha practice and also as expressed in the Pali of Buddha. Total plagiarism. It’s amazing that it was allowed to be trademarked, the prior Arte for it is over 5000 years old. Nothing new.
There are many Yoga masters who have been involved in sexual abuse scandals with their students. Notably, Swami Satchidananda, Swami Rama, Amrit Desai, Sai Baba, Swami Shyam and Muktananada, to name a few.
As co-founder of “Unity in Yoga”, the first Yoga conferences in North America in the early 80’s, I noticed the need for students to give their power to gurus. I was fortunate with teachers who taught me to trust in my own self.
There is a wonderful book to read called, “Meeting The Shadow” by Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams. It is a series of essays on the dark side of human nature with essays on all aspects of our Shadow, including a section on the shadows of gurus.
I have learned, over the years, that we all contain “the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, the rapist, the murderer, the thief”. Therefore, the need to stay in touch with our own Shadow side. Because, “the bigger the light, the bigger the shadow.”
For this reason, the importance of continually going deeper into our Yoga practices with mindful self observation cannot be overestimated.
Yes. Mothers abandon their children.
It’s like a made-crazy sort of ‘decision’.
Then they ARE made crazy.
Poor damned mothers.
I am very happy you wrote this article. I have found it surprising the lack of discussion in the blogosphere about these revelations as they are harrowing. While at one point I thought we might be able to “separate the teachers from the teachings” I now find myself unable to pick up my copy of Yoga Nidra in my teaching and my plan to no longer refer to it or any Bihar literature. I also plan to activitrky discuss with fellow practitioners and teachers the issue of reparation and they way in which purchasing such books from the Bihar school who are NOT offerring reparation to survivors is unproblematic.
Further I think it is important to encourage transparency and dialogue in yoga traditions. As an Ashtanga practitioner I am unaware of allegations of assault, sexual abuse, rape or child abuse by Pattabhi Jois or Sharath Jois. Should these be available online I would appreciate the link so I am informed.
In the original pagan teachings of Siddha, the Siddhars were secular and AGAINST religion, brahmanism, and hierarchies. In fact the Sankaracharya movement starting in the 8th century, asked a fundamental question: if there is equality in Heaven, why not on Earth? And this led to the Bhakthi movement, akin to Protestant Reformation, which was dealing with the reality of here and now, on this Earth, and breaking up the Indian Caste system. By the 15th Century, the Indian Caste System was in fact crumbling, leading to the mercantilism and the rise of artisans and merchants.
What occurred in India, that very few know is that Coloniallism reimiposed pre-8th century Caste Law as a way of controlling the Indian masses, in many ways a backward movement to feudalism of the worst kind, and within this Brahmanism, cult worship, gurudom, basic subjugation, was reinforced.
Bottom line: the original teachings are against caste, against hierarchy and worship of ANYONE, but Nature itself and a direct connection — No Guru Necessary.
So — at the end of the day this comes down to M O N E Y and
C O N T R O L and P O W E R. It’s frankly simple. Bihar School of Yoga is a business and they have a product that they sell like any other capitalist business, but unlike the “honest” capitalist, they claim they are not in it for the MONEY, CONTROL (owning markets) and POWER (promoting their brand).
SO, just as we would all BOYCOTT Nike if they were using sweatshop kids or businesses that supported Apartheid, we MUST BOYCOTT BSY.
Their business practices are criminal. BOYCOTT. If you want to be an awakened “yogi”, then participate in the reality of life, wake up to this reality, and shutdown BSY. They are filthy — as above, so below.
Thanks Matthew for another lucid and well-documented piece of reporting on transnational modern yoga. Parampara, or lineage, carries risks (such as abuses of power) as well as advantages (continuity, depth of transmission). In the current transnational context, individual teachers within a controversial lineage are ethically obliged to make our views on abuses known to our students, since many of these abuses have traditionally been tolerated as part of the price one pays for access to the transmission. Even if we believe charges to be false, we must make our own positions known on the behaviors in question.
Modern teachers think that to keep the brand identity, and to retain access to the transmission, they must protect the lineage holders and stay silent. For some, this is a case of case of satya vs. ahimsa (“don’t be so judgmental”), and of course the decision is made by every teacher for him or her self.
However. Decisions have consequences.
Many in the TKV Desikachar lineage have not been forthcoming about their position on charges of sexual assault against the lineage scion, Kausthub Desikachar. Perhaps they fear the loss of continuity with the transmission which extends through Kausthub to TKV Desikachar and his father, Sri T. Krishnamacharya. Kausthub is therefore finding it easy to re-market himself in his new brand — he has already reinvented himself as an expert in yoga for trauma, and yoga for women. This is an extraordinary turn in a personal history which includes having been charged in 2012 with raping senior students in the course of residential trainings, seductions and behaviors that were considered quite credible by witnesses, and by some of the most senior teachers in the lineage. Only one senior teacher to my knowledge spoke out unequivocally, which left the accusers out on a long, thin, limb. The police report occurred in Austria, but the accusers lived elsewhere. Eventually, the charges were dropped — a finale which Kausthub accurately described in his email as a merely “LEGAL CLOSURE” (caps are his).
Thank you very much for this article. As a clinical sexologist in private practice, and as a newly minted apprentice teacher of Ipsalu Tantra, I take these issues very much to heart. I am happy to say that Ipsalu Tantra International has a strong ethical policy and will not tolerate unethical behavior, such as sexual contact with students. However, our teacher community has not achieved consensus on whether or not we should make a public response to this case. Some of our teachers feel that these matters do not concern us, as they did not happen within our community. However, ITI does have some shared lineage due to links with Babaji. I feel much as you do with regard to the wider yoga and tantra community, the collective need for pro-active transparency, accountability, and healing. Most of all, my heart goes out to the survivors, who have endured years of silence and exclusion. As minors, they were placed in the cruelest of predicaments, and it astounds me how little compassion some people express for them. If the wider yoga and tantra communities were to stand in solidarity with them, sending messages of healing as well as stating and acting upon a robust commitment to the safety of all, perhaps then survivors might have a smidgen more hope. And yes, they should have reparations and all the other things you suggest.
Why are you calling for a boycott for reparations when the organization already has made a binding and documented commitment to compensate those abused during testimony before the Royal Commission??
If you are referring to the Mangrove Mountain acknowledgement letter presented by counsel, there was a conciliatory tone, but no concrete offer made. Mangrove Mountain in any case is not solvent enough to make financial reparations to the six victims (so far — there will surely be more) who are asking for 1M each in compensation. Funds will have to come from the source.
It’s indeed a devastating scenario for any sincere seeker or practitioner.
However, while being fully aware of such discrepancies, I am reminded that human nature can be also depicted on a bipolar basis of light and shadow.
The gloomy reports which have been previously attributed to a wide range of well known Indian and Tibetan Gurus such as Muktananda,Trungpa, Rajneesh,Satchidananda,Amrit Desai,Da Free John,Sogyal and others through the 70’s and 80’s – as well as many ISKON Swamis and more recently Pattabhi,Kausthub,Bikram and some of his western students have shown us that the combination of influential power and deviant sexual behaviors do come together.
Despite of it all, we cannot deny the benefit of a large array of teachings propounded by these individual at a massive global scale.
I have myself lived and served in a traditional Ashram-Mission for a number of years.Though a few contradictions could be found here and there just as some Brahmacharis or Swamis would eventually drop their vows, nothing seriously abnormal was in game. Humans have their own flaws and cracks within what can be called “elevated aspirations”.
Your phrase below has caught my attention:
“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.”
Yoga is one compound-system as old as Mankind and has been evolving all along the process.Many Masters have stood the test of time and integrity in the past and also present. Yes,there are trustworthy voices.
See,I don’t believe (and was never taught so) in following someone out of authority/inferiority complexes…Just as in the same breath, I tend to feel that no one is “my student” in the deepest sense of a loving/respectful relationship to be established from both sides.
Ancient Yoga scriptures and modern teachers have extensively written on the very subject of “falling from the path” as one of the likely things to happen. But that doesn’t invalidate the teaching nor the teachers who propound the so many (beneficial) practices out there.
In my limited view,it is ok to (still) feel good about one’s chosen lineage despite of the bad oranges in the basket.
Demanding an immaculate behavior from those whom we may follow is unrealistic. Same if we try to apply that unto ourselves…
As far as providing care to someone else, that is totally up to a number of factors which cannot be summarized in a single sentence or solution.
To deal with circumstances (even in the extreme mentioned cases) is part of a learning process related to karmic intricacies way beyond our reach.
Of course, recovering from trauma requires time, therapy and much Love.
If this “Lineage Paranoia” gets wide-spread, we may be well left alone with a bunch of egotistic,intellectual new breed of “non-believers” who could,in the mid to long run,end up doing no much better than their prosecuted tyrants…
So let there be the books,methods,comments and imperfect masters…
Stone-throwing, boycotting and the like sound like juvenile rage against a mirrored effect of our own fears, after all there lies a psychotic schema within all of us.
May we all be free from these negative tendencies and potential dangers.
That much we can pray…
Certain things ought to be considered within the boundaries of a legal system, witnesses, trials and an abiding social law.
Transferring those over the Yoga community as an implacable jury can eventually do more harm than good, I’m afraid…
Gopala — your nonsensical verbal diarrhea couched in a sense of intellectual humility is simply…. : BULLSHIT.. There is no need for gurus or lineage or intermediaries to truth — that is the truth of this entire set of events.
Stop being an apologist for the Indian “culture” of such gurus and lineage, which are frankly not Indian at all but Brahmanical bullshit and subjugation, and this is a “low caste” Indian telling you that.
Go listen to the testimonies of those who were abused and fucked with — it’s time to end the illusion.
Kailas Mahesha … Listening to your blurted out words is saddening enough. I have personally lived with people who have undergone these and other types of abuse. No apologies whatsoever to any real crimes committed.
But please, bear in mind: no crucification of an entire tradition which has represented the highest achievements of humanity throughout the ages,even before your varnashrama code was invented.Yoga transcends these petty limitations while stands against any sort of related discriminations.
Without the ones who’ve kept the torch alive (call them Rishis, Gurus or Common Folk) there wouldn’t be any “truth” available for our ready absorption and reflection nowadays. If you read my text carefully, it states clearly that whatever bad issues should be dealt within the framework of social justice – and from the given links, it’s happening already.
Yes, I am not favorable on boycotting books and other sources of valuable information, just as putting down living “real” Yogis who may abide anywhere on earth…That sounds like modern-day Jihad prosecution which leads to where we all know. Get over this anger – peace out before it consumes your heart and mind.
The gloomy reports which have been previously attributed to a wide range of well known Indian and Tibetan Gurus such as Muktananda,Trungpa, Rajneesh,Satchidananda,Amrit Desai,Da Free John,Sogyal and others through the 70’s and 80’s – as well as many ISKON Swamis and more recently Pattabhi,Kausthub,Bikram and some of his western students have shown us that the combination of influential power and deviant sexual behaviors do come together.
Despite of it all, we cannot deny the benefit of a large array of teachings propounded by these individual at a massive global scale.
Da Free John was an American. In his case, “the combination of influential power and deviant sexual behaviors do come together” is quite true! But then you go on to say “we cannot deny the benefit…propounded by these individuals at a massive global scale”. In Da’s (aka Bubba and Adi Da) case, you could hardly talk about the benefit propounded by him as reaching anybody “on a global scale”, can you? I don’t think so, despite his fondest wishes to be recognized as the “world avatar”, which didn’t quite happen.
I made a photographic timeline of his guru “career” (1972-2008) which you may view here: http://www.truby.com/xzq/rip.html
At any rate, you are making what amounts to a “baby/bathwater” argument which is fine and valid up to a point. But I wouldn’t generalize. Take each guru/community’s case specifically and make a judgment. The Satyananda case seems particularly egregious. Also read the article in the current issue of The Atlantic about Eido Shimano (linked also from Carol Horton’s FB page). If the tradition has a few “bad apples” and otherwise overwhelmingly good PR, then maybe the teachings can be free of the taint. But if it was rotten from the start (even if only found out much later), then you have to question the value of divorcing the teaching from the teacher.
Hey Matthew,not so sure to be replying on the right spot here, but there you go: very hard to generalize all cases into one single response. But I think you do get the idea that despite of one personage being more “evil” or “awkward” than other (as pin-pointed with Adi Da) – finding out further scandals and personal testimonials is and endless task by itself.
(no thanks for me). Again, most referred teachers have made their contribution to the world and people, and that will always resonate in a dual good/bad way. Hammering on this issue plus cattle-calling people towards a “demonization” and “punishment” of the so-called guilty could be an equivalent to medieval throwing witches and sorcerers into a fire, just as Mao Tse Tung (another piece of work) has ordered to burn any book which wasn’t his own little red book…Sorry for such extreme analogy, but as a bathe in my own (baby?) waters, this whole thing does evoke something which goes very,very far from any yogic proposition. No doubt,divorcing from a teacher is a must whenever a situation like the ones narrated happen, but renouncing one’s earnest efforts through whatever method and inner faith just because the supposed preceptor didn’t “make it”, would be qualified as foolish by any mature standards. In other words, if you dig after dirt, dirt you will find…
Hey Matthew, firstly, great work in getting all these findings in one place. I can image the amount of hard work you must have put in!
The accounts of the victims are really shocking, especially when allegations are also made on Swami Satyananda. It is extremely hard to believe, but like they say, ‘there is no smoke without fire’.
Also, I wonder why there is not even a single complaint coming out of India (since the biggest Ashrams are located in Munger and Rikhia) against Swami Satyananda or for that matter Swami Niranjananda (who is the current Head of organization). All the complaints or blogs (eg. Janaki’s blog) are from people outside India.
Personally, having read books from Bihar School of Yoga, I can surely say they have immense knowledge and good practices one can follow in daily life, so boycotting books even before charges are actually proved in court is a bit immature at this stage. This is just my opinion and I respect opinion of people who may think otherwise.
BTW, I just wanted to check if you know why did Australian High Court overturned the decision on a technicality? Does this mean that earlier charges due to which Akhandanand was convicted, were proved incorrect?
Finally, I wish people learn to be their own Gurus or at least stop blindly following so called Guru’s. No harm in taking in positive teachings, but just don’t follow things blindly.
Thank you so much Matthew for publicising the findings. As a psychotherapist for thirty years and a tantra teacher; none of it really surprises me, even as it shocks me.
The issues is the Shadow in all of us and not using spirituality to turn our back on the Shadow but to give us tools, along with therapy to confront the shadow and reclaim its energies. The other issue as another writer puts it is simply male power. Yes women were involved but they were invariably supporting male practitioners – and probably many of those women had been abused themselves in childhood in their families and outside. They they join scenarios that re-create the same situation for another generation.
Fortunately Yoga Nidra does not belong to the Bihar School, Yoga is also bigger than that and finally tantra is vaster than yoga itself.
good question Huz, on why India looks the other way, and no major media in India has said very little.
The reason is that the Brahmanical Caste Based system of India, where there is a virtual apartheid, of lower and upper caste, uses the Gurus and Yogis and Superstition to control the masses, and maintain the caste system.
In short, India needs its Gurus, and they will look the other way on abuse, because the whole society is sexually repressed. This is why there is so much rape and nearly 90% of woman in India have experienced incest.
BSY is accepted and condoned because they serve the interests of the Bourgeois of India. Niranjan is an actor — his teeth are fake, and his vibhuthi on his forehead is makeup.
Let’s stop deifying Yoga, its Gurus and go look at the real way to liberate and enlighten ourselves — boycott, and expose BSY is the first step to be a good citizen and enlightened soul.
Read through your whole article. Overall it’s well written, but so opinionated. When it’s so opinionated, I’m forced to check your facts. Reckless citations like this kill your credibility.
“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.”
I looked it up. The “widely supported finding” isn’t widely supported at all man. Feel free to reply that I’m focusing only on one issue. I am. Your credibility.
You’ve got great things to say. Don’t kill it with reckless words and a clearly emotionally conflicted internal position.
The article is clearly opinionated, and offered as such. Because it’s a call to action: not simply a reporting effort. Although I do report.
I addressed the 2% finding in the comments above. At most I would amend to say “a very small percentage”. Anything else serves “credibility” by playing into the deflections and obfuscations of rape culture.
Did you find any other inaccuracies, or is this one debatable claim enough to sink my credibility? And is my credibility really at issue when the bulk of my reporting effort here is merely the collation of public sources? You could question my credibility in calling for a boycott: this would be fair. How do I know it will work? etc.
My position is surely emotional, but not conflicted. I’m very clear about why I want the global yoga community to pressure BYS to make immediate reparations. By questioning my credibility in general over a single point that’s rather extraneous to the public record, I have to wonder what your own conflicts might be.
2% or 8% or even more: it doesn’t matter. I used this pivot to speak to the overwhelming strength of the testimony. Perhaps you’d like to question the witnesses’ credibility directly. That’s what you’re doing implicitly here.
There are two principal threads running in parallel:
– Swami Satyananda committed sex crimes as per the testimony
– Swami Satyananda wrote yoga books which others could also have written (potentially) in advancing the subject understanding
The latter argument is full of holes; and the former could be a bundle of lies.
It would be great if married / love lives of those who offered testimony is documented with fair amount of detail to get a better grasp of quality of testimony.
For instance, how many lovers did they have in course of say 20 years? What were the personality types of these lovers? Why did some love affairs turn sour or sweet?
You can’t paint someone as a sex maniac without sharing enough hints about your sexual inclinations over time.
I think the Australian court should document this for truth to come out in full glory.
You have got to be kidding. You want the Australian court to investigate the sexual histories of people who claim they were sexually abused as children to determine whether they are lying? That’s a sick idea.
I think we need to escalate the campaign online with a simple messaging, that everyone can understand. This is not an intellectual exercise to nit pick Matthew’s citation!!!
The messaging needs to be clear and evocative, so people will read and understand the core. Here are some thoughts:
Boycott BSY – Say No To Rape and Abuse;
Yoga Needs No Gurus, Especially Rapists and Child Abusers;
“Satyananda” Yoga? No One Owns Yoga!;
Boycott Hypocrisy. Boycott Satyananda Yoga!
There are enough of us out there with likely a following across facebook and twitter of 500,000 to 1,000,000 million followers. Once we get this done, I suggest we push it out on twitter and FB driving them to Matthew’s page.
BSY on Twitter pulls up some other brand/issue. This should be tweeted out but need for a hashtag is key really. Is there any movement on this? And you are right several key phrases that get what’s the issue out to folks is also key. I”m honestly shocked by this info (shouldn’t be) but the level of abuse is just crazy, even if you have heard of other Guru debacles. It happening around Christmas esp in US. may be why I get lack of discussion..am gonna see if other sites with big followings in Yoga community (in US) are talking about this-as they should be!
@Matthew- thanks for your work as others ahve said-BUT I honestly believe to call for stopping a specific technique is too far. I agree that soul searching clear ethics and even discussion of this issue to one’s students is important! But like in any field who is “pure” so that we can use their teachings meaning- can’t we yoga teachers and practitioners (long term and serious) take the teachings that WE HAVE SEEN help people including ourselves, and separate and discard the worship of individual MEN/some women who are deeply flawed, power hungry and while possibly possesing some spiritual siddhis clearly have fallen off of any path to Truth.
Let the Guru thing go yes, but as some of said there are truths/techniques etc. that simply transcend any one school, movement etc. Frankly seems really arrogant to think that Satyananda invented yoga nidra (I get that they trademarked it)- I mean in all of human history- no one did the practice, laying down, relaxing the body, taking the attention through, etc..Really in no culture, Africa, Asia, South America….? In no other tradition, Native, Buddhist, Jain, unknown countless native spiritual traditions?
We basically got a bunch of crazy, sex/power obsessed (primarily men) who find OR CREATE structures that allow them to perpetrate their SICKNESS. We find this in politics, and almost any system that relies on POWER, HIERARCHY, SUPRESSION OF INDIVIDUAL EXPRESSION.
A few other “big lies” of Satyananda et. al. in their bamboozling us that Satyananda and Nirajananda are somehow agents of God, (and his followers, believed this nonsense). This will hopefully illuminate Christmas Day.
(1) Doctoring Satyananda’s birthdate to December 25 — to own the “Christ Brand”
(2) Saying Nirajananda was immaculately conceived by his mother and Satyananda called him from the heavens (so he too must be “Christ”)
(3) Satyananda went into Lotus position on his own and left — don’t buy it at all.
(4) Satyanananda predicting he “will come back for one last life.” [Yes, we want an abusive rapist coming back — great for the world.]
Etc. There are others.
These also can be Cited with proper citations if Sharon wishes, and we can all see how fucked up we’ve all been to buy into this crap, and think that these guys were “gods”, when all they are sharks, who take advantage of the base human attribute of laziness and lack of self-responsiblity.
Well, Matthew, as always, I applaud your writing and your constant endeavor to shine light on all the darkness for us. This has opened my eyes, and as a fellow yogi who deeply abhors any kind of violence toward women, transgression of yogic values and general lack of respect for other people…I’ll be taking your recommendations seriously. It does seem, however, that we’re going to need a new alternative for the Hatha Yoga Pradipika….maybe you should put it on your list to write next!
I yesterday mailed to:’[email protected]’
I read your artical (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/12/09/australia-s-underage-yoga-sex-cult-the-survivors-speak-out.html) about the sex scandal regarding Satyananda Saraswati, Bihar school of yoga, Monghyr, India. As you undoubtedly know, it is one of many other sex scandals concerning this man:
(www.google.nl/search?newwindow=1&site=&source=hp&q=satyananda+saraswati+scandal&oq=satyananda+saraswati&gs_l=hp.1.3.0l4j0i22i30l6.14514.27021.0.295188.8.131.52.184.108.40.206.781.11j1.12.0.msedr…0…1c.1.62.hp..0.20.902.9-I4YgHEl3k). I was shocked that he might have abused young children up to the age of about three years old.
I hereby testify that around the year of 1970 I spoke with a Dutch girl who declared that she was sexualy abused by S.S. during a so called tantric ceremony. I saw her in her native country Holland where she heroically returned after her shocking nightmare in and escape from the ashram in India. It started in 1967, she then was 15 years old.
But let me begin in june 1967. I, 20 years old, participated in the first teacher training course of ‘the international yoga fellowship’ in the Bihar school of yoga, in Monghyr (Monger), together with some other students from Holland and all over the world. Among them were this 15 year old girl M.V. and her mother E.V. In the course of the yogatraining it became clear that S.S. put severe psychological pressure on at least one, but probably on more students. During this course the abuse by S.S. took place in about november 1967. The misleading aspect about this was that S.S. was very convincing in making one belief that the tantric ceremony was a honourful part of the course: extremely benificial for ones spiritual development, so the girl and her mother did not immediately realised the seriousness of the situation. All this took place of course in a cellar, away from to many eyes. As soon as I realised that there was severe suspicion of dirty tantric practices happening within the walls of the ashram I left the ashram in december 1967, together with two other students from Holland. After returning to Holland in 1986 we were astonished to read in a paper that S.S. was planning to visit Holland to establish a school of the ‘the international yoga fellowship’. We, another former student and I, were fortunate to inform the paper next day morning to tell about the dark background of S.S., though we did not know at that moment about the details I heard of M.V. in 1970. He suffered misfortune, but it apparantly did not make S.S. change his way of life. M.V. told me in 1970 that she was more or less being kept in prison in the ashram, because S.S. had taken the passports of her and other students. I realised I was fortunate enough to have left the ashram in time! How did M.V. escape nevertheless? Her passport had to be renewed! So that saved her.
In Holland I completed my yoga teacher training.
So far about my painful recollection about trauma’s by S.S. that ruined many lives.
Some more details, illustrating the madness of S.S.: During tea time conversations he told he was admiring Hitler, because of his talent to control and organise. I don’t know if scripts of the taperecordings of the tea discussions still are available, but they were distributed among the more than 20 / 30 students at that time.
The girl I mentioned as M.V. was in fact Janaki Vunderink, I feel free to mention her name because I see on this site that she published earlier about her time in the ashram.
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.’
Hi Ted, were you part of the teachers training course in ’67?
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
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.
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!!!
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!!!!!
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!
Satyananda Saraswati was a human with a golden heart . As all people visited to him to get rid from their problems.
Today also people has adopted the techniques of Satyananda Saraswati into their daily life style to bring in changes into their nature and behavior.
Satyananda Saraswati was the magnetic source of wisdom on all aspects of yogic philosophy, practice and lifestyle.
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.
Why did SS become old and die, if kundalini yoga was meant to awaken the kundalini shakti to keep you immortal and ageless??
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.
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.
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.
In this time of fake news. whom and what do we believe. Is the reporting biased? I noticed it said somewhere in these accounts that Iyengar yoga method was to blame. For the action of a fallen human being (the perpetrator)? Do ambitious “yoga teacher”s and the like have to seize on any opportunity for their own agendas like politicians (motivated by money and fame). Digest yoga and hide it’s source. If you can’t then trash the traditional tenets of yoga that absolutely comes from India and Hinduism (not just the physical yoga that the west is so enamoured with) By far most of the greatest Realized beings have given no attention whatsoever to Hatha Yoga but have gone straight to pranayama. is it possible that a western approach will never “get inside” what yoga really is because the basic tenets of yama and niyama is ignored as superfluous when in actuality it is the golden key to getting “inside” what yoga is.
As a student who has received immense benefit from a direct pupil of Swami Satyananda’s, I find your article condemning him alongside Akhandananda disturbingly unsupported. Neither Swami Satyananda nor Swami Nirinjanananda were ever tried or convicted on the statements alleging their misbehaviours.
Time to retract malicious, unproven comments before you do further great harm.
How dare you call the extensive, voluminous, cross-referenced testimony of Mangrove Mountain survivors, given to a public commission, “unsupported”. Of course the Swamis have never been tried nor convicted. One is dead and the other is financially and politically shielded. Time to give up on your obscenely selfish attachment to an organization that has lied to and harmed so many. Shame on you. You are banned from commenting here.
I was at Mangrove Mnt. ashram around age 14yrs old, ’76 lived there for about 7yrs. The kids & their parents started coming about 4yrs later. So much secrecy, bullying & mind control at that place. People were treated like crap unless you were part of the hierarchy. So many were joked about behind their backs it used to disgust me. If I’d had the emotional maturity & understanding back then I wouldn’t have stayed so long. One Swami I remember was suffering from deep depression & I heard him pour his heart out to Akhandananda at the time asking for his advice & help, when the Swami walked off I saw Akhandananda smirk & say something derogatory about him. I felt really sad for the guy, he had put so much trust & placed him on a pedestal. About 2 weeks later the Swami had suicided.