IntroductionOver 20 years ago when I was young and impressionable, I decided to react against my protestant upbringing and explore eastern thought and meditation pracitces. Living in the northeast, there were ample choices from the Tibetan Buddist temple down the street to the Vipasana Meditation Center out in Western Massachusetts. I sought something more personal, and discovered a rag tag group of people in the US who were learning a reformed version of Raj Yoga that had somehow had combined Sufism with Yoga to create a meditative, spiritual practice. The organziation was called the Shri Ram Chandra Mission. The method of meditation they practiced was called Sahaj Marg, which means natural path.
I traveled to India to meet Ram Chandra, or Babuji as they called him. He was an aging retired bank clerk with an impressive presence. He still traveled to the west occasionally, but within a few years he passed away. One character who dominated in the organization was Parthasarathi Rajagopalachari, kindly referred to as Chari. This man was an imposing westernized, cigarette smoking Indian who ran a mill in India. He had the financial freedom and drive to attend most of Ram Chandra international travels.
When Babjuji passed, Chari surfaced as his hand picked successor. This caused great controversy in India and parts of Europe, as many were offended by his strong and apparently arrogant personality and aggressive approach to running a spiritual organization. For Americans, it was normal, so many of us just accepted this behavior as status quo.
This story is about my hasty indoctrination into Chari's inner circle and just as hasty removal. The lessons learned from human behavior around people and positions of power and influence has guided my life for more than a decade of experience. I attempt to explain in this story the evolution of my thinking starting from this experience of over 15 years ago to present day.
The other objective of this blog is for those who currently belong to this organization, which has evolved into a large international organization that hungrily buys real estate like castles in Europe and entire neighborhoods in India. Those who choose to leave the organization are confronted with subtle and not so subtle threats of great spiritual destitude and abandonment. While I have no intention to convince anyone to leave, I do want to let those who choose to leave, that life on the other side is fine and ones spiritual quest, what ever form it takes when one leaves such an organization, does indeed continue.
Monday, June 19, 2006
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
LESSONS IN POWER: Introduction
After my very first post "Lessons in Power", many have requested that I document my experiences in SRCM. To address these requests, I am integrating this first post into a series of 8 sections which will be published over the coming weeks:
1. The Founder's Last Years - describing my experiences in the Mission during Babuji's last years from 1979 to 1983
2. Death of the Master - Chariji's Early Days - outlining the power struggle that followed Babuji's death and Chari's establishment as the new President and Spiritual Representative of Babuji.
3. The Publishing Commitee - my experiences during my invovlement in recording and publishing Chari's speeches.
4. Establishing New Principles - observations regarding Chariji's efforts to establish "Service and Obedience to the Mission" as a new key directive in the practice of Sahaj Marg
5. My Departure - description of my departure from the mission
6. Meeting New Masters - exploration of the history of Sahaj Marg
7. Recovering from SRCM - my recovery process from more than 10 years of indoctrination
8. Analysis - My personal analysis of how cultism evolves and the source of a Guru's power.
LESSONS IN POWER Part 1: The Founder's Last Years
When I joined SRCM in 1979, I was 19 years old. I had taught myself to meditate at the age of 13 and wished to receive some training and guidance. I sought out a low key organization that didn’t want money or exploit people. I was not interested in joining a cult but sincerely wanted to explore how meditation could calm the mind and help one in their journey towards God. Sahaj Marg seemed perfect for me. This organization seemed not to be about money at all. Several key factors attracted me.
1. Prosthelytizing was not encouraged
2. Training was offered for free
3. There was no focus on buildings or property
4. The practice did not involve cultural or religious indoctrination
5. Focus on experience as opposed to study of the practice
At the time I joined, Babuji was in his last years. I traveled to Denmark in 1980 to meet him for the first time. Here I also met Chari, his apparent right hand man when traveling abroad. Chari was a very westernized, Dunhill smoking Indian executive. He seemed very European and interacted well with the westerners. He was clearly part of Babuji’s inner circle.
The Danish center was one of the first in the west, with an impressive group of middle aged, successful abhaysis who seemed to love Babuji had integrated Sahaj Marg into their European lifestyle. This impressed me, as they did not dress up as Indians or pretend to be something other than Danes.
Babuji spoke little, preferring to sit with his disciples and smoke his sweet tobacco smelling hooka pipe. When he traveled, he would publish a short message in lieu of giving public talks, and instead remained available for people to simply sit quietly with him. Occasionally, he would offer to meditate with the group. It was a compelling experience for a young impressionable 20 year old such as myself.
I followed him to Munich where things turned dark. Andre Poray, who was a senior French Preceptor was there and appeared to be a rival of Chari’s. The rumors were that Andre, while extremely successful in attracting large numbers in France, had also attracted people who were not necessarily sincere in their spiritual practice but were interested in black arts. I can’t say for sure whether these rumors were true or not, but, I witnessed the beginning of a very dark series of events. Babuji suddenly stopped being available to the larger group, and Chari’s demeanor went from jovial westernized Indian to being very curt and secretive.
I left Munich this point, but others close to me told stories of Babuji and Chariji showing up for a group meditation dressed in black. A group meditation occurred where some one meditating in the crowd shouted out and became delirious. Andre Poray helped to remove him from the room and the sitting was topped. Babuji quickly left the scene with Chari. Later Chari was quoted as saying, “I will never go to France again”. Given that he was in Germany, the assumption was that this little incident had something to do with the goings on in France and the rivalry between Andre Poray and Chari. Having missed some of these incidents, I choose not to think too much about them until much later in my practice.
Prior to my first trip to India in 1981, three Indians did an un-authorized tour of the US. Babuji’s son, Umesh Saxena, and two senior preceptors, Ragavendra Rao and RamaChandra Reddy. They stayed in my center for a week or more, and traveled a bit to centers in the US. It was made clear however that this was an “unofficial” visit. The intent of this trip seemed innocent at the time. I befriended the two senior Preceptors, and they clearly made great efforts to get favor with the Americans, going so far as to dress up in western suits when meeting prospective abhyasis for the first time.
Umesh, Babuji’s son, seemed to me to be along for the ride. He was not a preceptor, and occasionally took sittings. He told a few stories about pretending to give sittings to kids while growing up. There was some talk about him being able to transmit because he was Babuji’s son, but, he was for some reason not allowed to do so. In retrospect, this was the second incident I witnessed that indicated some internal strife within the organization that had been created to make Sahaj Marg available, but at the time, I was young and naive, and willing to overlook the obvious.
I traveled to India in 1981 and stayed in the Ashram in Shahjahanpur. It was the only property the Mission owned at the time – a beautiful complex located a few miles from Babuji’s house. Prior to this property, abhyasis would stay at Babuji’s house. The ashram was built to accommodate the larger numbers that started to travel to visit Babuji. No money was requested, but donations were accepted to pay for food and operations. The basic feeling was that of hospitality, we were Babuji’s guests.
The last time I saw Babuji was in France. Chari, who was not invited, went against his statement in Munich and showed up anyway. It was clear at this time that Andre Poray and Chari were in a bitter power struggle and a public display for the masses was put on. Andre ran the show, giving long talks and being seen with Babuji. Chari hid in his room and gave sittings. Privately he complained about the goings on in France. At one point he said, “I want to get up and give a talk of my own by putting a microphone to my heart and say, hear the voice of the Master”. He was allowed to give a talk, his talk was lengthy as well. I remember innocently telling him that it was a good talk but it was a bit long. He seemed shocked by this comment.
During this last visit to the west, Babuji was frail and made few public appearances. In one appearance he was walked down the isle to give a sitting, two large men held each arm. His legs would give out and he would start to fall, they would hold him up and continue to walk him down towards the stage. I was sitting at the edge of the isle looking down sadly when Babuji was being walked by me. At that instant, in spite of the two men holding him up, he fell over on top of me. I was shocked and devastated. The message I received from this was that he was dying. This overshadowed the rest of the gathering, and overwhelmed any thoughts of the ongoing power struggle between Poray and Chari.
LESSONS IN POWER Part 2: Death Of The Master - Chari's Early Days
In 1983 Babuji grew sick. Conflicting messages came from various factions throughout India. Umesh Saxena clearly was attempting to take the stage by sending notices that Babuji would be healed and would live to the age of 100 or more. Babuji finally passed. At this point in time, the battle began for control of the Mission.
Chari immediately produced his letter from Babuji stating that he was the designated successor. Umesh Saxena wrote a letter to all centers saying in broken English “I have little evidence that Chari’s claims are not correct”. Ragavendra Rao and his associates appeared to side with Umesh, and a legal battle ensued which prevented Chari from having control of the Ashram in Shahjahanpur. Chari eventually gained sufficient legal status to establish himself as the President of the Mission. He garnered support from the west, having befriended the more senior disciples in Denmark, Germany and the US. Almost immediately, he traveled to the west to establish his base, making speeches and publishing every talk he made for the masses to read.
I made one trip to India to where Lalaji’s birthday was to be celebrated in Shahjahanpur. Chari choose to be there, although he was clearly not invited. A large group of Chari supporters arrived with Chari a week before the celebrations. Chari stayed in Babuji’s cottage, and kept Babuji’s Chair empty and visible as a symbol. I had married an Indian and spent my time with the Indian contingent and was asked to help with nighttime security, walking the compound. On the third night, an Indian friend told me that my help was not needed and that I should do and sleep. A jeep had pulled up and there was lots of talking going on. Clearly some sort of incident was about to happen, and the Indians were trying to protect me from it. That morning, I awoke to find gates locking the entrances to the dormitory. The water shut off, and all the staff who ran the Ashram were gone or hiding.
People were able exit from small doors from the dormitory, and eventually it was decided that we were to all move to the farm next door run by the Tandon family, who were loyal to Chari. We stayed in tents and camped there in view of the Ashram. I was delegated as the Western Representative as I had recently had a suit tailored in India and had it with me. Chari seemed to like my innocent, and sincere way of explaining things. I was asked to have my account typed up by a typist, but in fact Chari dictated the entire account himself while I was present. I was sent to speak with the local magistrate and gave interviews to the press about the “international incident” that had occurred in Shahjahanpur. I took a letter signed by US abhyasis to the US embassy to file a formal complaint about our treatment there. This gained me lots of favor from Chari and allowed me a peek into his Inner Circle. The next year I was made Preceptor.
Lessons In Power Part 3: The Publishing Committee
Prior to my becoming a preceptor, the Zonal Secretary of the US had befriended me and asked me to be involved in the North American Publishing Committee. Since I was an engineer who designed digital recording equipment for a living, my skills were directed towards recording and editing Chari’s speeches. I remained on the periphery of the NAPC. The members of that committee were senior abhyasis who were loyal to Chari. Their efforts were clearly important to Chari and being a member of this committee afforded up close and personal meetings with him that often pre-empted other activities. Members of this committee used their involvement to gain exclusive access to Chari as a result. The atmosphere within the committee was that of exclusivity and importance. Chari’s style of managing this group was to insist on his total control of the flow of his words into published tapes, videos, and books. My involvement was tolerated due to the need for technical expertise, but in no way was I accepted into the inner fold. Secret meetings occurred without me on regular basis. These meetings generally involved discussions around the content of what was being published and I was only involved in discussions that required logistical or technical decisions.
While I was sufficiently trusted to be allowed into this exclusive circle, activities in this committee required intense interaction with Chari and members jealously guarded that privilege by keeping me at arms length. Here I saw for the first time how a Guru uses his inner circle draw people in, and test their devotion to him. Others clearly saw that this was an opportunity for relative new comers such as myself to shine and gain favor. Subtle efforts were made to insure that my work was overshadowed by theirs. I was tasked with the un-glamorous work of running tape recorders and editing the recordings for publication. My job was to insure that Chari had a copy of every speech as soon as the speech was over. This was sufficiently important to him that I was allowed to deliver these tapes personally, however, other members of the committee would occasionally insist on intervening and delivering these tapes themselves. The unique attention I created from this new attention getting task was not going be allowed to be exclusively mine!
Volumes of tape recordings were produced on a yearly basis, and it was my job to edit out French translation and delete harsh language. Chari appeared to improvise many of his speeches, and there were times when he needed his words changed by recording over phrases that he did not intend to say for posterity. Chari insisted on absolute control over his words. My job was to insure that bootleg recordings were discouraged and even confiscated.
There seemed to be a dire concern that if abhyasis were allowed to make their own recordings Chari’s control over his intellectual property was breached. Rumors of abhyasis caught sharing bootleg speeches with others were investigated, and if found to be true, I would be asked to approach them and get all copies of tapes to secure Chari’s absolute control over the distribution of his words. By this time there was a large and growing group of French abhyasis who followed Chari around the world. They were particularly upset with me, as many were not fluent in English and used the tapes to interpret his speeches and private conversations. I was instructed to promise them that a French translation of the speech would be available at a later date.
The Publishing Committee became increasingly interested in recording Chari’s private discussions. There was constant pressure to “know” when to turn on a tape recorder, and when, to shut it off. I was often chastised by members of the Committee for not recording something said in private, and at other times for allowing discussions to be recorded. Chari always reserved the right to have certain discussions erased or confiscated. Often in private, he would interrupt and ask if the tape recorder was on, when he was going to say something he particularly did or did not want published.
He had established a sense of urgency within the Committee members to produce as much volume as possible, and left things sufficiently vague to create second guessing and rancor amongst the Committee members. Over time it was resolved that there were two primary objectives, generate as much of his published words as possible, and maintain absolute control over the content and distribution of his words.
These objectives had two benefits for Chari. First was the revenue that the constant flow of new publications generated, as a supply and demand relationship was exploited around any new material that Chari produced. The second and more insidious benefit was that Chari could now re-interpret the practice of Sahaj Marg and systematically insert himself and any new messages of his own, into the constant flow of published speeches. Since Chari was particularly verbose, there was no shortage of opportunities to generate more content to be published. Eventually the pressure to record private talks evaporated as public speeches provided plenty of opportunities to find material.
The Mission was still young in the west, anddid not charge money to abhyasis for training. This created challenges early on as these publications required up front money. Chari devised a plan where disciples were encouraged to purchase life subscriptions for puplications of Chari's new works. A sufficiently large fee was charged such that the bank interest from the fees could be used to fund the publishing efforts. Members had benefits of early access to new publications and in some instances exclusive access. With the publishing machine now funded and well oiled with capital, Chari used this machine to gradually shift attention away fro Babuji and his written words, and focus it squarely on himself and his dedication to grow the Mission as an example of devotion to his Master.
Lessons In Power Part 4: Establishing New Principles
While Chari kept Babuji’s primary message of heart based meditation alive and accurate, he was also slowly inserting new principles and directives for abhyasis. He presented himself as the model abhyasi. His devotion to serving his Master by growing his Mission in size and numbers was becoming a new and repetitive addition the core practice of Sahaj Marg.
As abhyasis came to accept Chari as the Master, a Master whose example should be emulated, they began to accept the same sense of urgency to grow the organization in numbers as a new integral part of their practice. By the sheer volume of text generated annually from Chari’s speeches and the absolute control over its distribution, this new concept of “Serving the Mission” as part of the actual practice of Sahaj Marg was being introduced as a constant underlying message in practically every speech Chari published. Success was measured in the quantity of new abyasis joining the Mission. The lack of growth in numbers was systematically equated to a lack of spiritual growth. A particular Preceptor or even Center was judged by the annual growth of abhyasis and chastized when numbers did not grow significantly on an annual basis.
Integral to the "Growth In Numbers" directive, was a new urgency to move group meditations out of the homes of Preceptors and into purchased or rented meditation halls. In addition, for the first time, Chari began planting the idea that the US should purchase property for its own Ashram. These efforts required money. More wealthy abhyasis eagerly donated to the cause which spawned a flurry of activity to raise more money. Dedicated abhyasis were approached and asked to make regular monthly donations to support this new costly effort to acquire property.
By this time Chari had established a powerful and well financed communications machine to spread the not so sublte message that with Mission Growth, came the need for abhyasis to dig into their wallets and donate money. Large gatherings became revenue generating events, where fees charged for attendance exceeded the expenses. Once gatherings became profitable, the need to reduce overhead by owning, not renting the halls where gatherings took place became tantamount. It was insisted that, these purchased properties were important as the Master could infuse his spiritual power into them and they would become holy places for spiritual gatherings.
By the mid 1980s France had purchased an estate in Augerans and the castle on the estate was transformed into a residence hall for visiting abhyasis and the visiting Master. The US could not be outdone and privately some wealthy Indian abhyasis conspired to purchase some property in Troy New York from an abhyasis. Somehow this deal was not officially sanctioned by Chari. It posed an interesting problem that an individual abhyasi was financially benefiting from the Mission by selling his property to it. The wealthy Indians believed that if they executed a private deal between themselves and the property owner, then donated the property to the Mission, this could be worked around. This created difficult political problems and eventually Mission funds were used for the transaction.
Meanwhile, the initiative to build an Ashram in the US spawned competition between various centers throughout the US to find the perfect site for an Ashram. This flurry of activity was fueled by the belief that an Ashram in your center equated to more favor and access to the Master, Chari.
Within a short 7 years, Chari had completely transformed the Shri Ram Chandra Mission. New principles were being introduced in Chari's speeches that focused on "service to the Mission". This new Mission was being transformed into an organization that required unquestioned loyalty and obedience. Rather than being a light structure used to serve in the spiritual training of abhyasis, service to the Mission was becoming an integral part of the practice of Sahaj Marg.
Lessons in Power Part 5: My Departure
I arrived at an SRCM gathering in 1988 showered with congratulations from abhyasis I didn't even know. Apparently, without my knowledge, it had been announced to the entire group that I was to become a preceptor. This disturbed me a bit as I wasn't even asked if I wanted the job, and I lived in a particular center that was plagued by in fighting amongst preceptors and senior abhyasis.
In those days I was still impressionable with position and authority, and the glamour of being appointed by the Master to this position without being asked was intoxicating, so I fell for it. In reality, the correct response should have been to just say no, but that would be done for me a few years later.
The reality was that I wasn't appointed because of my spiritual abilities or sincerity, but as a political ploy by a Zonal Secretary who wanted to have the senior preceptor in my center removed. It was a political appointment, and was made clear to me that my job was to help. I reacted by simply making my home open to people for meditation. I tried to avoid the politics by having a quiet place where people could come and meditate without being subjected to the in fighting in the center. I did what I could to shield new abhyasis from the inner rancor of our center.
The Inner Circle Event:
Then a year later it happened. I was drawn into one of Chari's many inner circle love fests - Select abhyasis sitting in Chari's presence without the "riff-raff" present.
Chari, was handing out prasad saying things like, "this is for the beautiful wife of so and so" and "this is for he who wears a scarf"... In retrospect, the scene was not unlike that of a dog trainer throwing treats to his animals to see what tricks they would do for him.
Then he got serious for a moment and said, "This is for he who is pure of heart". The Zonal Secretary blatantly put out his hand to take the prasad, instead, Chari handed it to me. I reached out my hand in awe and took it. Jokingly I told the Zonal Secretary, “If it makes you feel better, that was extremely hard to swallow”.
This was the beginning of the end of my preceptor-ship in Sahaj Marg. From that day on, the Zonal Secretary turned from being my "friend" to doing what he could to marginalize me which ultimately led to my removal as preceptor.
If I was ambitious like others in the inner circle, I would have fought to retain my position, but, by that time, I had learned a little bit about the lure of power, and chose not to. I resigned all my administrative positions within the organization and proceeded to take a very low profile hoping that somehow the Master would intervene.
This is how things work in the inner circle. Those who desire influence and control, fight for it amongst each other in the presence of the Master and behind his back. The Master rewards those left standing with positions of authority. It’s an interesting version of "survival of the fittest". The Zonal Secretary eventually lost to a more ambitious individual; in fact his position was all but eliminated. There's truth to the saying, "He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword."
Chari eventually did intervene. I was removed as a Preceptor in the same manner as how I was made one. No warning, just a letter announcing that while my services as a preceptor were appreciated, they were no longer required. Aside from the method of delivery of this message, I was relieved. Chari was completely unable to tell me what I did wrong other than a cryptic message stating that I should, "Just sit tight and keep a low profile. In six months, I'll make you a preceptor again." He seemed oblivious to the lessons I was learning from all of this. I had just paid a price for selfishly accepting a position of power to begin with, why would I want to be lured into taking it again?
Whatever reasons Chari has for tolerating these goings on in his circle, it was clear that he wasn't about to confide in me. Having still much to learn about the temptations of power, and Chari’s assumption that I was driven by my desire to have it in the form of preceptor-ship, it was clear that he was in no position to guide me at that critical time in my existence. I needed to leave the SRCM to learn this important aspect of reality. I am relieved that I left when I did, as Chari was in no position to provide me with the support or guidance during the dark times ahead of me, nor was any of his "preceptors". SRCM encourages dependence on the Master, what I needed to do was face what was ahead of me alone to learn that in reality, I am not alone nor am I independent.
I have proceeded in my "material" life to have power and authority positions in companies and organizations, reaching a pinnacle in the corporate world. While no doubt I still have much to learn, my conclusions today are as follows:
When Given Power:
1. Understand your responsibility in accepting it
2. Understand why you are given it.
3. Treat it responsibly and execute selflessly
4. Remember that no one is master of the power they have.
5. Power becomes the master to one who becomes attached to it.
In SRCM, these aspects of power are implied in the teachings and philosophy, but no practical training is provided. Worse yet, the SRCM administrative hierarchy is itself entangled in a web of power that takes on a life of its own. Surely Chari understands this, but apparently is willing to let this happen for some end that he cannot explain other than "I am following the instructions of my Master".
We can only hope that the end does justify the means. For myself, I've taken refuge in the private sector and found a bounty of spiritual lessons to learn there. While there is no living, breathing master to guide me through the dark times, guidance comes from the most unexpected places if one remains sensitive to it. To this day I remain grateful for the lessons I have learned from all these events.
I have nothing but love and best wishes for those who practice Sahaj Marg today. I hope that all find their way. For those who wish to leave but fear the consequences, I only hope that I can stand as proof that ones journey continues even outside the bounds of SRCM.
In his early days as a master, Chari was fond of saying, "The Proof of the Pudding is in the eating of it", when justifying spiritual practice verses scholarly study of spirituality.
I would counter; "The goal of one's life is to live it.”
Lessons In Power Part 6: Meeting Other Masters
Right up to the end of my involvement in SRCM, I had truly believed that Chari had a noble objective and somehow the right thing would happen. Instead I was betrayed and treated like a pawn within the inner circle. My example caused fear in the ranks, followed by an unspoken assumption that I clearly must have done something really bad. It was assumed by some, that I was simply a hot head who stood up to authority and questioned the intentions and integrity of people like the Zonal Secretary, but I tried to do the right thing in a very bad situation. I was punished for not completely surrendering to the temptation of spiritual attainment and power.
I exchanged a couple of fruitless correspondences with Chari only to find his story towards me evolve with every iteration. It started with tempting me with restoration of my preceptor position if I would just keep a low profile and stay in the Mission, to insisting that I had been “Disobedient in matters of the Mission”, then praising me as one of his most sincere disciples, one of only two westerners whom he blessed marrying an Indian woman. After saying my good byes to a few friends in the SRCM, I left with a huge sense of relief, never to looked back.
Meanwhile, my troubled marriage with an Indian woman continued. We had not been able to have children for 7 years of marriage, suddenly, after leaving the organization, this difficult relationship became more complicated with the birth of my first son. Chari would always tell us that we should not expect to have children and accept our fate - yet, almost as soon as we departed from the organizaton, the situation changed.
In all this I began my search for answers. A close Indian friend, PEN, who knew and was associated with Ramana Maharshi took me under his wing. This gentle fellow, an engineer by trade, introduced me to a wealth of knowledge about spirituality and yoga. Never once did he expect me to join anything, but simply share in the knowledge and quest. I got interested in the writings of Vivekananda and started to learn about traditional Raja Yoga. PEN took me to a Vedanta society center to get books and explore their culture. PEN, being an extremely westernized Indian, acknowledged strange attitude people associated with Vivekananda had towards women, keeping them separate from men in meditation. I was immediately reminded of how Chari started to enforce this in SRCM in the west. Indian culture seems to want to deal with sexuality in spirituality by pretending its not there. This created a bit of turmoil in me, having just left a cult, I was certainly not going to join another one. I was sufficiently indoctrinated into Indian culture through my marriage. Getting involved in any organization like this would require me to give up entirely my heritage as a westerner. My exploration in this area was acedemic and short.
I had also discovered through an abhyasi who came to me for meditations, that an Indian fellow who knew Lalaji was still alive. I was introduced to a local doctor who had met this man and was starting to have meditation sessions in his home. I met with the Doctor and started to meet people who had gathered in his home, most refugees from a local academy that taught eastern thought. I hesitated to get too involved, but this Indian, who we called Ranaji Saheb, came to stay in the Doctor’s home.
I took time off work to meet him. His demeanor was similar to Babuji’s. He loved to hear people to sing. People would simply sit with him silently with occasional discussion or song. I liked this man, but both he and I knew that I was not about to give my obedience and trust to him or any one else. While Ranaji had made it clear to the Doctor that he must completely submit to him if spiritual progress was to occur, he told me quite a different thing. Ranaji advised that I should explore my Christian roots. Both the Doctor and I had observed the inner circle culture revolving around this man. Ranaji didn’t seem to exploit it, but people attracted to the possibility of gaining spiritual power and advancement by association with him, showed all the typical signs of fighting for his favor and attention. Both the Doctor and I decided to cease our association with Ranaji and I have completely lost track of him and do not even know if he is still alive.
From Ranaji, I learned about Lalaji and his brother. Both were considered spiritual twins. Ranaji explained that Lalaji was a Hindu Sufi of the Naqushabandhi path. Teachers of this path typically did not create organizations, or had singular lineages, but strove to elevate humanity around them by association. Many travel to live with their disciples like a grandfather. Then move on so as not to foster too much attachment to them personally. I learned that a Russian woman, Irina Tweedie, had spent time with a disciple of Lalaji’s brother and started an organization called the Golden Sufi.
Irina had gotten old and reclusive, but her successor Llewellyn Vaughn Lee, and I corresponded for a year or two. This organization focused on dream analysis and meditation. I was not particularly interested in joining, but was very interested in learning more about the history.
My life by this time was flooded with dream like experiences far more profound than those found in my sleeping dreams, so dream analysis intrigued me. I decided to make a trip to New York City when Llewellyn was visiting there. We met in a small group at a book store. He seemed happy to see me and treated me with respect, like a peer of sorts. I appreciated this. The group meditated, followed by people telling Lewellyn about their dreams. A woman who was casually visiting told of a dream, and was convinced that she should attend the next day as a guest of Llewellyns. Others were chastised for their dreams. It was starting to become clear to me that this telling of dreams puts the teller in an extremely vulnerable position. Analysis of dreams can be used to pump up a deflated ego, or tear down an inflated one.
The next day, I attended another meeting. This time, I spoke about one of my real life dream like experiences - my son being born. His mother would not touch him or hold him at the time of birth. The nurse in frustration this unresponsiveness handed my son to me instead. The surroundings became surreal, everyone seemed to disappear. It was only me and my son. In spite of being less than a couple minutes old, he opened his eyes for the first time and looked straight into mine for what seemed to be an eternity. This shook me to the core as it was as if I was looking into the eyes of God. We stood together by a window looking out over the city together for at least 10 minutes. A silent communication occured during that time, that could not be explained in words.
After explaining this story in a somewhat emotional manner, Llewellyn proceeded to tear me apart. Asking me what I really wanted, and why I was there. I stated that I was there to learn about his path. He went on to tell me that I had already been lead down the garden path, believing that spiritual achievement was the goal when simply being was the path.
I left New York City by train that night, thinking about what he had said. What he said was true. I had already concluded that before hearing it from him, but the message was delivered in a manner such that I was humiliated in front of his disciples. I had broken the peer relationship by sharing a dream like experience and becoming vulnerable to a master. Yet again another inner circle experience had occurred. Humiliation was used to determine the sincerity and trust of a potential disciple. I had seen enough. I wrote one last letter thanking Llewellyn for the meeting and never heard from him again.
My last meeting was by happenstance. I met an old local Indian man named Mr. Rao. He taught yoga at a community center and had a small following. He seemed humble and took no money and seemed uninterested in creating much attention around himself. Mr. Rao came to my house for dinner and decided to read my palm and tell me something about myself. He did not read my palm at all, but simply took my hand and looked at me in the eyes. He said the following:
“You were a prodigy in your youth. Had you developed your material and spiritual self simultaneously at an early age, you would have achieved great things by the age of 27, but you did not receive proper guidance and got distracted in the spiritual path you took. Because you did not develop materially at the same time, your efforts in spirituality were fruitless. You lost that chance and must now focus on your material development. By the age of 47, you again will start to find your spiritual and material ballance. You then must develop both aspects of yourself in tandem for some time. You will truly succeed and by the age of 54 will have achieved all that is possible from a balanced existence. Guidance will come to you and you do not need to seek it out.”
It was as if Mr. Rao was using my own words, not his. Intuitively I knew that I had to focus on my career, which was starting to blossom, and somehow deal with an incredibly unhealthy and abusive family life that was evolving in my home.
I had finally come to the end of my quest of eastern spirituality only to find out that I had to develop my western existence and embrace who I already was. I focused the next several years on entrepreneurial efforts, developing my executive management skills and starting my own technology companies. I saw great success materialy. All along, my spiritual quest continued, not in a spiritual setting, but in corporate America. I saw demons and saints in the corporate world. It was there that I finally met a handful of people who knew how to handle positions of power in a selfless manner.
I realized that power, whether spiritual, political or corporate, is power. Humans in positions of power are easily corrupted by it, be it spiritual or corporate. The likelihood of discovering a person who is not corrupted by power is equally possible in a spiritual organization as it is in a corporate setting. Inner circles are created for the same reason in both types of organizations. I found at least the corporate world far more honest about the inner circle’s purpose. The hierarchy has a purpose and is know by all. A President has a function. When they cease to perform, they move on. If they violate ethics they are removed. Unfortunately this does not occur in spiritual organizations. My spiritual quest continued in the offices of corporate America for quite some time. It was several years before I took Ranaji’s advice and re-explored my roots in Christianity.
Lessons In Power Part 7: My Recovery From SRCM
Sahaj Marg is a system of energy manipulation and power. The basis of the practice is to create a craving, or sense of urgency for God realization in the heart. The disciple performs a daily cleaning process using their own will force, to remove the effects of experiences that cause impressions that limit ones spiritual approach. The Guru/Preceptor further uses their own will force to push these spiritual impurities out of the disciple. Transmission is a transfer of spiritual energy through the will force of the Master or a Preceptor to the recipient to establish more advanced spiritual conditions in the disciple.
This entire system revolves around all participants using their own will force to achieve spiritual attainment at a rate that is accelerated compared to ones natural evolution. While Sahaj Marg stands for “Natural Path” it is in fact a practice that cheats nature by using the force of will to accelerate ones natural development. It is based on accepting that one starts from a place of spiritual inadequacy and requires the external will force of others to rectify the situation. The problem that occurred in me practicing Sahaj Marg, was the constant reinforcement of the need to push to a higher level of attainment, no to mention the constant reinforcement of spiritual inadequacy. At the same time humility is required to keep the ego in check. Sahaj Marg solves this problem by establishing the need for a living Master to surrender to.
A forced craving is established within that causes one to become obsessed with spiritual development which diverts ones priorities away from other worldly activities. This is often mistaken for non-attachment, but is in fact the establishment of a new attachment to the achievement of spiritual power through the dependence on the will force of a living Master.
Recovering from spiritual obsession developed under this system is an involved and time consuming process and my case was no exception. I continued to desire spiritual attainment after leaving SRCM and explored spiritual practices that involve manipulating ones inner energy and power to that end. Having cut off my association with any Guru, I was on my own, which turned out to be my saving grace. Every effort to manipulate power for my own spiritual gain resulted in failure. I started to practice Raja Yoga breathing exercises and immediately contracted bronchitis, which discouraged me from continuing.
My experience with the Golden Sufi organization, being publicly humiliated for being associated with a practice that had spiritual attainment as it’s goal was another shock. Meeting Ranaji Saheb, Lalaji’s disciple was another revealing experience. His recommendation that I explore my Christian roots, caused me to question further whether having a goal of ultimate spiritual attainment at all was a worthy endeavor.
As I proceeded in my business career, I started to notice some successful people leveraged their success as good stewards to humanity, while others selfishly pillaged what they could for personal gain. This reflected back to my experience in SRCM, seeing how some “advanced” abyhasis appeared very selfish an self serving, yet others did not.
I started to learn about the boundaries that one must place around oneself to protect against malicious attacks. Such attacks can come from the financial, physical, emotional and spiritual levels. One of these important boundaries was learning how and when to trust another person. When one achieves a level of attainment on any level, those who desire to topple or steal their attainment often attack them. This is equally prevalent in spiritual groups as it is in corporate and secular environments.
My practice of Sahaj Marg, and the resulting dependence and trust in a Master at such an early age caused me to not properly develop my boundaries with the world around me. This became a harsh lesson as I learned to deal with an abusive and mentally ill spouse and the Machiavellian politics of corporations and venture capitalists.
From my experiences after departing SRCM, I learned that the Inner Circle created by Gurus, is in fact a useful tool for self-preservation. A Guru of course has lots to loose, and must only trust those who have completely submitted to him. On a personal level, I learned that my trust must be earned, not simply due to repeated association, but by observing how individuals around me reacted to difficult situations. Under such pressure, one shows their true self. I learned the importance of establishing my own trusted inner circle, which to this day is a small group of individuals. I also learned that the strength of having others one can trust, establishes a base for ones own actions and contributions to the world. Inner Circles like anything can be used as a valid setting of boundaries, or as a base for power and manipulation. My experiences outside of SRCM helped to define these differences and determine exactly how I should use this concept to protect myself without falling into the lure of power and imposing that power on others.
The most difficult Sahaj Marg artifact to eliminate was the sense of urgency to become a more spiritually evolved person. This urgency ingrained in Sahaj Marg abhyasis reinforces a low self-image and a desire to overcome ones limitations through the dependence on the strength of others. The humility of this dependence on others is in fact not humility at all, but self-deprecation. Left unchecked for years on end, it creates a behavior pattern that assumes false security that the Master will eventually correct ones faults and one will achieve spiritual greatness.
My re-examination into Christianity led me to the Catholic Church. I found people there who practice silent prayer, and re-learned Jesus’ message of forgiving ones self and others for their humanity and non-judgment. Meeting regular people doing charitable work within the church was the most inspiring message for me in my recovery of a power based spiritual practice. These people did not pretend to be anything other than what they were, humans with imperfections, but through their imperfect but sincere action they did extraordinary things.
After 15 years of struggling with my addictions to spiritual power, I sat in prayerful meditation one day. I felt restless, not very inspired, no swirling energy around the heart, head or central point at the base of the skull. In spite of this I felt my being. I accepted my spiritual being as it was, a gift from God, sacred in all its mediocrity. I suddenly felt free to accept my spiritual self for who I was. All sense of inadequacy faded, and I realized that the true subtle condition that is spoken about in SRCM has nothing to do with attainment through will force and power, but through acceptance of ones self. This can be achieved in an instant without the dependence on a Master, but it does require one to accept and live the life that is laid before them. True humility and charity is developed in real life as one learns their own humanity and human limitations.
A long path was taken to get me back to where I started at the tender age of 19 when I was first introduced to SRCM. I finally learned that it was ok to be me - that my lack of spiritual prowess was in fact an illusion. Accepting this allowed me to finally start my spiritual practice - the practice of accepting my life and living it, accepting my humanity and being it. The lessons in power learned from the process, however will serve me for the rest of my life.
LESSONS IN POWER PART 8: ANALYSIS
HistorySahaj Marg was introduced as a revised method of Raja Yoga by Ram Chandra of Shajahanpur, India in the 1940s. Ram Chandra, referred to as Babuji, was a young disciple of Ram Chandra of Fategar, no relation, and affectionately referred to as Lalaji. Lalaji and his brother were a disciples of a muslim Sufi master who taught them the Sufi method of meditation and acknowledged its historical foundation in Vedic meditation practices.
Being young Babuji visited Lalaji only a couple times, and spent most of his time practicing meditation at a distance from Lalaji and corresponding with him by letters. When Lalaji passed away, he left many sincere disciples behind. It remains a controversy as to whether Lalaji intended an organization to be formed around his legacy or chose to have a single successor. His Sufi Master clearly had no organization, nor did he delegate anyone his sole successor, nor did Lalaji establish any organization around himself or his teachings. His brother, considered a spiritual twin also left a legacy of disciples, who also appear not to have claimed sole successor-ship nor created any organization. Yet, Babuji claims to have gotten direct orders in a dream from Lalaji to establish the Shri Ram Chandra Mission (SRCM), and claim himself as Lalaji’s sole successor.
This history leaves many loose ends. What is known is the series of events that proceeded as Babuji established the SRCM and began to attract very dedicated and evolved disciples into his inner circle. The most notable was the scholar Dr. Vadarachari, who died unexpectedly leaving a void in Babuji’s Inner Circle.
The practice of Sahaj Marg, Babuji’s reformed Raja Yoga, devoid of any Sufi references, was intended to be accessible to householders, and was not to be associated with any specific religion. It was a method for the disciple or abhyasi (aspirant) to have direct experience with God.
In the early 1980s, Babuji passed away, leaving an embattled organization behind. This spawned a series vicious legal challenges between senior disciples, fighting over who controlled the Mission. Parthasarthi Rajagopalachari (Chari), appeared to have the most credibility with his legal paperwork and legacy of accompanying Babuji on his various trips abroad, and was adept at early on establishing himself as the new President and Successor to Babuji. Splinter groups were spawned revolving around the son of Dr. Vadarachari, and Babuji’s son, Umesh among others. At the same time, competing organizations founded around Lalaji and his brother were also established.
Root Cause of the Failure of SRCM
Yoga acknowledges the power of thought, that thought focused on a thing, gives that thing power. The Yogic principles are based on the concept that creation is the result of an initial thought from the Ultimate, and that each human being a spark of the same initial thought also has their own creation spawned from their own thoughts.
SRCM promotes a process of meditation on the heart, a cleaning meditation done in the evening, and a prayer done at bedtime that acknowledges the living Master as the goal of life. The intent, was that thought, redirected towards the divine within would promote a more spiritually evolved human being. While the practice is supposed to empower the disciple to experience God and Reality directly, this is done under a veil of complete and total dependence and on and obedience to a living Guru. The danger with this type of practice is that if the Guru is not truly selfless, it becomes a power based relationship that benefits the Guru more than it benefits the disciple.
Core to the problem that has evolved as SRCM has progressed, is a culture that is fostered around spiritual attainment. Babuji established that a new vista of human attainment was possible through his practice, referred to as the Central Region. The resulting culture around attaining the Central Region has established a very dangerous precedent. Disciples, who are supposed to be reducing ego, are developing a self centered desire to achieve this spiritual goal and earn entry into a Brighter World at a highly evolved level in the afterlife. Exclusivity established in the SRCM culture caused disciples to believe that only through the SRCM and the support of the living Master could such high attainment be possible. This dependence on the Mission and Master promoted a competitive atmosphere where people vie for attention and favor of the Master in order to achieve their selfish spiritual goals and serve the Mission at all costs to self and family in order to gain spiritual favors. Lost in this culture, is any sense of selfless charity. All selfless actions revolve around serving the Mission and are in fact not selfless at all. The disciple assumes that their “selfless” contribution to the Mission will be rewarded with spiritual attainment and entry into the Brighter World. Clearly something is expected in return for unquestioning obedience to the Mission and Master.
In fact the very principles within the Yogic traditions around realities being created by thought, have been used to create a culture of psuedo-selfless disciples, who serve a Mission and a Master, in expectation of getting something in return. A grand deception results where the disciple believes they are promoting selflessness, but in fact, are selfishly sacrificing what they can to achieve something perceived as better for themSELVES. In the end, the ego develops a new veil. While the Master blames his disciples year after year in public admonishment, about the lack of progress, in fact, the grand deception itself has created its own barrier. Disciples have been trained to selfishly strive to attain something by serving a Master and the Mission that hungrily requires new disciples yearly.
SRCM has in fact created a culture that has completely deviated from the very principles that Sahaj Marg promotes. The root cause appears to be the Mission itself and a singular Master who claims sole successor-ship, without peer, and cannot be questioned. Disciples are encouraged to cease questioning the contradictions and in fact are told to ignore them as they are of this world, and it is only the next world that they should worry about.
Like the Wizard of Oz, they are told to ignore the man behind the curtain and focus on the light show before them, on the Master who will grant them their selfish wish to gain entry into the Central Region and be assured access to the Brighter World upon death.
Invertendo is a principle that has been aggressively promoted with in SRCM to explain every contradiction that one comes across in spirituality. The root of this principle comes from Lalaji’s book “Truth Eternal” where he claims that by starting from an ignorant state, we strive for knowledge, but after pursuing knowledge comes true ignorance.
In my own practice I have learned that in fact we start where we end. In fact, all this attainment and lust for achievement, once exhausted, resolves back to the very point of simply being, with the love of God in one’s heart. The journey itself appears only to serve the function of wearing down of one’s ego until one returns to the ignorant state that one started the journey with, eager to be part of God’s mystery. In fact, the Path or “Marg” itself is an illusion. This explains the contradiction of the Master bowing before the beginning disciple. Perhaps it is because the innocence that exists in at the start is corrupted and lost along the path, only to be regained when one finally gives up all desire for spiritual attainment, and simply desires to be near God for God’s sake, for Love’s sake. Perhaps, all along the disciple was never very far away to begin with.
This brings into question why so much focus and pressure is put on growing the numbers of disciples. If a new diciples bring their own personal power and surrender it to the Mission/Master, and provide their own thoughts to empower the Mission/Master, we have a process in which a Master can gather power and focus thoughts towards himself and his Mission to strengthen his own personal power. The most insidious concept of Invertendo could be that while by outward appearances, the diciple comes to the Mission/Master to get something, in fact the real power transfer is from the disciple to the Mission/Master.
The fundamental mistake made within the SRCM is the obsession with attaining a spiritual goal “The Central Region” rather than simply promoting “being” which in fact IS all that is left when one has achieved the elusive “Central Region” as, apparently any sense of self is all but lost and only identity or “being” remains. Sadly this fixation on attainment coupled with un-questioning obedience to a singular Mission and living Master creates the very scenario being seen in the history of the SRCM. The symptoms of this include:
1. Lack of true selfless charity
2. Selfish in-fighting amongst Inner Circle members of the Mission
3. Struggle between Inner Circle members for control of the Mission
4. Sacrifice of careers and family for the sake of the Mission
5. Intolerance of debate or independent questioning of the Mission
6. Intolerance of other religions - especially Christianity
7. Fixation on myths rather than direct experiences.
The last point is the most destructive of all as it degrades SRCM into a religion - Religion of the worst kind, one that has no checks and balances as it is controlled by an Absolute Leader who cannot be questioned. Propagation of these myths increase as tangible results from the practices fade. Myths include channeled messages from the Masters in the Brighter World, stories of Masters cavorting with the likes of Krishna and Kabir, and edicts from Masters delivered in dreams declaring the current living Master as “The Master of the Universe”.
As myths replace actual experiences, disciples thoughts are deflected away from their own experiences and towards these myths, which make them their own reality. The very yogic principles of thought focused on a singular thing, giving it power, has been turned upside down to establish power in Myths that now become a reality of their own with the collective thoughts of disciples focused on them.
SRCM, initially established as an organization that promotes a simple spiritual practice of God Realization that can be practiced by the common householder, has now become a power based organization using yogic principles to create a new Mythology and as a result a new religion. The question is, with all the divisions between factions, cultures and belief systems today, does the world really need yet another religion?