What happens when members experience psychological damage? How do group leaders react to changes coming from members of the group?
During the late 1990’s, the president of SRF, Daya Mata, created a middle-management “Spiritual Life Committee” composed of a dozen senior monks and nuns. The committee recommended that SRF hire outside communication and organizational consultants, along with psychologists to cope with the severe psychological problems that some of the monks and nuns were experiencing.
The committee’s recommendations spawned a series of meetings where monks and nuns began to openly discuss problems they were experiencing. (I participated in many of these meetings and can testify that these discussions were crucial to solving the many psychological dysfunctions of the ashram at the SRF Mother Center).
Some monastics welcomed the promise of ashram change with relief and exhilaration. While others reacted to possible changes with fear and anxiety.
Exodus of 1/3 Monastics
The monks and nuns living at the Mother Center split into two factions: the conservatives who sided with Daya Mata and were for maintaining the status quo, and the other faction, the liberals or progressives who embraced and advocated for changes. From the start I sided with the progressives and instantly embraced with enthusiasm the possibility of ashram changes.
After several years of fruitless efforts for meaningful and lasting change in the ashram approximately one-third of the monastic order left SRF during 2000 to 2001. I joined the exodus at this time.
Entrenched and resisting change, Daya Mata and the others with power at SRF, fired the communication consultants who they blamed for creating the 2000-2001 exodus of a third of the monastics. The existing members of the Spiritual Life Committee were replaced by others content with the status quo. The psychologists were let go. The conservatives retained their power of SRF and only the monastics who were either too afraid to leave or too invested in status quo remained in SRF.
The year or two before my departure from SRF, I had been visiting one of the psychologists noted above. I too had psychological problems, anxieties and fears about staying and/or leaving the ashram. I was damned if I did and damned if I don’t stay. Eventually, I left after a long and painful process of unshackling my mind from the authoritarian control of SRF.
Authoritarian mind control methods are not unique to Yogananda or SRF.
Yogananda and SRF used classic mind control techniques
The primary mind control technique referenced in this post is: Fill the members with fears of leaving the group to keep them inside the group.
In Service Reading #39, Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF) teaches: “To such a God-sent Guru [e.g., Yogananda] the disciple must always be loyal throughout his lifetime and through future incarnations until he finds redemption.”
In SRF magazine, Spring 1974, Yogananda said: “There is only one guru uniquely the devotee’s own. But if you turn away from the emissary of God, He silently asks: ‘What is wrong with you…?’ … He who cannot learn through the wisdom and love of his God-ordained guru will not find God in this life. Several incarnations at least must pass before he will have another such opportunity.”
It was tribal knowledge among the monks that he who left the SRF ashram, supposedly would suffer for seven lifetimes before the guru could accept him back as a disciple.
And this is the supposed unconditional love of the guru, of following the infallible teachings and “divine” incarnations on earth?
Question for readers: Do you have any personal experiences of being inside an extremely controlling group or relationship? What statements did they use to fill your mind with fear or obedience?
1 Paraphrased from Freedom of Mind website on SRF quoting Lola Williamson, Transcendent in America: Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements as New Religion, book.