Category: Self-Realization Fellowship

Critiques of Self-Realization Fellowship

turban-guru-minBelow is an index of my posts with critiques of Self-Realization Fellowship

Bizarre Beliefs and Practices

Cult-like Controls

Meditation Mind Trap

Monastic Order and Ashram

Critics and Apostates

Darshan: Mind-Reading Saints

4004356031_3cba6a3d57The saint appeared. The monks showered her with rose petals and tried to conceal their thoughts.

“All monks to assemble in the Main Hall, today 3:30 sharp”, read the bulletin in the Monks’ Refectory. That afternoon we were called to assemble for darshan (a glimpse of a saint). Daya Mata, the Sanghamata (“mother of the monastic community”), was to bless us with her presence. These divine sightings (darshans) of Ma were rare and special. Although Daya Mata often visited the Mt. Washington ashram center the monks saw her only three or four times a year.

For three-thirty darshan the monastics eagerly lined the stairs, in single file, ranked by seniority of monastic vow and frock color: first were Swamis in robes of ochre, then Brahmacharis in mustard, and last, Novices in blue. As Daya Mata descended the stairway and walked past we pronamed (folded our palms together and mentally or physically touched her feet). The ocher-mustard-blue frocked line of monks snaked from the bottom of the stairs through the Main Hall and out the door onto the driveway to Ma’s waiting Cadillac. Just before Ma stepped into her car the monks tossed up fresh rose petals above her and shouted “Jai Ma” (Victory to Mother)! We felt blessed by the sight of a living saint and president of Self-Realization Fellowship.

Saint Mind-Reader

“I hid under the stairwell in the Main Hall in Mt. Washington to avoid being seen by Daya Ma”, remembered a senior Swami to the younger monks in yoga class. “I had been in a dark mood, filled with guilt and shame.” The Self-Realization Fellowship monastics believed that Daya Ma was a siddha (realized, perfected one). The saints or siddhas supposedly had attained yogic superpowers (siddhis) as a product of spiritual advancement through practice of yoga meditation. (The fourth chapter of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra and the Hindu Bhagavata Purana mention five to fifteen siddhi-powersthat may be attained through meditation. The siddhic power that concerns us here is “knowing the minds of others” (para citta ādi abhijñatā)). Swami continued his testimony, “As I hid under the stairs, to avoid Ma, she approached me, tapped me on the forehead with the palm of her hand, and said “Don’t do it again!” The monks were impressed with Swami’s testimony that Ma had read his mind and the saint had superpowers.

Runaway Darshan

Another darshan story illustrates the powers that a devotee attributes to a saint.

Christmas Day was arduous for the Mt. Washington monks. There was much work to do. Early Christmas morning, we had to set-up 50 banquet tables, place 150 table settings for 150 guests, and laid 100 yards of audio/video cable to feed three cameras, six microphones, and seven recording machines. The monks were responsible for capturing, for posterity, on audio/video tape, the darshan and the pearls of wisdom falling from the lips of Daya Ma.

On one particular Christmas night, after a long day and when the banquet was over, Ma took the elevator to exit the Main Hall through the basement. I was operating the audio/video equipment that was next to the elevator in the basement. “Merry Christmas”, greeted Daya Mata and her sister (also allegedly a Siddha) as the saints exited the elevator and entered the basement. “Merry Christmas”, I replied back and crouched behind the recording equipment. Ma then said “Oh my”, walked away, and exited the basement towards her waiting Cadillac. I wondered: Could Daya Mata read my mind? my soul? Did Ma “know” I had been plotting an escape from the Order?

Six months later, my body caught up with my runaway thoughts. Indeed, I climbed into my getaway vehicle: a black Honda Accord, that two weeks earlier I had purchased online, and on that June day was delivered and parked outside on the Mt. Washington ashram driveway. Without fanfare, without rose petals, and with muted farewells from several monk-friends, I drove out of the gated monastery.

Question for readers: What might get a devotee to consider the notion that a “saint” may not actually have superpowers?

Notes

1 The Bhagavata Purana describes five primary and ten secondary Siddhis (superpowers) that can be attained through yoga meditation practice, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siddhi#Five_siddhis_of_yoga_and_meditation

Monks' Halloween: Chinese Shadow Play

photo 2
click images to enlarge

For the 87 monks atop Mt. Washington, Halloween was a time to unleash pent-up energy. The holiday extravaganza gave the SRF monastics license to dazzle the public in the hilltop community in South Pasadena, California. Every Halloween, since the 1970s, monks would create, produce, and perform shows: during the night, 5,000 children, teens, and adults attended.

photo 4In 1998, five monks, myself included, performed the Shadow Play. Monk Bret inspired the idea of creating a shadow play. We then connected with Chen-An Chin, author of two books: ‘Lanchou shadow show’ and ‘Reactivity indices for biomolecules’. Mr. Chin’s hobby was trying to save the dying art of Lanchou shadow puppetry: His full-time job was professor of Chemistry at a University in TX. In Chinatown, only a few miles away from Mt. Washington, lived Mr. Chin’s brother–also an expert in Chinese Shadow Puppetry. Through Chin’s brother we obtained hand-crafted, animal-hide shadow puppets and were instructed in the ancient, dying art of Lanchou shadow puppetry.

Streaming audio: Listen to the Monks’ Halloween shadow puppet show (11:59)

Behind stage, screen, sticks are held to animate puppets
Behind stage, screen, sticks are held to animate puppets

Monks’ Halloween Shadow Play, The Two Precious Gems, was written, performed, and recorded by:

Director, writer: Br*. Bret

Shadow puppetry: Br. Xavier, Br. Cormac, Br.Scott

Voices: Narrator (Br. Bret); Bix (Br. Clive); Carlos (Br. Xavier); Princess (Br. Joe); Tshaktra (Br. Scott); Tiny Demon (Br. Cormac)

Audio production: Br. Jay

*Br. = Brahmachari, an ordained monk in the Hindu tradition, who vows celibacy, simplicity, obedience, loyalty in the Self-Realization Fellowship Monastic Order.

photo 3
swords and other “puppetry” each had their own sticks for puppeteers to hold
Outdoor, puppet stage during the daytime (shadow puppets are used in the dark with a backlit screen)
Outdoor, puppet stage during the daytime (shadow puppets are used in the dark with a backlit screen)

Special thanks to Chen-An Chin and his Los Angeles brother, and to the monks who I may’ve forgot to mention by name but who nevertheless also inspired, created, and staged the Monks’ Halloween Shadow Play.

At night, audience during performance
At night, audience during performance


Watch video about Chinese shadow puppetry

Questions for readers: Ever seen a live shadow play? Puppets from…?

Sex Was Death

The celibate monks were to avoid all thoughts of sex. Imaginary or real sex was strictly forbidden.

bedchamber

Sexual-Spiritual Romanticism

By my mid-twenties I’d dated and been heartbroken with women. The usual, garden variety issues–I got attached, cheated on, or dumped. In a word, disappointment–such is the lot of idealism of romantic relationships. A convenient solution–celibacy, giving up sex, avoided emotional hurt and could make me spiritual–in one fell swoop!

bildeThe seeds of desire for controlling sex energy were planted during my teens. I’d discovered a book in my Dad’s library, Think and Grow Rich1. This is not the place to discuss the impact this influential text had on my life. We are interested in only a single detail, the chapter on “The Mystery of Sex Transmutation”1. Controlling the sex force would, I thought, fuel my intuition, my sixth sense, and bring me success as a creative artist. I was a musician in the years before I became a monk.

Spiritual Sexlessness

The seeds of sex transmutation eventually grew into my vow of celibacy. The ordained monks were required to abstain in thought and deed. But, no one knew my thoughts–or did they? I feared the advanced monks (siddhas) or the guru would read my mind and discover I had dirty thoughts! Sometimes I’d be rudely awakened from deep sleep to discover my hands on my genitals or shaken awake from nocturnal emissions. Pleasure and shame were simultaneous, humiliating. After realizing my “sins”, I’d sit up in bed to meditate on forgiveness or go down to my bedroom floor on my hands and knees. Prostrate in front of my dresser-top photo of gurus, I’d utter over and over:

Trappist_praying_2007-08-20_dti“I want to transmute sex energy into spiritual energy. I want to turn it Godward to create spiritually.”2

Sex Was Death

The fellow monks and yoga students of Self-Realization Fellowship were “trained”:

“Evil thoughts are the most powerful of man’s interior enemies. Remember that control of the sex impulse should begin with its spiritual transmutation within.

Everyone who finds his self-control waning should remember that yielding will hasten his flight toward the pitfalls of disease, premature old age, mental dissatisfaction, loss of ambition, boredom, unhappiness, and premature unhappy death”.2 [emphasis mine]

The above memories of my celibate days were triggered when I read this below in Men’s Health magazine:

SATURN V, APOLLO 6 (AS-502) LAUNCH FROM CAPE. PAD 39A. REF: 116-KSC-68PC-59 “A UK study found that folks who have frequent orgasms from sex also have greater resting-heart-rate variability, which is linked to longer life. Sex strengthens your parasympathetic nervous system (the brakes on your heart rate), allowing it to better counter your sympathetic nervous system (the gas pedal)”.3

Contrary to Hindu traditions and yogi mythology, sexual activity can lead to health and long-life3,4

Footnotes

  1. The Mystery of Sex Transmutation, Think And Grow Rich. Hill, N. Ballentine. NY: NY. 1960. Ch 11. Print.
  2. Transmutation of Creative Energy Into Spiritual Energy, Self-Realization Fellowship Lesson #71. Self-Realization Fellowship. Los Angeles, CA. 1991. Print.
  3. How To Live To Be 100: Break the Bed. Men’s Health (Jul/Aug 2014), 24. Print.
  4. Smith, G. D. et al, (1997) Sex and death: are they related? Findings from the Caerphilly cohort study. BMJ (British Medical Journal). Retrieved from http://www.bmj.com/content/315/7123/1641

The Postulant House Cat: Queen Nefertari

Nefertari Merit-en-Mut,  (nefertari mon amour), Photo : Dario J. Laganà, Model: Erika
Nefertari Merit-en-Mut,
(nefertari mon amour), Photo : Dario J. Laganà, Model: Erika

Tari, the postulant monks’ house cat, was treated like a queen. Tari was short for Queen Nefertari. The postulant monk in charge of Tari’s care and feeding was kind-of a pet of the pet Tari and of Brotherji.

Brotherji was the respectful short name for Brother Premamoy, the esteemed House Brother of the Postulant ashram or monastery. Brotherji was a real Count from Slovenia. Some people called him the Prince of Yugoslavia. For he was indeed from a royal family, and was a most gracious host and deeply caring person.

Monastery legend, or rumor depending on your perspective, was that Brotherji was the reincarnation of King Ramesses II, the great Egyptian Pharaoh and husband of the historic Queen Nefertari.

We monks rumored over other legends about which great world-leaders and poets were now reincarnate as the spiritual directors and leaders of the Self-Realization Fellowship Monastic Order. Yogananda was Charlemagne and Shakespeare, as SRF folklore went.

Tari (aka Nefertari), the postulant house cat.
Tari (aka Nefertari), the postulant monks’ house cat.

The real and historic Brother Premamoy (1910 -1990) was, according to Winter 1990 Self-Realization Magazine, imprisoned in three concentration camps for his participation in the Resistance movement during the Nazi occupation in WWII. After immigrating to the U.S., Brother Premamoy joined the SRF Monastic Order in the 1950s. Many other real and speculative stories, coupled with Brother’s noble personality, drew us monks into reverential awe of him. Perhaps that lent more credulity to our legend that he might be the reincarnation of the Pharaoh King, Ramesses II?

Interesting historical side note: The ancient Egyptians worshipped cats, including the lion-goddess Mafdet and the cat goddess Bast or Bastet. Archaeologists have unearthed tens of thousands of Egyptian mummies of cats and humans. Entombed, mummified bodies were preserved for the “afterlife”. So the legends go.

Question to readers: Are humans gullible enough to worship anything or anyone as a god or goddess? What else do we deify that may not be considered a “traditional” god?