Ross and Carrie, in their podcast ‘Oh No!’, investigate the SRF (Self-Realization Fellowship) and rated the SRF on creepiness, dangerousness, and paranormal claims. They both studied the SRF Lessons and attended church services and the World Convocation.
“The stories [of Paramahansa Yogananda told by SRF monks at Convocation] were about how incredibly patronizing the guru was of his devotees.” – Carrie
‘Oh No, Ross and Carrie!’ is a podcast about Ross and Carrie’s travels through the world of paranormal claims, fringe science, and spirituality. Their website says “We show up, so you don’t have to”.
Ross and Carrie immerse themselves in the Self Realization Fellowship, Paramahansa Yogananda’s eastern-inspired religion that urges little eating, little sleeping, and lots of meditation. Can Carrie and Ross survive in a group where “restlessness of mind” is a cardinal sin?
After months of anticipation, Ross and Carrie attend the Self Realization Fellowship Convocation, where thousands of SRF devotees gather together. They learn to meditate better, chant for hours at a time, and try to get surly strangers to smile.
In conclusion, Ross and Carrie rated the SRF on a scale of 0 – 10 (0 = none or lowest, 10 = max or highest).
Ross’ and Carrie’s RATINGS
Supernatural/Pseudoscientific = 7.5
Reason: Many extraordinary claims, including that the brain can do fantastical things, read others’ minds, control heart/breath, dying at will, etc
Wallet Draining = 8
Reason: Money is portrayed as evil, give SRF church your money, Lessons are inexpensive, accessories and Convocations are expensive.
Creepiness = 2.5
Reason: Ross and Carrie both thought the people they met at SRF church services and properties seemed normal. [Frankly, I was both creeped-out and intrigued when I first attended SRF church meditation services. My creepy intrigue came from the dimly lit altar with golden-framed images of the six SRF gurus, the trance-like chanting of devotees swaying in their meditation seats, and the smoke and smell of exotic incenses that created a hazy, dream-like atmosphere in the meditation temple.]
Dangerous = 1
Reason: Eating and sleeping is portrayed by SRF and Yogananda as for mortals, some breatharian ideas, notion of asking God before you go see a doctor, etc. [In posts and discussions on this website, I examine the evidence I’ve accumulated and in my opinion SRF is more dangerous than the level rated by Ross and Carrie].
Secrets to success brought to you by Great Masters of Himalayas?
After lifesaving brain surgery, Dad would have intermittent seizures. In his paranoid hallucinations he’d demand that our family of four pack our belongings into the car so we could flee to the mountains for the end of the world. In early morning hours, the police might call. Dad had to be picked-up at the police station. He’d walked for miles in his pajamas and had been found on top of a neighbor’s parked car, yanking the wiper blades, and ranting about the end of the world.
It was during a period of these events, when I was age 15, that I read a book I’d found in my Dad’s library. The book contained the laws of success that altered my impressionable life when it said:
“I whispered, ‘Who are you?’
In a softened voice, which sounded like chimes of great music, the unseen speaker replied: ‘I come from the Great School of the Masters. I am one of the Council of Thirty-Three who serve the Great School and its initiates on the physical plane.”
The book was Grow Rich! With Peace of Mind: How to earn all the money you need and enrich every part of your life, the sequel to Think and Grow Rich, both books by Napoleon Hill.
Eventually and indirectly the secret formula of success peddled by Napoleon Hill led me to a Hindu-Christian yoga-occult community in Los Angeles. The fringe church, SRF (Self-Realization Fellowship), aligned perfectly with the secret formula of success and occult thinking of Napoleon Hill and the Great School of Masters. I accepted the synchronicity as a sign from the divine.
After a few years on the fringe of the fellowship, I plunged headlong and pledged 14 years of my life to following the rules and vows of the Self-Realization Monastic Order [See my posts on Monasticism]. I believed SRF was my link to the Great School of Masters of the Himalayas that I’d read about in Napoleon Hill’s Grow Rich! With Peace of Mind, sequel to Think and Grow Rich.
“Also termed the ‘law of attraction’ as early as 1906, [New Thought’s] core belief was that thoughts are things”, says Scott Carney in A Death on Diamond Mountain: A True Story of Obsession, Madness, and the Path to Enlightenment. “In 1908, Andrew Carnegie met a young journalist named Napoleon Hill and asked him to interview the richest people in America to learn their secrets to generating wealth. The project took him almost 20 years, but in 1934, he published Think and Grow Rich, which quickly became one of the best selling books of all time.”
“New Thought created a spiritual framework to explain earthly success”, writes Carney, “Think and Grow Rich formed a recipe and spawned an entire genre of self-help books.
“Hill wrote that the most successful people on earth followed a simple secret: They visualize their own success and cultivate their emotions to feel as if they had already achieved their goals.
“According to Hill’s theory, thoughts are things and our desires act like magnets in the spiritual ether and could attract real world riches.”
Hill’s secrets of success totally synchronized with SRF’s, and its founder’s, Paramahansa Yogananda’s, teachings and books such as the Law of Success, Scientific Healing Affirmations, Applying the Power of Positive Thinking, Focusing the Power of Attention for Success, Answered Prayers and dozens of other publications. Hill’s and Yogananda’s are occult philosophies that represent the New Thought movement.
“New Thought lent American optimism a sort of a mystical quality”, continues Carney. “It argued that the mind is a force of nature in the same way that gravity is”. Thoughts can make a person rich, cure disease, reverse aging, and achieve any imaginable goal.
“Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe it can achieve”.
“There are no limitations to the mind except those we acknowledge. Both poverty and riches are the offspring of thought.”
– Think and Grow Rich, Napoleon Hill
As a troubled teen, eagerly reading Napoleon Hill’s books in my dad’s library, I didn’t know how gullible and vulnerable I was to occult authorities and magical-thinking. It was a decade and a half after I left the SRF Monastery that I discovered that Think and Grow Rich was part of the occult and New Thought movement.
Meditation is an escape. Or, can be. It was for me. Laws of success can be an escape–pat answers giving comforting certainty. These secret formulas for success are steeped in mystical-, magical-, wishful-thinking.
Meditation is sold by Cadillac-driving gurus as the panacea for human ills. Yogananda, Daya Mata, and Rajneesh (to name only three gurus) tooled around in chauffeur-driven Cadillacs. Meditation is promoted as the key to earthly (and heavenly) success, peace, and happiness.
Laws of success are peddled like snake oil: sometimes wrapped and marked with Om, Bliss, or Nirvana. Placebos for the gullible and cash for the infallible? “Think like I want you to”, says the guru. “Buy my secret formulas, laws of success and meditations and you I will grow rich.”
1 “The Great School of Masters! That is the school of wisdom which has persisted secretly in the Himalayas for ten thousand years. Sometimes known as the Venerable Brotherhood of Ancient India, it is the great central reservoir of religious, philosophical, moral, physical, spiritual and psychical knowledge. Patiently this school strives to lead mankind from spiritual infancy and darkness to maturity of soul and final illumination”. Napoleon Hill, Grow Rich! with Peace of Mind, paper, p159. Fawcett Crest Books. 1967. On the same page, Hill substantiates his claim of his visitation by the Great Teachers by quoting from The Great Message: The Lineal Key of the Great School of the Masters [Harmonic Series, 1928 Editions] by Richardson, J. E. [John E.] (1853-1935), an occult, New Thought book.
3 ibid “By Hill’s death in 1970, Think and Grow Rich had sold fifteen million copies. Its success has since been dwarfed by The Secret, which has reportedly sold fifty-six million copies worldwide, with approximately the same philosophy”. Footnote pg 114
I regularly get emails from readers. Here’s a short message from one and a few of my comments below:
“Thank you for your website. I used to be in SRF (Self-Realization Fellowship) for 37 years. I realized that it is a cult, like all religions. I still like to meditate each morning and I do biofeedback to help put myself into a parasympathetic state before I start work. I think Yogananda was a very charismatic person. I no longer believe in Gurus. I distrust organized religion. I used to go to Convocation and could never get into the Daya Mata worship. She always seemed like an overly conservative, uptight person. I appreciate what you write about on your website, and your way of thinking critically.”
2 SRF’s Convocation is a weeklong convention were thousands of SRF monastics, volunteers, and devotees from around the world converge each summer at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.
While I was a monk, I participated each year in the SRF Convocations. The monastics and volunteer lay members worked 14-18 hours each day to run the event behind the curtain and at the Bonaventure.
The first five years of my life in the SRF Monastic Order I enthusiastically served at Convocation in a labor of love. I tolerated the 18 hour work shifts at the Bonaventure Hotel. By my sixth, seventh, and eighth Convocation I found the event, the monastic speakers, and the topics were monotonous and formulaic: How to Meditate, Finding God in Daily Life, Keys to Happiness, Surrendering to God, etc. etc.
The SRF Convocation gets 4,000 attendees each year. During the last 20 years, the Convocation nor the SRF organization as a whole has increased membership. The SRF apparently aquires new members at the same rate they lose members. The same goes for the Monastic Order: the ranks of SRF monks and nuns doesn’t appear to grow much if any.
Daya Matawas originally a Mormon living in Salt Lake City Utah. At age 17 she met Yogananda during one of his public lectures in Salt Lake City. She then left home with her parents permission to live with Yogananda in his ashram in Los Angeles.
Daya Mata was succeeded by the present President of SRF, Mrinalini Mata. Mrinalini Mata entered the SRF Monastic Order at the tender age of 15. For more about her, see this article in the Los Angeles Times.
After meditation retreat, Cleménce had a psychotic breakdown. Her panic attacks, her loss of self, were finally, through medicine, brought back to the real world.
Here is her story, reprinted with her permission1.
It’s taking me some courage to write you my story but I need to, so here we go:
My name is Cleménce. I am age 28 and a former yoga instructor originally from Paris.
In 2014, I attended a 10 day Vipassana retreat. Before the retreat I was a lively, dynamic, New Age kind-of girl. I would trip on the present moment, “connect” to my higher self, read minds, “manifest” stuff– and well, imagine things a great deal.
After my retreat, I had a psychotic breakdown. I became filled with fear, anxiety, and terror. My panic attacks were filled with a horrendous realization that I was nothing, empty, just a ghost with no heart, no personality, no feelings, no tastes–I became a no-self that I had not been warned of. My retreat instructor, when I reached out to him about my panic attacks, said to keep on meditating. I completed the retreat. When I returned home I was a psychological zombie.
Soon after, I reached out to the “spiritual community” who told me “it’s all a dream”. Hearing that made me lose my shit and my mind. My family (and I) freaked out about my zombie state and panic attacks. I saw doctors and went in to the hospital. Months later, gradually I was able to function again in the real world.
I’m now stabilizing on medications and looking for a job in my old profession, editing and communications. I had to stop all kinds of spiritual practices, including yoga and meditation. I try now to only believe in things I can actually see and touch–to keep me grounded in reality. I don’t even worship the clichéd “present moment” anymore. Ekhart Tolle makes me want to throw up.
I suffer a great deal from hatred and anger towards buddhism, mindfulness, and New Age. Even taking a deep breath reminds me of new age crap and triggers anxiety.
I wanted to reach out, say hey I’m here! And let you know that I have a project to start a website to collect stories of people who had meditation and spiritual problems–and who now tend to live a more grounded life–to connect and share resources for recovery.
Scott: I’m so glad you contacted me, Cleménce. We need more people to come out like you. People who meditate(d) that have the courage to speak of the entire range of experiences–not just the bliss-bunny, feel-good experiences–but also the unwholesome side-effects of meditation and the often accompanying supernatural belief systems steeped in delusions.
While I was an ordained Hindu-yoga monk for 14 years, I too had a nervous breakdown and panic attack while I was living in the ashram. I’ve not yet written or spoken to people about my psychotic episode in the monastery. Your sharing of your recent psychotic episode reminded me. Eventually, what caused my psychotic breakdown also led me to question the entire premises and postulations of the ashram, of god(s)), which led me towards skepticism and nonbelief in any so-called supernaturalism. I’m not angry about what happened to me. My only regret now was that I was so gullible and that I didn’t find my way out sooner.
I’m wondering if you would allow me to reprint your email “anonymously” in a blog post for interested readers.
Cleménce: Yes, I’m totally cool with being quoted anonymously.
Scott: Perhaps your story will encourage others to come out, to comment, to share with others about the full-range of personal experiences from meditation and mindfulness practice–not just sugar-coat meditation like a bunch of bliss bunnies.
Notes Recovering from Religion http://recoveringfromreligion.org/about/overview/. I strongly recommend that persons who experience negative side-effects of meditation and/or religion seek professional medical help. Support groups, such as Recovering from Religion, may augment professional help. Please first seek the help of qualified, certified medical and psychological professionals.
1 Reprinted with permission from Cleménce. Her real name and particular details were changed so her identity remains anonymous.
The mindfulness movement is an American religion, argue historians and scholars of religion.
In A Republic of Mind and Spirit, Catherine Albanese asserts that American metaphysical religion has four characteristics:
a focus on the mind and its powers;
concern with correspondence between the inner and the outer spheres of existence or the macrocosm and microcosm;
a preference for metaphors and concepts of movement and energy;
a therapeutic orientation that conceives of salvation in terms of healing.1
The mindfulness movement relates itself to all of the above metaphysical and religious concepts.
For mindfulness advocates “sin” is failure to operate in the proper mental sphere, that is to be unmindful. In Mindful America, Jeff Wilson argues that from the mindfulness advocates point of view, the evil confronting Americans is distracting devices and dangerous methods (sex, food, alcohol, and work). These temptations that we surround and surrender ourselves to result in ill-health in our bodies, relationships, institutions, and environment. The antidote, the solution to all our problems, is getting in tune with the infinitude of the present moment, being in the now, in the non-judgmental flow of the experience itself.2 In traditional Buddhism this mental state is called nirvana, and believed to be the end of suffering and beginning of salvation.
Despite the claims made by mindfulness advocates that there is no religion involved, the mindfulness movement is an expression of both Buddhism and American metaphysical religion: “it is an American Buddhist metaphysical religion”.3 Wilson argues, in Mindful America, that there is overwhelming evidence that the mindfulness movement as a whole is part of American metaphysical religion, even in its most secular and medical forms.