Home Celebrity Eat Pray Love Inspired by Gurumayi, Leader of Cult-Like Ashram

The whole “Eat Love Pray” movement–now the inspiration for a Julia Roberts movie–comes from a cult=like ashram that gained popularity in the early 1990s, guided by a woman named Gurumayi.

And it makes you wonder: has Julia Roberts, who now says she’s a practicing Hindu–found her own Scientology?

Now 55 years old, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda — her real name is Malti Shetty—is the swami whom Elizabeth Gilbert went to meet in India in the book, “Eat Love Pray.” Alas, Gurumayi wasn’t there when Gilbert arrived. She was never anywhere as I recall. I wrote a piece about her and her cult-like ashram back in the early 90s. Her disciples — mostly young women– met in a church basement on the Upper East Side. There were dozens of them. They were glassy eyed. They were mostly white, upscale, and having trouble with relationships. Sound familiar?

Around the same time, the New Yorker also did a piece about Gurumayi, who’d inherited her platform from Swami Muktananda as a young woman with her brother. Their parents — the father was a restaurateur–had been his followers. But a civil war broke out between the siblings, and Gurumayi snatched Swami Muktananda’s business from her brother. The way to inner peace is often not a pretty one.

Celebrities came, as they do: Meg Ryan swore by her. Raul Julia was reportedly a disciple. A well known New York actor and director, I was told, ended his marriage to a beautiful model because she’d gotten too involved with Gurumayi. The New Yorker article also noted Jerry Brown, John Denver, Andre Gregory, Diana Ross, Isabella Rossellini, Phylicia Rashad, Don Johnson, Melanie Griffith, and Marsha Mason.

She is a real “Slumdog Millionaire.” Her SYDA Foundation--about which it is hard to gain much information–is worth millions in real estate holdings. She also runs an international organization called Siddha Yoga, a business posing as a religion. Both organizations are tax exempt because they’re regostered as churches. If you’re thinking of looking for Gurumayi now, think again. A few years ago she closed the Catskills facility in South Fallsburg, New York, to strangers. She ended her big public relations push to get more disciples. She is rarely seen anywhere. But she is very rich.

Gilbert learned a lot from Gurumayi. She’s turned her glossy spiritual experience into a money maker. Tonight she’s hosting a special screening of “Eat Pray Love” at the Ziegfeld. Tickets are $25.

Marta Szabo knows all about Gurumayi. She worked for her for over 10 years. Now she’s published her own memoir, called “The Guru Looked Good.” Szabo has never met Gilbert, and her book was published before “Eat Pray Love.” What she says is quite different than Gilbert’s movie would lead anyone to believe.

“Gurumayi is not an enlightened being,” says Szabo. “If she were really enlightened she wouldn’t go around telling everyone. You’d know it.”

Szabo has a lot to say about Gurumayi, and it can be found in her book and elsewhere on the internet. But one thing she told me was pretty weird–when the New Yorker article was coming out, Gurumayi used a form of brainwashing on her disciples. “There were secret rituals,” Szabo recalls. “She practiced long distance Reiki”– a Japanese healing process. And there were “meditations” in “secret places.”

Most of it didn’t work, she says. “A lot of people left after the article.” The New Yorker piece detailed the tug of war to own the ashram, violence enacted against Gurumayi’s brother who eventually started his own ashram nearby in the Catskills, as well as accusations of sexual misconduct against Muktananda.

Julia Roberts would do well to read Marta Szabo’s book.

By the way, I asked Marta, where was Gurumayi all the time? “She would disappear for short periods,” Szabo said. “She was probably staying in a rich devotee’s house.”

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Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.
47 replies to this post
  1. Nobody has mentioned here that Siddha Yoga Foundation denies having ANYTHING to do with the film. How could they deny it if the author of the book had ever met Gurumayi. The central thesis of this report, that Eat, Pray, Love is inspired by Gurumayi is fallacious. What follows are many lies about her and her followers. The wealth they speak of that I know practically nothing about belongs to Siddha Yoga Foundation which is dedicated to bringing the experience of the Self to the entire world. All its money is used to reveal your own Divinity to You. Gurumayi is the vehicle for that experience. Gurumayi is the pure devotee of Baba Muktananda. Baba was brought to the United States, I have heard, by Werner Erhard, the founder of EST, Erhard Seminar Training. It’s a wonder they treat Siddha Yoga as such an unknown. Baba visited this town of Gainesville, Florida, well actually, Raiford, Florida where the state prison is located in 1975 on one of his world tours. These world tours are not like the tours of a rock n’ roll group. These servants of the Self or devotees of the Lord are not like The Who or The Stones or Bob Dylan. I prefer to think of them like the Pope or a real Jesus in the midst of us. Baba came to this area in 1975. I understand he had already been in the U.S. in the early 70’s or maybe even the 60’s. Gurumayi was his translator. She speaks 8 different languages. I met Gurumayi in 1992 at her Birthday Intensive. This was a gift from my late mother. I had heard of this thing called an ashram since the 70’s when I read some books by an Alice A. Bailey prophesying the reappearance of the Christ. The term ashrams concerned with the coming came up in those books which were like an encyclopedia of spiritual expression for me. When I started going to Baba’s meditation center here in 1979 I was completely alone. I was not very welcome anywhere. Through the years I sometimes lost the center or it lost me. There were many different traditions in this small college town with different views on the ultimate reality. There were the Krsna devotees, Bhagwan Rajneesh’s red people and others. In the 80’s I often felt as if I was welcome nowhere. I finally relocated the Siddha Meditation Center, an informal center in 1988 when Gurumayi began DARSHAN magazine. Darshan means vision of the Lord. I was interested in another Guru the leader of another path called Surat Shabd Yoga, Darshan Singh and the name struck me. I LOVED that magazine. I started reading it in 1988. I looked forward to
    every issue that was delivered to my rural mailbox. I sometimes slept with issues under my pillow. In 1991 I took my first Intensive. It was Christmas time. I finally got to meet Gurumayi as I was encouraged to do at the center in 1992. I was very poor, unemployed and a poor black woman gave me her suitcase to carry my clothes up there for the 10 day stay. I will never forget
    that stay. I have not been back unfortunately but I do practice chanting the Guru Gita and other texts from the Nectar of Chanting, a book published by SYDA, and I meditate. I have been reading many LIES about Swami Muktananda regarding his sex life and now we have these lies about Gurumayi and her wealth. It is disgraceful. Gurumayi is the Divine Mother. She is not attached to wealth, she bestows it.

  2. I have been involved with SYDA for over 40 years. I met both Gurumayi Chidvilasananda and her predecessor, Baba Muktananda. It didn’t take me long to realize this was a true path.
    Since a spiritual path is not rational I won’t attempt to prove anything. I will simply list a few of the countless miracles I’ve experienced and the massive healing I have experienced:
    My alcoholism of 20 years was dissolved with no effort on my part. I now dislike the way alcohol makes me feel.

    I used to experience deep, black depressions. I was either in the throes of blackness or clawing my way out of the pit. One day while reading an SYDA correspondence a bolt of white lightning leapt off the page, into my heart, and shattered a rock hard blackness into pieces. Behind the black was a brilliant white light. I never suffered from this emotional pain again.
    My lifelong rage, a result my upbringing, simply vanished.

    I was meditating after I met Baba when suddenly a lake of liquid gold poured into my brain. It was all encompassing and exhilarating beyond description. Clearly, to me, this was the Kundalini. A true Guru awakens the Kundalini that purifies the seeker of “impurities”.

    While at a California Ashram I fell into a state of worship. I learned from this that the ability to worship is a gift from God, not something we do.

    While at that Ashram someone drove by in a car and hurled an insult at us. It hit me as a blast of joy.

    I once experienced a peace “that passed all understanding”. I had thought of peace as a passive state of non-pain and contentment. This was an active peace that lasted several days.

    Often in the presence of the Guru a most welcome peaceful stillness enters my mind.
    Many times the Guru has spoken to me telepathically.

    My heart, where once resided a pit of pain, now overflows with love and Joy.

    Many times I have fallen into a brilliant white light losing all sense of self, time, and the world. This state is perfect and without form. I believe it to be God.

    My gratitude for this miraculous being that saved my sanity, my life, and showed me that God is both real and available is boundless.

    My journey on this path has been filled with miracles. The experiences Elizabeth Gilbert describes in her book “Eat, Pray, Love” are familiar to me.

    The ashram in South Fallsburg is far from desolate, it is a busy, dynamic place; Siddha Yoga is alive and well.

    Naysayers are legion. There are many people who have met the Guru who were not ready for her truth. Some have joined in efforts to discredit Siddha Yoga.
    All I can say about them is they don’t get it.

    I am no fool. I have a postgraduate degree. I am a skeptic at heart. Everything unfamiliar to me must prove it is for real; this includes Siddha Yoga and the Guru. Both have proven themselves to me. I am a converted atheist and a true believer.

    The Guru is the living embodiment of God’s grace on Earth.

  3. I will always love and be grateful to Gurumayi for Shaktipat, love, hope, instructions, Mantra, encouraging me/us to look within, for answers, asking me to see her as God AND human-and to see myself the same, for Darshans, for Celebrations, for programs, videos, magazines to keep. I miss the ashram, contact with her. For same, I follow Amritanandamayi. I feel her love and healing. I see Gurumayi as my first, my teacher,my therapist, my friend. I see Amma as my Mother, healing my heart. I need and love them both. I still do not see the blue pearl, but am a better person, my heart has opened, l love. I hope I see Gurumayi again, and trust she and Amma will guide me through the rest of life and on the journey of death.

  4. I will always love and be grateful to Gurumayi for Shaktipat, love, instructions, the Mantra, encouraging me/us to look within, to my Self, not to others for answers, asking me to see her as God AND human—and to see myself the same way, for Darshans, for Celebrations, for programs and videos and magazines to keep with me to this very day. I greatly miss the ashram and contact with her. To get some of the same, I now follow another Siddha Guru, Mata Amritanandamayi. I feel her love and healing, also. Sometimes, I see Gurumayi as my first, my teacher, my therapist, my friend. I see Amma as my Mother, healing my heart. I seem to need them and love them both. Even after 20 yrs of practicing SYDA meditation, I do not see the blue pearl, but I am a much better person and my heart has opened and I feel love. I hope I see Gurumayi again, and trust she and Amma will guide me through the rest of life and on the journey of death.

  5. It is so interesting. Even though the original article was extremely negative and filled with a very unj-ournalistic opposition to Siddha Yoga, most of the posts here have been absolutely inspiring to read.

    I met Gurumayi when I was 23 years old, reading Taoist texts and looking for a true enlightened Master and a meditation practice. I ended up receiving a spiritual awakening from someone who appears to be an Indian woman, and fell in love with chanting Sanskrit. At the Seattle ashram, I experienced being totally at home and so much love soaked in every program. The last 15 years have been a wonderful adventure and I am grateful for all that gifts I have received from Siddha Yoga and from my own inner awakening. My years long depression left me and never came back, I experience love, light and wonder inside my own heart, I have access to a rich storehouse of ancient texts and wisdom, and have the direct experience of many saints of all traditions. My world has expanded in so many ways. The mission of Siddha Yoga is very openly stated, it is for all the experience their own Self and to ease suffering in the world. This Self is independent of any religion, cult, sect, or path. It is universal. SY does not proselytize, and acknowledges that the inner awakening is more important than any outer “path,” although the SY path as it has been created and continues to evolve is nothing short of beautiful and amazing. As always, mystics and masters will be with us on this planet but those who are too mired in their own mental negativities will not have the eyes the to perceive this light. They will the proverbial man starving at the banquet. Since we are conscious beings we create our own experience of everything all the time, I am grateful for the experience of Siddha Yoga that I have had, which has been nothing but a great blessing and a vehicle of the direct experience of the divine.

  6. Isn’t it more important to note that whatever we put our attention on we can actually manifest outside of us. The power of thought is so strong that we can be lead to believe anything or nothing at all. We change ourselves! We put ourselves in every situation so that we can experience what we need to know – inside.
    If you want a Guru then have one – that is your right. If you want to criticize and feel angry then that is your right too. If you want to change then you will. If you don’t want to believe in an organization then don’t. If you want to find God then you will. It is all possible.
    No one can make you do anything that your mind won’t allow – don’t ever think that someone has more power over you. You own your own power. That’s the game people try to play with you to trip you up. You want these visions, or changes, or lifestyles or whatever it is you want because you want them to be true. Just be honest with yourself – what is it you really want. Be good to yourself and others too.

  7. I attended the Ashram in Oakland off and on during most of the 80’s. I loved it. I only went to one intensive, but it was fabulous. I went to chant 2-3 nights a week, which was free, and it brought me so much peace. I still chant the mantra to myself if I can’t fall alseep or I’m afraid and it calms me down. I do believe that “I” did these things for myself, but SY and Gurumayi’s talks were very inspiring and provided the context for me to get in touch with my deepest self. I see Gurumayi as a spiritual teacher, not someone who is super human, so I imagine she’s not perfect. I have not found a spiritual home that’s anything like the Oakland Ashram. Sitting in the dim light, incense burning, with over 100 people chanting, was an amazing experience. I miss it very much.

  8. When you honor Gurumayi you honor Self. We are all one. If you see the Gurus as God then you must think of yourself as God. When you bow to Muktananda or Nityananda or Chidvilasananda you bow to Self. We are all one and the same. If this is a concept that you cannot comprehend or it clashes with your own belief system then you will see the ashram as a cult.

    When you honor Self, you experience the inner journey. There are many paths one can take on this inner journey, Siddha Yoga is one.

  9. So lost. So damn bitter. Get over yourselves and realize there’s gonna be different opinions and different experiences than those of your own. Lame.

  10. I spent 9 years living 20 minutes from the ashram in South Fallsburg and was at the ashram for meditation, breakfast, programs and free instruction in yoga and branches of Hinduism from renowned scholars coming in from all over the world……all for free other than a small charge for breakfast. I studied Gurumayi”s teaching and the guru herself intently for all that time. What I received has been of immeasurable value as I continue my path as a teacher, a practicing Catholic, and as a devoted follower of the Siddha Yoga path.

  11. I was in a very traumatic place in my life. I had never even heard of a Guru. I live in the soouth in the Bible Belt. A friend told me about Gurumayi and I wrote her a heart felt letter. I had a deeply life changing experience in my own home, not at the ashram. I am so very Thankful. If it is your time the masster will appear. God brought me peace and he used Gurumayi to bring it. The doubters here either have not experienced and are angry or they do not understand. They shoul not be angry but look elsewhere. They will find the peace when the time is right. If you are not ready , being around any master will not change your life. I know that she is real. I only wish peace for all of you, and in time you will know the difference in searching and recieving, God will lead you when the time is right for your soul. It is life changing and cannot change someone’s mind with words. It has to be experienced.

  12. Govinda – your post really hit home. I was searching for info about Gurumayi and what happened to her. I have not practiced Siddha Yoga for over 10 years now as my life was transformed by other forms of love and devotion. Now, having read your post I feel reassured.

    Despite the controversies and conspiracy theories out there, what I’ve experienced in relation to Siddha Yoga both positive and negative have helped guide me to where I am going. If Siddha Yoga taught me anything it is that we all have a choice. All the love in the universe is ours if we choose to accept it.

    I am blessed everyday and now my puja is a picture of my children’s smiling faces. I still repeat the mantra and it does still my mind.

    I am happy to stop searching. I quite enjoyed Eat Pray Love as a film, will probably read the book and read Marta’s also. I would expect that Gurumayi would too.

  13. Patricia couldn’t have put it better. what i experienced with gurumayi was intensely personal, real, inexplicable and life-changing. for that i am forever grateful and awed.

  14. Amazing. All the trash that I have read about Gurumayi is incongruent with all the experiences that I have had with her – serving on Her security staff on tours and at the ashram.

    Gurumayi has given me samadhi states after personal darshans. Only one other teacher has been able to do that in my lifetime. Gurumayi has given me access to the turiya state – silence and bliss.

    Now that She has not been physically accessible for years I do miss seeing her. Yes I gave a lot of money to the SYDA foundation and served at dozens of centers around the world.

    I believe that people don’t want to do the work that is required on themselves. It was easier around Gurumayi and where else are you going to be able to sit in an Intensive with a living siddha guru – and experience all that blue light?

    I have taken 100’s of intensives, and any contribution that I have made to the path has been returned to me tenfold. Why do people miss Gurumayi’s physical presence so much? Why do people want to be at the ashram?

    It is because they miss something precious that is no longer accessible. It was easy to experience bliss around Her. She would give you whatever you wanted until you realized that only happiness, health, joy, contentment, bliss – all the things that come from within are the goals of life.

    Make sense? Why else would all these people have offered their lives to this path? It is to gain something within that is already there.

    I can tell you this about Gurumayi – She isn’t financially rich. She is a renunciant / monk. Why would someone who lives in bliss care that much about money? I have given expensive gifts to Gurumayi when I first came to the ashram because I read that it is a practice to give something when you go to a Guru’s house (ashram) where she lives (ashram). Her energy permeates the place.

    The next day I saw that She had offered the gift that I had given to Her to the bookstore – on display.

    It was that way with Baba – you offered something to Him and He gave it back to you empowered with his divine energy. It was this way that I learned what the siddha gurus have to offer – awakening of divinity within us.

    Beyond that it is up to each person to make their own decisions in life. Health and happiness are high on the list of priorities. The best suggestion that one can make is to go where you are drawn and decide what you want. You will get it eventually – but decide well as you will have to live with your decisions. (i.e. take responsibility)

    Read Yoga of Discipline by Gurumayi – she is not a light-weight. How else could she have lived through all the negativity and karmas of the people around Her?

    What do you think Gurumayi’s seva has been all these years? Transmute the karmas of her devotees perhaps? An almost impossible task that only can be accomplished only by a true Master. Very rare.

    Make a contribution to Siddha Yoga and see if you are uplifted by the action of giving.

    Go elsewhere if you are not happy with the teachings. Good luck finding a true path with purity that leads to bliss and fulfillment within.

    If people were happy already they would not be seeking and complaining they would not need to search.

  15. Many types of people are attracted to organizations, both secular and spiritual, that offer programs that have made, and continue to make, a profound difference in the lives of thousands – even tens or hundreds of thousands. The “lucky” ones are those who go because they want to truly develop themselves, in positive ways, from the inside out. They are thoughtful about what they learn and experience, and they understand that true personal and spiritual development require that one take responsibility for consciously applying those learnings and experiences to the opportunities and challenges they face, moment to moment, in their lives. They know that the teachers and/or spiritual leaders from whom they gained their learnings or experiences are guides who have given them gifts that can be used to make a profound difference in their own lives and in the lives of others.

    There are also those who are looking for “the answer”, or for a place or “family” or community or “guru”, around which or whom they feel protected from the dangers and stress and cruelty of the “outside world”. They are not really interested in knowing themselves and freeing themselves from the scars and knots within that keep them from having a healthy and positive relationship with themselves and that outside world. Not all, but many need “something (or someone) to believe in.” They don’t use the gifts available from these organizations or spiritual leaders to be honest with themselves and take responsibility for the power they have over their own lives; instead, they use their idyllic fantasies as a story within which they pretend that they are happy and enlightened.

    To paraphrase a couple of earlier comments, if a person is sufficiently free from cynicism, and the fear of looking foolish, to accept the possibility that some organizations and spiritual leaders really do offer something that can have a beautifully profound impact on the lives of so many thousands of people, that person will notice those who blindly follow, but then look past that to see those whose lives are authentically enriched and expanded through their participation with those organizations and spiritual leaders.

    On the flip side, if a person cannot see beyond their cynicism and their inability, for fear of looking foolish or gullible, to take a risk on even *the chance* that there’s something out there that could really transform their life for the better, that person can only see all the participants, both the thoughtful and the fantasizers, as poor fools who, unlike the person judging them, weren’t smart enough to know better.

  16. I’m sorry, but this article is ludicrous. I met Gurumayi 20 years ago. I was not a seeker. I went with my mother. I was very skeptical, until I met her. With tears streaming down my face, and with a love I have never experienced since, she pulled me in her lap and I received shakitpat. Now, due to my disease of alcoholism, I never did much as far as spiritual practices go, until 2 years ago. That energy is alive! It never died. I’ve been to the ashram twice in the past week, and that’s it. I’ve had an experience that I can only describe as bizarre. I had a snakelike energy come up into my breast, and push out my nipple, and now I’m experiencing some uncomfortable symptons of detoxing. Yet, I’m also experiencing an incredible spiritual transformation. Your aticle is full of sarcasm, anger, and you’re wrong. Seriously wrong.

  17. I was a serious seeker from the age of 15 before I finally met Gurumayi at the age of 31 in India. I had ‘studied’ many traditions and been looking for a real spiritual master all this time and had almost given up on ever meeting a one of such caliber.

    After an incredible chain of events, I arrived in a yellow cab in front of the Ashram gates in India. When we met, she gave me Shaktipat directly. A beam of light left her eyes and entered mine, piercing my heart. What unfolded from this moment on is so vast, deep and profound and so full of mystical experience that it quite simply defies words. My life quite literally took a 180 degree turn – Everybody back in London who knew me was blown away by the lasting change so apparent in me. Life didn’t become easier but my relationship to God within much closer. Her teachings are sublime. I have become a much better human being and continue to perform my spiritual practices which never fail to center me in the heart. For that I will be forever grateful. It doesn’t matter now if I ever see her again or not, because I believe in her and Muktananda’s teaching to meditate on my own Self and to discover the truth that the Supreme Being dwells within the human heart. She has supercharged my spiritual path in a way that I can only call miraculous, and no one I had met before or since could demonstrate even a tiny fraction of the spiritual power I have experienced in Gurumayi’s presence.

  18. Dear all of you

    I’m a french-seaker from Quebec, so excuse my bad English. In life me meet a lot of people and some are very charismatic. They don’t have to be a guru for that. Gurumayi may be very powerfull and her presence may give you some experiences. BUT, the experiences are NOT FROM HER but from you because you take that time to meditate. Everything is inside you and just beleiving that she is a real guru may give you that experience because you abandone yourself. BUT PLEASE use your intuition, your senses to detect the fraud.
    I was once in an other king of yoga sect of kundalini yoga. I had so much wonderfull experiences that blinded me. They know the power of yoga and the mantra and they use it to manipulate you, to hook you in it. After those expericneces your ready to give everything – and they know it.

    After I discovered that, it took me one year to recover. I teach yoga and meditation and I teach to get your power back, don’t give it like that.

    There is no shortcut in spiritual developement. Just sit and meditate on your heart. You dont need a picture of a guru to do it, you need to be there, inside you.
    As I beleive in Karma, some of those gurus (false gurus) will received what they deserve.


  19. Negativity, negativity. It is interesting that the author of this article, Roger Friedman, doesn’t know Gurumayi either; however, he is full of big opinions and bases his article on things he has ‘heard’. The only thing I recomend for Roger is to actually experience Siddha Yoga and Gurumayi’s teachings, and then he would be able to write a more educated and accurate report, instead of the: “he said… she said..” that his article talks about. This is not my opinion. This is having the author of the article take more responsability for what he writes and invite him to see what Gurumayi is about. No one can escape from her cauticating presence, that of course can only happen if you deserve it. Otherwise you would only hear it from others, just as Roger Friedman has.

  20. Patricia Mora, THANK YOU for your wonderfully accurate to the point comments… I agree whole heartedly with all you said !!!

    For anyone reading this, please note, I have been meditating since age 19, and have visited many spiritual programs, teachers, masters, etc. After 15 years of meditation I came to visit siddha yoga, and met Gurumayi for the first time in 1991. I can say for certain, without a doubt, she is 100% authentic, humble and at the same time spiritually enlightened.

    My own experiences there were not simply my imagination, as I am a very grounded and logical person, and an excellent reader of character as well.

    Those on this board who wish to imagine worldly ideas as being the motivator of this movement, you are merely projecting your own lack of enlightened vision.

    One cannot see from the hiltop until one reaches the hiltop. Those who project their own less than positive imaginations are spewing untrue ideas that are the product of their own lack of enlightenment. How can you possibly judge another like that, as if you are the posessor of the ultimate truth?

    After 15 years of meditation, coming to visit there in 1991, and for the next few years, those years were the most divinely transformative and wonderous years of my entire life.

    Words cannot express all of it, one has to live it to know it, the proof is in the taste of the pudding, as it is said.

    It has nothing to do with living there for 10 years as one person said (Marta I believe). Unfortunately there will always be sour grapes among fresh fruit, that is all I can say about her comments.

    One has to find one’s own truth, and for me, I can honestly say I received the best, most divine, 100% pure and authentic spiritual experiences of my entire life, while visiting siddha yoga ashram throughout the 1990’s for spiritual retreats and meditation intensives.

    I feel divinely blessed to have had such time there, and I will always remember it for the rest of my life here. Meeting Gurumayi and receiving her generous and unselfish spiritual blessings was tangible and real. I thank God for having given me that precious and sacred time !!!

  21. I went to several speaking engagements of Gurmayi in New York in the mid-80’s. They were profound, rich spiritual experiences. It was not cult-like in the least. The events were free. No one tried to get you to sign-up for or do anything with the organization after the event. Of course, information and people were there to talk to if that was what you wanted, but you could go to the program and leave without anyone seeking you out to get you to join. Donations? Again, purely optional. I went to these events, got value and went on my merry way. At the time I had several friends who were more involved in the Siddha organization. They were and continue to be inspiring people with a variety of professions and levels of success in both their personal and private lives. What they shares in common, more than anything, is a higher level of inner peace than most of the other people I knew. These people (both women and men)got a lot of value from their practices, but never ever pressured me to go to any events with them. I went to a couple of events at the Siddha center, always got value, and no one ever tried to get me or make me do more. (Believe me I know what they feels like having gone to est events around that same time.) Siddha Yoga was not and is not a cult. You can come and go as you please. You can be as involved as you want. And many of the programs are free of charge or reasonablly priced so the information is more widely available — not so they can hook you. These many years hence I actually wish I had done a little more because I always felt more peaceful after my participation. But I was on a faster track back then, and didn’t choose (no was I pressured)to do any more than I did. I still meet Siddha “devotees” or others who just did a little of this and that with Siddha. These are typically lovely people–not a glassy eye in the bunch.

  22. I met Gurumayi in the 1980’s. I was not in search of a Guru or help of any kind. My friend was on her way to the ashram and the group had rented a car, but one of the passangers bailed. So she asked if I wanted to go to meditate. Well, my mother had partiipated in meditation when I was young and it gave her a lot of energy..so I decided to go for the weekend.

    I did not know anything about Gugumayi..and at the time I was not interested in knowing about a Guru. I just wanted to meditate but I did not know how.

    What was truly amazing to me is that the moment I entered the Ashram I remember feeling that “I was home”.

    I spent the next 12 years or so exploring my inner self. I had some issues along the way with some of the people involved in this path…but I believe that there are many people who are looking for something that they believe they are missing…but Siddah Yoga says that you won’t search for anything that you do not already possess. I have not been active in this path for more than 10 years or more…but the lessons I learned are about love…not hate.

    It is not a crime to be needy. In his world there is much hate, much envy, much greed. There is very little love and compassion. Gurumayi preached love and compassion in a way that was often new and surprising to people in the US because we are sheltered from the real world.

    Unfortunately…or maybe fortunately we in the US are being shown how other people of the world are experiencing the horrors of their life. This could be the horrors of our life in this time of evil.

    Gurumayi says that to overcome this evil we need to believe in GOD. Somehow, I do not think this is “cult” like. I think she is trying give a clue to the American people who enjoy the benefits of the hard labor of the Founders of this country that “In God we Trust” need to be our focus.

    Somehow, along the way we have given up GOD in favor of (?) I do not know what. Can you believe politicians want to remove “In God we Trust” from our currency?

    Just think what has happened to our school system once we were no longer allowed to “pray” or use God in our schools. Our Public School System has come under attack by the same Congress that took (GOD) and prayer out of our schools.

    Somehow, I belive that GOD needs to be in the hearts of all people no matter what their religious beliefs they embrace.

    This is what I learned from Gurumayi.

    Thank you for letting me tell my experience.


  23. I met Gurumayi in the 1980’s at the Shrine in kali. When the devotees sang, “On the Wings of Love” I had never experienced so much love directed toward one person and Gurumayi looked as if she could cry, but didn’t. the program was a briefing on what siddha yoga was all about. up until that time, i had only been exposed to 12 step programs, besides jehovah’s witnessess. after standing in a 3 hour line when the program was over, gurumayi nearly fell from her lotus position on the stage to touch my hand. my life has never been the same since. i never thought i would ever be able to meditate, but when given the mantra and how to breathe, the next thing i knew 30 minutes later was the twinkling on the bells. finally, my mind came to rest. i felt as if i was being held by my mother, tenderly, loving. i was SOLD. i wanted MORE. i wanted to follow this woman wherever she went. i considered going to india, i wish i had. i went to oakland and the catskills.she is a mystic, whatever a mystic it. i am grateful for the experience of syda because prior to this, i hated everything and everyone. the jw in me had me judging everyone. i still pracice yoga and meditation. and, like michael jackson and the eagles, sooner or later, gurumayi will surface. i shudder to think of the price but i know i will come up with it just to be in her presence it is something everyone should experience once in their lives. it will transform you and you will never, ever be the same again. the shakti opens you up, breaks your heart, rebuilds it, and you are a better person for the whole experience. i had a raging 20 year opiate addiction and i prayed to nitananda to remove it, and it was removed. i stopped smoking and became a vegetarian. alas, these things did not last, perhaps i am the type that needs the physical guru around me all the time. Counting the moments for my guru to make one last appearance, IAM Rastamamakali

  24. Gurumayi and siddha yoga helped me through a very dark place in my life. I spent a decent amount of time at the ashram in south falls burg, and my my opinion is that it was many of the devotees that ruined the whole experience for me. I spent one wknd doing seva in the kitchen and mostly everyone there were extremely uptight and stressed out as there was some special meal for the guru that weekend. I tried to lighten up the place, suggested chanting as we worked, etc. To no avail… And not to judge, but… Most of them were some pretty unhappy unfriendly upper east siders. However, I had the amazing pleasure of meeting gurumayi personally and being touched by her. It was electric. She is pure love.. I don’t think I want to read this Martas expose’. What a waste of time…. By the way, The movie version of eat pray love was not as bad as I had heard or had expected. It was gorgeous to watch and touched me deeply. Julia Roberts was completely mis-cast. That was the main problem. And Billy crudup??? Who did the casting on this movie???

  25. I saw the guru in the early 80’s,when she came to Chicago. It was an experience to remember. I will always be thankful to gurumayi. She blessed me and two of my friends who attended with baby boys all born 7 day s apart the following summer. I also learned to meditate and chant.

  26. just have to say after rereading marta’s comment above…. Marta wasn’t “drawn In” to SY. she desperately wanted in. she applied for residence at the manhattan ashram and was turned down, given the name of a devotee where she crashed for a couple of days until she got a clerical job and a small place of her own…. SHE made the early morning trips to the ashram to chant, SHE volunteered to do seva there. she wanted to be a member, a part of the fallsworth ashram. the need to belong came from her. even in her own writing there is nothing to indicate any form of pressure or manipulation. SHE fawned over a visiting bigwig to get noticed, (giving her massages?!) and when the bigwig pulled some strings and got her on at fallsworth she felt as if HER prayer had been answered.
    so as i said, the pathology is also in the followers, as well as gurumayi

  27. i don’t know why everyone is so into roberts bashing, she’s just an actress.

    the real story is not roberts or gurumayi but the devotees.. and precisely WHY they joined…i have come to think that many of them were pathological. i’ve read the guru looked good, and despite what marta szabo said above, she herself comes across in the book as an anorexic perfectionist who spends ten years offering seva but never tells the reader about one religious experience or any form of enlightenment she had during those years. she describes GM’s abuses of power without ever labeling them as such…writing in a style of conscious naivete… she has all the traits of the anorexic with masochistic tendencies, an abusive father, with suicide attempts both on her sister’s and her own part.

    what was the payoff for someone like szabo? …was it perfectionism (not perfection per se ) and perhaps the possibility to be better than and holier than GM herself? … to her credit she backs off when offered the chance to become part of the inner power circle, but when she realizes she is headed back to her old seva at registration (where her office always suspiciously smells like barf) and her next seva at darshan magazine turns into a bore, she begins writing obsessively and hooks up with a local writing guru (outside the ashram but with benefits.)

    she has never functioned independently as an adult… going from one cult to the next. i don’t think her story is much different than many who joined siddha yoga
    and there are many who have yet to separate from SY.

    for a time last year i was meditating with a small group of SY devotees. these people bowed down to a picture of GM (the only thing on the altar) with their foreheads to the floor, and the guru’s photo was everywhere in the house. it was hard to believe that it has been over 6 years since GM has appeared in public to address her followers. these remaining devotees are just waiting around for the other shoe to drop. they need someone to tell them it’s all over. or at least to give them the address to send the money.

  28. Well. Looking over the responses is interesting. I had no idea I was being pompous. I was trying to be meticulously honest. I assume I failed. What I experienced is ineffable; I can’t help that. I have merely the experience to rely upon. I will never doubt it. Moreover, it is catalogued in many Eastern texts. It is a phenomenon that is recognized by “enlightened beings” and scholars alike. I did not mean to offend. I simply wanted to tell what I perceive to be the Truth. And it comes in a variety of traditions. I might make the same observation about falling in love. How do you explain that to someone who has never had the experience? I did not mean to place myself in a rarified realm. I was simply trying to convey the phenomenal experience. Obviously I failed. And perhaps I used poor verbiage. Pax Christi.

  29. Patricia Mora Says: “To describe it is akin to explaining swimming to someone who has never seen water.”

    Many situations (a visit to an Indian ashram, attending a charismatic Christian revival, going to a Vegas hypnotist show, taking a walk in the redwoods, etc) can result in big, special, temporary experiences. How one uses the experience in their lives may differ. Though the experience itself is fun and interesting, wrapping the experience in a belief-system can lead to fuzzy-headed arrogance. It can easily lead someone to embrace ideas about their own specialness, and to make irritating pompous pronouncements like, “To describe it is akin to explaining swimming to someone who has never seen water.”

    Michael5108 says, “These types of coincidences happen to people that seek the company of mystics. Unexplainable coincidences.”

    Unexplainable coincidences happen to everyone. People who DON’T seek the company of mystics also experience amazing coincidences, at the rate of about one per month. The only difference is that people who seek the company of mystics are more likely to take those common coincidences and morph them into fuzzy-headed belief-systems.

  30. I have a theory about why people who have met Gurumayi, and other “masters”, have such very different experiences.

    I believe that these Masters have the ability to manipulate the reality field around them to produce genuine profound experiences in their audience. I believe that this is a talent and/or something they have learned to do. This does not make the Master a good, or a bad person. Simply a person who has this talent. Just like an actor who can capture and hold an audience spellbound, does not make the actor a good or a bad person. Perhaps in a different kind of world we would all learn to develop the talent to manupulate the reality field around us.

    So, a person has a genuine profound mystical experience. What then? I feel that the negativity comes in when the person who has just had this empowering experience is encouraged to disempower themselves by worshipping, or surrendering to, the guru. Possibly the guru then sucks up all this worshipful energy in order to blast it onto the next group of potential disciples. Kind of like a spiritual Ponzi scheme.

    So I believe that the experiences are genuine. The negativity comes in not from the experience, but from the intention behind the producing of this experience. When follower is encouraged to think of the guru not as a flawed human being, but as a being to be worshipped, idolized, and surrendered to, what was supposed to be and empowering experience becomes a disempowering one. Perhaps this is why people who live in ashrams or travel with the guru are often reported to be not very happy or “evolved”. Maybe that is why the short-term “tourist” experience is better.

    As Ms. Szabo has said, the experience is supposed to free you.

  31. On additional point regarding the book Eat, Pray, Love. I was on a plane from JFK to Tahiti for a two week stay on the island of Bora Bora. My spouse turned to me as we were toasting each other and said, “If you could see anyone on Bora Bora that we know who would it be? I instantly said “Gurumayi”. We laughed and drank our champagne.

    As I sat back in first class in luxury, I opened the book Eat, Pray, Love. I knew nothing about the content. When I arrived at the section about an ashram in India, I bolted up in my seat on the airplane and turned to my spouse and said, I think Gurumayi is a part of this amazing vacation. They read the “Pray” section and cried.

    To us, a pair of scum sucking yuppie pigs, Gurumayi was coming to Bora Bora in the form of Elizabeth Gilberts book.

    These types of coincideneces happen to people that seek the company of mystics. Unexplainable coincidences.

    By the way….. I call myself a scum sucking yuppie pig because that tends to be the feedback I receive when I post anything about my positive experiences with Gurumayi. Sorry to not have had a bad experience. She is a mystic to me.

    I still chant the mantras she taught. They are very powerful and soothing to my mind and heart.

    Please do not negate that people like me exist and that we limited our exposure to only the beneficial things Siddha Yoga and Gurumayi offered. We walked away with something wonderful.


  32. I understand both sides of the on going debate. Be practical and forget that magic and mystics exist. Be sensible and understand the damage that a charlatan can cause.

    Ok. I understand this and yet I loved Siddha Yoga. Seriously loved the South Fallsburg ashram. I never stayed for longer than a weekend. I always walked away feeling happy with life and that divinity in all human beings is real.

    One darshan with Gurumayi cured a family member of a very serious addiction. They continue to say this today.

    I have read Marta’s memoir and love her style of writing. I however benefited from Siddha Yoga and my contact with Gurumayi. I have nothing bad to say about Gurumayi.

    I will say that I was cautious at the ashram. Many of the devotees seemed to throw their lives to the wind and expect Gurumayi to save, heal, support them in some way. I came from a middle class European family that simply would not allow me to give up my life and live in an ashram. I loved my parents very much and therefore only experienced Siddha yoga from a distance.

    I have been very fortunate in life and now travel the world staying in many amazing five star hotels and resorts. I have yet to find one property that had the same peace and tranquility that I experienced with Gurumayi and her swamis in South Fallsburg. It was an unexplainable experience.

    Every family member and friend that I introduced to Gurumayi and Siddha Yoga enjoyed the experience.

    I am so sorry to hear that people did not have a good experience. I can only in fairness state the above for readers that wonder if modern mystics exist. I believe they do and that Gurumayi is one of them.

    I also believe that it is impossible to judge other people and their motives. Anyone could judge me as a yuppie scum sucking idiot. I say to that ……why? How do you really honestly know why anyone does what they do?

    I would love for someone to honestly tell me why Gurumayi does what she does? Nothing on the internet, in a book, rumor, gossip, etc. has ever been able to really negate my personal experience of Siddha Yoga and Gurumayi. Sorry guys ….. I am not trying to stir the pot. I respect Marta and her memoir …… really I do. I just have to say that I had a good experience and nothing to date has proven that Gurumayi is not a modern mystic.


  33. I spent ten years at the Oakland and Catskills ashram. I left for poor reasons and regret it very much. The experience before, during, and after changed me permanently, cured my alcoholism, removed my anger from a dysfunctional upbringing and has brought me contentment. Siddha Yoga continues to transform me on a daily basis.

    I don’t understand all this negativity but Siddha Yoga is no cult and Gurumayi is an amazing channel for God.

    There are many people who come into the presence of a spiritual being who simply are not ready and they may leave feeling defrauded, unable to understand what is going on.

    You cannot judge a true Guru by their actions. They are constantly removing bad Karma and working it out for the devotee. You judge them by your inner transformation.

    Marta Szabo appears to be one of those people who are not ready and cannot understand or benefit from the Guru’s presence.

  34. I agree with Marta. Often cult, or even pop figures are very charasmatic, and people report an electrifying experience in their presence. It means nothing other than the fact that they are charasmatic. Girls swoon over Justin Bieber, due to their own desires and expectations about what he is like. It’s the same with these charlatan gurus, etc.

  35. I left Eat, Pray, Love thinking how difficult it is for movies to capture the mystical realm which involves inner transformation and spirituality. Liz Gilbert did a good job of this in her book. In my experience the peace that Gurumayi Chidvilasananda conveys IS life changing and indescribable – a vast inner space of of love. I spent many years in Siddha Yoga ashrams, learning how to go deeper into this experience. I am immensely grateful for it! In an ashram, as in life, what you get depends upon your intention and focus. If your intention is to unfold the love in your life, the teachings of Siddha Yoga bring this to many. If your intention is to make money by writing an expose, and to gather ill-wishers around you, then you have a life with negativity at its core. That’s sad – but a clear example of intention when certain media and a few people have chosen to focus on trumped up untruths that sell – rather than the sublime.

  36. Marta, I shall order your book forthwith. I lost my magical-thinking when I worked for Whole Life Expo in the 90s. It was a new age dog and pony show and I thought that The Universe™ had given me the perfect job. My position allowed me to meet all my metaphysical heroes. Needless to say, they were mostly venal, egotistical, avaricious, delusional, deceptive or just plain greedy. That experience scraped the last barnacle of magical-thinking off my hull and gave me the “liberation” I always thought they would give me . . . just not the way I expected it to happen. And as for being blown into inner space Ms. Morris, you did that yourself. I’ve done it many times in my life. It still happens to me, only now its usually watching the children in my life explore the life in a patch of garden or looking at the latest Hubble telescope photos. To each their own . . .

  37. There goes Big Christian machine… Every other religion, philosophy is a cult or an Al Queda offshoot. I wonder how you guys would react if she had converted to born again “cult” and taken Pat Robertson as her guru.

  38. Regarding Patricia’s comments about having profound experiences in Gurumayi’s presence — yes, many people report such things. Certainly, during my years in her ashrams I heard many stories. However, I also saw people have very powerful “spiritual” experiences in the presence of complete charlatans. Gurumayi is also a complete charlatan. To point to people’s so-called spiritual experiences taking place in her presence as proof of her godliness simply does not hold water. These types of experiences happen under a variety of circumstances. Certainly, in GM’s ashrams the stage was heavily set for such things to happen. No biggie. Any spiritual professional can guarantee that there will be some people in the audience who will have some kind of out-of-body or whatever experience.

  39. Self-absorbed, shallow, narcissistic people like Julia Roberts tend to do well in these shmarmy, shmaltzy, BS guru-ish, Hindu-ish, Buddhism-ish types of groups because the leaders of those groups know the way to separate these morons from their cash is to tell them how fabulous and enlightened they are 24/7. Just play to people like Oprah’s, like Roberts’ narcissim, feed their egos, and you can become a very rich person indeed — kinda like Bernie Madoff — mail them a piece of paper every month telling them they’re earning ridiculously unreal amounts of money via their “investments”, and they’ll blindly, mindlessly follow along.

    Whatever. People like Roberts and Oprah deserve what they get — an endless treadmill of a life, always searching for the next big thing that will bring them “happiness”, yet always feeling emptier and emptier.

    Try God, folks. God won’t make it easy, God won’t always tell you what you want to hear, but God is real and God won’t charge you a dime…

    Anyways, when ejits like Roberts say they’re now into Hinduism (a relgion, or philosophy, or default collection of philosophies/religions/superstitions, whatever), they usually just mean they like the jewelry. Hinduism has a history of revolting and heinous human rights violations against women. That Julia Roberts — so enlightened, eh?

  40. If anyone would like to read what it’s really like behind the scenes at Siddha Yoga, you can read my book, The Guru Looked Good, which describes my more than 10 years on staff with Gurumayi. I tell the whole story: how I got drawn in, what it was like on the inside, what it was like to be one of the guru’s personal assistants, and how I found my out of the maze. Come visit my blog, The-Guru-Looked-Good.blogspot.com for more information — and congrats to Roger for helping to point out that the emperor has no clothes.

  41. Say what you will, I met Gurumayi, then Swami Chidvilasananda, for a scant thirty seconds in 1985 and I was blown so fiercely into “inner space” that I’ll never forget it. To describe it is akin to explaining swimming to someone who has never seen water. I never joined any cult and it certainly was not a harmful experience. It was vast and deep and, if anything, it made me understand my own Western tradition better. I read the information in the article and the comments. They aren’t coming from a very “evolved” sensibility. I was there in the eighties. It was a trip I made unwittingly; it was a “lark” and it may well be the single most stellar event in my life. [And there have been many.] I suggest I know the kind of experience Ms. Gilbert had – and it is lovely, numinous and precisely what you can read about in the great Eastern texts. It’s simply quite another thing to experience it. — Pax

  42. I remember The New Yorker article from 1994 about this cult very well, in fact, I saved the issue and re-read the article many times. I blame OPRAH once again, who Julia Roberts got the book from, for her REPEATED whitewashing of CULTS like she did THE SECRET, one of whose “teachers” James Ray, is now indicted in the deaths of several people at one of his Sweat Lodge retreats in Arizona last year.

  43. I repeat, I am sick to death of people like this. I repeat, if she thinks she will get a nickel out of Julia Roberts, she will wait a long time. Roberts is far too busy telling people’ that is none of your business,’ she has not developed her craft, her acting is still full of 1980’s mannerisms, give me Meryl or Emma Thompson ANYDAY. Roberts in a film about a woman running around the world trying to find herself….puuuuuuleeeeease, better to donate the price of the ticket to charity. Mary Maude Henry

  44. Whoever said Julia Roberts was a nice girl? Her last few films were absolute trash. She looked like a house frau who has lost her figure, her looks, her smile, and her sex appeal. Duplicity was such garbage that ended on a note of…..failure, ineptitude, and bitterness. The book Eat Cake or Death and Pray, was such a pathetic joke. Gilbert leaves a dull spouse or her spouse is doing cartwheels when dumbbell wife goes to India to catch something or find herself, whichever is less lethal. Her adventures smack of the New Age Airhead reborn as the Ugly American. She learns nothing from the Con Artist Gurus who run a successful empire of find yourself in the filthy overpopulated nations who can’t feed the people but are so enlightened that it is worthing blowing every buck you have while trashing your career. She doesn’t realize that the sixties are over and only the pathetic make this pilgrimmage. When she meets the sexy older guy, she learns how to behave like an adult. If only she could get her money back, but what’s the point since her brain is floating with the turds of the Ganges.

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