Idea Viruses

To quote one former 3HO member, “We lacked the immune system for any of this.” Many in 3HO were infected with an idea virus by ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’ by Paramahansa Yogananda. The book is an introduction to the methods of attaining God-realization and to the spiritual wisdom of the East. It was popular in the 1960s and for many in the West, it was their first exposure to the idea of Guru-Chela, or the spiritual teacher-student, relationship. It has sold millions of copies and impacted the lives of the famous (George Harrison, Elvis Presley, Muriel Hemingway) and the not-so-famous. The book is often cited as an inspiration by people who spent time in 3HO.

This idea was, that a person seeking spiritual development in life would meet a Guru, a spiritual teacher, and that it became incredibly important for their spiritual development and progress not to betray that teacher and to follow their every instruction.

“The yoga scholar Andrea Jain cites what Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad wrote in their 1994 book The Guru Papers, that the guru-disciple relationship is dangerous because it embodies “the seductions, predictable patterns, and corruptions contained in any essentially authoritarian form”.

Source: Wikipedia – Sexual abuse by yoga gurus

Kundalini Yoga creator, Yogi Bhajan, seized on this concept of the Guru-Student relationship and added his own twists. He predicted that as a great spiritual teacher, he would be betrayed and that those betraying him would end up reliving their lives as cockroaches and worms. If one left the group, they would lose any benefit of their practice and end up as a prostitute or drug dealer. It was Bhajan’s own version of the hellfire and damnation employed by Christian groups to keep their followers in line. Echoing the immune system, virus metaphor, it was his own brilliant inoculation against any criticism. Anyone who pointed out discrepancies in his behaviour in relation to his teachings was in ‘Shakti Pat’, seized by their own spiritual ego and that person could no longer be trusted by any of the true believers. This idea has been very effective in insulating Yogi Bhajan and his reputation to this day, especially with some of his remaining diehard followers. 

In the end, Bhajan, who died in 2004 facing allegations of serial sexual abuse, fraud and criminal activity, was probably as bogus as the Autobiography of a Yogi. The book has been criticized:

Srinivas Aravamudan has described its contents as “miracle-infested territory” whose “single most memorable feature … is a repetitive insistence on collocating the miraculous and the quotidian. … The autobiography is an eclectic directory of sorts that might be dubbed a hitchhiker’s guide to the paranormal galaxy”. Aravamudan notes the “aggressive marketing” of the Yogoda Satsang and Self-Realization Fellowship, that Yogananda himself “worked the mass media” and used a technique described as “Guru English”. He notes that Yogananda was the collator of the testimonials that purport to validate the miracles described, which appear at a rate of around one per page.

Despite Yogananda’s disciples keeping up his legacy and a squeaky clean Wikipedia entry, he may have been just as corrupt as Bhajan. We may never know, but the damage had already been done. The idea virus about guru-student relations was launched in the West.

Be Here Now was another book found on many bookshelves of a certain generation.

P.S. At least one commenter to this post has mentioned ‘Be Here Now‘ by Baba Ram Das (previously known as Dr. Richard Alpert, Ph.D., an associate of Timothy Leary and co-researcher in psychedelic drugs) as an equally influential and nefarious text. According to Wikipedia, “In addition to introducing its title phrase into common use, Be Here Now has influenced numerous other writers and yoga practitioners, including the industrialist Steve Jobs, the self-help author Wayne Dyer, and the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti.” The author’s guru in the book turns out to have been a fellow named Neem Karoli Baba, also known as “Maharaj-ji” who has also been accused of sleeping with his students. “Even in the 1960s and 1970s there were rumors about Neem Karoli Baba’s distinctive and sometimes sexual relationships with women. Ram Dass introduces the special favor his guru showed to women by positioning Neem Karoli Baba as emblematic of Krishna, who in Hindu myths approached the gopīs (cowherdesses) as a child, playmate, and lover…  Sexual relations with the guru were to be read as a part of their spiritual practice, “catalysts to catapult them to God.” Yeah, whatever you say dude. Another one bites the dust.

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