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While We Still Have Time

In spite of the grimness of the times in which we live, there is still hope. If you feel, like I do, that the usual discourse about matters of critical concern tends to be superficial, misguided, and false, then you might find some solace and inspiration here. I will try to offer insight and a holistic perspective on events and issues, and hopefully serve as a catalyst for raising the level of dialogue on this planet.

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Location: Madison, Wisconsin, United States

I was born in 1945, shortly before atom bombs were dropped on Japan. I served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971. I earned master's degrees in Economics and Educational Psychology, and certificates in Web Page Design and as a Teacher of English as a Second Language. I followed an Indian guru for eight years, which immersed me in meditative practices and an attitude of reaching a higher level of being. A blog post listing the meditative practices I have pursued can be seen here.

Friday, June 02, 2006

I love a parade

Douglas MacArthur in his limousineIn my previous post I wrote about being a lifelong rebel, and gave some examples, and in "Army stories," I wrote about experiences I had working for and interactions with Army generals. What I left out in both those stories was my first encounter with an Army general, and how it fit my lifetime pattern.

I didn't intend to do anything rebellious. It was April, 1951. Douglas MacArthur, General of the Army (a rare five star general), had just been fired by President Harry S Truman (No period after the S - Truman insisted his middle name was S) for insubordination - actually MacArthur was attempting a coup d'état - and he went on a tour of the country, where huge ticker-tape parades were held for him. (A good history of the situation can be seen here.)

On April 26, MacArthur's tour brought him to Chicago, my sweet home. A huge parade was held for him, with the crowd estimated at between 3 and 4 million people, the largest in American history. I went to the parade with my mother and sister, an aunt, and probably some cousins. We had no idea what was going on, except "MacArthur" was coming.

I was not quite six years old at the time, and probably didn't even know what a parade was. According to my aunt, we were positioned at the University of Chicago, which is on the southeast side of Chicago, in a neighborhood called Hyde Park. We waited for a while, and then I noticed a lot of commotion up the street. An open-air car was coming up the street, and hordes of people were cheering wildly and throwing things at it. It was just paper confetti, but I didn't know that. It looked to me like you were supposed to throw things at the car, but I didn't have anything to throw.

Ever the resourceful one, I saw that there was a lot of gravel along the curb gutter, and figured that must have been what everyone was throwing. It looked like great fun, so I grabbed a couple of handfuls, and called to my sister to do the same. As MacArthur rode by we let heave, picked up more handfuls, and let heave again. It indeed was great fun.

There were police on motorcycles alongside the motorcade, and I remember one of them yelling, "Hey, you kids!" But it was too late. MacArthur was gone, and we had had our fun.

The only people who remember this fun episode are my sister and me. My aunt remembers taking us there, but she doesn't remember the gravel part. My mother probably remembered, but she's not around anymore to reminisce. As the years passed, and I found out more about what the parade was about, and why MacArthur was fired, this memory has become one my my fondest childhood recollections. I'm sure MacArthur remembered it too, but perhaps not so fondly.

One of the most positive aspects of this memory is what it has to say about rebellion. I never set out to be a rebel. It just came my way. Every "rebellious" act that I can remember was something I thought was the normal or right thing to do. It just happened that what I perceived as the normal or right thing was not always in conformity with conventional wisdom.

This was my First Holy Communion, at Blessed Sacrament School, Lincoln, Nebraska, April, 1953A good example is my Catholic upbringing. I took it seriously, and even thought of becoming a priest. Actually, it was my brother who was pursuing the idea, and I got inspired. A "Maryknoll" priest even came to our house to talk to him, and I sat in on the conversation. The Maryknoll order is an organization of missionaries, and they go to poor countries around the world to convert and provide aid. (Famously, two Maryknoll nuns, a nun of the Ursuline order, and a lay associate were raped and murdered by a U.S. sponsored death squad in "El Salvador" in 1980.) I think my brother was about ten years old, and I was eight. Eight years old, and getting hustled to be a priest. At least it was by a Maryknoll. He was a lot more decent than almost all the other priests who crossed my path over the years.

Anyone Irish here?Anyway, I lasted in Catholicism through graduation from a Catholic college. Since that time, because of a number of influences, not the least of which was the Beatles, I looked East. I have been pursuing the contemplative and meditative arts of the various forms of Yoga, Buddhism, Taoism, and related disciplines like Tai Chi since the early 70s.

This is me with my 7th grade teacher at the Museum of Science and Industry in <br />Chicago, in March or so of 1958. She was from the “order” known as the Congregation de Notre Dame, based in Montreal. They were a mean bunch. It was a happy day for my teacher, getting out of the convent. This picture shows her at her best.
I didn't "rebel" against Catholicism. It just didn't resonate with me as a meaningful spiritual path (I should mention that it is and has been a meaningful spiritual path for millions of people for centuries. It just wasn't for me.). There wasn't much about the Church liturgy that I found appealing, and over many years of Catholic schooling,I found the clergy to be deeply flawed human beings. Looking back on it, I have to say that only one priest whom I knew was of the child molester sort, and we didn't have any conception of such a thing then. He was a violent, alcohol abusing, frustrated being who hit boys with closed fists, and would grab guys by the penis. We just thought he was weird and dangerous, and avoided him. Thankfully, he never grabbed or hit me, but did hurl a couple of insults my way. He was the dean of boys at my high school until wealthy parents of punched sons had him removed. He was farmed-out to the library, but still got in an occasional punch. I saw him punch a guy in the nose for coming in after the bell, made him bleed all over a fresh white shirt. "Father" James Beatty, CSV, was his name, as lousy a priest as could be, eventually defrocked for getting married. Whoever would marry him will remain one of those unanswerable mysteries. I was kind of surprised that he married a woman, because he always had a "special student" who would spend a lot of time with him in his "office" in the back of the library, behind the stacks where no one was allowed to go. The special friend was never a girl.

Then there was the Dominican when I was in college who had the hots for our middle linebacker - a chiseled, strikingly handsome, really decent guy (not gay either). He got a tryout with the Denver Broncos after graduating, but it was too much even for him. The last time I saw him he was a Marine lieutenant, headed for Vietnam to be an artillery forward observer. One comical night there was a dance party out on the tennis courts, our linebacker had too much to drink, and the Dominican tried to take him back to the dorm to get him into the shower. It was textbook, like something out of Monty Python, the lisping Dominican in his long white robe complete with hood and cincture, the football player looking like an enraged god. He had been injured in spring practice, and had one arm in a sling.

The number one factor that drove me away from Catholicism, though, was its authoritarian nature. The priestly hierarchy was given dictatorial power over the spiritual life of the faithful, and as Acton's dictum has proven true time and again, this kind of power corrupts absolutely. What the Church authority amounts to is the hierarchy standing as the gatekeeper - the intermediary between you and God, the rule-maker, the granter of approval or disapproval. In grade school we were told not to associate with kids who went to public schools. They even had a name for them - the creative genius moniker "publics."

"Confession" is probably the pinnacle of authoritarian surreality. My best friend from high school was a star athlete until he discovered girls. A key player in the 1958 Little League World Series finals, he got kicked off the high school team for sitting in the bleachers with girls between innings. We used to love to go to confession just to hear him get yelled at. "You're going straight to hell," and "You did what?" would be followed by "Say 10 'Our Fathers' and 10 'Hail Marys,' and get out of here!" He would come out all red-faced, embarrassed and angry, swearing never to go to confession again. When he found out how much we enjoyed it, it became performance art, and he always provided top-level entertainment. It was the only reason we went to Confession.

I eventually found a path that I thought was real, called Siddha Yoga, or SYDA. It was organized by devotees of Swami Muktananda of Ganeshpuri in the Maharashtra state of India (The name Muktananda is pronounced as if with an umlaut, Müktananda. It is a combination of the sanskrit words "mukti" - freedom or liberation, and "ananda" - bliss. The bliss of liberation. Indian swamis - renunciate holy men - tend to take on a name that has the suffix "ananda."). I actually read about Muktananda in Time Magazine, in an article in the July 26, 1976 issue. It described how he could awaken a person's "Kündalini" energy, giving a dramatic jump-start to one's path to enlightenment. I had already been practicing a method of Kundalini Yoga that involved strenuous postures and exercises, and figured having a guru do it for me would save a lot of effort and time (Siddha Yoga was self-described as the "easy path"). I stayed with it for eight years.

Cover of the Illustrated Weekly of India, March 16, 1986Muktananda died in 1982, and by then I was getting tired and uneasy about my involvement with SYDA. "Baba" bequeathed his "lineage" to a brother and sister, Subash and Malti Shetty, to whom he gave the names Nityananda and Chidvilasananda. The sister eventually ousted her brother, and now has total control over the organization. Her followers call her "Gurumayi."

There is a website dedicated to exposing the scandals that have rocked the Siddha Yoga foundation since Muktananda's death, Leaving Siddha Yoga. It chroncles the sexual abuse, violence, threats, and other cultish behavior alleged about Muktananda, his managers, and his successors. It's worth a read. Other information about Siddha Yoga and cults in general can be found here, here, here, and here.

This article is from People Magazine, around the spring of 1977There's even a link there to a picture of notorious manager/abuser/child seducer George Afif at the 2000 Academy Awards ceremony with Angelina Jolie. This was no gaggle of hippies out in the woods. The rich and famous were drawn to Siddha Yoga, including such Hollywood luminaries as Olivia Hussey (from whom I relish the dirty looks she gave me - they were daggers), Marsha Mason, John Denver, Roberta Flack, Raúl Juliá (whom I had lunch with one day, by accident, a great guy), Diana Ross, and then-senator Claiborne Pell. I wrote about my acquaintance with former pro football bad boy Joe Don Looney in "Altered states." After I left other celebrities reportedly entered the picture, including Meg Ryan, Isabella Rossellini, Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson, and Phylicia Rashad.

I was pretty naive and unaware of what was going on at the higher levels, but what went on around me was enough to drive me away. Mostly it had to do with power - getting it, keeping it, expanding it, and using it to dominate and control other people. Money and sex of course went hand-in-hand with power, and they all combined for a pretty dysfunctional system.

One of the silly trends that swept the staff of the Siddha organization was the rapid spread of get-rich-quick schemes. Every so often a chain-letter would surface, with the accompanying guarantees of limitless wealth. People were selling each other vitamins, watches, Indian jewelry, clothing, books, and just about anything they could pick up on excursions to New York City. Those who had enough money invested in gold and in the stock market. The goal was to be able to travel with Muktananda without having to work outside the ashrams, and the frenzy over easy money extended to smuggling goods into India when "The Tour" went there. One of the ashram higher-ups got caught smuggling radios and tape recorders, but apparently some discreet bribery kept her out of the hoosegow.

The royal coupleMost of my experience with Siddha Yoga was while living in the SYDA ashram in Ann Arbor, Michigan, headed by the also notorious Shankar and his then-wife, the equally notorious Girija, nee Joanne Moran, sort of from Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Shankar, nee Russell Kruckman, is a Brooklyn-born "Jew" who taught Shakespeare at Indiana University-Gary, of all places. He is now known as Shankarananda, and has his own following in Australia. If you are in Australia and are tempted to join the "Swamiji" sphere of influence, I have just two words of warning: stay away.

This is the South Fallsburg ashram as it looked in 1982. It is the former Gilbert's Hotel.The Siddha Yoga ashram in Ganeshpuri, Maharashtra, India. It is now known as Gurudev Siddha Peeth.I also lived in other ashrams - Houston, Honolulu, India - and was on staff as a plumber and electrician at the main SY center in South Fallsburg, New York for two years, for part of 1979 and 1980, and from 1981 to 1983. The Fallsburg ashram was an old Borscht Belt hotel that required a lot of renovation. (Now SYDA owns several other hotels in the area.)

Ann Arbor, 1977. I'm the third one from the right on the bottom row.In Ann Arbor I was considered a heretic, or rebellious, or disloyal, because I would move out if they messed with me, which they did as a matter of course. I would stay away for months at a time, but came back, partly because of the cheap rent and low-cost meals (total $185/month, hard to pass up), but mostly for the "programs," which consisted of several chanting and meditation sessions. I loved chanting Sanskrit mantras, and the accompanying Indian musical instruments made it exotic and sometimes ecstatic. Usually the accompaniment consisted of someone playing a harmonium - a small, piano/organ-like instrument, amplified by a bellows, tambouras - 4-stringed drone instruments that look similar to the sitar, and drums - either tablas or a horizontal drum known as the mridangam.

When I was a scholar of Siddha YogaAgain, I didn't set out to rebel. I responded to the situation that I saw in front of me. I gained tremendously from the Siddha Yoga experience, and don't have the bitter memories that so many others have. My lucky advantage, as it turned out, was that I didn't seek to be in a position of power. I took Muktananda at his word, that the only thing that mattered was one's connection with one's inner Self, also known as the Atman, and that enlightenment, or self-realization was the goal of all spiritual practice. There were a couple of brief times when I was being groomed for power, but my natural irreverence for things pretentious and my independence made these very short interludes.

In order to have "power," you have to be subservient to someone. You gotta to serve somebody, as Dylan put it. I don't have a problem in being of service to humanity, but personal subservience doesn't come easy. There have been times when I would have done anything for what I perceived to be great leaders, but they have been few, and the "leaders" usually ended up being failed human beings. For a perfect example, my high school coaches. Pure crap. Ego-centered, semi-competent, ignored everyone but their favored few, played mostly weak teams, tended to lose the big games. My dad used to make up funny pronunciations of their names, which I told everyone, to their great delight. I would have sat the bench in football anyway - too small, but in track, those same coaches could have been a great help and inspiration. I ran the mile under five minutes as a freshman, and got steadily worse every year afterwards. I coulda been a contende(r).

On the "Leaving Siddha Yoga" site there is a link to an essay that I highly recommend. It covers the sinister nature of power-grabbing and abuse as well as anything I have ever seen. And it is especially pertinent to what is going on in the world today, particularly in that viper-pit of consciousness, Washington, District of Columbia, United States of America.

Swami Muktananda warned many times about seeking the powers that sometimes came with spiritual practice. What in the West is called "Black magic," can be as simple as being very charismatic to being able to control other people, to make objects appear and disappear, to being able to see the future or over long distances, and even to change the weather. The misuse of such powers carries great consequences, known as Karma. From my own experience I can't say that Muktananda abused whatever powers he had, but I couldn't help seeing a lot of circumstantial evidence, material for another day. What I can say is that he was the most charismatic, personally powerful person I have ever seen anywhere, more so than any movie star or politician on the planet. If you were within about six feet from him, you got blasted with an energy that was overpowering, and intoxicating in a manner that defies comparison. I have no regret for thinking he was the equivalent of Jesus, the Buddha, Krishna, Mohammed, and any other revered saint.

Nowadays I take the Van Morrison approach: enlightenment, don't know what it is. I figure I'll know it when I get there. It's nice to have examples, and the Dalai Lama and Geshe Sopa are pretty good examples for me, but the main thing is to practice, to meditate, to be a good person. Enlightenment will come in its own time. If it doesn't, so what? As the Zen teachers say, live in the present moment.

What is pertinent in all this for the world predicament - Can I have an Amen for the pertinence to the predicament? - is that the past success of the Bush crime family - you had to know I would come around to that - and its future success, depend on what amounts to low-level psychic powers - siddhis, in the yogic terminology. Nothing profound, just a combination of clever lying techniques, powers of persuasion, playing to people's weaknesses and fears, and also playing to people's avarice and greed in ways that make them feel important, "better" than other people, righteous, and powerful. As a perfect example of how easy it is to fool people in this country, the "Republicans" are trotting out their time-honored campaigns to ban flag burning, gay marriage and abortion, all in combination with cutting taxes (even though the tax-cutting is for the super-wealthy).

You can see the low level spiritual power at work with charlatans like Ralph Reed, Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell. Bush basically hitched a ride on their corrupt coattails, borrowing Christian "credibility" from their buildup of years of fakery. People in this country don't have much awareness of either the dangers of spiritual pursuit or the power that can be foisted on the unaware and vulnerable.

We are getting a big lesson. If effectively half the country could have fallen for the flim-flammery of one George W. Bush, then we are in deeper peril as a nation than most of us can comprehend.

We are, of course, in the winding-down phase of the scam, the swindle, the con-game that is the Bush "Administration." What the servile news media refer to as "controversial policies" aren't policies at all. They are criminal schemes. The Iraq war isn't a "policy" initiative. It is a criminal operation. The plan to bomb Iran isn't a "policy." It is a criminal scheme. Calling these criminal operations "policies" is only semantic spin used to "sanitize" crimes against humanity. Mesmerized by their own proximity to "power," denizens of the news media internalize the deceit in order to maintain their positions. It's the exact same thing I observed for years in Siddha Yoga.

Making millions of children happySo what is called for is something to break the spell. How about a parade? How about a lot of parades? Ticker-tape parades all over the country. Except with some minor variations. We need parades of generals, just like Douglas MacArthur, in open-air limousines: Tommy Franks, Ricardo Sanchez, Geoffrey Miller, Michael Hayden, William Boykin, and of course our torture-mongering Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. And let's not forget Colin Powell. The spectators, millions everywhere, would all be children, nine years old and under, though the cutoff could be flexible. And the ticker-tape would be gravel. Lots of gravel. Big bins of gravel would be available for the children to throw. I can tell you from experience that they will have the time of their lives.

And then maybe we can start doing what needs to be done.

Note: For some background on the Ishaqi massacre, click here.

To read more about my involvement in the Siddha Yoga organization, click here.

Here's a song clip to enhance the reading experience.

Here's another. This is the Blues Brothers version. The best version I ever heard was Eddie Clearwater, at the DeKalb Corn Fest in 1986, of all places. Of course, it helped that it was live, in person.

Here's yet another.

And this.

Update, January 15, 2015: There was some negative feedback to this post, especially to this: "If you are in Australia and are tempted to join the "Swamiji" sphere of influence, I have just two words of warning: stay away. " Through the grapevine I was told Shankarananda wanted to engage in dialogue with me. I declined. I have my limits. As it turns out, a number of people who should have stayed away, didn't.


Blogger Stuart said...

Hi, John. I enjoyed reading your "I love a parade" memories about Siddha Yoga. I was with SYDA (Baba's 3rd World Tour, then Ganeshpuri) around 1979-1984. See my page http://home.comcast.net/~sresnick2/socalled.htm

I was around 18 when first exposed to SYDA. I think that emerging from childhood, I had little idea of what life could be about, other than getting good things, feeling, situations, and relationships for myself. The very idea that the most important thing could be how I keep my mind in this moment... that was a worthwhile revelation.

Eventually, I realized that Muktananda had offered me that revelation, and covered it with a mountain of nonsense. Such as his supposed "higher" state, and delusions about magical invisible energy ("shakti"). Turns out that none of that mumbo jumbo is necessary.

I never went to Ann Arbor, but I was friends with Kathy Bindu Hurley who spent much time there. I was also friendly with Shankaranda on the Tour and in India, since we were both chess players. Even visited him a couple of times when he was with post-SYDA Nityananda (before he established himself in Australia).

Shanks has always been friendly with me. I wonder about his current set-up, where I believe he does the whole "shaktipat" thing a la Baba. When I talked to him 20+ years ago, he seemed to understand that such things were all made by people's thinking.

Stuart Resnick

12/20/2006 11:21 AM  
Blogger Marcus said...

Hi, John. You have written, in one of your entries: 'If you are in Australia and are tempted to join the "Swamiji" sphere of influence, I have just two words of warning: stay away.' Why do you think people should 'stay away' from 'the "Swamiji" sphere of influence'? I'd appreciate a reply.

2/05/2009 8:56 PM  
Blogger John Hamilton said...

Might you be in "Australia?" If that is the case, then you have ample opportunity to find out for yourself.

It's not a big deal. I mentioned this based on my personal experience. What afflicted all subgurus, managers, and various courtiers of the Siddha Yoga organization that I knew was an obsession with power.

If anything, this affliction has likely festered and gotten worse. A good example would be sponsoring a conclave known as "The power of three."

Is power the essence of spiritual practice? Hardly. There are seven chakras. To get hung up on one of them is to enslave oneself to lower consciousness.

It's a free world, even in "Australia." Have at it. If you think being a devotee of Russell Kruckman is a ticket to enlightenment, rock on. Maybe it will work. You might even become powerful.

4/27/2009 9:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi John,
My fiance was with Muktananda in New York around the same time you were. He is totally into Siddha Yoga and wants me to get involved with the Australian Guru. I would like to email you privately about my situation if that would be possible. Thanks, Dianne - www.diannepearce.com

6/10/2012 6:56 PM  
Blogger Chypre said...


John. I read this article with great interest. I used to co-host Olivia Hussey's fanpage for some years. I briefly interacted with Hussey via email and then met her (after alot of unconvincing cancellations by her) when she came to London. She turned to be a vindictive woman who had nothing positive to say about anyone - my respect for her died over night - and I can well believe that she gave you 'dirty looks'. Its hard to believe that she ever was a 'beloved disciple' of Muktananda. And I got nothing spiritual off her at all. Thought I'd share that.

11/18/2012 10:20 AM  
Blogger Chypre said...

I'd also like to add that I NO longer co-host her fanpage. After I met her and that ex-rocker husband of hers, I couldn't dump her fanpage quick enough.

11/18/2012 10:24 AM  
Anonymous Merry Spicer said...

I'm a SY devotee.. you just blew my mind. I have never heard of these things, throwing rocks at Nityananda, Allison Cliatt's and Joan Bridges' stories of abuse, George Afif burning down adivasi's huts. I think I'm getting deprogrammed, after 20 years. We are always warned, in SY, not to read this website.

GM gave me such a strong shaktipat but for all the lights and kundalini fireworks, it did not bring inner peace at the time. Aum, aum, thank you all for courageously sharing your stories to help people like me.

I will still meditate.. I love yoga.

11/28/2012 10:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was part of SY for years. What bothers me the most today is how stupid and naive I was. I have personal experience. I know the allegations are true. Even after all these years, I still haven't the courage that some have to go public with their names and stories of personal abuse. SY is a powerful organization; the world is a small place, and I have to live in it.

People will believe what they believe for so long as they do not use their intelligence to find out what is true for themselves. Muktananda DID use his power to abuse girls. 'Gurymayi' DID use her power to have her own brother violently attacked and thrown out of SY, then rewrote the history of SY, which I guess does not matter anyway, since it was a false history to begin with.

George Afif DID use his position to rape and molest girls. Ram Butler DID use his his position of power to seduce young women. GM DID ignore all of that, at least for so long as she could, and while they were still useful to her. Most tragic is that people still follow the teachings of Muktananda, 'Gurumayi' and Butler. Like sheep. To the slaughter.

12/14/2012 8:22 PM  
Blogger John Hamilton said...

Wow. I haven't looked at these comments in a while. We all walk our own paths. You don't have to go public with your stories if you don't want to. I didn't write what I wrote to "expose" Siddha Yoga. It's sufficiently exposed. Also, it's in decline. There are some hangers-on, and they likely have a few aging "enforcers" lurking around, but the days of ashrams around the planet and big money and Hollywood celebs flocking to the guru, that's all in the rearview mirror.

The reason I wrote about my Siddha Yoga experiences was that they fit into larger narratives, and what I learned from them is part of the overall fabric of my life. I gained tremendously from my SY experience, in spite of the Siddha organization and the petty pursuers of power.

To this day there are "soups of the soup" around the planet who are gathering disciples, parlaying their spiritual "power" to get people under their spells. It doesn't take much digging to realize, no pun intended, that these people are not very happy. They even have videos on YouTube, comical charades where they bicker about the pain of exaltation.

One thing you might want to do is depart a bit from the typical Western way of looking at things in isolation, and look at them in context. We live in an era of climate change, economic decline and eventual collapse, social decay and resource depletion.

Siddha Yoga and its various offshoot gurus around the world are operating in this context, hanging on for dear life, clutching to their remaining "devotees," squeezing them for money, work and adulation. Taking a Buddhist view, nothing is permanent. People die off. They will be soon forgotten. Staying alive, for humankind, will soon be the primary concern planetwide. Context, always context.

1/15/2013 6:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My wife was one of Russell's many victims

And he made a lame attempt to sexually assault me too

The man is a total pig and it was always laughable that anyone thought he had the slightest spiritual centre.

He was a caricature of the trashy TV cult figure, and the ashram was a joke

Sadly two young children are now traumatised, along with about 70 other families that we know of

1/03/2016 12:13 AM  
Blogger John Hamilton said...

I just noticed this. It is pretty shocking. I wonder if you were in Ann Arbor, Australia, or one of his other haunts. If I remember right, he was posted in Atlanta or Miami for a while. Australia seems to be his main locus of operation, even before he left the Siddha organization.
Your story rings true, sadly.

In my own personal experience, in late spring of 1977 "Shankar" returned from India with the new moniker "Swami Shankarananda," having just been anointed to sannyas, or renunciate, by Muktananda. In about June of that year a "national retreat" of Siddha Yoga supplicants was held in Ann Arbor - a big deal for the pretenders to power, especially Shankarananda and his erstwhile wife Giriji, who was sporting the new name "Mother Girija Saraswati." They rented the sorority house across the street, which was available while school was out for the summer, and housed many of the attendees there.

I wasn't involved with the retreat at all, because I was busy moving out of the ashram. It was the first of my several moveouts, which I did when things got too crazy. In a funny irony I moved into a fraternity house down the street, which also had rooms for rent for the summer.

Shankarananda for some reason was completely stressed out by his new status, his ending marriage, and the pressure of the retreat. I didn't realize how psychotic he had become until he caught me taking a box of my stuff down the back stairs of the Hill Street annex. He attacked me and tried to wrestle me to the ground. I was surprised at how strong he was, because he's not very big, maybe 5'7". When I realized he was not joking around I went into survival mode, and we had a nice little tussle going for about a minute. At one point he grabbed the piece of bamboo that was sticking out of my box of clothes, and tried to bugger me with it. It wasn't any pretend play-acting. He was really going for my rear end, and I had to get more serious myself. If he had kept it up I would have gone into full street mode, but he abruptly gave up and stormed off.

When I was living in the ashram in Honolulu Shankarananda showed up for a few days on his way to Australia. It was in the fall of 1983, not long before I moved out of that ashram. The ashram was in a fine old house on Makiki St., and supposedly had been owned by the Hawaiian royal family. It had a veranda - a lanai - that spanned the entire front of the house, and it was where the evening meals were eaten. Afterwards, people would hang out there, have a cup of tea or a treat, and converse. Shankarananda claimed not to remember me, but he kept hitting me in the shoulder, saying "I don't know why I'm doing this, but I just can't help myself."

I put up with it for a while, but not for long, and eased away from him. "Swamis" were given great honor in Siddha Yoga, and looking back on it it is hard to believe the willing suspension of disbelief that allowed us to put up with the perversions of these twisted people. I was lucky. I suppose luckiest that I'm not female, but lucky that I didn't fall as hard for all this silliness as some have. There's nothing special about me. I just had some life experience before Siddha Yoga that gave me an independent spirit and a strong sense of my own survival. I had my limits. About a year after I moved out of the Honolulu ashram I gave up Siddha Yoga completely. Now I'm not anything, but tend towards Buddhist practice. I believe kundalini awakening is real, but it doesn't make anyone an exalted being. The way I look at spiritual practice now is as a peeling away of unnecessary baggage. It seems to happen of its own accord.

I'm sorry for what happened to your wife, to you, and to so may others. Gads. We thought we were in the presence of a Jesus figure ("Baba"), and that Shankarananda was his vicar, maybe even his successor.

9/19/2016 6:32 PM  
Blogger John Hamilton said...

And, for Russell Kruckman, should you read this, you would have been better off staying in Gary. Teaching Shakespeare in Gary, Indiana, now that's spiritual practice of a high order. You could be drawing a nice retirement by now. Here's a song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XihLS-jA_Dg

9/19/2016 6:36 PM  
Blogger John Hamilton said...

I misspelled Girija, "Mahamandaleshwar" Swami Shankarananda's ex-wife's name given her by Swami Muktananda. Her name before marrying Russell Kruckman (Shankarananda) was Jo Anne Moran, or Joanne Moran, or Joann Moran, or Jo Ann Moran. If I'm not mistaken, she also moved to Australia - but Sidney, not Melbourne. When her ex-husband left the Ann Arbor ashram she was put "in charge" (to be or not to be in Siddha Yoga depended entirely on whether you were "in charge" of something - anything), and, like him, it went to her head immediately.

She, as he before her, tried to arrange marriages, divorces, and what people did with their lives. She surrounded herself with a group of male devotees, who did her bidding, and one of them moved on to the South Fallsburg ashram to become one of Chidvilasananda's ("Gurumayi") enforcers. In one notorious incident, Shankarananda returned to Ann Arbor in about 1985 to meet with former acolytes and give a talk. The meeting was disrupted by a group of Fallsburg roving thugs, including the former Ann Arbor courtier. Supposedly they beat a couple of people up, including a disabled elderly man, and sprayed the place with "skunk oil."

So, Ob-La-Di-Ob-La-Da blah, life goes on. We live, we learn. I don't regret being involved with Siddha Yoga. It was largely a positive experience for me - mainly the kundalini energy, the chanting, the Indian philosophical tradition, and some great friendships. The dysfunction drove me away, and, c'est la vie, I moved on. I realize I could have been as bad as any of them had I chosen the path of temporary power. That's why I say I was lucky. If my life trajectory had been slightly different I might have, heh, been wearing orange and feigning greatness and exaltation. Lucky, oh so lucky.

10/10/2016 2:20 PM  
Anonymous OpalGirl said...

John, I saw your post on the Swami Shankarananda Unveiled Facebook page. I usually only check the SS Unveiled Facebook page once or twice a month, but coincidentally I came across your post 8 mins after it was up. Intriguing timing!

John and Anonymous

Both of your accounts vividly sync 100% with my own personal experience of Russell/Swami Shankarananda and from what I observed at the time I was connected to him and his organisation many years ago. The details of my experience may be different but where it directly compares is with his psycho behaviour.

I really appreciate that you have put your experiences out there.

10/25/2016 7:04 AM  
Blogger John Hamilton said...

Thanks for the nice comment. I hope what I have written helps. Siddha Yoga was a long time ago, but was the most significant part of my adult life - more than the Army, more than my near-fatal social-political activism, more than my varied employment odyssey, more than my forays into academia, and more than my travels around the planet. I have no regrets about it. I went in with good intentions, and kept them. As I have said many times before, I was lucky, as I have been throughout my life. I treat my good luck with care and respect. I still learn from my Siddha experience, still meditate, and still aspire to reach a higher level of being. Nowadays that is from a more Buddhist approach, but I'm not exclusive. Muktananda used to berate devotees for what he called "promiscuity in sadhana" - dabbling or showing interest in other teachers or practices. He should see me now.

Anyway, best wishes. We are all in the same boat in this strange journey through life. Even the supposedly exalted among us. And, as I am wont to say, the path is long. We get many chances.

11/04/2016 6:01 PM  

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