Former members are speaking out about psychological, financial and sexual abuses they’ve seen or experienced in the New Kadampa Tradition. They claim founder Kelsang Gyatso has built a cult in service of his expansionist drive to put a temple in every city in the world.
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In 1997 the Dalai Lama’s closest aid, Lobsang Gyatso, and two of his students were brutally murdered while he was sleeping just a few hundred yards away. Buddhist Scholar Robert Thurman told Newsweek, “The three were stabbed repeatedly and cut up in a way that was like an exorcism.” According to the magazine “the walls of their small chamber” were “splattered with blood.”
Police immediately suspected members of a Buddhist sect that worship the deity Dorje Shugden, a wrathful god or spirit. The murders occurred just months after the Dalai Lama had publicly discouraged Tibetans from worshipping Shugden, which in the past had led to divisions within their tradition. The Times Online reported the killings were done in “revenge” for the Dalai Lama’s actions.
In 2007, Interpol issued wanted notices for two Shugden worshippers but China had already helped them escape. During a press conference, an Indian Chief of Police named Prithvi Raj stated, “We have identified two of the murderers…one is Tenzin Chozin, the other is Lobsang Chodrak…we have clear indications that the murderers are directly linked to the Dorje Shugden association.”
It would later come out that China’s involvement was much deeper than helping the two accused murderers escape. In 2015 Reuters exposed that the Chinese government had been secretly funding the Shugden resistance movement against the Dalai Lama. As a result, China would end up fueling the cult ambitions of a rogue Tibetan monk hellbent on revenge.
A Shugden Hero Rises
When a shaved-headed Buddhist nun dressed in red robes walked into Sally Myers clothing shop in Williams, Arizona in 2017 hoping to distribute flyers, Sally politely turned her away. “She said it wasn’t Buddhist or religious, it was just about mindfulness and meditation,” Sally told me. But she had a feeling the woman was hiding something.
Sally’s intuition was right. This was no ordinary meditation group. It was an international Buddhist sect called The New Kadampa Tradition (NKT), which many believe to be a cult. It was founded in 1992 by the Dalai Lama’s most notorious arch-rival and prominent Shugden worshipper Kelsang Gyatso. The nun who showed up in Sally’s shop was none other than Kelsang Dekyong, the current worldwide spiritual director of NKT.
In 2017 NKT built a massive temple and living compound on the outskirts of Williams, a small town famous as an iconic stop on historic Route 66, about an hour south of the Grand Canyon. Ex-members claim the temple was Kelsang Gyatso’s latest effort to challenge the Dalai Lama on a global stage and restore the dignity of his beloved deity, Dorje Shugden.
A Cult of Worship
“This is a personality cult,” former member Tenzin Peljor told Tricycle magazine in their 2018 critical expose “One Pure Dharma” on Kelsang Gyatso. He is a “narcissistic personality who sees himself as the sole savior of pure Buddhism” Peljor said. “The problem is that Kelsang Gyatso wants his disciples to see him as the only legitimate one” Geshe Dakpa Topgyal told the magazine.
“I was taught only the NKT has pure Dharma. I was taught only the path set forth by Kelsang Gyatso leads to enlightenment.” — former member
Many claim that Gyatso, who embraces the title of a living Buddha, only allows New Kadampa Tradition followers to read “pure” Buddhist texts written by himself. All Buddhist books written by other authors have been removed from their bookstores and centers. Ex-members report having been fearful of “polluting” the teachings with other books or being shunned for reading other texts. Followers believe that all other forms of Buddhism are “corrupt” and that Gyatso’s version is the last saving grace for Buddhism worldwide.
Linda Ciardiello was evicted from an NKT center for defending her friend who got kicked out for not being “pure NKT.” When she reported the staff person to the leadership she was laughed at and ignored. Linda then realized that type of behavior was commonplace. “One of her decisions was to evict my friend from the centre because she was not pure NKT and therefore seen as ‘negative.’ My friend was devastated and I tried to protect her from the eviction, which ultimately resulted in me being evicted as well.”
“I learned that the last pure being on earth is Kelsang Gyatso.” – Former member
Gyatso has amplified and exploited a minor doctrinal issue to catalyze a cult following around him ex-members allege. He has labeled the Dalai Lama as a “ruthless dictator” and “evil” false teacher who is trying to destroy him and his NKT based Shugden movement. Experts say there is no validity to his claims. With a clearly defined enemy who is persecuting him, claims of Buddhahood and of teaching the “one pure Dharma,” Gyatso has a recipe for cult success.
He has also created a mystical godlike aura around himself. A former member explains.
“The NKT makes Gyatso out to be god like. Even making such statements that he visits each NKT center several times a day. I was told he doesn’t even need to fly on planes to get to empowerments. He can just magically appear. I was also taught if I place all my faith in Gyatso I would not only have a fortunate rebirth so would my family. The NKT uses the mystical Gyatso to have complete control of its practitioners. I for one had deep guilt when I saw faults in Gyatso. I just knew I would go to hell for it.”
Members are also encouraged to have conversations with Gyatso in their heads and even “hallucinate” him in their imaginations.
At War With the Dalai Lama
Beginning in 1996 and continuing through 2014 Gyatso set up several pro-Shugden groups, staffed by NKT leaders to organize large-scale protests against the Dalai Lama when he traveled to the West. Photos depict NKT members and senior leaders dressed in robes, carrying posters and chanting anti-Dalai Lama slogans in the streets. Former members argue that NKT followers are being brainwashed to believe they are being persecuted and stripped of their religious freedom.
In 1997, the same year as the triple murder, Gyatso wrote an open letter to the Dalai Lama chastising him for attacking Shugden devotees and “spreading false information” about him and the NKT.
In 2008 Gyatso wrote a letter to his followers about the Dalai Lama’s attempt to “destroy” them saying:
“To stop this evil action, as the representative of the Western Shugden Society, I personally will organize demonstrations against the Dalai Lama directly. I requested Kelsang Pema and Kelsang Thubchen to do this job for me and they have accepted. Please help Pema and Thubchen with whatever they need.”
Due to his public actions and protests against the Dalai Lama, Gyatso was ex-communicated from his former academic institution Sera-Je monastery. In 1996 the leadership published an open letter called “A Declaration of Expulsion” denouncing Gyatso’s “ruthless smear campaign” against the Dalai Lama. It stated he was “banished” from the school, referring to him as a “cult leader” operating a “cult kingdom” with “fanatical supporters.” They requested the Tibetan people “completely sever any relationship with him.” The murders occurred just six months later.
Former ordained nun Andrea Ballance calls out the hypocrisy of NKT claiming that their religious freedom is being limited by the Dalai Lama.
“So when the NKT shout about religious freedom you should remember this. None of them have freedom. They have had their freedom systematically removed from them. In their world talking to and taking teachings from the wider Buddhist community is a crime punishable by banishment. That crime is called ‘mixing traditions’. They see everything outside of their centres and teachers as impure and dangerous to their practice. These views are everything from completely deluded to fanatical.”
Gyatso’s first coup was to overthrow the Tibetan Buddhist Manjushri Institute in England. In 1977 he was invited by Lama Yeshe to be a resident teacher and soon garnered a large following. He then blackmailed the school, threatening to release a 100-page document that falsely alleged criminal drug dealing and more. Within a few years, he managed to take over the institution, ousting the Tibetan religious leadership by pushing out anyone who had the authority to keep his power in check. Tenzin Peljor states that Gyatso even bribed one teacher, paying them to leave. He then became the highest authority at the Institute. Today, Manjushri serves as the central headquarters of the New Kadampa Tradition.
Today his New Kadampa Tradition, which he officially started in 1991, claims to have “1,300 centers worldwide” but most of these are not actual temples or buildings. Nearly all of them are gatherings at libraries, community centers or apartments.
Gyatso is “unaffiliated with any known form of Buddhism or any of the official schools of Tibetan Buddhism.” And he is the only Tibetan in his lineage.
Survivors Speak Out
“I had to unbrainwash myself.” — former NKT member
The survivors share a similar story as others who get involved in high demand cult-like groups. At first, there is excitement, zeal, and even euphoria. “Love bombing” and community support draw members in. At some point later they leave disillusioned and traumatized only to spend months or even years unraveling the abuse, manipulation, and brainwashing they’ve experienced.
“As my time in the NKT came to an end, I reflected on the experience and it slowly dawned on me that I had actually been sucked into a cult.” — Linda Ciardiello
Clinical psychologist Dr. Michelle Haslam who is a former resident of an NKT center left the group and spoke out. She wrote a document called “A Psychological Report on the New Kadampa Tradition” and created a website to warn others. As a result of her actions, she faced an online smear campaign which led to the loss of her job. A day after her report came out her superiors were emailed by a fake psychologist pretending to be concerned for her mental well being. An entire website was set up dedicated to her character assassination. Since then Dr. Haslam has become even more vocal, appearing on numerous podcasts and Youtube videos despite the ongoing resistance.
Additionally, former members have been smeared online by a character who identifies himself as an independent journalist named Indy Hack. Ex-members who have spoken out publicly have also received threats to ruin their reputations and livelihoods, including lawsuit threats.
Dr. Haslam claims the NKT focuses on folks with mental health challenges.
“The NKT target people with mental health difficulties through their advertising that claims their classes will help people overcome depression and anxiety. But they do not understand mental health, and attempt to humiliate people with mental health difficulties in order to silence and discredit them.”
One former member describes how those who left were spoken about inside the group. “Common terms used are ‘mentally ill,’ ‘strongly delusional,’ ‘damaged goods,’ and even maras [demons]. Ex-members that dare to speak out are literally demonized. We lose our humanity and become rabid dogs in their eyes.”
Some have tried to reform the group from within but faced backlash. Because Kelsang Gyatso is believed to be an enlightened being, his choice of teachers cannot be questioned, even if they are abusing students. One former member describes what happens, “…people who have dared to question Gyatso have been banned from their center. Not just Gyatso but also their resident teacher. A lot of which were committing sexual misconduct, but those who so dared to report their teacher were more than likely the ones who got into trouble. They were often told not to tell anyone or they may lose faith.”
One ex-member, Gabriella Markgraf explains what she was told when she raised questions. “When I was in the NKT the biggest issue when I dared to asked questions was lacking faith. I heard over and over again, ‘you need to develop faith.’ Faith in this case meant faith in Kelsang Gyatso and the NKT propaganda, as my questions related to the NKT’s relentless stalking of the Tibetan leader and the alleged sexual abuse issues of the organization.”
Carol McQuire, a former ordained NKT nun explains the attitude within the group. “After it became known that the then-current, ordained Deputy Spiritual Director of the NKT had allegedly engaged in sexual misconduct with nuns I had my last conversation with an NKT nun who was a Resident Teacher and a friend. She told me that, unlike ourselves, Gyatso’s ‘special disciples’ who had sex with their students wouldn’t go to hell.”
“She told me that, unlike ourselves, Kelsang Gyatso’s ‘special disciples’ who had sex with their students wouldn’t go to hell.” — Carol McQuire
One senior teacher and supposedly celibate monk, Neil Elliot (Gen-la Thubten), was asked to leave over sexual indiscretions only to return to NKT to teach once again. “He was being exposed for having sexual relations under the guise of a spiritual practice with nuns, single students, students who were married and in long term relationships” describes a former member.
A former national spiritual director, Samden Gyatso, who was also a supposed celibate monk, was also involved with a scandal. An ex-member describes. “[He] had sexual relations with many women for a very long time (using tantra as an excuse), the only reason he ever disrobed is because one of the nuns tried to commit suicide after falling pregnant with his child; only then did Kelsang Gyatso do something about it.”
When NKT members began discussing the abuses of Samden online Kelsang Gyatso ordered all NKT internet chat rooms to be shut down they claim. Gyatso gave a statement ordering his members to stop. “There is no meaning in talking about silly things publicly on the internet. Instead, make meaningful discussion with our pure practitioners, senior Teachers…Stop this kind of actions.”
Former members claim that the refusal of Gyatso and NKT leadership to address abuses of power further traumatized them.
Furthermore, ex-members claim acceptance of abuse is ingrained into NKT teachings and methods. Dr. Haslam explains.
“Their teachings are abuse enabling and minimising. When I reported that I was being spiritually abused by an NKT teacher to Bridget Heyes (The National Spiritual Director), she told me that enduring suffering was my practice. Karma beliefs are used to blame the victim and deflect attention from the perpetrator. When all other methods of victim blaming have failed, the management often resort to nihilism. The Admin Director told me ‘nothing matters, that’s what Bridget tells us’. I’ve seen that they wrote a safeguarding policy in 2018, but I believe that followers are too indoctrinated to follow this. They believe that abuse only exists in the mind.’”
There is also heavy pressure to donate money, take out loans that were never repaid or give over their life savings to the group ex-members allege. One person who was asked to take out a loan, but never did, describes what happened to another member. “She gave my center a credit card under her name. After my center folded she was left with thousands of dollars to pay out of her pocket. Other people have given their life savings and even their homes to the NKT.”
Another former member explains more about the financial abuse. “It was customary to give ‘interest-free loans’, pay for building renovation, cars, statues, and even the resident teacher to attend ‘festivals and empowerments’ in foreign countries…Sadly the more I gave, the more it seemed never to be enough, there was always a need for something.”
NKT members are also regularly engaging in “benefit fraud” ex-followers allege. They are instructed to fraudulently sign up for disability and social service financial aid only to then funnel the money into the group.
The money doesn’t go to pay staff as they are paid a few hundred dollars a month, even the most senior ones. Rather, it is funneled into Gyatso’s “International Temple Fund” which has millions of dollars in it. He wants to put a temple in “every city in the world,” undoubtedly to “challenge the moral authority of the Dalai Lama on an international stage” as author Mike Wilson describes it.
Numerous ex-members also describe being overworked and their labor being exploited. A former ordained member, Peter Graham Dryburgh, describes their experience.
“I began to realize that even working from 9 a.m. — 5 p.m. Monday to Friday outside of the centre, I would often be up til 2 a.m. working on the building, and up again at 5 a.m. to ‘get the shrine room ready for the day,’ my weekends had become full of ‘cherishing the centre’ and I lost any friends (and was encouraged to do so as they were negative to the path) who were not connected to the NKT. It became my entire life, my world, my every waking and sleeping moment.”
The exploitation of labor and energy is all part of an “expansionist drive” to spread the teachings with a missionary zeal ex-members argue.
“The further you travel to the heart of the NKT, the more you are twisted — in the name of enlightened principles — into the very opposite of what it is supposed to be about. And you don’t even realize it’s happening. Until it’s too late.” — former member
Where is Kelsang Gyatso?
One of the peculiar aspects of this story is the disappearance of NKT founder Kelsang Gyatso. He has not been seen since 2013. The senior members claim he is in writing retreat, however, some former members believe that the most recent books were actually ghostwritten by senior NKT. Former members believe that Gyatso is either gravely ill or has died. They say NKT is downplaying or hiding this information because it is harder to recruit students if your all-powerful guru is sick or dead, showing weakness. Essentially it’s not good for business, ex-members claim.
When I visited the NKT temple in Williams the director of education told me that Kelsang Gyatso was supposed to come to their recent large-scale gathering but his trip had to be canceled because they “couldn’t secure the perimeter of the forest.” She said they feared he’d be assassinated. I was surprised at such a declaration. She was very paranoid about him being killed, which seemed like an overreaction. When Kelsang Gyatso was still in attendance, security staff were instructed to wear bulletproof vests and to “take a bullet for their guru.”
NKT leadership could easily settle the mystery by posting evidence of him in a recent photo or video.
“They employ gas-lighting, gatekeeping, weaponization of confessions; every trick of psychological manipulation in the cult textbook, and all in Buddha’s name.” — Geoffrey Bonn
Many of the classic elements of a cult are present in the New Kadampa Tradition: a charismatic teacher who is the object of worship, financial coercion, behavior control, brainwashing, controlling what members can read, the demonization of former members, suppressing dissent, psychological and sexual abuse and more. Kelsang Gyatso has also created a clear enemy in the Dalai Lama who is trying to destroy him and the NKT. Furthermore, NKT members are told that Gyatso is at risk of being assassinated.
Dr. Haslam says NKT use deceptive marketing and spiritual practices as a cover for their cult ambitions. “They falsely claim that they teach mindfulness. In fact, they teach thought stopping, thought reform, emotion control, spiritual bypassing, and visualization. What they claim is contemplation meditation is actually hypnosis. Their practices are the opposite of mindfulness according to Western definitions.”
Historically, it’s very difficult for groups like these to enact real change but Gabriella Margraf hopes “that one day the NKT will change its ways and become the open, democratic organization it claims to be, introduces safeguards, takes care of its aging, working, ordained sangha, and deals with its skeletons in the closet, with regard especially to the people who have been victimized, exploited and abused by the organization.” Dr. Haslam isn’t as optimistic, however. “The recent attacks on myself have shown that the NKT will continue to develop more insidious methods in order to control the narrative, instead of taking responsibility. I don’t think they will ever admit that they have been deceiving their followers.”
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New Age guru Abraham Hicks has made many shocking and disturbing statements about rape, slavery, 9/11 victims and Holocaust deaths. She claims “less than 1% of rapes” are “true violations” and the rest are attractions. Hicks believes slavery was “the beginning of a journey that was better” and part of an “overall improvement in humanity.”She says “AIDS is the physical manifestation of not liking yourself.” Hicks and others like Rhonda Byrne, creator of “The Secret,” have taken a partial truth and concretized it into a religious absolutist system known as the Law of Attraction and made millions in the process. The teaching is harmful and a form of spiritual bypassing.
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Exactly fifty years prior to the publication of the best selling book and DVD The Secret, Earl Nightingale released a vinyl record in 1956 that set the motivational world on fire. It was called The Strangest Secret and it shared the same fundamental premise as Rhonda Byrne’s 2006 The Secret; we become what we think about and our thoughts create our reality. His self-written and recorded LP sold over 1 million copies making it the first-ever spoken word album to achieve gold status. After his phenomenal success, Nightingale went on to form Nightingale-Conant which became one of the largest self-help audiobook publishers ever. With only a one-word difference between the names did Byrne steal Nightingale’s title and message? We may never know but they are undoubtedly two of the biggest and most successful proponents of the Law of Attraction in the modern era.
New-age guru Esther Hicks, who claims to channel 100 entities known as Abraham is the other largest force behind the spread of the Law of Attraction. One of these entities is supposedly Jesus, another Buddha. Now 71 years old, she is also one of the most well-known figures in modern spirituality, traveling the world speaking to massive sold-out crowds. The late Dr. Wayne Dyer said Abraham are “great Masters of the Universe,” while Louise Hay, founder of the popular Hay House publisher said they are “some of the best teachers on the planet today.”
“That which Jesus was, Esther is” – Abraham
Just like Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret, the uniqueness of Esther Hicks and her teachings as Abraham don’t seem to be all that original, however. She too got her schtick from elsewhere.
Before Abraham was manufactured, Esther and her husband Jerry had several visits with a woman named Sheila Gillette who claimed to channel a group of twelve Archangels called THEO. Sheila acknowledges the origins herself, “Within a year of Esther’s experience with THEO, she began channeling ABRAHAM.” The channeled voice of Abraham was remarkably similar in accent, style, and content as THEO. “I was captivated by what I heard from Theo,” Esther said. The precedent had been set. The husband and wife team of Sheila and Marcus Gillette built a following and business channeling a cosmic entity using an accent. Esther and Jerry took note.
Esther also took a page from the books of Jane Roberts who claimed to channel an entity known as Seth. Author David Stone claims that Abraham is merely a dumbed-down version of Seth.
“Not long after their marriage, Jerry introduced Esther to Jane Roberts’ Seth books. Roberts claimed to be channelling an entity with traits in common with the soon to arrive Abraham. The primary distinction separating the two is that Seth is much pithier, more complex and original than Abraham, a supposed entity that often seems to voice nothing more profound than a simplified rehash of Roberts’ Seth.
Abraham, in fact, sometimes reads like dumbed down Seth, a digest constructed for easier mass consumption. Esther recalls Jerry reading out loud from the Seth books in bed, tickling her toes under the covers.”
Jerry was also heavily influenced by new thought teachings such as Napolean Hill’s Think and Grow Rich prior to the emergence of Abraham. In Hill’s book, The Law of Success he uses the exact phrase “the Law of Attraction” 11 times. Yet both Jerry and Esther claim the first time they ever heard the term was from Abraham. Stone argues that Jerry was the motivating force behind creating Abraham and that he edited and helped write the books.
From Amway to NYT Bestselling Author
Why did Rhonda Byrne and the Hicks’s become world-famous multi-millionaires while Sheila and THEO never did? They had something Sheila and her husband didn’t: extensive experience marketing and selling product. Byrne was an infomercial and TV producer prior to creating The Secret. She knew how to dazzle an audience with presentation and packaging. Jerry was a prominent Amway salesman who was married to a highly successful Amway saleswoman named Trish. And Esther was Trish’s bookkeeper, thus she was also heavily immersed in the culture. Amway was a prominent multi-level marketing business known for its pyramid marketing scheme.
Former Abraham Hicks devotee turned critic Kyra explains that Amway salespeople made most of their money selling “motivational materials” such as Think and Grow Rich and audiobooks about them to new recruits, not from the product itself. “This is how [Jerry] became a Crown level with his former wife Trish. Not from selling soaps, appliances, etc. But from selling his motivational courses, tickets to “business presentations”, and tapes like so many Amway distributors did before him.” Amway salespeople were required to purchase one motivational self-help book a month.
“They worked for Amway, selling motivational materials to their recruits/distributors (aka “business associates”), and then Abraham mystically happened to them and they just started selling their own Abraham materials to their associates. And as their business associates recruited new people, they sold more, and then, like any Amway “business”, it just got bigger and bigger till they decided to take their act on the road, so that now they are on the New York Times Best Seller list.”
The recipe for success was laid out for Esther and Jerry. They got the style, accent, and initial content from THEO, more specific teachings came from Seth and they used their Amway sales and marketing background to launch Abraham into the world. They knew the scheme would work because as Kyra states, “Jerry and Esther were already giving workshops, holding seminars, and touring the country with Jerry’s Amway business presentations.”
David Stone suggests that Esther and Jerry were originally experimenting with cult-like elements to test the waters. Esther, via Abraham, used to make prophecies about natural disasters and gave specific dates (none of which came true) and these were edited out of later editions of her first book. In her early days she would scream in an authoritarian manner and she no longer does. She also no longer circles and bobs her head in dramatic fashion at the beginning of her sessions as she originally did.
A New-Age Cash Cow
The Law of Attraction and related works are a big-money business. Nightingale sold 1 million records while The Secret has sold over 30 million copies. Esther and Jerry Hicks became multi-millionaires. Think and Grow Rich has sold over 20 million copies. Oprah and Larry King profited by featuring The Secret cast several times. Many modern spiritual teachers have also profited from the concept. Presidential hopeful Marianne Williamson even cashed in on the phenomenon with her 2012 bookThe Law of Divine Compensation. It merely regurgitated a lot of the same non-sensical beliefs as The Secret. She states,
“The Fairy Godmother didn’t order a limo; she turned a pumpkin into a coach and mice into horsemen. Whatever Cinderella needed, the universe took care of it. The Fairy Godmother didn’t have to order a dress or call out for a car because the universe miraculously transformed existing material. That’s how the universe operates. Cinderella, despite her circumstances as a servant, had the mind-set of the miraculous. And so miracles came to her.”
Williamson literally invoked fairy tales to describe her understanding of how the world works. She was in good company with The Secret.
The money was so big in the Law of Attraction scene it led to a split between Byrne and Hicks. The original version of The Secret actually featured Esther. But once Byrne saw the massive profits to be made she forced all presenters to turn over their intellectual property rights, meaning they’d receive no compensation. Hicks’ original contract gave her 10% which was $500,000 at the time. Byrne gave her an ultimatum: she could either turn over her rights or be edited out. Hicks decided to be removed from the film and said the way Bryne handled the situation was “not nice.” As a result of Bryne’s power-play money grab, she became the sole profiter of those 30 million products sold.
Shocking & Disturbing Statements by Abraham Hicks
There are many ridiculous, outrageous, offensive and shocking statements made by Esther Hicks, Rhonda Byrne, and Law of Attraction teachers. From delusional and fantasy-based ideas that you can manifest cars, bikes or diamonds in an instant to horrible statements blaming victims for abuse and rape, there are a wide range of terrible comments made by these new-age prophets. Hicks says humans and dinosaurs once roamed the earth together and denies evolution and that humans evolved from an earlier species. They have gotten away with them because, in part, they are “spiritual teachers” who are often shielded from critique. Had a politician or public official made these same comments they’d immediately be forced to resign. And these statements reported here are certainly only a small percentage of the horrible things Hicks has said throughout her career.
On several occasions, Esther Hicks via Abraham has stated that if a woman or even a little girl were raped or sexually assaulted it came about because they attracted it to themselves. These quotes are taken from various talks she has given.
“It is less than 1% of the actual rape cases that are true violations, the rest of them are attractions and then a changing of intention later…”
“As this man is raping it is our promise to you this is a disconnected being, it is also our promise to you is the one he rapes is a disconnected being…”
“We believe that this subject [of rape] is really talking about the mixed intentions of the individual, in other words, she was wanting the attention, she was wanting the attraction, she was really wanting all of it and attracted more than she bargained for and then as it is occurring or even after feeling differently about it…”
A woman asked Hicks during a talk how she could have attracted being sexually molested as a little girl. Hicks responded by saying that we all create our reality and that early “contrast” i.e. suffering is a way to accelerate spiritual growth.
“No one ever wants to hear that they are the creator of their reality when things are not the way they want them to be. But we cannot say you are the creator of your own reality sometimes and sometimes you are not. Everything that comes, comes in response to your vibration. What people mostly don’t realize about the creation of children is that children are offering vibration even when they are not offering words. You pick up your vibration from those who surround you, from what you hear. You pick up your vibration and you offer your vibration…Why would some child with all of this innocence negatively attract? We say because you came forth thinking you had free will to think. And you would not give up your free will to attract wanted or unwanted by having someone else making all of the decisions of what should come to you…Also, you hit the ground running and there isn’t anything that causes streams to move faster than early contrast, there isn’t anything that puts more into your vibrational escrow than early experience. “
When responding to a question on Oprah’s radio show about how the Law of Attraction would lead to a young girl attracting her own rape and murder, Hicks responded by saying parents don’t teach their children how to think properly and they are influenced by the negative thinking of the adults around them. She told Oprah, “If they are listening to the guidance within they could not comfortably ever settle on the thoughts that would lead them to attract something unwanted.” What was also surprising was Oprah’s complete lack of a response. She said “OK” and moved on.
Hicks has also claimed that protesting rape or rapists is what actually attracts rape. She says standing on pedestals protesting merely spreads rape “outwards.” Hicks also says that unless we can understand a rapists motives we have no right to critique him.
“Attention to people being raped and a feeling of irritation and irateness or anger at such injustice is the very vibration that causes you to attract it into your own experience. Give your experience to things you don’t want and it becomes your experience, it is law. Most whoever who have had that sort of experience will not allow themselves to look at the positive aspects and would rather gather together with others in groups and talk about the injustice of it. They’d rather stand on platforms and vibrate in a place of disconnection from who they are. And you can tell they are disconnected by the crummy way they feel. As they shout their outrage or cry their tears of pain. So, as they’re involved in this trauma and disconnectedness they spread disconnectdness and future rape outward. Whereas if you can acknowledge it as your attraction and understand how you attracted it, then instead of standing on platforms and spreading rape you can stand on platforms and spread deliberate control… Where is your time better placed? Abbhoring rapists? Joining panels that scout them out and persecute them? Or is your time better spent in finding the harmony of your own vibration? Do you have the right to eradicate a rascal? Can you understand his motives? And if you can’t understand his motives, do you have any plausible right or ability to tell him what to do or what not to do?”
In her book The Law of Attraction, she echoes a similar sentiment. “And so, if there is one who gives much thought to, or one who speaks much about rape, then it is very likely that they will be the “victim,” by their words, of such an experience. Because, by Law, you attract unto you the essence.”
Race and Slavery
In response to a question about slavery and how an entire population could have attracted such tragedy to themselves, Hicks replies by saying it was the start of something better.
“Do you think it would be accurate to say that many of the descendants of some of those who were brought here in slavery are now living in a much better environment than if they’d stayed there? It’s really hard to believe that whole cultures of people could have things in their vortex that would call them to it that would be part of an overall improvement of humanity...Some of that trauma and tragedy that they are wanting to condemn, if you could make peace with it and acknowledge it was the beginning of a journey that was better then the improvement could be yours today, but the determination to condemn it as wrongdoing on whoever’s part you want to point the condemnation toward holds you in the place in not receive the benefit they all cared so much about in that they were willing to live it in order to create it.”
During a talk, an African-American woman asked Hicks about how she should teach slavery to her kid. “He could go to school and daydream,” she replied. “None of that [slavery] has anything to do with him,” and “he won’t have to deal with it” she continued. Hicks proceeded to equate the teaching of African-American history with a family legacy of passing down “bad” feelings. She then blamed Martin Luther King Jr. for his own death. Hicks stated, “He lost sight of his dream momentarily…he began to push against. And when one pushes against in a very fast-moving stream abrupt things happened…It’s trying to get others to agree with us about our dreams that causes backlash.”
At an event, Hicks was asked about the cause of prejudice and discrimination and she said the one being discriminated against attracts it to themselves. “More often, the one who feels discriminated against is the most powerful creator in that experience. The being who feels that others do not like him — for whatever reason — whether it is religion, race, gender, or social status . . . no matter what the reason is that he feels that he is being discriminated against — it is his attention to the subject of the prejudice that attracts his trouble.“
In response to a question from a participant about the Holocaust Hicks replies that the Jews who were killed were partially responsible.
“All of them were co-creators in the process. In other words everyone that was involved in it did not die, many of them who were well connected with their inner beings were inspired to zig and zag. Many of them left the country.”
In another talk, a woman asks Hicks a similar question about the Holocaust. “How did six million people of Jewish descent attract such despair and suffering that they endured?” Hicks replies by saying that many did not die because of vibrational differences amongst them.
“For everyone that died in that way there were many, many, many more who didn’t. In other words, it didn’t happen to everyone, so why didn’t happen to everyone? Because there were vibrational differences among them you see. How can that many people have that negative experience? Because you hang around with each other and you talk similarly, and you get a similar vibration going and you dovetail into the currents of things and then inevitable things happen.”
Hicks also said that people were creating “future holocausts” by talking about victimhood, injustice, and unfairness. She even went on to say that the countries being bombed by George Bush were attracting it to themselves by their negative emotions.
9/11 Terrorist Attacks
In response to a question about how so many people could have simultaneously attracted their deaths on 9/11 Hicks says that someone couldn’t wake up “happily vibrating” and walk into a building like the World Trade Center.
“How would it be that so many would find themselves a vibrational match to something? That is what vibrational matches are about. All of the elements that have culminated in that eggarated experience have been percolating. It has been in the making. In other words you don’t just wake up one morning and be vibrating happily ever after and just walk into a situation like that. You don’t just wake up one morning vibrating happily ever after and find yourself working in a building where previous bomb threats have even happened.”
She also stated that one could see clearly how the Law of Attraction applies when looking at all the factors.
“When you think about the WTC and you acknowledge that it has been a target before, that there have been experiences there before, that trauma has surrounded it before, that some who are there are offering some similar vibration around that. When you think about the turmoil that has been happening around the airlines, when you think about the air rage that has been pulsing, as you have access to specific information about many factors that all culminated in that, as you address it from your knowledge of law of attraction suddenly things come into clear view.”
Hicks also said that if the questioner understood the personal history of everyone killed in the attack it would be much easier to understand how the Law of Attraction was at play. And she said because “only” several thousand of the workers died and not the full 20,000 who were in the buildings that it was clear the Law of Attraction was involved.
Assault and Murder
In this passage from Hicks’ book The Law of Attraction: The Basics of the Teachings of Abraham Jerry asks Hicks how innocent victims of robbery attract it to themselves.
“Jerry: I can understand robbers being attracted to those they’re robbing, but it’s difficult to see innocent victims (as they’re called) attracting the robbery, or the person being discriminated against attracting the prejudice.
Abraham: But they are, just the same. The assaulted and the assaulter are co-creators of the event.“
In a video, Hicks also blames people who are murdered for attracting their own death.
“Every death is suicide because every death is self-created. No exceptions. Even if someone comes up and puts a gun to you and kills you. You have been a vibrational match to that.“
And another example. “Unless you invite them through your thought, aggressors will not be part of your experience. That is Law, in your physical setting or in our Non-Physical setting.”
A lesbian woman who asks Hicks about gay marriage is told: “what is that stupid piece of paper anyway?” She responds that it is important because of wills, taxes and social security. Hicks replies with “that is all shortage consciousness.” The woman says to her “but, how do you create change in the world?” Hicks goes on to derail this woman’s interest in legalizing gay marriage. She tells her she has to stop pushing against. “Every time you say 35 states and 42 this and 152 that, you use that evidence to split your vibrational escrow.”
Hicks claims that people with AIDS attracted it to themselves and that it is the “physical manifestation of not liking oneself.”
Jerry’s Death & Multiple Wives
Because Jerry and Esther have made a career of lecturing others about how negative things in their lives come from their thoughts, their own personal lives are fair game for analysis.
Jerry had at least five wives and even told an interviewer he “lost count” of how many he had. Is this evidence of an expert in practicing the Law of Attraction?
Esther via Abraham also has lectured her followers about not needing health insurance or traditional medicines. She’s stated, “The ultimate health insurance is ‘just get in the vortex’ but so many people don’t even know about the vortex.” On March 2nd, 1997 Hicks said, “In reality, we have never encouraged Jerry or Esther to take any sort of medication or medical treatment because we know it is easier to teach them with what they know how to find their vibrational harmony with energy.” When Jerry got leukemia he went on a high dose regimen of chemo which he referred to as the “big guns,” seemingly contradicting the teachings of Abraham. One must wonder why he didn’t just use the “vortex” as Esther preached to her susceptible followers. Hicks has said, “You could be diagnosed with every deadly disease known to man — but you could be lying in your bed in a state of utter allowance, and allow the Energy of Source to flow through to the cells of your body — and you would have an instant healing!” Jerry died from cancer in November 2011.
The Secret Presenters Disturbing Statements
“The only reason any person does not have enough money is because they are blocking money from coming to them with their thoughts.” -Rhonda Byrne
In an interview with Nightline News anchor Cynthia McFadden, The Secret commentator Bob Proctor states that the country of Darfur has starving children because they have manifested it on a level of thought. Thus, negative or “bad” thinking has caused children to starve. He goes on to claim that he could teach them how to think properly because “the child in Darfur probably doesn’t even know anything about thinking.”
In The Secret, Proctor states rich people are wealthy because they know The Secret.
“Why do you think that 1 percent of the population earns around 96% of all of the money that’s being earned? Do you think that’s an accident? It’s designed that way. They understand something. They understand the Secret, and now you are being introduced to The Secret.”
Rhonda Byrne confirms this line of thought when speaking about those who have money, “The only reason any person does not have enough money is because they are blocking money from coming to them with their thoughts.”
In an interview, Byrne states that those stated killed on 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina attracted it to themselves.
“In responding to the question about events where massive numbers of people are killed, there are a few important points to consider. First, there is no one to blame…In a large-scale tragedy, like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, etc., we see that the law of attraction responds to people being at the wrong place at the wrong time because their dominant thoughts were on the same frequency of such events. Now, this doesn’t mean that they thought of the same exact event, but if their dominant thoughts and feelings were in alignment with the energy of fear, separation, powerlessness and having no control over outside circumstances, then that is what they attracted.”
Another Secret presenter, James Arthur Ray, claims that “many” Jews didn’t think the Holocaust was that bad, “I know many people, for instance, of the Jewish faith and heritage, who don’t necessarily believe that the Holocaust was bad.” He continues, “Now, that might, that might be shocking to you, but I’ve had — I have people on record who have said, ‘Hey, there was a lot of good things that came out of that, a lot of lessons, a lot of opportunities for the world.’” He said similar things about the 9/11 terrorist attacks, “I’m suggesting to you that there’s every bit as much good in 9/11 as there was bad.” In 2011 Ray was convicted of negligent homicide in the deaths of three of his students who died on his retreat in a sweat lodge he mismanaged.
Jack Canfield, author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series describes the fruits of using the Secret while images of his Malibu mansion are shown in the background,
“Since I learned the Secret and started applying it to my life, my life has truly become magical…I live in a four-and-a-half million dollar mansion…I get to vacation in all the fabulous spots of the world. I’ve climbed mountains. I’ve explored. I’ve been on safaris. And all of this happened, and continues to happen, because of knowing how to apply The Secret.”
Secret presenter Michael Beckwith makes astonishing claims about the power of the Law of Attraction, “I’ve seen kidneys regenerated. I’ve seen cancer dissolved. I’ve seen eyesight improve and come back.” And The Secret itself states “Imperfect thoughts are the cause of all humanity’s ills, including disease, poverty, and unhappiness.”
The Law of Attraction
The Law of Attraction is the quintessential form of spiritual bypassing. It requires you to avoid, deny and suppress anything that is perceived to be negative. The end result is the creation of a robot-like person who has disconnected from the reality of their humanness. This means trauma and wounds will go unhealed because they cannot be sufficiently processed. Moreso it means someone will constantly be guarding themselves, interrogating their mind and in a state of paranoia about their thoughts. They are left in a state of worry, monitoring their inner dialogue because their quasi-religious belief system has taught them it is a dangerous place in which any wrong thought can lead to a disaster. This is Calvinism 2.0.
Psychotherapists have described how they’ve seen patients who use the Law of Attraction get sucked into shame spirals. What this means is that people become even more depressed when their efforts to use the Law of Attraction don’t work. Since practitioners are taught that the law is perfect, then any failure must be due to the user. Thus, the person depressed from having cancer or heavy debt becomes even more depressed when they think they’re a failure for being unable to apply the Law of Attraction properly and fix their situation. The system sets a high bar and practitioners can easily get down on themselves for not following it perfectly. Similar shame spirals have happened with people practicing Byron Katie’s The Work.
Not only can the Law of Attraction lead someone to bypass their own pain but it can lead them to bypass harmful or negative behavior of their partners or people in their lives. The Secret asks us to write down all of the positive qualities of an abusive partner for example. Thus, the important acts of discernment and judgment in a harmful relationship are dismissed as “negative.” A practitioner may try to spin a clearly problematic or dangerous situation in a positive light. Anger, frustration, fear or sadness about what is happening is portrayed as negative and could be dismissed or denied.
And what about people who suffer from severe phobias? Wouldn’t the Law of Attraction predict that someone who is constantly obsessed with the fear of car crashes would quickly get into a car accident? And what sort of divine or universal intelligence is this that would punish someone further who is deeply struggling with a mental illness like a phobia by then sending them negative experiences?
Most importantly, research in psychology has shown that this devout adherence to positive thinking isn’t supported by the data. As Mark Manson describes in his article “The Staggering Bullshit of The Secret.”
“But this prescription for ‘delusionally positive’ thinking can have negative consequences for people as well. Psychological research shows that trying to suppress thoughts about something only makes those thoughts more likely to recur. In fact, rumination and obsession appear to operate in this manner, especially in people with chronic mental disorders like OCD, depression, and anxiety: the more you try to get rid of unwanted thoughts, the more these thoughts dominate your mental space. It’s like if I tell you, “Never think about a pink elephant!” the first thing that likely pops into your mind is a pink elephant. Thinking about the things you do not want can lead to more negative thinking and put you in a vicious cycle of negativity.
Research also shows that actively engaging in positive thinking, such as when you imagine getting a job, doing well on an exam, or even successfully recovering after surgery, can actually result in poorer outcomes. Psychologists think that this kind of delusional positive thinking can make us complacent and lazy, as though we already accomplished something we have yet to accomplish, causing us to put forth less effort and to feel less motivated.
Other studies show that people who engage in “self-affirmations” and are then presented with information that threatens their affirmation (even healthy criticism or feedback) actually engage in more faulty reasoning than people who don’t use self-affirmations. In fact, people who indulge in delusional positive thinking ironically become downright angry when someone tries to contradict their wall of airy-fairy thoughts. The truth about their situation just becomes that much more painful to them.”
How Does It Actually Work?
Proponents of the Law of Attraction never tell us how it really works. Do seven “negative” thoughts from yesterday mean seven “negative” experiences today? Or do negative thoughts from two weeks ago affect the current moment? Or is it only negative thoughts from the last few hours that could attract something like a car accident in the present? What if the mix of negative and positive thoughts are equal in a day? Is the impact canceled out? What if your overall “vibration” is “low” and you are chronically depressed, mopy and anxious but you manipulate your mental reality by rehearsing positive thoughts in your mind throughout the day? Is it the actual thoughts or the overall energy vibration that matters most?
We have tens of thousands of thoughts each day, some of which may be considered negative, neutral or positive. Take the seven billion people on the planet and multiply it by the tens of thousands of thoughts they have each day and you have an almost unfathomable puzzle to solve. Who or what is computing all of this and assigning positive and negative experiences to each of the seven billion people’s lives? Does god send a lighting bolt down for someone who is thinking negative thoughts? A pony for a little girl who is behaving well? Death via a murder to someone who had one too many negative thoughts? While Hicks and other modern new-age thinkers denounce the draconian ethics of traditional religion their own beliefs end up sounding a lot like them.
Proponents have also never offered a clear explanation of what exactly qualifies as a negative or positive thought or emotion. Sometimes we hear cliche statements like anger, hatred or jealousy are negative. But those are just part of being human. They arise in response to real-world events. Certainly one could overly dwell on some thoughts but it is human to experience reactions to life’s stimuli. If you didn’t get into the school of your dreams it is perfectly human to feel upset and disappointed. But the Law of Attraction proponents would argue that this is “negative” and would attract bad things to your life. In reality, one’s psychological state would be detrimentally impacted by avoiding the fullness of who they are.
While we can manipulate our thoughts, we cannot manipulate our emotions. This is why the idea of “negative” emotions is not accurate. There is no such thing as a negative emotion. There are just emotions that arise inside of us. Perhaps difficult emotion is a better word for those experiences that we find unpleasant. One cannot control the emotions arising, they can only choose to experience and process them or not. Being real about what is happening and meeting it with compassion and understanding is a much wiser approach than attempting to cut off or control reality.
The “Law” of Attraction?
The Law of Attraction is by no meaningful definition a law. At best it is a hypothesis which is defined by Google as a “supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation.” Yet, author Jack Canfield claims it is “the most powerful law in the universe. Just like gravity, it is always in effect, always in motion.” None of the proponents of this idea have ever offered a systematized break down of how the law actually functions, however. No one has explained how it works beyond vague statements like “you attract your reality.” Yet, to become a law, let alone a theory there needs to be evidence and a well thought out rationale behind it all. Instead, the public has been fed a variety of cliche statements, half-truths and faux scientific claims about the reality of this supposed universal law.
Proponents in The Secret also invoke quantum physics to bolster their arguments that the Law of Attraction is scientific. They claim that thoughts vibrate on positive and negative frequencies and that quantum physics explains that everything is “energy” and therefore can be manipulated by our minds. New thought minister and Secret star Michael Beckwith claims, “It has been proven scientifically that an affirmative thought is hundreds of times more powerful than a negative thought.” Also in The Secret, Mike Dooley states, “It is no more difficult to attract on a scientific level something that we consider huge to something we consider infinitesimally small.” There is a difference however, because what happens on the quantum level is not equatable with what happens on a larger scale. And even if one could manipulate reality on the quantum level it doesn’t mean that the universe then becomes a giant ATM for the Law of Attraction devotee. Also, brainwaves are incredibly weak, which is why sensitive electrodes are needed to measure them.
If the Law of Attraction were really a scientific law that worked 100% of the time then literally every single moment of each day would somehow be choreographed by one’s thoughts. Everything that occurred, no matter how big or small, would happen entirely because of one’s thoughts. Spilling your coffee on the kitchen table. Your puppy peeing on your slippers. The sink getting clogged and splashing water on your work clothes. Winning a $5 lotto ticket. Getting a raise. Puncturing a tire on the way home. Just imagine the sort of complex super consciousness that would need to continually regulate all thoughts and then assign them experiences, pair people or groups together for events, in the real world accordingly.
“We must understand that the founder of a cult or new religion has no room for compromise: absolutes are necessary. True believers in mystical psychotherapy will not embrace a gospel with modest claims: it must be all or nothing.”– Martin Larson
While there are no claims of virgin births or bodily resurrections made by the new prophets of positive thinking they do preach many miraculous and magical ideas. And like other religions, the Law of Attraction promises salvation from the difficulties, anxieties and tensions of everyday life, which undeniably fuels its mass cultural appeal. Every era seems to have a book or an influential figure who is able to fill this role.
Charismatic leaders viewed as Godlike speak with authority and conviction. In early videos Hicks can be seen shouting at her audience in a way that is reminiscent of fire and brimstone preachers. It is this unwavering absolutism and belief in her system that has allowed her to convince the masses to drink from the positive thinking well.
The Law of Attraction is perhaps the most accurate form of postmodern religion one could imagine. It is individualistic (no community needed, one person’s thoughts run the world); narcissistic (the universe will supply me with anything I ask for); focused on immediate gratification (it’s central teaching is to “feel good now”); materialistic (strongly emphasizes achieving money and wealth); detached from structural reality (lacks an awareness of political/social/cultural systems) and is hypocritical (claims to be free from religious dogma when it is actually reproducing it).
The Law of Attraction is also similar to dogmatic religion in that criticism or questioning of the system is not allowed. All critique is dismissed as “negative thinking” and practitioners often become very defensive when challenged. Author Barbara Ehrenreich describes this as the “cult of cheerfulness.” The Secret author, Rhonda Byrne warns, “If you are criticizing, you are not being grateful.” Diane Ahlquist in the Idiots Guide to the Law of Attraction states, “Challenging the source can come off as a lack of belief….If the law of attraction hasn’t worked for you yet, you are probably saying or thinking many things, none of them particularly positive….The best advice I can give you is to stop questioning the process because by doing so, you’re effectively telling the universe that you don’t trust it.” This is not unlike true Christian believers who have it ingrained within them that doubt, questioning or critique are profound threats to their salvation. With the Law of Attraction however, the leaders have ingeniously convinced practitioners that questioning will lead to them attracting terrible situations to themselves. Thus, practitioners won’t go to hell like Christians may believe if they abandon their belief, rather their lives will become hell. Coach Julia Stewart describes how the Law of Attraction shares a fundamental trait with cults.
“It is the insistence that you replace your current worldview with a completely new one in order to get what you want and that you must control your thoughts and eliminate any deviation from what is prescribed in order to succeed. That robs you of your inner knowing, common sense, intuition, confidence, etc. Then you become dependent upon the Law of Attraction “experts” to help you succeed. Usually they’re happy to sell you more books, programs, coaching, seminars, etc. that explain all over again what and how you should think. Folks do get rich with the Law of Attraction, but it’s usually the sellers, not the buyers.”
Spiritual Growth is NOT Easy
In this quick fix and immediate gratification culture, people want easy solutions to their pain and suffering. Abraham Hicks and her new age teachings provide this easy approach. They don’t actually work however. The Law of Attraction merely guides people to bypass, escape, deny and suppress those difficult aspects. While the practitioner may experience a brief reprieve from the immediate suffering they are experiencing it won’t last because the core issue was never dealt with. Merely staying positive and thinking happy thoughts won’t address one’s concerns.
Now, more than ever we need to challenge this narrative that spiritual growth is easy. Instead of running away from our pain, shadows and difficult emotions we need tools to embrace them and work with them. Real spiritual growth is tough. There are no quick fixes or easy outs. And we must use discernment to sort through what is a healthy and not healthy form of spirituality.
[This article is based on countless hours of research and writing. Please consider donating to support these efforts.]
Is Byron Katie’s method known as The Work harmful? Some believe so. There are numerous instances of Katie on stage blaming sexual abuse victims, denying racism, stifling efforts for social change, denying the reality of abuse and accusing people of things they didn’t do. It’s all done under the guise of spiritual growth. Katie claims to haven’t had a thought in 26 yearsand says she could walk into a gas chamber knowing it’s an “amazing day.”
[This article is based on countless hours of research and writing. Please consider donating to support these efforts.]
“As a psychotherapist who works with people who’ve had severe trauma, my opinion is that Byron Katie is dangerous.” – Karla Helbert
Author and teacher Byron Katie has been described as a “spiritual mentor to millions.” With her method of inquiry known as The Work she has traveled the world for the last thirty years speaking to sold-out audiences inspiring them to find freedom from their suffering. Her popularity has undoubtedly made her one of the most well-known figures in the self-help and new age spiritual scene. Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now, says Katie’s work is “a great blessing for our planet.” Oprah Winfrey is also a fan. She interviewed Katie in 2010, strongly praising her teachings, later saying she had never met anyone like her. Katie’s books Loving What Is, A Thousand Names for Joy and Question Your Thinking, Change the World have sold hundreds of thousands of copies internationally.
Katie wasn’t always a highly confident, well-spoken spiritual luminary, however. She claims The Work was born out of her own journey through the dark night of the soul.
According to Katie’s official story, she suffered from years of deep depression, severe anxiety, and compulsive overeating. She drank excessively, took codeine pills and obsessively ate until she was over 200 pounds. Suicidal, she prayed each night to not wake up the next morning. At the age of forty-three, she checked herself into a half-way house for women with eating disorders and while there she slept in the attic because the other residents were so frightened of her. They even booby-trapped the door because they feared she may “do something terrible to them.” Katie slept on the floor of the attic because she didn’t feel worthy of sleeping in a bed.
After only a few weeks of being in the half-way house, Katie says she had an awakening experience that gave birth to The Work. One morning while sleeping, a cockroach crawled over her foot and “woke” her up. “I understood that when I was asleep, prior to cockroach or foot, prior to any thoughts, prior to any world, there was — there is — nothing. In that instant, the four questions of The Work were born.” She claims she then saw the world through perfectly neutral eyes. “There was just awareness, no story.” This pure consciousness “had never seen anything before” and “it had never been born before” she says. All her depression, fear and tormenting thoughts were gone. She then became “intoxicated with joy” and it has never ceased to this day Katie claims.
Katie says she spent the next year sitting in meditation and practicing deep inquiry about any thoughts that arose. Any thought that took her away from her newfound state of peace and joy was “subjected to rigorous inquiry” until it was resolved.
“I discovered that when I believed my thoughts, I suffered, but when I did´t believe them, I didn’t suffer, and that this is true for every human being. Freedom is as simple as that. I found that suffering is optional. I found a joy within me that has never disappeared, not for a single moment.”
She says it was from this real-life field testing that she created her four-question method and began offering it to others in 1992.
Katie claims that since her awakening she has lived in a dream-like state where everything is beautiful and wonderful. In a 2012 interview with Haaretz she claimed to “have never had a thought in 26 years,” since her awakening in 1986. Katie told him she lives in a “state of total peace of mind…a kind of nirvana.” She also said she doesn’t get upset or mad anymore. When the interviewer asked her how that was possible she explained:
“Look, so far I haven’t experienced anything like that. But I’m open to such an experience. It’s very liberating to live in the world where I live. A world where there’s no right and wrong, just or unjust. Everything is right. Everything is in place. There’s no possibility of making a mistake.”
ANATOMY OF THE WORK
The four questions of The Work taken from Byron Katie’s website are as follows:
Step 1:Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to 3.) Step 2:Can you absolutely know that it’s true? (Yes or no.) Step 3:How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought? Step 4: Who would you be without the thought?
Katie guides students on stage and in her books through this process of inquiry to help them see how their thoughts are causing them suffering. No experience or trauma is too difficult for her method. The Work is true for every human being and can be used on all problems humans face she claims. According to her website, The Work “is a way of identifying and questioning the thoughts that cause all the fear, violence, depression, frustration and suffering in the world.”
How does Katie’s method actually work? It is quite simple, although to an untrained eye it can seem like she is offering something psychologically sophisticated or spiritually profound.
The Work is similar to a method known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in that it focuses on correcting our mental patterns. CBT, however, focuses on correcting actual cognitive distortions like “everyone thinks I’m ugly” whereas The Work tries to “correct” valid thoughts about real-world situations that Katie believes to be “negative” or judgmental. She wants people to stop believing the perfectly normal and healthy thoughts that arise in response to injustice, abuse or trauma. She thinks being upset or angry at your abuser is causing your suffering, not the abuse itself. This is where The Work gets dangerous. When used like this it can blame those in pain for their own suffering and often requires people cut off important parts of their inner lives and spiritually bypass difficult emotions.
In Katie’s view, nothing in the world no matter how awful it is can cause us to suffer. Only our minds are real and thus only we can cause ourselves to suffer. “Harm is nothing more than believing your thoughts” she states. This is an extreme form of philosophical idealism, the notion that only minds exist. She’s essentially taken the new age cliche “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional” and monetized it with her four-question system. As this passage from her book A Thousand Names for Joy illustrates, Katie literally believes the worst thing that could ever happen to someone is a belief.
“Nothing terrible has ever happened except in our thinking. Reality is always good, even in situations that seem like nightmares. The story we tell is the only nightmare that we have lived. When I say that the worst that can happen is a belief, I am being literal. The worst that can happen to you is your uninvestigated belief system.”
In 2016, Katie posted a tweet that read: “All harm in 2015 was nothing more or less than how you react when you believe your judgments.”
Katie’s extreme view of thoughts equal reality is further illustrated in this quote referencing the holocaust, “When I’m walking to the gas chamber, other than what I’m thinking and believing, what an amazing day!” Katie believes “everything outside you is a reflection of your own thinking” and thus terrible situations such as walking into a gas chamber become merely mental illusions that can be easily corrected by denying the awful reality of what is occurring.
“When I’m walking to the gas chamber, other than what I’m thinking and believing, what an amazing day!”
Remarkably, in her book Losing the Moon Katie even states that she could throw her baby into the fires of the concentration camps without resisting.
“If Someone (God, ‘what is’), pulls my baby from me – if that’s what it takes, I’m there. Take the baby. Tear my baby from me. Throw it in the fire….My discomfort is my war with God.
You see, there are NO choices. What is, is.
But when we get to the baby thing, we’re getting down to our sacred little concepts now….You take my baby from me, you’re messing with the illusion of I’m the mommy, this is the baby, there’s the daddy…
But tearing the baby away- that’s the higher. That’s the higher, because it snatches your story from you and makes it apparent in your face – nothing’s real short of reality….
That’s it. That’s what is. That’s love. That’s absolutely un-describable love. That you, God, would even give me that.
Can you know that Hitler didn’t bring more people to realization than Jesus? On your knees – God. God! God! But our stories of reality keep us from the awareness of God is Everything. And God is Good. […]
There has never been evil and there never will be. Evil is simply a story about what’s not…”
In her interview with Haaretz she was asked about the world’s problems. “According to you, all the problems that we’re dealing with are nonexistent?” Katie responded “true.” In the same interview, Katie states that the cause of people’s suffering from things like rape, abuse or murder is strictly their belief in their thoughts.
Interviewer: People come to you with very bleak stories of abuse, rape, bereavement, even murder. Do those stories shake you up? Do you feel sorry for them?
Katie: No. Never. I know that they’re perfectly all right. They only believe their thoughts. You can examine your life for a moment. If you set aside the things that you think and believe in, isn’t your life good? Aren’t you all right?
Obviously, the students seeking her out for support are not “perfectly all right.” Merely telling students to no longer believe the thoughts that stem from trauma and abuse doesn’t address the reason they are experiencing those thoughts. Any momentary relief a student will receive from temporarily switching off their thoughts will be short-lived. If the core wound is not dealt with the person will not find freedom from the painful or traumatic experience. They will find that those thoughts revisit them regularly.
Healing occurs when someone is met where they are with empathy, care, and connection. By claiming a student is not really suffering and dismissing their pain as a “story” or “belief in their thoughts” Katie is trivializing their experience. She regularly does this live, on stage with abuse victims and trauma survivors. Katie is missing an opportunity to deeply listen and instead invalidates their reality.
The Work echoes something we see more broadly in new age spiritual culture; the idea that all healing can occur on the level of thought alone. Of course, psychotherapy works on the level of thought and it can be highly effective, but it is a longer process and based on certain parameters like a caring therapeutic relationship, not just the manipulation of thoughts. What these new age teachers mean is that healing can occur by using quick fix mental techniques. A Course In Miracles, for example, describes a miracle merely as a shift in perception from fear to love. But those who understand the process of healing know that shifting a perception, denying a thought or suppressing an emotion won’t address the real underlying problem.
In the context of Katie’s awakening story, one can understand the method behind The Work. Remember, she says the inspiration for her technique comes from her realizing that she had no thoughts while sleeping. She then realized that she no longer needed to believe her thoughts and from this unending joy and peace were felt. Given her explanation, it’s understandable then why her method involves literally shutting down the mind to turn off any “negative” or judgmental thoughts. When she was sleeping the morning of her supposed awakening those thoughts didn’t exist. Her method is an attempt to return to that undisturbed place.
What Katie has done is essentially monetized her trauma, as Matthew Remski, author of Practice and All is Coming describes it. The suppressing of her pain and thoughts became an unsubstantiated pop-psychology healing method used by millions. Mixed with her new age spiritual influences she crafted The Work which quickly became an authoritative self-help process and text.
THE WORK IN ACTION
There are numerous instances of Katie on stage blaming sexual abuse victims, denying racism, stifling efforts for social change, denying the reality of verbal abuse and accusing people of things they didn’t do. She probably believes she is helping but the consequences of her applying The Work unconditionally to every situation can make things worse for some of her students, potentially leaving them confused and further traumatized.
In this exchange from her book Loving What Is, Katie, convinces a woman who is upset about terrorism that the real problem is in her mind. If she wants true freedom she must get rid of her judgmental and “negative” thoughts about terrorists.
Emily: They’re evil, ignorant, and yes, they’re successful and powerful.
Katie: And I…
Emily: I am evil, ignorant, successful, and powerful?
Katie: Yes. In all your righteousness.
Emily: My thoughts are like locusts.
Katie: Exactly. I don’t see any terrorists in this moment except the one you live with: yourself.
Emily: Yes. I see that.
Katie: I live in peace, and that’s what everyone deserves. We all deserve to end our own terrorism.
Emily: I can understand the arrogance of doing what I’ve been doing.
This is called the “turnaround” technique where Katie convinces the student that the real problem is in their head not in the world. Emily went from someone with legitimate feelings about terrorism to someone believing that she was the actual terrorist , a mental terrorist to be precise. It goes without saying that it’s quite normal to be angry and upset with people who intentionally kill innocent civilians. Yet, Katie’s method left Emily believing her thoughts are “like locusts.” Until Emily can remove any “negative” or judgmental thoughts about terrorists she cannot be free according to Katie.
In this exchange taken from a video, a woman speaks of her concerns about the meat industry and factory farming. Katie downplays her valid and legitimate perspective by convincing her the problem is only in her mind.
Katie: So, the meat industry is the largest, most accepted form of violence in the world today? How would you turn that around?…Fantasy is.
Student: So you’re suggesting to replacing the meat industry with fantasy?
Katie: Yes, or “my thinking.”
Student: Oh, definitely. My thinking is the largest most accepted form of violence.
Katie: Of violence in in your world today and it just wipes people out. It can wipe out your happy life.
Katie believes this woman is upset only because of her thoughts about the meat industry. Factory farming itself could never cause someone to be upset. It is only a choice we make in our own minds and being upset equates to suffering in Katie’s view.
In this exchange, also from Loving What Is, a passionate believer in social change expresses hurt and frustration about corporations polluting the planet, only to have Katie tell her that her feelings are violent.
Margaret: It hurts. I can’t stand what they’re doing to our planet.
Katie: Doesn’t all that anger feel violent inside.
Katie: Anger is violent. Feel it.
Margaret: But it motivates me to act, so it’s good to have some stress. We need it to get things moving.
Katie: So what I hear from you is that violence works, violence is the way to a peaceful solution. That doesn’t make sense to me.
Margaret knows that the anger she feels about pollution is a motivating factor to take action but Katie twists this around in her mind. The result may leave the woman confused about her activism. Furthermore, Katie’s method cuts off an essential part of Margaret’s human experience.
There are numerous examples of Katie victim blaming sexual and verbal abuse survivors in her books and in videos.
In this exchange from her book Loving What Is, Katie convinces a woman who was sexually abused by her stepfather that she abused him.
Katie: He abused me — turn it around. I…
Diane: I abused me?
Katie: Yes. Can you see that?
Katie: There’s another turnaround. I…
Diane:…abused…[There is a long pause.] I abused…him? That’s a hard one.
Katie: Tell me about that.
Diane: I abused him.
Katie: Yes, sweetheart. Tell me about it.
According to Katie, this woman is abusing both herself and her step-father merely by thinking critical thoughts about her abuser. Katie is requiring abuse victims to state live on stage in front of hundreds of people that they abused their abusers.
In this exchange, also from Katie’s book Loving What Is, Marty explores the pain of verbal abuse they experienced from their uncle. The same turnaround technique is used by Katie to deny the reality of this persons experience and blame them for the abuse.
Marty: I’m still feeling the pain of his verbal abuse.
Katie: Okay, verbal abuse — turn it around. “I’m feeling the pain…”
Marty: I still am feeling the pain of my verbal abuse.
Katie: Toward him in your mind.
Marty: I’m still feeling the pain of my verbal abuse toward him in my mind?
Katie: If your uncle says something that hurts, he’s just revealed what you haven’t wanted to look at yet. The man is a Buddha.
Marty: You mean that everything I’m defending against is the truth that I don’t want to see? Holy shit! No wonder I’ve been seeing my uncle as an enemy! This is amazing!
Katie: Uncles have never been the problem, and they never will be. It’s your uninvestigated thinking about your uncle that’s the problem. And as you inquire, you set yourself free. Your uncle is really God in disguise as an uncle. He’s giving you everything you need for your freedom.
Marty falsely believes they’ve experienced a breakthrough or profound insight based on this inquiry. What’s really happening is that an abuse victim is blaming themselves for “abusing” their abuser. On top of this awkward exchange, they are being misled to think it is “spiritual” to tolerate abuse. Katie tells them that their abusive uncle is a Buddha and “God in disguise.” Marty is then told that the cause of their suffering is the resistance to the abuse. Katie likes to say “war begins at defense.” Their uncle’s abuse is actually helping them discover things they didn’t want to look at according to Katie. Denying someone’s reality like this and making them question their own reality is undoubtedly a form of gaslighting.
In a video, a man is on stage discussing his girlfriend’s verbal abuse towards him. When Katie asks him if he can think of any instances where he is verbally abusive to her he says “nothing comes to mind.” Katie then focuses in on that “terrorist” in his mind and asks about the thoughts he’s been thinking about his girlfriend’s verbal abuse towards him. And voila, she’s found the real culprit. He tells Katie “My thinking would be insulting to her definitely. I’d be looking at her thinking you’re crazy, this is insane, damaged, very unevolved behavior. I would definitely be having insulting thoughts.” Katie responds “there it is!” Having critical thoughts about someone who is abusing you is normal. It protects us from harm and is a sign that things are working properly.
It’s important to understand when reading these passages that Katie outright denies the reality of verbal abuse. “There’s no such thing as verbal abuse. There’s only someone telling me a truth that I don’t want to hear. If I were really able to hear my accuser, I would find my freedom.” In one video she says “aggressives come for us, not to hurt us, to open us.” This quote from Katie further illustrates her belief about the benefit of an abusive partner.
“There’s never a mistake in the universe. So if your partner is angry, good. If there are things about him that you consider flaws, good, because these flaws are your own, you’re projecting them, and you can write them down, inquire, and set yourself free. People go to India to find a guru, but you don’t have to: you’re living with one. Your partner will give you everything you need for your own freedom.”
It’s worth pointing out that, by her own admission, Katie’s husband was so verbally abusive to her that people would leave the house in fear of him. She says he was her Buddha, teaching her profound spiritual lessons that she truly needed to grow.
It goes without saying that verbal abuse is serious and can cause severe trauma. Anyone who has ever been screamed at knows intimately the lasting impact it can have in your body and psyche. The effect of long-term partner abuse is even more serious.
In a video, an audience member tells Katie she is upset with someone named Bob because he lied to her, stole from her and betrayed her. Katie has the woman turn around her statement and say “Bob should lie.” Later in the exchange, the woman tells Katie that Bob groped her inappropriately at her husband’s funeral. Katie asks her what her thoughts were about the incident and she replied, “I just thought that he was a disturbed person on a power trip.” Katie immediately says “turn it around” to which the woman responds “I’m a very confused person on a power trip and I’m self-absorbed.” She continues, “yeah, I guess so. I was deciding what behavior was right for him and what wasn’t. I was very self-absorbed. I wasn’t thinking about what he was thinking, I was thinking about me and what I felt.” Once again Katie convinces someone who was harmed that she is the problem, not the perpetrator.
In this exchange taken from a video, Katie tells a woman she is the one having an affair, not her husband who cheated on her.
Woman: Bill had an affair.
Katie: Turn it around.
Woman: I had an affair?
Katie: Have you ever imagined him with her?
Woman: Of course.
Katie: So you’re having an affair and you’re using him and her to do it. You’re having an affair in your head.
Woman: Because I’m picturing their affair in my head?
Katie: Can you find another turn around?
Woman: He didn’t have an affair?
Katie: Give him some credit, there were some times when he didn’t.
Katie proceeds to stifle this woman’s desire for her husband to accept responsibility for cheating on her by questioning her at length until she abandons her efforts. She also asks her where she has been “sneaky” and dishonest with her husband and her children which confuses the woman.
In a video on her channel titled “No One Can Hurt Me, That’s My Job” she tells an audience member that if someone threatens to kill him with a loaded gun that he is responsible for any suffering that stems from the situation.
“If someone pulls a rifle and says ‘I’m going to kill you’ where’s the problem?” He says he’s going to kill me, the gun is in his hand loaded, his finger is on the trigger. Where is the problem? Here [pointing to her head]. I imagine whether I’m aware of it or not, he’s going to pull the trigger, bloods gonna fly and I’m going to die or I’m going to be maimed and fall and be in agony and my family’s going to suffer and I’ll never see my children again and it’s not fair and it’s all because of the color of my skin or my national or my culture or whatever it is, and he hasn’t even pulled the trigger yet. So who would I be without all of that? Who would I be if I were not projecting a future into imagining what’s going to happen. Who would I be without out it. Look into his eyes, the sun is shining, I’m looking around, it’s just, in reality an amazing world, a gift. So, who caused my fear and pain, was it him that said I’m gonna kill you or was it me? Who’s causing my agony now in that situation? How many of you get it’s me. 100% totally there’s no exception to it.”
Katie blames any pain or suffering entirely on the victim being held at gunpoint. Yet, it is totally normal for someone to panic in a life and death situation like that and they should not be blamed for the responding experience.
Katie flat-out denies reality in one video by telling a woman who has cancer that she doesn’t.
Katie: I have cancer. Turn it around.
Woman: I don’t have cancer.
Woman: I don’t have cancer. It’s just that simple.
Katie: That’s it.
Woman: It is just that simple.
Katie: Exactly so.
In this exchange from a video, Katie tells a young boy he should celebrate when someone he knows dies.
Boy: What would you do if someone just died that you know?
Katie: Celebrate. What would you do?
Boy: Probably be sad.
Katie: Oh, why?
Boy: Because I love them and they’re gone.
Katie: Well, if you love her why wouldn’t you celebrate?
Boy: I don’t know.
Katie: Have you ever hurt yourself? Ok. Well, that person you love, there never gonna be hurt again.
In a dialogue with a World War II survivor in Loving What Is Katie convinces him to say that he looks forward to “the bombs falling again.”
Willem: I don’t ever want to experience again the bombs falling on my head, or being a hostage, or feeling hunger.
Katie: If only in your thinking. The bombs aren’t coming from out there; they can only come from inside you. So “I look forward to…”
Willem: It’s hard to say this.
Katie: I look forward to the worst that can happen, only because it shows me what I haven’t yet met with understanding. I know the power of truth.
Willem: I look forward to the bombs falling again and feeling hunger. Hunger is not so bad. [Pause] I don’t feel it yet. Maybe I will later.
In a video, a black woman in the audience at one of Katie’s events recalled a conversation she had with a white man who told her to just forget her ancestral history. Her gut feeling was to say “fuck you” to that idea because “the history is still happening today.” She was trying to understand the collective history, her personal story and the reality of racism in her world and asked Katie for her insights. Katie’s response was to essentially derail the reality of racist harm by saying it’s happened to everyone equally and to claim she is not a color.
“Things that happened to you have happened to every color. You are not a color. You are beyond that…When you really love your people. When you stop fearing for them is when you stop fearing for yourself and then everyone is your people.”
In an exchange with Katie, a woman expresses her desire for there to be less racism in the world. She references the murder of James Byrd Jr., a black man who was murdered by three white men in 1998. “I was thinking about the guy in Jasper Texas. These guys dragged him behind the truck.” Rather than saying how awful that incident was and acknowledging that racism is a blight on our society, Katie responds by awkwardly asking her to turn the question inward. Katie says, “How did I drag my three children behind the truck their whole life? Let it begin with me. I begin there and then I’ll go talk to those guys.” The woman presses on with her desire for a more just and sustainable world. “I need for the establishment to give up the need to separate by race, to accept that people of color can be smart, successful, brilliant.” Katie responds by asking her “Can you see a reason to drop the story first?” The woman is confused and doesn’t want to abandon what she knows is right. “I don’t know. I’m having problems with that. I’m having this wedge of resistance.” Katie responds by saying, “You want to control our thinking.” The woman is then convinced that it is unloving to want people to not be prejudiced.
Katie: I want people to stop being prejudiced. Turn it around.
Woman: I want me to stop being prejudiced.
Katie: That will work.
Woman: I just didn’t realize how unloving that was to not let people have their prejudices.
[This article is based on countless hours of research and writing. Please consider donating to support these efforts.]
I GOT MINE
What about all of the people who report profound breakthroughs and healing from doing The Work? The first response to this is that the same reports are found in every spiritual or religious group, no matter how outlandish they are. This is referred to as “I got mine,” as formulated by author Matthew Remski and it’s one of the most commonly used defenses to shut down criticism. Scientologists, followers of cult leader Jim Jones and devout Christians report to have significant transformations and breakthroughs. Do we conclude from this alone that being a saved Christian is a useful method to heal trauma or abuse? Do we assume that what Jim Jones offered was a responsible and wise approach to treating depression or personal problems? Karla Helbert is a psychotherapist familiar with Katie’s method and believes it is harmful. She shared her views online about the efficacy of The Work to warn students who may be misled.
“As a psychotherapist- who works with people who’ve had severe trauma, my opinion is that Byron Katie is dangerous. She has no training in supporting people who have been traumatized. She blames and shames them and calls it The Work. In her book Loving What Is, she has a woman agree that as a child she was responsible for her sexual abuse and invited it. It’s appalling and psychologically and spiritually dangerous. I can’t believe no one has sued her. Her method of questioning our own thoughts, challenging our own beliefs is sound and a good practice- ultimately the basis of Jnana yoga- but when it comes to the flip, turning the statements toward yourself and the way this can easily turn to blaming a victim/survivor is horrid.”
In the very least, a conversation about the scope of what situations The Work can be applied to would be beneficial.
Secondly, The Work is similar to a cognitive-behavioral technique, so it could offer people relief when applied to actual cognitive distortions like “everyone thinks I’m ugly.” As Helbert mentioned, there can be a place for examining and reframing certain types of thoughts. And even victims of abuse may experience relief after doing The Work. The problem is that it is often only a temporary shift that undoubtedly returns once the student no longer suppresses or denies the difficult emotions and thoughts. Regardless, Katie has no training in CBT or psychotherapy either, so the efficacy of her work, even when applied to cognitive distortions, is questionable.
Lastly, you have to consider the context that The Work is being used in. All of these exchanges with Katie occur on stage, in an environment and context that carries with it a certain power. Students often uncritically accept her method as legitimate because she has authored books and can command a stage. Nervous and traumatized people sit in awe of a self-proclaimed awakened spiritual teacher who is seemingly showing them love. The act of sharing your story with someone alone can be cathartic and shouldn’t be discounted as a contributing factor when a shift occurs. Matthew Remsksi describes the power dynamics at play in his insightful article “Byron Katie’s Domination Technique: a Case Study.”
“Consider the performance pressure on the subject, on a dais in a room filled with a hundred people or more, with whom she must socialize on breaks, to whom she might be looking for relief from social isolation, who might constitute for her the idealized friend group for which she’s longed for years. Imagine the stakes involved in her talking back, refusing the advice, reasserting her original thought, wrestling back her agency from Katie.
Note signs of Katie’s somatic control: talking to the subject but really to the crowd, nodding as though she’s heard it all before and nothing could possibly surprise her (grandiosity), the implicit agreement that she can interrupt anyone at any time (because she’s not there to listen but to tell).”
Remski refers to this stage performance as “somatic theatre.” In no way is this performance dynamic unique to Katie’s method, it can be found widely in spiritual culture.
In addition to offering workshops and events, Katie offers a 9-day experience called The School where participants question “the fear-based stories” they’ve “innocently clung to” for so long. Some schools have had as many as 300 students. With a tuition of $3,500 per person, Katie is making hundreds of thousands of dollars per event. Katie also sells a 28-day program called “The Turnaround House” which costs $20,000 per person.
The School may have evolved since its inception but previous participants have complained that Katie creates a cult-like atmosphere. They’ve reported it consisted of: a 36-hour long fast, intense group confessional sessions where people were required to list the worst things they’ve ever done, participation in long days (7:00 am-11:00 pm), being subjected to Korn’s heavy metal music to probe out deep traumas, being encouraged to criticize Katie and The School only to be shunned when doing so, being required to go two days as a “silent one” where no talking was permitted and not being allowed to exercise or have contact with family. When some people vomited from the food provided it was seen as cleansing and evidence of how powerful The Work is. Also, any questions, criticisms or concerns about The School were required to be endlessly subjected to the turnaround technique until they lost their inner critic. Apparently, none of this is explained to participants beforehand either. Current descriptions of The School do not say what occurs during the nine days.
One participant describes what they witnessed when people were forced into deep confessions in the “shame” unit of the week.
“In the Shame unit, we were instructed to write down the thing we’d done in our lives that we were most ashamed of, then take the mike and tell the whole group, then do The Work on it with a partner.
People stood up and, sobbing or preening, revealed everything from bestiality and zoophilia to embarrassing physical features, infidelity to poor parenting that bordered on abuse. Many people told of having been abused and shamed by that. The reward for producing a novel or particularly painful shame experience was Katie’s cooing, warm approval and attention. This was such a powerful exercise that, for the next few days, Katie would interrupt whatever exercise was in process to say that so-and-so desired to tell about their shame.”
A former senior staff member of many years named Janaki broke away from Katie after realizing how dysfunctional she was. She went on to write a 72-page document detailing her time working with Katie. She warns of The Work becoming like a religion and of Katie adopting a messiah-like complex.
“It seems to me that The Work has become a religion that is now taking on global forms, especially when I see how it is being marketed through Katie’s various websites and her weblog. The four questions have become the holy bible…
Many years ago, I sat with Katie in her room one morning. She was talking about the future of The Work and she said, ‘I have seen it Janaki, it is going to be like the Sermon on the Mount’. I felt so in awe of her at the time. Here I was sitting with someone equal to Jesus Christ, having tea on the balcony.”
Janaki says that other staff members and core followers believe that Katie exists in a state of flawless perfection as well.
Stephen Mitchell is Katie’s current husband and helped her write Loving What Is. He told Janaki that he was proficient at understanding the significance of people’s eyes and whether or not they were spiritual masters. From their eyes alone he could tell if they knew “The Great Secret.” When looking into Katie’s eyes he saw something truly unique: “But Katie’s eyes were even more glittering, I felt, even more ancient, and so beautiful that I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry with joy. The joy shining from them was something I had never seen before.” In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Mitchell said in regards to Katie’s awakening, “I don’t know of an instance of this happening to another human being. It’s like if you took psychosis or amnesia as a negative and printed it as a positive photograph.”
Taken as a whole, Katie’s project begins to fit the description of a cult: A spiritually awakened charismatic figure who claims to have no thoughts and that exists in a pure state of awareness, the use of behavior modification, thought reform, shaming techniques, confessionals, the stifling of criticism, and the manipulation of the environment to break down individuals. The result is a new person who has shed their previous identity and has merged with Byron Katie and her system. Katie promises that “once the four questions are alive inside” of participants their minds “become clear.” Ironically enough, “clear” is the same term Scientology uses to describe when someone has achieved mastery in their program.
THE REAL ORIGINS OF THE WORK?
Did The Work really come spontaneously from Katie’s awakening experience in 1986? Former staff member Janaki points to different sources: the work of Ken Keyes, Ramana Maharshi, A Course In Miracles and other spiritual new age books. She claims to have spoken with someone who lived near Katie in her early days who told her that Katie’s basement was filled with boxes of spiritual books that allegedly “had underlined sentences in them and contained notes in Katie’s handwriting.” This disputes the assertion of her husband Stephen Mitchell, who has stated, “Anyone who knows Katie knows that she doesn’t read books.”
Janaki was told that Katie had all of Ken Keye’s books. This is significant because she makes a compelling case that Katie plagiarised Keye’s’ teachings when creating The Work. After purchasing Keyes books she realized how strikingly similar they were to Katie’s method.
“I became more curious and ordered some of his books. I was amazed. He called his process The Inner Work. He worked with worksheets that consist of 6 uncompleted sentences. I found a list of all the questions that are on the worksheet from The Work: I want, I need, he should, what I never want to happen again. I also found some of the questions, especially the 3rd question was literal, including the answers that are given to that question. I found the turnarounds, exactly the way they are done in The Work. And there was a lot more.”
Towards the end of her 74-page document called “Byron Katie and Janaki,” she illustrates the similarities in detail by using images taken from Ken Keye’s work. In total there are over forty pictures from his books that show strong evidence for the true origins of The Work. The image below clearly shows the origins of Katie’s turnaround technique. Keyes calls it the “Insight Leap” but the method is identical.
NOT LOVING WHAT IS
Byron Katie’s dictate to “love what is” has taken an idea that at best is a quasi-universal aspiration and awkwardly contorted into a pseudo-method for healing. For Katie, what is is. If it has happened or is happening, no point in judging it. People who lie, cheat and steal should lie, cheat and steal simply because they are doing it. This is God’s plan according to Katie. The world is a beautiful and perfect place, where nothing terrible has ever happened. Suffering only arises when we think reality should be any different than it is or was. It is our “negative” or critical thoughts about what has happened that take us away from inner peace, not the actual abuse or injustice we’ve been subjected to.
As a result of this erroneous conflation of the absolute with the relative realm, Katie has led millions of people to believe disassociating from their thoughts and feelings is a valid form of spiritual growth. If only healing were as simple as a shift in perception, or the reversal of difficult thoughts.
The Work is ultimately a double betrayal. On one level wounded participants are being deceived because they’re sold a system that most likely won’t help them. On another level, they are gaslighted to such an extent that they are coerced to say on stage in front of hundreds that their abusers never abused them, that they abused themselves and that they abused their abusers. When Katie tells students their abusers were “God in disguise” or the Buddha she has weaponized spirituality in the disservice of fragile trauma survivors.
Following Katie’s logic ultimately leads to a predicament: we can no longer try to change the world because challenging reality causes suffering. Remember, the problem in Katie’s view wasn’t the corporation polluting the world or the factory farm inhumanely processing animals. The real problem was the anger and frustration in the mind of the student discussing their concerns with Katie. She told Haaretz news that all of the problems in the world are non-existent. Katie will push back and say her intent is not to prevent people from creating change. Yet, in example after example of her doing The Work and in her statements she is doing just that.
We’ll never know the full extent of damage that Katie’s methods have caused, regardless of her claim that “it’s not possible for” her “to hurt another person.” One can only imagine the lasting confusion in the young boy who was told by an authority figure whom his parents admire that he should celebrate when a loved one dies. Or the harm caused to the World War II vet who said on stage that he looks “forward to the bombs falling again.” Or the re-victimization of the woman sexually abused by her step-father who proclaimed to an audience of several hundred that she abused him. Or the pain of someone having to list off positive qualities of their abuser. Or the stifling effect it had on the student who was passionate about reforming the factory farm industry.
It is not spiritually wise to blindly follow a dictate like “love what is” and apply it equally to all situations. We need to use discretion and critical thinking to navigate a complex and treacherous world. This is a fact that marginalized people understand much better than Katie ever will. As a wealthy, straight white woman it is much easier for her to live in a fantasy world where everything is always wonderful. And isn’t Katie merely promoting the same false story that underlies neoliberal capitalism? That everything is ok no matter how terrible things actually are? That we can grow and pollute exponentially without harm? That individuals alone are responsible for their own well-being or suffering?
In conclusion, like so many other well-meaning spiritual systems, The Work tragically leads participants away from themselves under the guise of leading them towards themselves. This is a form of toxic spirituality that we must challenge and think critically about as spiritual practitioners, journalists or concerned citizens.
[This article is based on countless hours of research and writing. Please consider donating to support these efforts.]
Former members accuse spiritual teacher Mooji of running an abusive cult at his isolated ashram three hours from Lisbon, Portugal.
They allege sleeping with students, abuse such as screaming, shouting, shaming and humiliating, controlling behavior, pairing and breaking up couples, brainwashing and mind control, coercing people from leaving and more.
Mooji lives in a secluded hilltop gated area of the property with three young female disciples whom insiders say he is sleeping with. They also dress and undress him daily.
Mooji has cheated on his past three girlfriends with other students. One longterm female resident of the ashram who left claims to have had sex with Mooji the entire time she was there. There are other women too afraid to speak out.
Followers believe Mooji to be God and refer to him as “my Lord,” “my Master” and “my Father.” They regularly kiss his “holy” feet and bow to him.
Strange ceremonies and rituals including exorcism type events occur at the center.
Mooji has designated an isolation building for members who act out. They will be given one meal a day and learn to “know the self.”
Mooji and his team smuggled over €200,000 of unreported cash into Portugal from London and one member got caught. They used this to purchase Monte Sahaja.
Two members committed suicide in 2017, one at the ashram in Portugal and another in India.
[Be Scofield is one of the most prominent journalists in the world exposing cults and abusive gurus. In 2018 alone, her articles received almost 1 million views. Stories based on her work have appeared on The Guardian, The Daily Mail, VICE, Playboy, CNN, CBC, New Zealand Herald, Die Zeit and more.]
[Several people were interviewed for this article including former senior Mooji staff, students and volunteers.]
The Next Wild, Wild Country
“We are living with a living Jesus Christ. He is God living.” That’s how a Mooji disciple named Lakshmi described her experience living with her guru at his ashram during an interview. She continued, “The whole vibration here is vibrating with Mooji…it is pure divinity.” Another devotee, Bill Free, was conducting the interview in a series with “Mooji disciples” — the most dedicated and loyal inner circle. He replied, “This guy is just like Jesus. The truth comes out of him in every sentence.” A longtime disciple named Shree says “Mooji is not a man, he is a master.” Another devotee goes as far as to say “Mooji is certainly the evidence in this world that God exists.” One follower refers to Mooji’s “divine presence” and says that he is “so humble, so pure and so profound, he has transcended the limitations of thought forms.”
On stage at his Monte Sahaja ashram in rural Portugal, Mooji directs his devotees to bow and kiss his feet. They gush with love and devotion in tears. A young woman says to him in an accent, “I don’t kiss your feet, I kiss feet of God of universe.” Another woman tells Mooji, “I had an experience recently, where you, as the lion that you are, took my heart in your teeth and you shook me and the peace and the miraculous revelations that came from that are incredible. It is only because of your generosity to be the lion that we can be the sheep.” A guy who calls Mooji “beloved Godfather” tells him “It is by your grace alone Lord that thy will be done.” Another, “You give everything. You give us life. You bring us home.” A young devotee reads a poetic letter she wrote to him, “If I have to cry let my tears be holy waters to wash your feet. If I have to die, let me die at your feet today…If I have to fall let me fall in love with you my Lord.”
“It’s definitely a cult,” says a former longtime senior staff member who spent many years in Mooji’s group. Former members who are speaking out agree. They claim Mooji has appropriated and distorted the guru tradition and has used it to justify a cult of devotion and worship around himself while abusing many in the process.
“If I have to die, let me die at your feet today…If I have to fall let me fall in love with you my Lord.” — Mooji devotee
“He encourages dependence,” says one person who spent time at the Monte Sahaja ashram. She said it “seemed odd and inappropriate” the way he fueled the worship of himself. “I couldn’t understand why he didn’t tell people to not do it. He would just lap it up. There were times when people were literally just physically hanging off of him.” In videos, Mooji can be seen directing devotees to bow and kiss his feet. One man told Mooji “I never had a father,” to which he replied, “God wanted you here. I am your father now.” Former members describe residents of the ashram as “zombies” who have lost all sense of themselves in their worship of him.
A scholar with a Ph.D. in Indian religions said that Mooji has no guru lineage as his teacher Papaji was “not authorized to take the gurus seat” by Ramana Maharshi and Mooji was also not authorized by Papaji. “Mooji is a self-appointed guru. In Indian tradition, a self-appointed guru is the least trustworthy person around, because only a dangerously deluded individual would want that position and the adulation that often comes with it.” He also said feet kissing is not a traditional Indian practice in the guru tradition.
Mooji also eats meat including cow and has been married twice in a traditional Hindu marriage by a Hindu priest in a temple in India within 2 years of each other. And he ended both relationships without dissolving the previous marriage which technically makes him a bigamist legally. A source who is Hindu explains. “Most Hindu traditions are vegetarian and no temple or ashram serves meat. By eating cow meat, doing two Hindu weddings without respecting its legality and sacredness, they aren’t promoting Hindu philosophy. They’re ruining its traditional beauty.”
After two Mooji devotees committed suicide in 2017 people are becoming increasingly concerned about the well being of those living under his command at the Monte Sahaja ashram.
VIDEO: The Only Video You Need to See to Know Mooji is Running a Cult
There is music devoted to Mooji as well. One kirtan song, sung to hundreds of his followers who live at his ashram, has the lyrics “Mooji you’re the answer, master you’re the way” repeated over and over again. In another, a devotee sings on stage “Praise to my father, Sri Mooji. Praise to his lotus feet that whatever they touch they make it pure.” Another song has the lyrics “If you have to die, die at the feet of the guru.” Another one sung to Mooji “By your grace I am. I come to life in you. Shiva, Shiva.”
VIDEO: Music for Mooji — “Mooji you’re the answer, master You’re the Way” & “Praise to my father, Sri Mooji, the most humble king”
One person who spent time Monte Sahaja reports seeing “frequent crying, screaming and the appearance of many weird individuals as well as some exorcism-like episodes.” A staff member says exorcisms were common.
“The first exorcism was in Tiruvannamalai around 2011 or 2012. It was a Spanish woman who came in and started to scream on his lap. She was possessed according to Mooji. That night we were there all night and he was trying to get the spirit to leave her but it refused to leave her. And then later on a little girl was possed with many demons according to Mooji.”
She said people with mental illness started to regularly show up and Mooji would tell them they were possessed with demons. People would have voices in their head and other symptoms and he believed they were possessed.
A former member says “There was a lot of indoctrination occurring like naming ceremonies and women would have their heads shaved by him. There were some very strange, bizarre things going on. It felt very unhealthy to me.”
“She was crouched against the wall saying ’no, no, no’ and he took the scissors and cut her hair against her will.”
The staff member who witnessed the exorcisms said Mooji cut her hair and another woman’s hair against their will. Some went along but some did not want it. There were about 20-30 people in total who had their hair cut by Mooji that night. She described what happened:
“I was like ‘I don’t want my hair cut, I don’t want to do it.’ Mooji said ‘No, no. It’s your turn, come on, come on.’ He ordered me to stand in front of him to get my hair cut against my wishes. He would grab our hair and pull it up toward the ceiling and then take the scissors and cut all the way across. It was a bad hair cut. He did the same thing to another woman with very long hair. She was crouched against the wall saying ’no, no, no’ and he took the scissors and cut her hair against her will.”
VIDEO: Mooji Conducts “Divine Ego Exorcism” While Blood-Curdling Screams are Heard in Background
Before Mooji became God he was Tony. Anthony Paul Moo-Young to be precise. Born in Jamaica in 1954 he made his living as a street artist doing charcoal paintings and selling incense. He eventually opened up a small Chai shop in London. As he became interested in ideas of awakening he began teaching to small groups of students which slowly grew over time. According to his bio he spent a few months studying with Papaji and now claims direct lineage to Ramana Maharshi because of it. In 2011 he opened a spiritual center called Monte Sahaja in a remote area of Portugal where he currently lives with hundreds of devotees. He teaches his followers there and around the world that they can attain “immediate awakening.”
“Just one look, one glance, one touch, one word from Mooji can transform your whole life.” — Mooji devotee
Mooji now sits at the top of the self-made guru game. He has 52 million views on Youtube, 70,000 Instagram followers, and 380,000 likes on Facebook. His talks are live-streamed and he runs a membership site with exclusive content. He’s made millions, has a book published on Sounds True and has hundreds of thousands of followers around the world. People line the streets to get a chance to see or touch him and massive crowds come to see him speak. He is one of the most worshiped and sought after spiritual teachers of our time.
But now, for the first time ever, Mooji’s holy status and divine empire are facing major public scrutiny. Allegations of being sexual with students and of running a destructive cult are surfacing — verifying what people have been stating for years in online cult forums and websites.
“When I see Mooji from these eyes now, I don’t feel like I’m following a man. I feel like I’m following the embodiment of the Christ mind, of the one Braham, God mind.” — Bill Free, Mooji devotee
Breaking the Silence
In January 2019 a former staff member in his ashram and follower posted a video called “The Real Mooji Exposed” on Facebook. She had reached out to someone and got first-hand knowledge of what was happening at the ashram. She publicly called out Mooji and alluded that he was having sex with young students. “What you’re doing, that you know is wrong to young women, all under the guise of spirituality and being a spiritual master, telling them this is their way to quicken their awakening and merge with God. Shame on you. It is a blatant misuse of power and it’s wrong.” She said that she wasn’t one of those girls who could be manipulated or silenced. She said “every single one of my fears was confirmed today” and describes it as “devastating news” as Mooji was her spiritual master. The video caused a stir, garnering over 14,000 views.
Mooji responded publicly in a Facebook video that has been viewed almost 60,000 times. While he didn’t address any specifics or reference the recent video he said he wasn’t guilty of any of the allegations. “My heart has always been clean before God. I’ve not done anything to harm anyone…It is an intentional and malicious attack on myself.”
A longtime Mooji disciple and Monte Sahaja staff member was one of many who defended their beloved teacher in the comments of the video:
“Moojibaba is impeccable in all aspects of his life and so is Monte Sahaja a pure reflection of the Master’s purity and God’s Grace, for the miracle of awakening happens here. When we go to rest at night I see the Master rushing off to work on yet another project that is to benefit humanity…The Master doesn’t ever think of himself.
For myself I am eternally grateful for knowing Moojibaba, for he has taken me from a kind of death to real life. Through his pointings my eyes were cleaned from the distortions of human thinking that produce the kind of unfounded lies that we encounter in [the] video.”
A young female devotee who’s been living at Monte Sahaja for 3.5 years also commented:
“I could never possibly express the gratitude that I have for my Master in words…It hurts my heart hearing such untrue gossip about him.”
Another devotee’s comment:
“He is not a person, how can you doubt?
Sex with Students & Disciples
There are credible accounts of Mooji engaging sexually with female students. One longtime former disciple who left abruptly claims she had sex with Mooji secretly the entire time she was at Sahaja. Additionally, insiders say that Mooji is sleeping with the three young female disciples who live with him in the secluded gated area of the property. The follower who initially exposed Mooji stated he is telling young women “this is their way to quicken their awakening and merge with God.” It is all happening under coercive mind control and an abusive environment. There are other women who have made themselves known too but are afraid to speak out publicly as well.
A former senior staff member who spent many years close to Mooji said he has a fetish for “young, hot girls.” She described a pattern of Mooji cheating on his girlfriend and then dumping her for a younger, more attractive woman who was a student. She said it left the women completely devastated and in tears. One girlfriend “was laying there sobbing on the bed, a complete mess, and no one helped her.” She asked her “Why are you crying?” She said “he left me. Mooji left me.” And then the girlfriend would be out of the group or sidelined. Mooji has cheated on his prior three girlfriends with students and dumped them for a new, younger student she said.
One time Mooji slipped out at night to get away from his girlfriend Radha so he could have sex with a devotee while in India for a retreat she said.
“She was staying next to my room during the retreat and I heard the loud noise of her orgasming because there was one wall between us. I was like ‘she’s having sex.’ I could hear the bed. I was like ‘with whom?’ because I knew there was no guy around she liked. And I went out to see if I could see bikes or something and I saw Mooji’s bike out there. The girl was shouting so loudly. I knew he was having sex with her.
A few weeks later she was expelled from the group. He was speaking bad about her in private satsangs and saying she was a devilish girl. So every woman in the team started outcasting her. One day she was a member, next day nobody likes her.”
This woman wanted something more than just sex but Mooji did not she said. “She was not the abusable type so Mooji realized he stepped into a trap and had to set the team against her.”
She said Mooji later admitted to her that he was there. “Mooji told me he was in her room that night. She said that when he walked in she closed the door and pushed him on the bed and just laid on top of him. He was trying to make it out like she initiated everything or was even groping him. As he was describing what happened his girlfriend Radha walked up and he told me we’d discuss it later.”
On another occasion, she said Mooji kicked her and another staff member out of the apartment late one night to have sex with a student. Mooji’s girlfriend was on vacation. She said they both could have stayed as it was also a communal space but Mooji had other plans.
“I knew he was gonna fuck but I was pretty cool about it. I was like ‘ok, the guy is having a bit of a break. He needs a bit of a refreshment. The girlfriend is away. He can have a treat every once in a while. So, that kind of free mindset.’ We left and it was him and her alone in the house. She slept at his place. The next morning we were walking towards his house. We see him and her walking hand and hand and you could see they were pretty intimate.”
The other staff member asked her ‘Is she the new girlfriend now?” and she said, “nah, it’s fine, just forget about it.” She said they learned to just downplay and ignore these types of things.
After Mooji spent a few nights with this girl he “got his hands clean” of her she said by pairing her up with one of his devotees. They ended up in a long term relationship and the guy had no idea Mooji had just slept with her.
She also described several relationships in which Mooji paired people together or broke them up. “He has broken up so many couples. He wants people to follow him and is obsessed with everyone looking at him.” Mooji would give impassioned speeches to people about how good a person was for another group member and how great they’d be together. To break up couples he’d tell one of the partners how incompatible they were with the other partner and dissuade them from being together. He always did this one on one, not when the couple was with him.
A former staff member described how Mooji broke up her and her husband. At first, she was close with Mooji and he never liked having her husband around when they would be working together. When she and her husband couldn’t both afford to go to India they decided that he would go. Mooji resented her for this she said. When Mooji and her husband returned they were very close and she had been pushed out. And then her husband moved to Portugal and Mooji would not allow her to move there. He intervened in her relationship and separated them. One day she got a call from him saying that he was dating a Mooji disciple.
This pattern showed itself again when Mooji’s girlfriend Radha was pushed out for a younger devotee named Krishnabai. Radha dramatically confronted him during satsang in 2014 after her attempts to create more space between him and Krishnabai failed. One person who witnessed it saw Mooji wave his hand at Radha and say “you were too attached.” He said the whole incident occurred in front of hundreds and was recorded on video. Krishnabai then became his girlfriend and Radha was sidelined and eventually left. “It’s knowledge to those living at Monte Sahajra,” that Krishnabi and Mooji are together a source said.
Krishnabai arrived at the age of 20 and quickly became enamored with Mooji. She said the first time she saw him on stage she was filled with love, joy, and light. She then became a dedicated personal assistant. Krishnabai says she lives in a state of “complete devotion” to Mooji. She claims Mooji has the rare ability to reflect the pure self and is God. Mooji is currently 65 and she is now 27.
Insiders say Krishnabai along with two other female disciples live in Mooji’s private and gated area of the property. They say Mooji is sleeping with them. They are also responsible for dressing and undressing him each day. And these disciples rarely leave the gated area, not even to eat with the group much sources say. A former senior staff member refers to these women as Mooji’s “concubine.” A person who lived at Sahaja said of one of these women has been abused by Mooji. “He treats her like absolute shit. I felt like she was trapped. I knew that she had been screamed at and yelled at.”
And this comment from someone who exposes cults suggests many knew of Mooji’s sexual “antics” from the beginning:
“The amazing thing about Tony (Moo) is that everyone knew about his proclivities from the get go. Tony’s great chum Reiki Shiva used to regale everyone with tales of his sexual antics to all and sundry in the chai shops of Tiru. It’s a bit like Harvey (Weinstein): everyone knew but they all wanted the starring role so they played along. Harvey was sharing Hollywood stardust, Tony is selling the mystical allure of enlightenment .”
A former staff member said she has seen emails directly between Mooji and female followers to go on dates and engage sexually. This was while he had a girlfriend.
When one of Mooji’s girlfriends got pregnant several years ago she really wanted to keep the baby and Mooji did not. Mooji having a baby was not in his plan of building his empire as it would have introduced a legal obligation to support a child. Someone who was close to the girlfriend at the time says that Mooji coerced her into getting an abortion against her will.
“I told Krishnabai ‘I know Mooji is God.’ She said, ‘That’s good you know that. Most people just think he’s very wise.’” — Former Monte Sahaja volunteer
Inside Mooji’s Monte Sahaja Cult
“Mooji is the sun and we are his rays. He is the ocean and we are his waves. It is his grace only that brought us together in the first place. He is all that there is.” — Mooji devoteee
“People are being traumatized and brainwashed,” a former senior staff member, who had worked closely with Mooji for years said. Former members speaking out claim people are isolated in rural Portugal, thousands of miles from their homes and are under very intense and coercive mind control. It is a highly regulated and abusive environment centered on absolute devotion to Mooji. Members literally believe he is God. “They sound like him, he speaks through them. It’s creepy. It’s almost like they’ve been taken over by him, like he’s possessed them.”
Former members say the Mooji people see on Youtube and in public events is very different than the real Mooji. They describe him as “cruel,” “abusive,” “narcissistic,” “extremely controlling,” “a bully,” “ruthless,” “dangerous,” and a “demon.” One minute Mooji is loving and kind and the next minute he is screaming and yelling at someone or belittling them.
A former volunteer describes an incident when Mooji threw water on a student’s face:
“We were in the dining area. She asked him a question about her thought process. He then asked a person to slide their glass of water to him. He picked it up and threw the water on the woman’s face. It was a lot of water so it covered her hair and face and was dripping on her clothes. He did this while we were sitting there. No warning. Very calmly. Then he told her ‘go take a walk.’”
She also said Mooji publicly shamed a woman during satsang. “I also remember Mooji reading an email from someone who he said was ‘mentally ill’ and he read her full name so we all knew who she was and said, ‘see what I have to deal with?’”
On one occasion the group doctor was brought in front of Mooji and the community and made to repent and repeatedly apologize for not obeying his commands. Mooji was angry and said, “how long have you been with me and you still don’t act as I want?” He said she wasn’t measuring up to the devotion expected of her and wasn’t sure how much longer she’d be around.
“We may think how cruel the Master is being, but the Master always knows best.” — Mooji devotee and designated teacher
Even Mooji’s daughter is humiliated in front of the group. A former member says it appears she is forced to use public satsangs as her only method of communicating with her father. When she stated during satsang she wanted to leave and live in London he shouted; “I’ll have to shut down the entire Sahaja to afford it!” He controls her and her finances and she would fear being exiled permanently if she ever left without his permission they said.
Former members say Mooji will yell, scream and belittle people regularly in the group. One person says “I also saw him super angry at one of the girls that used to serve him. He was brutal to her and she started crying.” Another echoes this type of behavior, “He would make very outlandish and arrogant remarks and completely embarrass and scrutinize people in front of others…I went to hug him one day and he pushed me off him with an angry look yelling at me because he felt that I didn’t ask enough questions and also called me a devil.” Someone who spent time at Monte Sahaj:
“I spent almost 3 months there last year, I have seen him yelling at people on MANY occasions…She went to Mooji for help and he relentlessly yelled at her in front of over 200 people. She was completely shaken up and her parents are extremely concerned about her. ”
Former members say any criticism or challenge to Mooji or his orders is dismissed as “mind.” One says “you stop questioning anything.” And for members who do act out, Mooji has designated a place to serve as an isolation building. They will receive only one meal a day and learn to “know the self.”
A strict code of silence is enforced 24/7 all year round at the Monte Sahaja ashram, aside from work-related needs. Former members say this leads to isolation and psychological distress. It’s how he prevents people from connecting to each other and their own selves, they say. Members used to be able to talk during meals but Mooji even ordered that to stop because “he didn’t want to hear everyone chatting.” A former volunteer said “You can’t talk to anyone. You are never to speak of your history, your life or anything. You are never, ever supposed to talk about your experience with anyone.” She said a few guys got hell for briefly talking in the smoking area. This was not during a silent retreat. She had no idea it was like that before arriving to volunteer. When she asked a staff member how they were doing they replied, “We don’t ask that kind of question here, but that’s ok, we still love you.”
“Followers are conditioned to march immediately. It’s not natural behavior to scramble like rats to give him what he needs.”
People pay as much as $600 a month to go to Monte Sahaj to do “seva” as volunteers. Critics say Mooji essentially cons vulnerable followers to get free labor by having his ashram designated as a charity. Members work 10 hour days under a very critical and watchful eye. “Clean the showers as if you are cleaning it for Mooji” a volunteer was told. “With all your heart, clean.” She said a few crumbs would drop on the floor while cleaning and someone she didn’t even know came up to her and harshly scolded her. When she was 15 minutes late the first day of volunteering due to severe jet lag and arriving late at night she was heavily belittled by her team leader. The working conditions were disgusting she said. And there were no gloves. Sometimes the work would go into the middle of the night for some crews if Mooji kept the satsang late.
Routine safety issues on the property would also be ignored and when confronted team members would say “do you not trust the Guru?”
“He’s actually quite cruel. He doesn’t want you to have your own spiritual experience. He has to dominate every aspect of your life. And even then it’s not enough.”
Residents of Monte Sahaja live in a constant state of competition for who can be the most devoted to Mooji. “Somehow he put us in direct competition with each to fight for his acknowledgment and most of us had no idea that that’s what we were doing.” And if he doesn’t like someone’s energy or they haven’t shown enough devotion they are kicked out or ostracized. One student told Mooji that she loves other teachers too and he told her “then go be with them.” Her promised work assignment at Monte Sahaja suddenly disappeared. Another said they experienced awakening and she was kicked out for it. People walk around on eggshells fearing him and wanting to outdo others to show how devoted they are.
Students are taught that the mind is “poison” and to relentlessly attack their own thoughts. When this happens in an environment of social isolation and silence with long work days, where there is no emotional support, heavy mind control and when Mooji is abusing them it is a recipe for disaster former members say.
One former staff member said the gaslighting was frequent.
“There is a lot of gaslighting. It leads to so much self-doubting that you don’t believe anything that you think yourself. You rely on Mooji. And you start to do whatever he wants you to do. You don’t trust your inner voice anymore because you are told so often that it is your ego and you don’t know anymore.”
Mooji controls people’s behavior regularly. As one example, a former staff member of many years said that in Mooji’s pre-Monte Sahaja days he coerced all the vegetarians in the group to eat meat. Even an Indian couple who were vegetarian since birth began eating meat under Mooji’s influence. His girlfriend at the time Radha was the last hold out but even she couldn’t resist Mooji’s coercive pressure. “She wasn’t eating by her own will. Her eyes were closed and he was feeding her chicken.” She was shocked watching this scene unfold she said.
“In Sahaja he is really turning out to be the monster he wants to be.”
One former staff member said she would have done anything Mooji asked because she thought she was serving God. On one occasion she said Mooji told her a guy had thrown a rock at him but missed. On Mooji’s orders, she threatened him and the guy never came back. She said she would have tried to beat him up if Mooji had ordered. In hindsight, she said she thinks Mooji lied to her about the incident. She also said she heard a woman say she’d jump off of a bridge if Mooji had asked.
Mooji ordered his team to stay on watch 24/7 all night to prevent a heron from eating fish out of his pond. It was a mother trying to feed her babies. When that didn’t work he ordered the heron shot and it was.
“He is nothing more than a psychopathic, narcissistic mental abuser and con artist out to make money off the backs of broken people.”
Some want to leave the group but can’t because of group pressure, coercion by Mooji, fear of permanent exile from their friends or financial hardship due to commitments to the group. One person who spent a lot of time at Monte Sahaja explains, “I know a lot of people there who are afraid to leave him and afraid to come out and tell what is really happening there. I have begged some of them to leave but they are deeply afraid of him.”
Smuggling €200,000 Cash Into Portugal
A former staff member who was in the planning meeting and present after says Mooji and his team smuggled over €200,000 Euros into Portugal from London. This was from six years of unreported money they had made during retreats and events around the world. The staff member said Mooji worked on a tourist visa all those years and did not have a proper work visa. Another staff member confirms this and said he kept the cash in his room. “Mooji stored tens of thousands of dollars in cash under his bed in his apartment in London. He also had a safe in the closet behind the coats with at least $50,000 cash in it. It was British pounds wrapped in rubber bands.” There was no declaration of taxes before they became a charity in 2010. They took out pounds in London and converted it to Euros which they smuggled to Portugal. They then used this money to purchase Monte Sahaja.
“They were forming a charity and deciding to buy land — 30 hectares, more than €130,000. A person cannot carry more than €10,000. They hid it in the luggage in two different shipments. One of them got caught with the cash. They were all traveling on the same flight, all managed to get through security aside from one guy who got caught with cash. He lied about it and it took him several months to clear it up.”
She said there is a police record of the incident that can be checked using the person’s real name. Another former staff member also confirmed this and says she helped write the statement to the police lying about the origins of the money. She said they told the police the money came from the person who was caught’s book sales.
Another former staff member confirms this and says that she smuggled tens of thousands of dollars in cash on flights for Mooji. She said other staff members would also smuggle cash from America and India to London. “It was always last minute, like the day of the flight or the day before. There was always cash on us.”
When Mooji first purchased Monte Sahaja it had no buildings on it. A former staff member said the whole center was built illegally. “He didn’t have the permits to build on the land. None of the buildings were built legally.”
Mooji sells a variety of spiritual products at his center. “Sahaja Dust” is labeled as “earth Mooji may have walked on.” It’s dirt from their retreat center. Mala beads blessed by Mooji sell for up to 25 Euros. Pictures of Mooji’s feet sell for 1.5 Euros. And he sells blankets that he has personally used.
Two Suicides in One Year
When two members, Florentin (Flo) Camoin and Helen Kelby, committed suicide in 2017 it was not surprising to some who know what’s actually going on in Mooji’s communities. Flo died at Monte Sahaja and Helen died in India. One resident who knew Flo acknowledges the ways in which Mooji’s teachings and the culture at Monte Sahaja contributed to his death:
“He had no voice for his deep needs and troubles. He needed to be ‘seen’ first as a person before annihilating his identity. He said to a sangha member here that ‘in his life he has never been seen.’ Maybe he needed a subtle ego boost and nourished the ‘spiritual person’ first before cutting off his head. A platform for this must be created to make sure it never happens again.”
There is no emotional support at Monte Sahaja. Anything wrong is just your “mind.” So, you can imagine if someone was struggling at all and then forced to remain silent and keep their problems within.
Was Flo ever put into isolation? Did Mooji ever counsel Flo or offer him spiritual guidance? Did staff members know that he was struggling? Mooji and the team should be held publicly accountable. What other work and social pressures was he put under?
Former Members Speak Out Online
“I suffer from PTSD from all the psychological trauma he inflicted on me.”
For years people have been posting online about their experiences or the experiences of loved ones connected with Mooji’s ashram in Portugal. They have warned others to stay away and that Mooji is running an abusive cult.
One person who was at Monte Sahaja describes Mooji as a dangerous fraud:
“I spent 3 months with Mooji and Sahaja and can tell you first hand that he is a BIG fraud. He and his inside clique uses group pressure to psychologocally break you down and control you, leaving you very confused until they even strip that until you are an empty mindless shell…A lot of people there think he is some God because they feel an energy pass through their hands when he touches them..His old body guard I spoke with recently is absolutley terrified of him. This guy is EXTREMELY dangerous and must be stopped.”
One person lost his girlfriend to the group:
“She left her parents and all her friends same way after staying there for three months, she also doesn’t want to come back home from there this year. I can not speak with her anymore, I am afraid that she is manipulated, brainwashed and misguided to do all of this things by the members of this organization, cult. What kind of enlightenment do they teach there to leave your family like this? Please help!?!”
Someone who was at Monte Sahaja warns others:
“I went to his place in Portugal and there I saw the whole sad truth about this man, I am studiying to become a therapist, I have learned about narcissistic personality disorder, and I have seen many traits and dodgy behaviours in him which are attributed to narcissists…If you want to know about Mooji, educate yourself about NPD (Narcissitic Personality Disorder).
Another lost their partner to the group:
“My partner went for 3 weeks but he never returned. He left 4 months ago. He is brainwashed, he is lost there with all these people who are incredibly selfish. Mooji is just another fake guru with a very good business.”
Another says family members distanced themselves after joining the group: “My father and his wife are devoted disciples of Mooji and he has sadly estranged himself from his children and grandchildren.”
Another person who spent time there:
“They got me to break down and cry. They were really nice to me in the beginning and then all of a sudden everyone starting to become hostile towards me. I really didnt understand why they all of a sudden started to act like I was a criminal. After I broke down and showed my vulnerability I started worshippng him like everyone else and then they were nice to me again. I then started to have doubts again and then they started back being mean to me. Wow I knew that something was up. I knew they were afraid that I had a strong mind and I was encouraging others there to leave which they did not like.”
Another warns a mother who’s daughter got into Mooji, “Don´t let your daughter go to Portugal, he is worshipped like a god, there are brainwashing elements in the daily routine, he is a dictator in his Ashram, during the silent retreat we were watched the whole time, I saw really evil people there in his Sangha group.”
This person’s partner got caught up in Mooji’s group:
“The same almost happened to my husband he went to work at Monte Sahaja for 3 weeks and came back has a zombie. It was really hard to take him out of that stage. It took him 3 years to start behaving normally and because he couldn’t work we lost all the money we had saved for years. Now he is ok and very thankful that I didn’t gave up on him. Now he sees how dangerous Mooji and his people are with their fake love, they will use you and abuse you and when they don’t need you anymore they will kick you out and you have nowhere to go. ”
Another person had to get therapy after her time with Mooji:
“I have sought out counseling after leaving him and had to accept the fact that I unknowingly joined a cult, something I said I would never be a part of. Mentally I was fucked for a while from the mind games he played with me but slowly I am gaining my confidence back in myself which he desperately tried to take away with his incomplete teachings and hypnotic trance techniques. It was VERY hard for me to accept the fact that he is not true. “
It’s Just the Beginning
“When you are living with a master who is in front of you, the very presence is there, it confronts you about things, challenges your perceptions, loves you, beats you, lifts you up…” — Mooji
What is being reported here is a small portion of the abuse and dysfunction that has occurred in Mooji’s cult. Given the rural and isolated location of Mooji’s ashram in Portugal and the fear around speaking about him, much information has remained suppressed. The former staff member who came forward on Facebook with the accounts of Mooji sleeping with students was the first wave. This article is the next. Each thing is a step forward towards truth and exposing the abuse that’s occurring in Mooji’s cult.
[Exposing cults require lots of emotional and financial support. All my work happens only through donations of my supporters. Thanks. Donate Now.]
At 1:30 pm on January 5th, 2006, Carla Jean Shaffer’s body was found dead, floating in a small pond near the Orcas Island airport in Eastsound, Washington. She was 52 years old. Three weeks before, on December 14th, Carla suffered 30–40 stab wounds, a broken rib, a punctured liver, a damaged breastbone and had received a blunt force strike to her face, smashing in several teeth. Thirteen years later there is still no definitive conclusion about how she died. Officially ruled an accidental drowning, and self-inflicted stabbing, many people, including Carla’s family and friends, have never accepted this version of events. For the first time ever, the story of this unsolved mystery is being told.
[Be Scofield is one of the most prominent journalists in the world exposing cults and abusive gurus. In the last year alone, her articles received over 1 million views. Stories about her work have appeared on The Guardian, The Daily Mail, Playboy, CNN, CBC, New Zealand Herald, Die Zeit and more.]
When I showed up on the doorstep of county prosecutor Randall Gaylord’s home the morning after Thanksgiving he answered the door wearing a red and white striped apron and was holding a spatula in one hand. “Randy? Hi. Um, hello, sorry to bother you,” I said. “I’m writing a story about a woman who died on Orcas Island about ten years ago. I believe you oversaw her case.”
I thought his home would be highly secured given that he was the prosecutor and coroner. Or that he’d be suspicious of a stranger on his doorstep. But this was Orcas Island–a tiny community where crime is almost non-existent–so he invited me in without hesitation.
I wanted to know how and why Carla Jean Shaffer, a beautiful dance instructor, mother and artist, had died 13 years ago under suspicious circumstances. “Drowning is a death of exclusion” he told me as we sat at his dining room table. “When a body is found in water and the death cannot be explained in any other way it’s essentially presumed a drowning.” He said there was no foul play, no other individuals suspected and there were no drugs or poison in her system. But there also wasn’t enough supporting evidence for him to rule it a suicide. Thus, the coroner’s report reads “Accidental Drowning.”
How would Carla, who was known to be an excellent swimmer, accidentally drown in a small pond only a few hundred yards from her home? That’s the question I posed to officer Herb Crowe. He was one of the responding deputies on the scene. “We couldn’t figure out exactly if she fell in the pond and drowned or wanted to commit suicide. I think it was more of an accidental thing.” I asked if he meant that she went swimming. “No. I think she walked close to the shoreline and she fell in. And I don’t know if she was in some type of altered mental state or something when that occurred.”
During an interview with Randall, his deputy prosecutor and a detective several weeks later at the Friday Harbor courthouse, I pressed them about Carla “falling in” to the pond and drowning. Randall said she couldn’t have just fallen in as the pond was even with the shoreline at the time. “If she had been suffocated and then put into the pond would you have been able to tell in an autopsy?” Randall said no, most likely not. He admitted he had no idea what events led to her death. It was a mystery.
“Legend has it that just off the shore from Eastsound, beyond a tiny island in the bay, there is an energy vortex that provides an unseen source of peace and well-being to those who are ready to accept it.” This area is the “place to start for mysterious feelings and vibes” reads a post on a site for a local vacation rental. It’s one of the many things that makes Orcas Island a deeply magical, powerful and even haunting place.
When I arrived at the Outlook Inn on Saturday, October 27th, I had no idea the hotel sat directly in front of this vortex. I couldn’t see it because it was a dark and rainy night. But I could feel it.
Last year, on the exact same day, October 27th, I had arrived in Sedona, Arizona–another town known for it’s powerful vortexes and energy. I had rushed there on short notice because my astrologer looked at my “solar return.” It’s the forecast for the upcoming year. The entire year prediction changes based on where you are physically on your birthday. I had mentioned I wanted to head west, possibly to Sedona in a month or so. He put Sedona into his program and said “Go. Get there by your birthday. It will have a huge impact on your year ahead.”
I did make it to Sedona and within a few days of being there, I was surrounded by information and energy about Bentinho Massaro. I would end up spending a month infiltrating his group and writing about it. The story went viral, getting 200,000 views in a few weeks and 18 days after I published, the cult leader fled Sedona and went into hiding.
This year my astrologer and I did the same thing. “Stay near or to the west of Eugene, Oregon” he said. He sent an image of a map with lines, one of which extended from north to south directly through Seattle on a slight diagonal. After traveling for several months I had managed to make it to Portland around October 25th and thought I may just stay there. But on the morning of the 27th–one day before my birthday–I started feeling this pull north. At first I thought it was just a scenic trip and that I’d return. But as I drove I felt a magnetic pull north. “Maybe the Olympic mountains” I texted him. “They look epic.” He was a huge yes. But as I drove through Olympia I had this pull to keep going. And then almost out of nowhere I felt this urge to go to Orcas Island.
And so the night before my birthday I somehow ended up on Orcas Island. I awoke on October 28th in front of a vortex. It could have been in Portland, in the front seat of my car, where I had awoken the day before. It could have been Olympia or Seattle. But it wasn’t. It was Orcas Island. It was a mystery.
A few days after I arrived I Google searched “meditation Orcas Island” and discovered a group called Sambodha (formerly “The Children of the Light” and “Ma ‘Pushan”) run by a spiritual teacher named Aaravindha Himadra formerly known as Surya (real name Janis Briedis). He and his wife Ashayrah Himadra (real name Jill Peterson Briedis) have lived on the island and run the group for decades. Aaravindha’s book “Immortal Self,” published by Sounds True, captures his journey through the Himalayas where he lived with “Amartya Masters” whom he claims he has a personal spiritual relationship with. His book claims to reveal a “legendary and secluded spiritual tradition” that is a “beacon of hope for spiritual seekers.” According to a former Sambodha member, Aaravindha blends together a variety of different spiritual teachings and many of his followers believe he is enlightened. Members in his Facebook group refer to him as a “Master.”
I took one look at Aaravindha’s photo and my cult radar immediately went off. I decided to dig around and sure enough there was an article from a former member who had spoken with other former members who had left.
“What I discovered is that all of them said that Aaravindha has two faces. The one he presents to the public is all about love, kindness and humility, and the other one behind the scenes is paranoid, narcissistic and shaming. Many of them said that he lies and manipulates, and this is something I also saw sometimes, like things didn’t quite add up and yet nobody ever called him out on it…Some of the things I heard were shocking and what I would call emotionally abusive.
I finally left because I could see that things were getting weird with the organization and Aaravindha was getting always more paranoid, accusing people of things that were ridiculous, telling people what they should think politically, and also kicking out some members for reasons that I couldn’t understand. In at least one instance I know of, he told other members to unfriend the kicked out person on Facebook and basically shun them.”
Several weeks later I spoke with a former member who lives on the island. She also said Sambodha was cult-like. “He had a way of manipulating people because he could see what your issues were and he would use them against people.” She said he began making the group “the only way” and said she “watched him get corrupted.” She said, “Maybe aspects of his own self” had become corrupted by dark forces.
A cult is a group defined by a charismatic leader who is the source of power and authority for the members. There is a process of indoctrination and often there is some form of abuse from the leader. An in-group jargon is used as well.
By the accounts of her friends, family and a current Sambodha member, Carla Shaffer had joined Sambodha several years before she died. One friend said she had “become enamored” with the group and that she “attended meetings regularly.” Partners Stacy Ramillah and Dave Lutz were Carla’s neighbors in her Opal Commons community and they were part of the group as well. Dave Lutz told me that Carla had been in Sambodha for at least three years before her death and had several personal healing sessions with Aaravindha. Carla had gotten very close to Aaravindha and his wife Ashayrah in the time she was involved with them.
According to her ex-husband, Jim Shaffer-Bauck, Carla had cut off contact with many of her usual friends after joining the group. This is common for people who join high-demand cult type groups. One friend noted how she had changed towards the end of her life. “There is virtually no resemblance to the Carla I spoke with about a month ago and have known for over 20+ years. She mostly warned of dark, evil forces and encouraged prayers and for everyone to stay in the light.” And, like many group members, Carla also adopted a new identity and name. It was Nahmine Attar.
As I investigated Sambodha I asked locals if they had heard of the group. Most people had not. Despite being a small population, the island is expansive and Aaravindha lived near Deer Harbor, deep in the woods, about 20 minutes from town. He also spent a lot of his time in Europe teaching to his large following there.
I learned that there were several active members on the island, probably around 10-15 in total. A few even worked at the local food co-op. They didn’t have a center but would meet at Aaravindha’s home or rent various properties on the island to host Sambodha events. Around 30 people showed up to Aaravindha’sKarunya Marga Seminar in Deer Harbor in April 2018.
Prior to her death Carla may have been trying to leave the group. Jim’s research notes from the time indicate Carla told a friend about another side of Sambodha. His notes read, “Carla had told her she had discovered that there was a dark side to the Sambodha group and that she wanted out.” Jim also described a time when Carla dramatically confronted Aaravindha during lunch at a restaurant called Chimayo. Jim was eating in the back, facing Aaravindha’s table. “Carla walked in very briskly, pulled a chair up to their table, spoke vigorously directly to Janis (Aaravindha), then got up and left. Janis never responded. She saw me as she left; she appeared to be quite angry.” Another long-term resident of Orcas who was present also remembered the confrontation. And Carla’s ex-boyfriend had said that around the time of the stabbing she told him that she was afraid. Another friend of hers I spoke with also told me Carla was afraid at the time.
“Carla had told her she had discovered that there was a dark side to the Sambodha group and that she wanted out.”
So, there I was, one year to the date from my Sedona experience investigating another cult. I figured it’d be similar to Bentinho–grandiose claims, verbal abuse and cult indoctrination. Same story with a different spin. Nothing I hadn’t seen before. But once again the mystery proved much deeper than I ever imagined.
On December 14th, 2005 at around 9:00 am Carla Shaffer was found naked on the front lawn of a home near the Orcas Center. The homeowner told police at the time Carla was disoriented, covered in blood and walking quickly towards him. When she called his name he was surprised, as he could not recognize her at first. He proceeded to take her inside and call 911.
Carla had driven there in the middle of the night completely naked in the freezing cold with an iced windshield. She was “looking for light” she later told the police and went to the Orcas Center to watch the sunrise. One person reported that she almost drove him off the road as she was in the wrong lane, another said he saw her driving with her head out of the window.
A first responder on the scene reported to the police that Carla was afraid and hesitant to speak about what happened. She said Carla told her “They are trying to control my mind” several times and expressed concern “they could get” her if she went to the hospital in Bellingham. The man who discovered her told police that Carla said she was afraid “he” may get her. His wife told police that Carla asked her if she knew anything about mind control and told her “they’re controlling my mind.” She said a “shudder went through” Carla’s body upon saying this. Carla also told her “don’t let anyone in.”
Prior to driving to the Orcas Center Carla experienced a traumatic incident in her home. According to official documents she suffered 30-40 stab wounds, her jaw was smashed in and one or two teeth were forced out of place, a rib was broken, her lung was damaged or collapsed, she had a black eye, her liver was slightly punctured and her breastbone was significantly damaged. There were also two, finely made identical slits on her eyelids. She had also apparently been unconscious for some period of time.
What actually happened to her remained a mystery to those investigating the case because she told them she was attacked by a male spirit that was non-human. She had been sleeping naked in her sleeping cabin behind her home and when she went inside to use the bathroom she said someone grabbed her. The detective who interviewed her in the hospital wrote down what she told him happened in his police report.
“Carla said ‘someone grabbed me as I ran into the house…I didn’t see its face.’ I asked where she had been grabbed and forced to the ground and was told, ‘I didn’t see their face or physically feel his hands…I do not believe it was a physical person.’ Carla told me she believed that it was a ‘struggle between Light and Dark…light being good and dark being evil.’ Carla added ‘I believe it was a male spirit or force as it was not a physical person…I could feel the force only. I could feel the repeated blows but I could not feel his hands.’ The voice sounded male but it was distorted, like something from a science fiction movie, it was a spirit voice.”
Carla told me that after the wounds were made to her eyes she could no longer see (blood) but she was ‘listening to the voices from the Light that was helping me.’ Carla added that the Light kept telling her to look at the light.
Carla said she didn’t know how long the attack went on but was on the floor kneeling when she was stabbed. Carla said she was also hit in the face with a one-gallon jar of red beans.”
He also described the treating surgeon’s perspective on her injuries.
“I had also talked to Dr. Fox, Carla’s surgeon and she said she found no defensive wounds on Carla. Dr. Fox said that usually shows that there was no attacker on an assault like this one, but she had problems with the number of times she was stabbed and the locations (eyes done slow no injury to the eye). Dr. Fox said one of the wounds was made hard enough to break a rib and force an injury to the lung. I was told that an injury like that one would take some strength to do.”
The surgeon was reportedly quoted by a witness as saying “If I had to swear in a court of law that those injuries were self-inflicted I couldn’t do so.”
A doctor who visited Carla in the hospital noticed the fine slits on her eyelids and reportedly remarked that he had seen them before and they were ritual markings. These carefully made cuts are what the detective described above as “eyes done slow no injury to the eye.”
Because Carla wouldn’t name her attacker(s) and because there were no defensive wounds on her, the incident was ruled self-inflicted.
Some have suggested that she refused to name them out of fear of retribution. A close friend who visited Carla in the hospital said that Carla told her the story “just needs to be this way for now.” When a long-term friend asked what really happened Carla replied: “I will call you, we will talk.” The friend told police Carla “said it’s very complicated but huge.” And Carla was very adamant about not stabbing herself. “I did not do this to myself” she said while in the hospital.
Carla would end up spending around two weeks in the hospital in Bellingham, the last few days of which were spent in the psych unit to evaluate her mental health.
She was released at the end of December into the care of Markus Naugle and Laura Wheelock. According to current Sambodha teacher Dave Lutz, they were both involved with Sambodha. Aaravindha describes Markus and Laura as “close friends.” Carla stayed with them until January 3rd, when it appears she became suspicious of them and demanded to immediately go home.
While at home she was being watched over by two friends Deborah Martyn and Clay Philbrick. Deborah was her neighbor in Opal Commons and Clay was Deborah’s partner. They would be the last reported people to see her alive.
The night she arrived home–only days after leaving the hospital and a few weeks since the stabbing incident–she went missing. That evening Deborah and Clay called the police to report that they couldn’t find her. When the officer arrived he found her in her sleeping cabin. The police report reads: “Clay Philbrick claimed that he, Martyn and Deputy Taylor all attempted to waken Shaffer but that she was ‘just absolutely stiff and unresponsive, like stone.’ Philbrick and Martyn asked Deputy Taylor to just leave her alone and let her sleep. Deputy Taylor agreed inasmuch as Shaffer was clearly breathing and did not appear to be in distress.” Carla was known to be a “very light” sleeper I was told. Why didn’t she wake up when three people tried?
The next evening Deborah said she checked on Carla at 11:00 pm and she was home. At 1:15 am she checked again and she said she was gone. Deborah and Clay said they believed it was too late at night to call the police and that they wouldn’t do a search. Yet, they had called the police the night before with no issue.
For some reason that evening, Aaravindha was called for advice on what to do. He said in an interview with me that Laura Wheelock called him, which meant that Deborah and Clay must have called Markus and Laura and told them Carla was gone. Deborah had called the police when she went missing the previous evening. But the night before Carla was found dead Deborah and Clay did not call the police, instead, Aaravindha was called.
At around 9:00 am the next morning Deborah Martyn called the police to report Carla missing. A search crew was formed. At 1:30pm on January 5th, 2006 Carla Jean Shaffer’s body was found face down, floating 12 feet from the shore in a pond a few hundred yards from her home. How she got there is unknown.
“Carla Shaffer was murdered!” A voice rang out from a car parked down a few spots from me. I looked up and I saw a young woman’s eyes focused intently on me. My body began pulsing with chills. She had overheard me asking a man in the parking lot if he knew where a pond was around there. “A woman died in a pond about ten years ago. Her name was Carla Shaffer.” He had no idea.
“How do you know Carla Shaffer?” the woman asked. I replied: “I’m a journalist investigating her death.” As she got out of her car and started walking up to my car my body became overwhelmed with vibrations. Deep, full body chills. I’ve never experienced anything so powerful. I got out of my car to continue the conversation.
“None of her family or friends believe she committed suicide or stabbed herself. I’ve been trying to raise awareness about this for years. There was a woman who was cleaning up the blood the morning of the attack. She was into a bunch of weird occult stuff. A guy did a bunch of research on the case years ago. She was murdered in some type of satanic ritual.”
At that point my body was vibrating so strongly that I could barely compose myself.
“We’ve been waiting for someone to come” she said. “I’m one of the most prominent writers in the world exposing cults” I replied. We both stared at each other in disbelief.
The way I happened to run into this woman is a mystery. After I first googled “meditation Orcas Island” I began asking locals if they knew anything about the group. A guy mentioned that there was a death associated with the cult. He said something like she had mental illness and committed suicide as did several island residents. At a bonfire a few days later a guy told me that there were some people who believed she was killed by the group. I was stunned.
As I gathered more info and spoke to more locals I got a fuller picture of what was happening. One person at a shop in town who knew Carla told me the backstory. And then a guy told me where he thought the pond was where she was found. I figured I’d go check it out.
He told me it was near an area called Bonnie Brae. I found the community and drove through but didn’t see any pond. I turned right out of the development and drove for awhile only to return once again to Bonnie Brae. Still no pond. I saw an old woman and asked her but she had no idea. “Go to the Opal community office right there at the end of the road. They’ll know.”
When I pulled in I saw the guy in the parking lot. I rolled down my window and asked him about the pond and Carla. The woman who overheard me was just about to close her door and drive away. Had I arrived seconds later our encounter never would have occurred. I never would have gotten the next crucial steps of the story.
I thought back to last year in Sedona when I had had a similar experience. After I figured out the cult ambitions of Bentinho Massaro and that I was there to expose him I laid down on my bed and chills pulsed through my body. That experience lasted a few minutes.
This time it was different. The sensations were much stronger and lasted hours after randomly running into this woman. As I returned back to the Golden Tree hostel where I was staying at the time I recounted the uncanny encounter I had just had to my landlord. As I did I became overwhelmed once again with these pulsing, chill-like sensations. It was eerie. It made no logical sense. It was a mystery.
When the two detectives first arrived on the scene at Carla’s home where the stabbing incident had taken place they were “very surprised” to find her neighbor Deborah Martyn cleaning up the blood. They had not immediately been able to secure the crime scene because Carla was found near the Orcas Center, not at her home. The police told Deborah to stop what she was doing and quickly leave the house. She was taken to the police station and ordered to recall everything she had seen, what she had moved and where things were.
Deborah told the police that another neighbor, Molly Roberts, had called her and said the cat had made a mess and asked her to clean it up. Molly also told the police the same story. She saw Carla’s gate and doors open and went in to investigate. The scene in her home was a far cry from a cat’s mess. There were four bloody knives on the floor, broken glass, a 7-inch hole in the window, blood on the floor, blood spatters on the walls and appliances, a blood-soaked rug near the front door, blood smears on the handrails and doorknob and a broken jar of lentils on the floor. Molly insisted during an interview with me that it was not obvious a crime had been committed based on what she witnessed. She said there wasn’t a lot of blood on the floor.
In her written police statement Deborah described what she had done at the scene: “washed floor, walls, picked up tea towels, put knives in bowl to soak, rearranged dishes. Took mostly full garbage bag that I added the broken glass to out to the garbage can and removed top garbage bag and put the white plastic one under it to lower risk of others getting cut.” She said she was using a “wash tub and green cloth and yellow rubber gloves, broom, dust pan, orange cleaner. I dumped water with blood, water, lentils, glass…etc. out back of the porch near fern.”
Thus, by her own account, Deborah walked into what was a messy crime scene and soaked multiple bloody knives, washed the walls and floors, cleaned up the glass and put the trash bag with all of the evidence underneath the other trash bag in the can. Because of her actions, a proper forensic investigation of the scene could not be completed.
There were other strange or suspicious actions of people at the time as well.
One neighbor said in the weeks following Carla’s death people were seen in Carla’s bedroom dressed in black robes performing ceremonies in the middle of the night. Another neighbor also told police: “In the next two weeks her house lights were on most nights between midnight and 2:00 am, sometimes 3:00 am.” Carla’s friend said that Sambodha member Stacy Ramillah admitted to being in Carla’s home performing rituals at the time. After the locks were changed by a neighbor there were no longer any sightings of group members in the home.
A woman who entered Carla’s house after her death said “she felt an energy that made her nauseous.”
Locals who know about Sambodha, and particularly those who lived near them, said they knew of their “strange occult practices.” One person said “For years people on the island would talk about them doing ritual sacrifices in their group and say there was a demonic aspect.” One person I spoke with also mentioned ceremonies in black robes and nude rituals. Other locals I spoke with said they also heard about these things.
Perhaps Carla had gotten deep enough into Sambodha’s “inner circle” to discover these occult practices and rituals. Perhaps this is what she was referring to when she told a friend she had discovered a “dark side” to the group and had wanted out.
Aaravindha Himadra and Clay Philbrick gave peculiar accounts about Carla’s death.
Jim Shaffer-Bauck had a note in his research that said Aaravindha had said “he had contacted Carla outside her body before she was found. He had tried contacting her in her body but it gave him headaches.”
Current Sambodha teacher Dave Lutz said after Carla had died Aaravindha used his psychic abilities to describe to him Carla’s final moments. “Aaravindha said she was determined to take her life, that she failed the first time and she just walked into the water and let the water take her away.” Another person said Aaravindha told them the same thing and described how the cold water took over Carla’s body.
Clay Philbrick, who was one of the last people to see Carla alive, told police that the morning of the search he consulted with two psychics (one of whom is believed to be Aaravindha). Before Carla’s body was found in the pond Clay said that the psychic told him she was in a cold body of water east of her home. And Clay told police that his own vision powers allowed him to see that Carla was near water but that he was afraid of using these powers because he may attract alien beings. Thus, the last reported person to see Carla alive told police he knew the correct location of the body before it was found. And this was all only hours after Aaravindha had been notified that Carla was missing.
He also gave police a rather incredible account of what happened to Carla when she was stabbed. The “Rife” machine he references was an electronic energy device Carla was using to heal herself and others. The detective who interviewed him wrote what Clay had said.
“He claimed that he has visions and learned from an unearthly being that the RIF machine had ‘caused a disturbance in the time/space continuum and five beings slipped through.’ He said that two angels stood between the beings and Carla’s neighbor’s home and prevented the beings from harming the neighbor. He went on to claim that five beings had ‘slipped through’ but had no intention of staying. They were only here to retrieve one of their fellow beings who had come through before and had wanted to stay. That being was allegedly the one who stabbed Shaffer.”
Deborah also told one of Carla’s friends that Carla was not attacked by a human but rather a spirit entity.
Clay was staying in Carla’s home as a caregiver the last two nights before she was found dead. The detective wrote what he told him happened two nights before she was found “He claimed that ‘the vibes’ in the house were so strong and negative that he awoke in a panic and ran out of the house. He said that he went to Martyn’s house, awoke Martyn, and explained about the negative vibes. He said a short while later they went to Shaffer’s sleeping cabin and discovered that she had been missing.” It was then that they called the police.
The next night Clay claimed that he and Deborah “stroked her until she fell asleep.” Once again Clay said he was unable to sleep in Carla’s house due to the “bad vibes.” Deborah stayed up and checked on Carla several times throughout the night. At some point she told Clay that Carla had disappeared again. They searched for her and decided to not call the police because they didn’t believe a search could be conducted at night. They waited until around 9:00 am and called the police to report her missing.
Jim Shaffer-Bauck was in Deborah Martyn’s home on January 5th, just hours before Carla was found. Several Sambodha members had gathered there. He said Clay began speaking about a “disturbance” he heard in the home the night she went missing. Jim said Clay quickly changed the subject as if he recognized he shouldn’t be talking about it. “It was like he started to tell what he had seen and then stopped himself.”
When one of Carla’s friends asked Deborah Martyn if she really believed Carla stabbed herself 30-40 times Deborah replied “Carla just knew it was her time.”
Several friends of Carla’s suspected the involvement of Aaravindha and Sambodha in her death. They gave statements to police describing Sambodha as cult-like and highlighting unusual behavior by members. In mid-March someone actually put posters up in town with a photo of Aaravindha that read “Wanted For the Torture and Murder of Carla Shaffer.”
Several people, including Sambodha members, were on scene at Carla’s home and the surrounding area at the time she was found. One person who was there saw Markus Naugle and Laura Wheelock, Deborah Martyn, Clay Philbrick, Stacy Ramillah and Dave Lutz.
Jim had heard Carla may have been found and started to walk down the road to the pond. He was intercepted by Markus Naugle. Markus walked Jim up to Seaview Street, where Jim got into a Jeep that was stopped there. Soon the car was surrounded by a group of people including Aaravindha and Ashayrah. Jim said, “they were right there keeping control of things.” They all gathered around the Jeep and prevented him from going down to the pond he said.
In Jim’s notes from his research into the case, he writes that on one occasion in the weeks after Carla died Markus came by with a “hard sell” that her death was suicide. He listed things like the fact that she hadn’t paid the full water bill as evidence of her being suicidal. Markus had also contacted people shortly after Carla’s death rationalizing what happened using spiritual lingo.
On another occasion, Jim said Markus made a strange comment. After describing to him that Carla’s liver was punctured Jim said Markus replied “They were so delicate, her internal organs, I’m surprised they weren’t all punctured.”
Jim noted in his research journal that Herlwyn Lutz (father of Sambodha member Dave Lutz) tried to convince him the Rife machine made Carla lose it. “He was convincing me the Rife machine was responsible for Carla attacking herself. He approached me yesterday to clarify that point because people were thinking that Janis [Aaravindha] was involved…Plan to inform him that no one is buying that theory.” Jim’s notes also reflect that Aaravindha was saying the Rife machine made Carla go crazy and attack herself.
Several people wrote in their police statements that Deborah Martyn tried to steal Carla’s $4,500 Rife machine after her death and only returned it upon threat of having the police involved. She was also going through Carla’s things, opening her packages and frequently accessing the home without permission from the family. This only stopped once a neighbor changed the locks.
Sambodha member Stacy Ramillah reportedly contacted a woman who was investigating Carla’s death to try and convince her that Aaravindha was not involved.
Of interest to note is that Markus and Laura moved to Guatemala for ten years soon after Carla died. According to Aaravindha they left “very shortly” after Carla’s death, perhaps within a month or two. They returned in 2016. And the basis of Aaravindha’s book on Sounds True–his trek through the Himalayas–also occurred the summer after Carla’s death. A friend of Carla’s said she was told Aaravindha also left soon after Carla’s death, first going to Germany before the Himalayas.
Several Sambodha members were trying to control the post-death narrative, saying that Carla was crazy and they actively tried to shift attention away from Aaravindha as some of Carla’s friends had begun to suspect him and the group. Even the former member who I spoke with who told me about the cult like ways of the group said “Aaravindha definitely didn’t kill Carla.” I was surprised as I hadn’t even asked her about that. But she said that she knew there were people who thought that he had.
One resident and Orcas business owner spoke of the fear that many people lived in after Carla’s death. “It was a really, really scary time. We were all locking our doors and on edge. Everyone was afraid.” Many Orcas Island residents never lock their doors given the generally peaceful and crime-free environment. On several occasions this person asked me if I was from Sambodha, fearing that I may have been sent from the group. Their fear of talking about this was still very much alive.
Some people who were pushing for more investigation into Carla’s death at the time experienced strange encounters with group members.
An Orcas Island business owner and friend of Carla’s said that after Carla’s death Aaravindha and his wife showed up every day for a month in front of her business. “They would show up everywhere. It was really creepy.” Aaravindha and Ashayrah could also both be seen doing a ritual/symbolic movement with their arms repeatedly after Carla’s death she said. She demonstrated the arm movements. The arms stay at the side and the forearms raise up and down and then the forearms cross over each other. She also said Stacy Ramillah had tried to leave Sambodha but didn’t make it out. During her process of trying to leave she could be seen doing the same arm movements frequently.
One person investigating Carla’s death claims she was followed on four separate days by a dark green SUV. On one occasion she said the car aggressively came at her while visiting Carla’s grave site. On another day the same car followed her the entire 23-mile trip to the ferry and back. On one occasion the car followed closely behind her with no lights. This person claims that after these incidents she awoke to someone shining a flashlight in her window at 3:00 am for 30 seconds. And her son reported that he was followed and surrounded by cult members.
A friend of Carla’s who was investigating her death at the time said there was a guy at the memorial bonfire on January 6th who didn’t even know her but who was sobbing crying. When he returned home, the housemate of this person reportedly had asked him if he went and he said yes. They then said “You didn’t even know Carla” to which this man reportedly said, “At least I didn’t fuck her like the other guys did.” This friend speculated that his housemate was present to a sexual assault or a ritual in which she was sexually violated. One of Carla’s close friends told me that the man who made this concerning statement quit his excellent job at the post office and left Orcas Island very soon after Carla’s death.
If Carla was sexually assaulted and wanting to not expose the perpetrators it would explain why she refused a rape kit test. Her treating doctor reportedly said, “When I got to that area and asked for the rape kit Carla sat straight up and said ‘oh no you don’t!'”
Carla’s mental state at the time of the stabbing incident and her death are important to examine given what was being said about her. Again, Sambodha members were pushing a narrative that she had lost it mentally and that the Rife machine had contributed to her going crazy and stabbing herself. Deborah Martyn claimed, “Carla just knew it was her time.” The predominant narrative amongst locals was that Carla had a mental breakdown and committed suicide.
I spoke with several of Carla’s friends and family members and none of them said she had any history of mental illness. Yes, she was very sensitive to chemicals and scents but there was no mental illness. There were several accounts from friends in the police reports as well saying she had no mental illness, with several saying she was in good spirits around the time of the tragic events.
A statement by one of Carla’s close friends to the police reads “Life was only improving for her. She was physically feeling great and looking forward to earning income healing others with her Rife machine.” Another friend’s notes from the time pointed out Carla was organizing a movement against more cell towers on Orcas Island, she was planning on teaching an arts & crafts class and was writing songs with a Baha’i friend with performances in mind. “She had many good friends and two loving daughters” it reads. Their notes conclude by saying “None of her old friends observed any suicidal tendencies or indications of suicidal behavior. No one I know has come up with any reason for her to take her own life.”
Markus Naugle and Laura Wheelock told police Carla was “clear and lucid as she always had been” and that she was “happy” and appeared to be in “good spirits.” Carla had stayed with them a few days before she was found dead.
Deborah Martyn told the detective that she “did not detect actual depression in Shaffer’s behavior” after the attack. She also said she had “several positive and happy conversations with her about her future plans.” Yet publicly some of these people were saying she knew it was her time or that she had lost it mentally.
Current Sambodha teacher Dave Lutz told me that he never noticed Carla show any signs of mental illness or express interest in killing herself.
There are also at least two accounts of Carla’s state before the stabbing incident. One friend saw her just hours before and said she was in good spirits. Another said there was a gathering or party at her home that night and that she appeared fine.
And the coroner’s report noted that there was not enough evidence to conclude she committed suicide.
Carla was also a long time Baha’i member and they have strong beliefs against suicide. It is strongly condemned and forbidden.
During a nearly 3-hour interview, Aaravindha told me that he and his wife were out of the country at the time of Carla’s stabbing incident on December 14th, 2005. They sent me a photo of a portion of a passport that showed a stamp indicating entering Europe on November 14th and returning to the US on December 27th. I have no idea who’s passport it is however as there is no name visible in the portion they sent. And they only sent an image of one passport, not both. Without seeing both of their passports in person I have no way of verifying the truth of their claims. But a detective (or anyone) on the island could easily inspect them. He said they were both at home the night Carla disappeared and then went to help search for Carla the next morning.
I asked Aaravindha and his wife about numerous critical statements and remarks that cast suspicion on him from Carla’s friends, family, Orcas residents and former Sambodha members. All of the claims were lies and rumors he said. He described them as “disgruntled people” controlled by dark forces. He said you can’t teach meditation or yoga these days without being accused of being a cult leader. He told me that I needed to meet him in person before I could say anything about him.
The interview with Aaravindha was very different in tone than were the other interviews I conducted. Whereas Sambodha teacher Dave Lutz calmly and casually responded to my questions, Aaravindha appeared nervous, would stutter at times, would at times repeat the question before answering, would go off on tangents not related to the questions and became increasingly aggressive and defensive. I also noticed a change in pitch of his and his wife’s voice on certain key questions. This did not occur on “baseline” questions I knew they were answering truthfully.
There were several stark inconsistencies in Aaravindha’s interview. He lied about his relationship with Carla Shaffer, Markus Naugle and Laura Wheelock and their connections to Sambodha in addition to lying about having made certain statements to people.
Aaravindha Lies About Carla’s Involvement in Sambodha
In the interview, Aaravindha repeatedly said Carla was not involved in Sambodha at all, in any form. He did so defensively and aggressively. “I don’t know how many times I’ve said this to you, but I’m about ready to hang up. Carla was not in our group. She didn’t attend any meetings. She didn’t come to do anything with us. She didn’t even learn the meditation techniques.” He said they only knew Carla as a friend who they saw occasionally on the island. He said that they have a lot of friends like Carla who are not connected to Sambodha.
I spoke and texted with long term Sambodha member and current Sambodha teacher Dave Lutz. He said Carla was in fact in the group. “Carla was in Sambodha for at least three years,” he told me. I asked him, “So, you were there with Carla, physically present in Sambodha meetings?” He replied “yes.” He said during the sessions, “Aaravindha would teach us different meditation techniques and he would use his psychic abilities to help people with blockages and personal issues they had in their lives.” He said this took place in Aaravindha’s home. Dave and Carla would meditate together both in their homes and in Sambodha meetings.
Dave also said that Aaravindha had done several private, one-on-one spiritual healing and counseling sessions with Carla. This was common in the group he said. Aaravindha offered free sessions to members. Dave said Carla considered Aaravindha “an excellent, highly evolved teacher.”
Aaravindha likes to say “disgruntled” people have lied about him but he cannot say that about a current senior Sambodha teacher. Dave was calm, respectful and forthcoming. He had nothing to hide and no reason to lie about Aaravindha’s actual relationship with Carla and Markus.
One of Carla’s close friends described a time when Carla was so excited because she was headed out to a birthday celebration for herself that Sambodha members were putting on at Aaravindha’s home.
As stated earlier, a friend had said Carla had become enamored with Sambodha and had been attending meetings regularly. Another friend spoke of not being able to recognize who Carla had become after getting involved in Sambodha. And Carla told a friend she had discovered a “dark side” to Sambodha and had wanted out.
All of this evidence from multiple people, including a current Sambodha teacher pointing to Carla’s involvement in Sambodha and yet Aaravindha says “She didn’t attend any meetings. She didn’t come to do anything with us.”
What is Aaravindha trying to cover up by lying about Carla’s involvement in Sambodha? Why is he lying about his relationship to a woman who died under mysterious circumstances? A woman he had counseled and offered spiritual support to?
Aaravindha Lies About Having Told People He Knew How Carla Died
I asked Aaravindha to explain why someone told me he told them that he had used his psychic powers describe Carla’s last moments of life. He had described to this person how Carla walked down to the water, felt the water take over her body and go into the water. Aaravindha said “I didn’t say that to anyone. I didn’t say that to anyone. I don’t know what Carla was feeling when she went down to the water…That person right there is a bold face liar.”
But I spoke about the same claim with Dave Lutz after I spoke to Aaravindha. Dave said, “He told me the same thing.” He said that Aaravindha’s abilities allowed him to know what happened to Carla in her last moments. He said, “Aaravindha has a unique ability, similar to psychic ability but much clearer. It’s called Saumedhika.” He went on, “Aaravindha said she was determined to take her life, that she failed the first time and she just walked into the water and let the water take her away.”
Aaravindha claimed to know Carla had committed suicide and that she walked into the pond whereas no one else actually knows what happened in her final moments. Even the coroner, Randall Gaylord, said there was not enough evidence to conclude suicide and her death was ruled an “accidental drowning.” Thus, we have Aaravindha pushing a narrative that is convenient for him that she committed suicide. And despite two people claiming he told them what Carla’s last moments were like he is now lying and saying he never said it.
Aaravindha Lies About Markus Being In Sambodha and Their Relationship
Aaravindha said several times that Markus was never part of Sambodha in any way shape or form. Yet when I asked Dave Lutz about the relationship between Aaravindha and Markus and Laura he replied: “They had been occasional members of the Sambodha community, meditating with us, attending gatherings and seminars.”
When I asked Aaravindha if he had a phone number for Markus he said he did not. “I don’t know. I haven’t had any contact with Markus for a long time. I know he’s back on the island but I don’t have his phone number or anything.”
When I called Markus’ workplace I left a first and last name with the person who took the message for him. I had never given a last name to Aaravindha and his wife. Yet, only one hour after I left the message for Markus I received the email from Aaravindha and Asheylah with the image of the passport. But this email used the first and last name I had left for Markus. This is unequivocal proof that Markus and Aaravindha were immediately in contact after Markus received the message from me.
If Markus was Carla’s friend why wouldn’t he speak to me and answer questions to help clarify what happened? Why did he immediately contact Aaravindha but not me after I left a message for him? Why did Aaravindha lie to me and say he’s not been in contact with Markus?
Early in the interview, Aaravindha described Markus and Laura as “close friends” but later he said, “we never got to know them that well.” He was shifting his story to suit his own agenda.
Aaravindha Lies About Carla Committing Suicide and Being in Constant Pain & Nausea
Aaravindha aggressively and defensively pushed the narrative that Carla was in a deep state of constant suffering and pain and couldn’t deal with life anymore.
“She just slipped into that pond because she was tired of fighting with a disease that stole everything from her. She was in constant nausea, constant pain, she was having psychotic episodes with a septic liver. Do you have any idea how horrible that is? She just got fed up, she just couldn’t do it anymore. She wanted out. She started to lose it. It happens to people all the time. All over this country, right now a number of people have committed suicide because they couldn’t take it anymore in this world.”
There is no truth to his claims. Carla was not in a constant state of pain or nausea, nor was she having psychotic episodes. As the segment above about Carla’s mental health indicates she was doing well. She had dealt with symptoms of Hepatitis C like fatigue, but things were much improved. One friend had said “Life was only improving for her. She was physically feeling great…” Carla had been doing activism work, was planning arts and crafts classes and was looking forward to making money by healing others with her Rife machine. Markus and Laura told police she was “clear and lucid as she always had been” and was happy. No friends or family detected any depression, mental illness or interest in suicide.
Why was Aaravindha pushing so confidently and aggressively that Carla committed suicide when it is not known what happened? And when her death was ruled an accident? Why is he so heavily invested in a certain narrative?
The last time I met with coroner and prosecutor Randall Gaylord was the late afternoon of Friday, November 30th. We met at the Friday Harbor Courthouse. That was when he provided me with a copy of the police report for Carla’s case. It was about 8 inches thick. This was my first criminal investigation and so he helped orient me to what I was receiving. Overall, I found him and his staff to be helpful and forthcoming. He always promptly responded to my inquiries and requests.
What is noticeably missing from the police reports, however, is any sign that the authorities–either detectives or Randall–investigated Aaravindha Himadra or Sambodha. He nor his wife were ever interviewed. Had the authorities actually interrogated them and other Sambodha members thoroughly, checked phone records, alibis, and compared the stories to each other they would have discovered inconsistencies as I did. When people being questioned lie, it raises even more suspicion and should lead to even further digging and interrogation.
There were several specific statements given to police and Randall explicitly warning them about Carla’s involvement in the group and these were ignored. Some of them named specific people and concerning behaviors. When one of Carla’s friends asked the detective to investigate her death further she says he told her “I’ve already put 150 hours into this case and I need to wrap it up.”
Carla’s ex-husband wrote an impassioned letter to Randall pleading him to further investigate her death. He wrote: “My observations, and the circumstances of the initial attack have led me to conclude that Carla was murdered…I think we are dealing with sophisticated, experienced psychopaths, which implies that similar incidents have been executed in the past…”
There was a long police statement written by a friend of Carla’s that detailed numerous suspicious activities on the part of Sambodha members and raised many questions for authorities. And there were some other accounts given to authorities by Carla’s friends as well.
In his coroner’s report Randall himself acknowledges that he was made aware of the group and their activities but effectively ignored it. “After her death, other strange events were reported to me, concerning neighbors and others trespassing into Carla’s residence, a description that Carla and her friends are members of a cult referred to as “Children of the Light’ and that she used an energy machine called a ‘Rife’ machine…These events confirm bizarre behaviors but they are not specific for the purposes of determining that anyone else was involved in this death…”
Those raising concerns didn’t have specific proof of foul play but they provided evidence and clues that Randall and the police should have followed up on. It was a huge oversight on their part. Randall learned that a woman who died under mysterious circumstances and her friends were part of a cult called “Children of the Light” and he did not even investigate them at all. How is this possible? Had they understood cult dynamics and dug deeper they could have realized the full extent of how indoctrinated Carla and other members were.
Randall learned that a woman who died under mysterious circumstances and her friends were part of a cult called “Children of the Light” and he did not even investigate them at all. How is this possible?
There were some parts of the police report I was only allowed to view and not permanently keep. These included things like photos of Carla’s body and photos of her post-stabbing injuries.
When viewing the photos I was visibly struck by the socks Carla was wearing at the time she was found. They both had holes in the heels but one of them was quite torn up on the bottom and the side while the other hole was more of a neat circle. The one sock was raggedy and had a large piece missing. I just remember feeling that something was not right when looking at it. It seemed obvious to me that this would raise concern but it had not. There was no way the damage had come from walking in them. The socks were thicker than usual too. It would have taken many days walking on pavement to create that kind of damage and even then it seems unlikely that the sides could have been torn up like that. One friend said Carla never wore socks with holes in them.
The implication of the torn up socks is that she was dragged from her residence to the pond.
It’s also interesting to note that the detective who visited Carla in the hospital noted that he looked at her ankles and saw that they were free from marks. Yet, the autopsy report reveals several cuts and abrasions on her ankles and legs. This means that at least some of them could have happened the night she disappeared. Were these cuts and abrasions on her legs, ankles and feet also evidence of her being dragged?
Carla Jean Shaffer was a member of a cult when she died. Her search for healing and spiritual growth led her into the path of Aaravindha Himadra, who by the accounts of former members, is a controlling, abusive, narcissistic cult leader. Carla reportedly grew close to him and was “enamored” with the group, attending meetings regularly. She was undoubtedly indoctrinated and brainwashed into their teachings. She even cut off contact with her usual friends and adopted a new identity with the name Nahmine Attar. One friend barely recognized the person who Carla had become. And then, when she discovered a dark side to the group, Carla confronted Aaravindha. She was then found dead, floating in a pond near her home.
It’s very common for someone to get deeply involved in a cult or religious group without their friends and family knowing. The person will often hide the full extent of what is transpiring or it will appear like an innocent spiritual exploration. In reality what happens in these groups is a deep process of mind control. It takes someone having gone through it to understand the depth and severity of how much someone’s mind can be changed and influenced. What Carla went through is much more than anyone can probably imagine. And it is most often very difficult to break away from a cult.
When this poor woman was brutally attacked in her home and left bloody and unconscious she was under heavy mind control. She said so herself on the lawn that morning. “They’re trying to control my mind” she said repeatedly. “Do you know anything about mind control?” To the police and others, this was evidence of mental illness. Yet, had they only bothered to dig a little deeper they would have seen that it was real. It reflected the fact that she was under the control of a charismatic and powerful leader–a man whom they never even bothered to interview or investigate.
Too afraid to name her attackers, Carla either created a story that she was attacked by spirits or the story was planted in her mind by Aaravindha or fellow cult members. Both Clay Philbrick and Deborah Martyn also believed Carla was attacked by spirits.
The police then concluded that Carla was deranged and mentally ill and had somehow stabbed and cut herself 30-40 times, broken her own rib, punctured her liver, smashed her own face, gave herself a black eye and shoved in her teeth, damaged her breastbone, sliced two, identical, fine cuts into her eyelids and then knocked herself unconscious. All this by a woman with no history of mental illness. A woman who was reportedly seen just hours before by two different people and was said to be in good spirits. A woman who emphatically said she did not attack herself and did not try to commit suicide. A woman who was calm and lucid while in the hospital.
“It was clear they were trying to kill her” Jim told me. “The only thing that saved her was her fear of sharp knives. Every knife in her home was incredibly dull. That’s why we think four knives were used. They were looking for a sharp one and couldn’t find it.” This would also explain why many of the “stabbing” wounds were more like cuts and not that deep. Had the knives been sharp they could have penetrated her deeper.
And then, according to police, a few weeks later Carla left her home in the middle of the night, fell into a shallow pond and drowned. Perhaps it was intentional, they don’t know. All this by a woman with no history of mental illness. A woman who had given no sign she wanted to kill herself. A woman who was an excellent swimmer.
And of course, walking into a shallow pond is a very strange way to kill yourself. A paramedic on the island said what we all know, the body would instinctively physically reflex and contract to save itself. It’s like trying to kill yourself by holding your breath. It makes no sense that she would either intentionally or accidentally just die in a shallow pond a few hundred yards from her home.
The focus of the investigation was on Carla when it should have been on Aaravindha and his Sambodha cult. As a result, we are left with unanswered questions.
Was Aaravindha actually out of the country as he claims during the initial stabbing incident? Where was he the night she disappeared? When she was found dead? Where were other Sambodha members? Why has Aaravindha lied about his relationship with Carla and Markus? Why did Markus flee the country for ten years soon after Carla’s death? Why did Clay run out of Carla’s home in a panic two nights before she disappeared? What were the “bad vibes” that caused him to leave Carla’s the night she disappeared? How did Clay know the location of Carla’s body before it was found? Why were Sambodha members trying to convince others that Carla lost it mentally and committed suicide? Why were the lights on in Carla’s bedroom from 12:00 am – 2:00 am for several weeks after she died? Why did Aaravindha and his wife stand in front of the business of a woman who was calling for more investigation for thirty days in a row? Why didn’t Markus agree to answer questions about Carla if he had nothing to hide?
“There’s a demonic presence on this island,” a young woman sitting at the Lower Tavern bar said to me. “I can feel it,” she said. “I know. I feel something too” I replied. I was telling her about my work writing about cults and my story investigating Sambodha. I told her the island had a deep, dark and creepy vibe to it. “I have to leave soon,” I said. “I don’t feel safe here anymore.”
By the time I had this conversation I had spent a month on the island interviewing people, researching and investigating the story. I had travelled all over the beautiful landscape in deep awe of where I was.
Given what my research revealed about Sambodha members following people and showing up in unexpected places I became increasingly concerned about my safety. Jim had told me he that he suspected Sambodha knew something was up. He had a few tense interactions with members. And I was stared down hard by a current Sambodha staff member and potentially followed. The last night I stayed there I even had a police officer do a patrol around the hostel premises throughout the night.
Before I left I visited Carla’s grave at the Woodlawn cemetery. I told her I’d get justice for her.
The final mystery was randomly running into one of Carla’s family members on the streets of Seattle soon after I left the Islands. They normally didn’t take lunch at that hour. And my decision to go to Pike Place Market and then randomly walk around the city was last minute. As I was crossing the street they passed right by me. I almost missed them. We ended up walking and talking for a while. It was an unexpected meeting in the midst of a very large and bustling city. Perhaps it was the same mystery that brought us together that brought me to Orcas Island in the first place.
As I was driving south Spotify randomly played a song by Florence and the Machine called “Shake it Out.” I was struck by the lyrics and immediately thought of Carla who was a dancer.
“And it’s hard to dance with a devil on your back So shake him off, oh whoa”
Whoa to you Carla Jean Shaffer. Whoa to your beauty, your grace and your dance.
If you have any information relevant to this case please email me at shaktihunter123 @ gmail.com.
Several phone messages were left and an email was sent to Deborah Martyn seeking comment from her and Clay Philbrick and I had not heard back at the time of this publication. Markus Naugle did not respond to the message left for him at his work. Stacy Romillah did not respond to my interview request.
Numerous former students and staff are speaking out about sexual, verbal and physical abuse by The New Tantra founder Alex Vartman. They describe a sex cult environment that has left people severely traumatized. Thousands of people have taken The New Tantra courses in over 10 countries since it began in 2010.
Stephanie Holder (not her real name) was in a group exercise during a New Tantra workshop when she was told founder Alex Vartman wanted to see her. She walked back to a smoke filled room where eight of his staff and assistants circled him “like a rock star” she said. They stared at her intensely. Alex then told his team to get the Non-disclosure Act (NDA) and said to Stephanie, “You are not dressed up in a sexy way, are you? You’re a little bit choppy.” She described what happened next. “He looks at me and says ‘now, I’m going to have sex with you.’ I completely froze. I was like ‘what the fuck?’ The assistants start peeling my clothes off so I’m naked. Then he starts having sex with me.” The assistants stood by, watching. She began feeling an electric current pulsing through her. At that point she says she wasn’t in control of her body anymore. Alex even captured the incident on audio so he wouldn’t miss any brilliant insights uttered while whispering in her ear during sex.
Everyone in the room knew what was going to happen Stephanie said. The guy who brought her back — someone whom she thought could be trusted — was acting awkward and strange. He knew. The staff knew. She was being taken to the Mad Hatter.
Hotlips, Diesel, Mermaid, Helter Skelter, Cheshire Cat, Bulldog — all names given to members of The New Tantra (TNT). The story goes that founder Alex Vartman aka the Mad Hatter and his co-founder would be so high that they could never remember students names so they made up cartoon names in the back room. “This guy looks like Shrek.” It soon became a tradition.
Since making up those first names in 2010 thousands of students have passed through The New Tantra — making it the biggest “tantra” school in Europe. They’ve traveled from all over the world to attend workshops in the Netherlands, Norway, Mexico, Sweden, Germany, Bali, Egypt, Denmark, New Zealand, Ibiza and Portugal. Courses regularly have around 40 students and have peaked at 80. People pay as much as $700 per level. There are 9 levels in total.
Alex Vartman (real name Sandford Perrett) used to be a top level assistant of sex and relationship guru David Deida, author of “The Way of the Superior Man.” From 1998–2002 Vartman held Satsangs around the world and gained a following by offering non-dual spiritual teachings. At the NoMind festival he apparently had hundreds of students listening to him. He even taught alongside popular spiritual teacher Gangaji for a brief time. In 2004 he taught with Ken Wilber at the Integral center and then visited a series of Ashrams in India before starting TNT in 2010.
An ex-TNT senior staff member guesstimates that Vartman has made a cool million dollars from The New Tantra — all tax free as it is set up in an off-shore company in New Zealand. None of that made its way to the assistants either as none were compensated and they all had to cover housing and travel costs to the workshops. And several staff members do sex work and have to pay royalties on what they earn. Vartman structures trainings so that local organizers in the host country take in the money and tax burden. He is then paid as an independent contractor and funnels the money abroad.
In TNT students are encouraged to explore their sexual fantasies, push through limitations and become “unconditioned” sexual beings. If you got lost and stumbled into a workshop you might see a group orgy, people blindfolded performing sexual acts on each other, break out groups exploring a shared interest such as fisting, anal sex or bondage or Alex Vartman himself getting penetrated during a class by female students with a strap-on.
“Alex told us that doing these sexual exercises could free us from childhood trauma and deliver life-changing transformation, both in our sex lives and in day-to-day existence” said former student Mark Quinn (not his real name).
The sex-positive amongst us would see no problem with consensual exploration of edgy sexual practices. However, there is much more to TNT than meets the eye.
Part 1: Inside Alex Vartman
“A tall, sinuous, enigmatic figure, he kept his sunglasses on throughout the course. He looked, and acted like a powerful teacher — and his background was impressive.”
“It’s a sex cult” says Jason Marshall (not his real name), one of Vartman’s former long time assistants. “It was often like being in an asylum, especially during the sex orgies. Many couldn’t think and looked like zombies. Everyone was high, there was sex everywhere, people were in trance like states.” He said people were “out of their heads.”
Jason is one of several ex-group members who are now speaking publicly about their harrowing time in TNT. They claim Vartman uses verbal, physical and sexual abuse, psychological manipulation, drugs and energetic practices to break people down and control them.
Several former members report being depressed, broken down and deeply traumatized after their time in TNT. Others report ongoing sexual dysfunction and pain.
“It’s a brainwashing machine” said Sarah Bell (not her real name), a former student who completed six levels in the school. “He’s constantly bullying and psychologically breaking down people in the classes. After level 1 and 2 your identity is shifted — your view of yourself is broken apart.”
“Nobody dares” speak up against him because “he is so hard on you” said Crystal Bentham (not her real name). She said he would regularly tell members who challenged him “Shut up! You’re so fucking stupid! You’re so fucking ugly!”
“It was all about demolishing our psyches to conform to Alex’s will” Jason said.
“If people would have set boundaries or had different opinions Alex makes fun of them — he makes them seem ridiculous and casts them out of the group” Jessica Solner (not her real name) said. Boundaries equal ego which must be “thrashed.”
Because Stephanie Holder believed “it was all tantra” she went along with things that she now sees as abusive and manipulative. She had no idea what tantra actually was. “He calls it tantra and spiritual and people pay him money to fulfill his sexual fantasies.” She said Alex is “just some dirty old man, having a private orgy. None of it was tantra.”
“I was so brainwashed thinking the way they think. I was told I had all these issues and thought I was working through them. I was easy prey for him. He is a sexual predator.”
Jason explained in depth why he got involved and why it took so long to leave:
“Looking back at my time in TNT I still have trouble understanding how I could have bought into something so twisted for so long as I did. But then I also get reminded of how deviously clever it all was put together by Alex to attract us all deeper in to his web of deceit and manipulations. Considering that the core ”teaching” was that our ”egos” were never to be trusted and that only people of ”higher levels of consciousness” (i.e. ultimately Alex himself) could be expected to see through these ”egos” and be able to guide us along the path to higher consciousness, and considering that we all bought into this very foundational belief, then it’s not that strange after all that it all went the way it did and that Alex got away with so much apparent abusive behavior. It really took a major breakdown and plenty of external help for me to finally see the twisted truth of it all, and hence be able to leave this toxic environment.
Many of the teachings and practices used were taken from the old wisdom traditions (such as Tibetan, Buddhist, Vedic, Advaita and so on) and contained truths that we all resonated deeply with. Truths that Alex then would twist so they served his own perverted narcissistic desires and self serving intentions, instead of supporting authentic spiritual growth in us his followers.
All of us on the team (and most of the students) really believed in the teachings and that we were growing as spiritual practitioners on our paths to embody ever more fully our divine potential. Alex very cleverly marketed his teachings and methods as belonging to the ’Crazy Wisdom’-traditions, which are famous for using unconventional teaching methods to reach extraordinary levels of breakthroughs. Hence, we came to considered it normal that we were being treated in ways that others would certainly find abusive and destructive. After all, the name of the game in TNT was to ”Kill the Ego” in ourselves and each other.”
Former members also report that Vartman would direct students to have sex with other students, break up couples, tell people they were gay and shame monogamy. “He was mostly interested in playing with and controlling their minds” Jason said.
Former team members say they had to sexually “service” Vartman around the clock. “It was all about Alex’s ass” Marshall said. “Alex liked to get fucked by women with strap-ons or by straight men” says Allison Kemp (not her real name), a former staff member of many years. Members were required to constantly penetrate him for many hours a day. “If you enter Alex’s bedroom you will never come out from there.”
“Every staff member and assistant has been sexual with Alex either fucking him anally or being fucked by him” Allison said. He would tell them “You need to fuck me to learn to be a tantric man and to have a tantric imprint and to learn to fuck women.” He would brag to staff that he would charge as much as $10,000 for a day session with him to “tantrically imprint” a woman sexually.
A former student and staff member said that Alex convinced her husband (who was also a member) to pay him $500 to tantrically imprint her by having sex with her. “He put 17 drops of CBD oil on my tongue and so I was totally out of it. He would charge whatever he could get from someone.”
“We were fucking Alex 24 hours a day during our staff vacation in Paris” Allison said. “Whenever you want to sleep you slept one hour and then you fucked him, slept one hour and then you fucked him.” Senior assistants would wake them up saying “It’s your turn to serve now.”
In a workshop in Egypt, the eight women on staff “were constantly serving him sexually” Allison said. “We used strap ons, our hands, fingers — anything. Alex was high the entire 7-day training.”
“If a woman fucked him with a strap on for two hours he’d fuck her for ten minutes and say ‘you should be grateful, now fuck me again.’”
Former staff member Natalie Keiler (not her real name) said she “spent a three-day weekend fucking him.” She said he wouldn’t allow them to take breaks. “It was hours and hours of fucking him with a strap on.”
“Alex got so stoned that he was crawling on the floor mumbling and rambling about god knows what while teaching in the training.”
Jason Marshall said he faced extreme pressure from Alex and the group to be sexual with him.
“It was really fucked up. After initially having avoided the crazy sexual carnage around Alex for the first months on the team I was finally told by Alex’s girlfriend that I no longer had the choice to hide away. I was then brought into Alex’s bedroom where the whole team was already busy with servicing Alex sexually. I was in such a state of shock that I was shivering with fear and hardly able to speak. Alex started ridiculing me saying I was such a coward and that I needed to ”man up.” He then instructed some of the team to get me ready by undressing me and ”fluffing” (i.e. sucking) my cock to get it hard enough for his ass.
The whole experience was so humiliating and so totally against my own will. The whole scenario felt sick and twisted. Alex was my teacher and boss. There was no attraction sexually from either of us what so ever. Hence, it was pure sexual abuse to prove he could have his will in whatever case he wished.”
“He and the team were trying to convince me that I was gay. He said everyone is bisexual. He said I should get a gay partner and live a gay life.”
Natalie said Alex tried very hard to convince her husband that he was gay so that he’d have sex with him.
Allison said Alex “forced and guilt tripped people who would not want to fuck him or have group sex.”
“He used the girls as bait to get the guys in” Allison said. “They were told to say ‘You can fuck us after you fuck him.’” Women in group would go to clubs and bars and use Tinder to seduce straight men off the streets. One TNT staff member “always showed a picture of Alex dressed as a woman” to the guys. She would tell the men “You have to fuck him and then you can fuck me.” Allison said Alex would often tell them “You are not allowed to come up if you don’t bring a guy with you that can fuck me.”
“Alex thought the best thing you could get was BBC (big black cock)” Jason said. “In London he made a team member have sex with as many guys as possible in search of the best guys for him. She fucked over 100 guys in a year to find the biggest, strongest men who were great at fucking. There were extra points for black men with big dicks.” He said she ended up being “a complete wreck” from being required to be so promiscuous. Stephanie Holder told me the same woman ended up “dislocating her womb” from having so much sex while in TNT. She is now a key leader in the school.
“Alex Raped Me”
During her second week on the job Allison said Vartman raped her. They had never been sexual in any form previously. “He came into my bedroom around 3 am while I was sleeping and staring penetrating me.” She woke up in shock and froze not knowing what to do. After about ten minutes he told her “I’m now going to fuck you anally” and did for several minutes. This was her boss and her guru. Vartman said she “was a chosen one” and should feel special. Allison told TNT staff what happened but said “they were supporting Alex because that’s how we were trained. We were brainwashed.”
Allison filed a report with the police when she left the group. Because Vartman did not live in the country and they could not interview him they told her there was little they could do.
Kids Exposed to “Drugs and Orgies”
“They had orgies when kids were sleeping few meters away” Stephanie Holder said. A former staff member stated that the lead organizer in Holland would regularly have orgies at his home and his three kids — as young as six years old at the time — were present. “They had to pass his bedroom to go in to the bathroom, so yes, they were exposed to drugs and orgies for many years.” In referring to the Dutch organizer, a former TNT staff member said the kids got used to “even seeing their father fucking Alex in his ass while dramatically cross-dressed as Alexis.” The children of the Denmark organizers and another leader’s child were also in the homes during drug filled orgies Allison said.
Verbal and Physical Abuse
Former members claim Alex uses a constant state of bullying and verbal abuse to control people.
In her first week around him, former staff member Deborah Volk (not her real name) was “in total shock” as she witnessed Vartman “yell, scream and hit his staff and assistants in the head. People were running around like his servants. The first month I was constantly afraid of him because he was so abusive.”
“Alex came from behind me and touched my back and then I squirted through my pants in front of the group. In that moment I felt pretty ashamed.”
“He’s constantly bullying and psychologically breaking down people in the classes” Sarah Bell (not her real name) said. “A part of the training is that your ego should be able to handle that or it is your own shit. He would deliver the “gift” of verbally abusing people to show you your own shit and give you a reason to work on it and deal with it.”
Jason said he witnessed Alex assaulting a young female staff member. “He took his Iphone with the sharp end and threw it right at her head. He said she was stupid and ‘you could do whatever you want to her.’ She cried, she was hurting like hell.”
During a meeting in her first week on the job Allison says Alex hit her so hard that she “had pain for days” in her thigh. “As he hit me he yelled ‘you stupid fucking cow! Don’t answer questions if you don’t know the right answer! You’re too stupid to answer the question!’”
“He would tell us over the loudspeaker that he put viruses in our brains.”
Natalie Keiler (not her real name) also experienced and witnessed physical violence. “He hit me twice in the face with an open hand on two different occasions. I’ve seen him hit at least two others in the face with a flat palm really, really hard. I’ve seen him use a whip on many people as punishment if someone got an erection during group cuddling sessions.” Natalie also witnessed frequent verbal abuse. “He would call us moron and stupid all the time.”
Diesel, one of the current head teachers, was brought into the middle of a group in a TNT class and smacked hard across the face by Alex for questioning his teachings Allison said.
Allison said she “saw Alex smack people in the head regularly.”
On one occasion Jason witnessed Vartman abusing a young 21-year old new assistant. She came “flying out, just chucked out of the room, onto the bed opposite the door.” Alex then screamed, “You stupid little fucking cunt, how can you be so fucking stupid? You come here and you’re not even dearmoured? You fucking useless little piece of fucking shit!” Jason said “she wasn’t dearmoured enough in her pussy to be pleasurable for him to fuck.”
“As he hit me he yelled ‘you stupid fucking cow! Don’t answer questions if you don’t know the right answer! You’re too stupid to answer the question!’”
Like other group members Allison internalized the abuse. She said she believed she was “a lower conscious being” because she didn’t know tantra and was new to the group. It was confusing for her because so many said he was a “very respected spiritual person,” and that she should be “lucky to be a part of this” and happy to be with a “Tantra Master.”
“Alex had control over every student” Allison said. “Anything said that was negative or critical or even if we were wanting monogamy, it would go directly to Alex through a chain of people.” People wanted to report on others to save themselves she said.
“We were constantly expected to monitor students on the Facebook TNT group The Global Family” Jason said. Facebook was used to bully, gang up on and abuse people who were out of line. “Anything that was questioning Alex had to be deleted, reported or dealt with. If someone who said something critical turned up at a workshop they’d be confronted by it.”
“We thought we were better than every other school, every other person. We were looking down on other people because they were sexually conditioned and we were sexually unconditioned.”
When members shared anything critical about TNT or Alex in the men’s and women’s groups it would find its way back to him and they would be punished. “People were eager to turn in others to save themselves” Allison said. Several former members acknowledge that thought policing was common.
Members were under “constant surveillance” Jason said.
When a student posted in the private Global Family Facebook group that she noticed some similarities between TNT and a cult, Alex got around 100 students involved in a competition to best describe where she was in her ego. All senior students had to take a quiz to reveal their inner thoughts. Alex had found a way to not directly attack her while getting students to “question themselves, defend him and attack the woman.”
Leaving is Dangerous
Deborah said Alex warned members that leaving the group would mean divine retribution. “He would tell all these stories about people that got cancer or fell off of ladders. Alex said ‘One woman was questioning me and she got in a bad, bad accident.’”
“Alex constantly warned us about the danger of being away from him over longer periods of time” Deborah said. “He told us ‘Team members that did that contracted back into their egos and got lost’, which means left the team and TNT.”
“We had to sign a non-disclosure agreement that he could sue us if you mention his name. Everyone around him and on the team signed it.”
One Meal a Day
“Alex would tell us ‘In Auschwitz there were no fat people’” said Jason. He meant that you could only be fat if you were eating too much. “All high level students were only allowed to have one meal a day in trainings. He didn’t like fat people.” Vartman also had members do water fasts where they only drank water and ate no food for up to 21 days at a time. “If you eat more than once a day he’d called it ‘shoving your face’” said Sarah Bell.
For those who didn’t get picked during exercises Bell said Vartman used it as an opportunity to bully them. “Alex would say ‘now this is a chance to contemplate why you didn’t get picked. Or he’d say ‘you’re so fat no one would want to be with you.’” She said it was accepted behavior for Alex or TNT staff to make fun of and bully fat people.
Sex With Students
The TNT code of sexual conduct (created by Alex) says that Vartman is not allowed to have sex with women until they have been a student for three years. However, as Stephanie Holder’s account in the opening vignette illustrates, he doesn’t honor this. “He also lets the women students in level 2 fuck him with strap-ons in the workshop room” Allison said. “Students get flattered that they are chosen to fuck him in front of all other people.”
According to the code of conduct Alex is allowed to have sex with male students whenever he wants. “He says men cannot be sexually manipulated” Allison said.
Alex also had sex in front of students Allison said. “He often liked to fuck his girlfriend or have group sex with other members of the team in front of the students to show us.”
Sarah said Alex would “energetically fuck” women from a distance in front of everyone. “Alex taps her back and she would go into involuntary convulsions. He’d then stand back and energetically fuck her and it looked like she was getting fucked by a ghost. Like a sorcerer. It’s dangerous stuff.”
When it comes to staff and assistants, Vartman tells the team “I don’t have sex with them, they have sex with me. They are in their masculine. The ethics don’t apply because they are fucking me.”
Part 2: Inside The New Tantra
“TNT prides itself on extremes, pushing people to, and beyond their limits, either through sexual extremes or verbally, by attacking their personalities to the point where mental dissociation occurs.”
It’s “slut night” and the men and women are dressed up in sexy women’s lingerie. Alex Vartman is wearing a headset microphone pacing around the room yelling “fuck, fuck, fuck!” The 50 students begin engaging with each. It’s not an orgy though because it’s level one. No penetrative sex is allowed but everything else goes.
If students receive a 7 or above out of 10 they can advance to the next level where full-on sex orgies do occur. The more you pushed your own comfort zone, explored your sexuality and did something you may have been uncomfortable with the better score you got. An 8–10 score was awarded with an armband that says “Advanced Sex Practitioner: The New Tantra.” Another one says “Cumming is for Pussies.” Sarah told me people collected them at each level and wore them like badges of honor. Both slogans were trademarked.
Sarah participated in an orgy on the first day of the Bali level 2 course. They were in a yoga studio type classroom with a red light on. Black faux leather type mattresses lined the floor. It began with the teacher pointing to her and another woman and telling them to go in the middle. The assistant then began squirting coconut oil on their bodies as they started kissing and being sexual. More people slowly joined in until everyone was in the middle being sexual.
On “examination night” in level 2 Sarah said Alex asked someone to share a sex fantasy and then asked for someone who’s interested in playing out the same sex fantasy. They’d go into the middle of the room in the circle and begin acting it out in front of the group. Everyone would slowly join in with their own fantasies until everyone was in the middle.
She and others said there were many aspects of the courses they found enjoyable or liberating but that the cult environment tainted the program.
How To Fuck
“Everytime you cum you are putting another nail in the coffin of your relationship.” — Alex Vartman
“In TNT they teach the men to fuck women extremely hard” Deborah Volk said. “We were taught that women are dirty little whores and sluts and should be fucked like that.” During sex Alex would at times tell women “I’m gonna rape you” and would call them “dirty, slutty whores.” She said “That’s how he spoke to women during sex and it’s how he taught men too.” “Alex taught us that women are sex objects to be fucked. Every man on the team has been taught this sexist culture.” Anyone who didn’t go along was “boring” or would be ridiculed Allison said.
Sarah Bell describes how TNT shames clitoral orgasms. “TNT teaches that clit orgasm is a shallow, surface level orgasm that drains ones sexual energy. TNT promoted higher deeper orgasms, like womb orgasm and full-body orgasms, something one could attain with consistent TNT training. This belief that “bad orgasms” had to be avoided at all costs has been very disorienting in my own sex life since TNT. “
They were also very against ejaculating. Foundational to TNT is orgasming without ejaculating. While Alex was having non-stop sex and orgasms he would rarely cum. When he did it was by accident. This was called a miss.
Violent Body Dearmouring
Stephanie said she “was screaming in agony on the floor” during the body dearmouring that is taught in level 1. It involved three people pushing very hard onto the body of the recipient. People were “covered in bruises” she said. It was only after a student suffered broken ribs that Alex allowed the intensity of the dearmouring to reduce. The body dearmouring was one of the elements of the breaking down process Jason said.
Stephanie Holder said that “Alex and the staff were always high at every event and during the orgies.” She said they “used weed and other drugs” such as poppers and drank. They would also give out viagra to the men so they could perform.” Natalie Keiler said there was “heavy substance abuse of marijuana and poppers” in the group.
Former students report that when participants were tired, physically unable or simply uninterested in partaking in an exercise they’d be highly pressured or even forced to do it.
Crystal was exhausted and “in some kind of a trance” which left her unable to walk after a session. When she refused to participate, TNT staff told her “Are you this little princess that only wants to receive? You need to serve other people!” She said she could hear but not move or do anything. “And then someone asked me to fuck them with a strap on. I was in an overwhelmed state and they were ordering me. It felt like there was no other option.”
“I never received any tantric teachings in TNT.”
In another level Jennifer had been feeling ill and didn’t want to do the striptease exercise. “They literally put me on my feet in the middle of the circle and made me do it.”
A former TNT member experienced a similar thing from TNT staff. He said he was “thoroughly tired” and it was late. “We both decided to leave right before the exercise. We were stopped. The staff said ‘you shouldn’t be going.’” The course leader was not happy with us leaving.”
Crystal said the answer to any discomfort or suffering was always more TNT. “Every time I felt so horrible after each level and I contacted Ms Diesel. I told her ‘I don’t feel well. I can hardly function at home.’ She’d tell me to do the next level. Even when I was out of money she’d say I could pay in payments.”
Pushed to the Extreme
Several members said that Alex would push people’s fantasies to the extreme.
One woman said she was interested in being peed on. “She wanted to try one person just one time” Sarah Bell said. Instead Alex gathered 7 men and said “Everyone pee on her” and instructed them to do so.
When Sarah shared her experience in group of a sexual encounter with another woman the night before she says Alex demanded she reenact it in front of everyone. “He said ‘Do it again, do it right now. Show us what happened. He commands us in the circle of 40 people. This time I’m using a strap on — commanded to the floor.” She said she was thrilled about the experience the night before but not thrilled about getting in front of the group to show it off again.
Sarah Bell described the intensity of the g-spot / squirting workshop. It involved a very rough, forced pumping of the g-spot to make her ejaculate. They were paired up with new students who had never done it before. She said her partner in the workshop was “pumping away” while there was “heavy dark music in the background.” She describes it “very violent.” She said “He was sweating his ass off. No context, no feeling into it. No instruction.” She said the men were told to “Just go in there and pump away for a long time. If it doesn’t work go harder. Soon as I stood up I had a stream of blood running in between my legs.”
Crystal recalled a squirting workshop where approximately 15 men would take turns trying to make her squirt. “Men would come up and put their fingers in your vagina and bang on your g-spot to make you squirt.” She said she tried but couldn’t get into it. “There was only a part of me present — only my body was doing it. The rest of me pulled back because it was so overwhelming.”
“This workshop is clothes-off and features mind-boggling sexually explicit exercises. Here you will learn the essential advanced sex techniques that open up the world of transcendent sexuality.” — TNT Website
In a level 3 training Alex put his girlfriend in “fuck bag” also known as a BDSM “sleepsack” — a dark, tight bag that had hole for the vagina, anus and mouth. For over 20 minutes the ten people in the workshop performed vaginal, anal and oral sex on her. “They performed any sex act they liked” Allison said. No condoms were used. “She couldn’t see anything.” His girlfriend didn’t say no, but Allison explained again that “no one ever said no to Alex. It was a cult. Anyone who went against him would be punished.”
The “Candy Store” exercise in level 2 involved laying down blindfolded, naked on a mattress while receiving sex acts from group members. “First the women would go and men would go around fucking them, touching them and doing anything they wanted” Allison said. And then the roles would reverse when they switched positions.
During the “Sacred Ceremony,” which was an orgy, some of the women ejaculated aka “squirted” in the Kava Kava. Crystal reluctantly drank some but when she refused any more a participant almost drowned her. “He grabbed my hair and drowned me in the Kava bowl. I was gasping for air, my hair was totally soaked.” She had two kidney infections after that training. One former student said that during one training a student drank the Kava Kava with ejaculate in it and got very sick with a kidney infection and almost died.
A former student described an exercise they found disturbing. “There was an exercise called the Mommy/Daddy. The point was to find someone who looked like your parent and have sex with them as if they were your parent. The goal was to transform any trauma’s into unconditional love.”
Level 4 is described as a “sacred ceremony.” Crystal said they had no idea what was going to happen. It turned into a “free flow” which meant instructions to “just fuck.” On Saturday they said “Just fuck until Sunday afternoon.” The next morning she said they ask you “how many people did you fuck?” They were graded on how sexual they had been. If they had lower engagement they would be dismissed as a spoiled little princess or a woman that creates drama.
Several of the people I spoke with said they experienced a “demonic” or “demonic feeding” type energy in TNT.
Stephanie Holder said “I started seeing the teachers faces morphing into creepy creatures. I saw flashes of faces changing. It was like hallucinogenic, like drugs. It was creeping me out. The energy was so strong there.” She told me she believes “Alex calls whatever he can from astral levels — whatever dark creatures come down they attach themselves to the teachers.” She thinks the students’ “life force energy” was being “fed upon.” She fully acknowledged what she was telling may sound strange to others, but emphasized the unique space that Vartman was able to create.
Another woman said there were “absolutely demonic energies” involved. “I felt like I was possessed for quite some time after I left.” She continued. “I saw a fire demon. At one of the ceremonies, there was one man who turned into a fire demon in front of our eyes. It was like his whole body was burning with literal flames.”
Another source who participated in some of the advanced levels echoed the same thing, claiming that there was a lot of “feeding” of energy occurring. He said it felt “demonic.”
Current TNT Leadership
Alex stepped back from teaching in TNT a few years ago when a long time assistant spoke out publicly about the abuse. This prompted some to believe TNT is ok now. The former members I spoke with warn otherwise.
Allison said “Alex is still controlling everything. He has meetings with them and directs them. Those people are his puppets. They are still brainwashed. The leadership are still holding this culture Alex taught. The school is equally dangerous.”
Natalie Keiler said anyone who is in a leadership position in TNT is dangerous given how brainwashed they all are.
The current director is named Apollo (real name Thomas Hamelryck) and works as a scientist in Denmark. Several former staff members warned about him. One said “I would say he’s even more dangerous than Alex. He is extremely narcissistic. He really treats women like low level of creatures and has a really bad attitude.”
Several of the people I spoke with reported a wide variety of distressing symptoms after their time in TNT. They said it took many months if not years to recover and some are still recovering now.
Stephanie said “After that weekend, I had a black eye, was covered in bruises, no idea how I got them. Like I was out of my body.”
Former member Kevin Gill said “It’s impossible to stay constantly on this high level of energy without burning out.” He said the nervous system is “constantly activated. And the adrenal glands, they’re just fully on power all the time. I have seen a lot of people burning out.”
One former member describes her post-TNT experience:
“When I left TNT in December 2016, I was in a deep depression and in a burnout. I had never experienced something like that before. In the end I totally hit rock-bottom. I found myself soul broken, I just wanted to give up on everything. I did not recognize myself anymore.”
“Today just thinking about sex makes me shut down. My bladder and G-spot glands are chronically inflamed and it impacts my life in many ways. Sex is generally a disorienting struggle with emotional and physical pain. Even orgasm often causes a trigger response and I shut down. Before TNT I was in tune with my body like a normal person would be, and I enjoyed G-spot orgasms. Today poking my G-spot feels like poking in a wound. This has been going on for me since my first week in TNT, 4 years ago.”
A former member was deeply impacted after TNT. “I was psychotic and depressed for awhile and was then hospitalized for 17 days in a mental hospital.” She said Alex knew she was psychotic and he told her to drive 8.5 hours home and go to the hospital. She said he should have gotten an ambulance or assisted her to get the care she needed. Later she heard Alex’s voice in her head for years in the form of auditory hallucinations.
Tantra Not Trauma
In 2015 a former New Tantra member started a Facebook group called “Tantra Not Trauma” as a play on the TNT initials. The group was originally designed to be a space to speak out and get support about abuse within The New Tantra. It has since evolved into a place for people to report abuse they experience from tantra and spiritual teachers.
The group is part of the global shift occurring right now around abuse in the tantra and spiritual worlds. Alex Vartman is just the latest in a list of other abusive “tantric” leaders to be exposed. What’s become more and more clear is that these leaders are preying upon genuine seekers and abusing the word “tantra” for their own ends. With each article this becomes more clear. Unfortunately these groups have caused a lot of damage, hopefully soon they will be actually focused on tantra not trauma.
NOTE: Alex Vartman did not respond to my request for an interview.
Teal Swan, an emerging cult leader, claims she is a multi-dimensional Arcturian alien working with 11 other aliens in an “intergalactic Green Peace” type organization. She says she has x-ray vision and hearing, that she can inject herself into people’s brainstems to revive them and can hear tectonic plates moving. She has a massive following, many of whom, called “Tealers,” tattoo themselves with her symbol. Teal claims suicide is a “reset button” and that “death is delicious.” At least two of her followers have already committed suicide. Teal also claims to have suffered 13-years of abuse in a child-murdering Mormon Satanic Cult where she was routinely tortured, sewn into a corpse for 12 hours and made to torture other children.
“I knew that I wanted to be famous and be on people’s television screens and be on stage. At a cellular level, I knew that I was destined to be a star performer.”
Teal Swan was made to be a star. She’s the sexy, sultry, spiritual, New Age sensation taking the world by storm. From Prague to LA she has captivated audiences with her musings. This sage is a fox and she knows it. Robes or modesty don’t apply. Mrs. Swan is empowered by stilettos and skin tight skirts. She says her feminism is found in glitter and gowns. Fast cars, fancy jewels and fabulous hotels are a must. Her mantra is makeup. Her mode is digital. World salvation is in her handbag. Fame is in her blood. Be warned though, dear seeker. Looks can be deceiving. Teal is masterfully using her sexuality and sensual appeal in service of her cult ambitions. She is powerful, seductive and dangerous. The Gucci Guru has arrived. The OS just got a makeover. Cult 2.0 is evolving.
Teal is a part of the ever changing face of modern spirituality. She is hot and bothered for all the right reasons — positive world change and personal transformation. What spiritual America lacked according to her was a glamorous starlet willing to sacrifice everything for the cause. Teal auditioned and got the part. Her character uses the allure of desirability to create a global spiritual movement. And now the reviews have just come in — she’s given the performance of a lifetime. The audience loved it. She’s an incredible actress. She’s so believable, vulnerable and real they report. And the Oscar goes to…Teal Swan for How to Steal a Mind. It’s the heist of a millennium. Audrey Hepburn, eat your heart out.
“To me, there is nothing that compares to the authoritative feel of walking down a hallway in the perfect pair of stiletto high heels.”
“I love clothes. My closet is full of the most sensual fabrics in the most vibrant and rich of colors. They are part of the public image that I portray when I fly around the world to put on my performances.”
While other spiritual teachers may consider Teal’s focus on branding and performance to be superficial, she wholeheartedly embraces it. It’s actually a central part of her mission here on earth, “Before I even came down, there was an entire panel of Arcturian beings — 6th dimensional beings — who even chose the way I would look in this life.” We live in an attention based economy. They knew. Teal’s exceptional beauty and brilliant spiritual mind were literally a match made in extraterrestrial heaven.
Ever since she was young, Teal dreamt of being famous. And now that she has built a massive global following her dream seems to be materializing. HerYoutube channel has 434,000 subscribers and over 53 million views in total. That’s almost double the views of international best selling author and Oprah favorite Eckhart Tolle. She has 162,000 Facebook page likes, a Facebook group called “Teal Tribe” of 25,000 and over 60,000 followers on Instagram. Teal also has a monthly premium membership site that undoubtedly has thousands of subscribers. Her talks and workshops around the world regularly attract hundreds of people. She’s appeared on stage with Gabrielle Bernstein, been interviewed along side new age favorite JP Sears and has spoken at Kripalu Yoga Center. Her latest two books are onHay House publishing and she’s spoken at several of their “You Can Do It” conferences to packed audiences.
“I did not come to earth with a specific message. I came here as a course turner. I am the game changer.”
Teal claims her esoteric wisdom comes from having a direct connection to Source and extra sensory abilities that she was born with. A former member says, however, that Teal “had an extensive in home library of popular self-help, metaphysical, and pop psychology books in her house.” It’s hard to identify all of her sources but some include Byron Katie’s “The Work,” “Quantum Touch,” “What Color is Your Aura?,” “The Wisdom of the Enneagram,” Suzanne White’s “Chinese Astrology,” Abraham Hicks and the Law of Attraction, “The Law of One” by Ra and books by author Michael Brown — who’s work she plagiarized for her book “The Completion Process.” A former friend says, “She Googles everything, none of her material is new material.”
“How do I have all this information? It’s because I’m extra sensory. I’m not limited to this dimension or time-space reality.”
As with Bentinho Massaro, the specifics of the teachings don’t matter, they are merely a tool to reach a goal. Teal admits this when talking about her larger business vision, “My goal is not to become what I already am, which is a spiritual guide, that is just a means to achieving my actual goals.
Teal Swan’s Quest For Global Domination
Teal’s long term global aspirations are vast. She states, “My intention is to build a company that is so large and so unstoppable that nothing can come up against it…[It will] implement many world changes…The investments can be used to lobby, or to buy countries. And then we can start doing these new societies.”
“I will do whatever it takes to continue on with this world vision of mine. When I set out with this plan in mind, I knew that I would be risking death.”
“Until it [becomes] one of the wealthiest companies in the world. But not just a company, it would become like its own entity. An unstoppable monolith…”
“We are merely in phase one of the plan to institute positive world change. This company I have founded will grow to the point where it will rival the corporations that currently exist. It will eventually effect change on a governmental level.”
“Teal Eye, LLC. Our Mission: To Catalyze The Rise Of Consciousness In Man.”
“People who commit suicide — what you’ll see is that they’ve fulfilled their purpose because they are understanding — you know the higher self. Their source stream is understanding the concept of love. But they only unite with that love they have created when they commit suicide.”
A Commune in the Jungle
As part of her plan, Teal recently began leasing to own a center in Atenas, Costa Rica where she lives part of the time with 20 other people in an intentional community. She holds workshops and seminars in this new center where people come from all around the world to study with her. She claims that without this tribe of intentional community support she would have “offed” herself years ago. She says that she can no longer live in the U.S. given the hostility and backlash she faces from “haters.” She also claims to have gotten numerous death threats over the years.
A secret Facebook group called “Creating the life we want together in Costa Rica” described the venture as such:
“A group of like minded, heart connected beings who hold a strong intention of manifesting the New Earth in Costa Rica through intentional community and a heart based lifestyle. Divine creator, pioneers, healers, midwives. Authenticity and emotion are highly honored. Creating a physical safe space to relate to the world from.”
“Teal has studied various cult leaders down to a tee.” — Former member
“We have added 7 members to our family. They are people from all over the world. Besides a common vision for positive world change, the web that weaves us together is the burning desire for a community to depend on and a group of people to call home.”
“Each person that I train to awaken is like a soldier for collective awakening…It feels like they are members of my army.”
“I love nothing more than connecting with people in the audience through their eyes. It makes me feel like I do have a family among the people of the world. And by becoming well known, I’ve enabled them to finally find me.”
We’ve seen this movie before. The most recent version was Bentinho Massaro. Teal is the sequel that should have never been made. She exhibits all of the signs of the next influential cult leader. She’s charismatic, divinely appointed, has special powers, is persecuted, describes death as “delicious,” makes suicide easier, is grandiose and brilliant, creates a clear in group/out group, doesn’t tolerate criticism, is self-obsessed and has a martyr complex, encourages followers to tattoo themselves with her symbol, wants to create a global empire, is mentally unstable and has now isolated members in a foreign country. One former member even said she tried to get her members to hate their parents — another classic sign of cult behavior. Another one who used to live with her states, “Teal did not allow free thinking, questioning, or dissent of any sort when it came to her own little land of make-believe.”
“I’ve never met a crazier, more unstable person in my entire life. I just find her to be mentally ill, in my opinion she’s just very manipulative, pathologically manipulative.” — Former friend
A former friend describes how great of an actress Teal is:
“I was able to see what Teal was doing from very early on. It didn’t take long to notice how every piece of her life is carefully calculated. Her friendships, her interactions, her reasoning behind everything she does, her voice and every movement. It is designed to draw you in, to captivate you. She makes you believe that she is inside your head. She makes you believe that she sees the truth. The truth is, she likes the control and the power over other people.”
“In my childhood…[in] the cult that I was a part of, they put me in charge of mentally programming children. So I was the one that would bring them in, hook them up to electrodes, and torture them.”
Another former member, “She only ever seemed to exhibit a sustained fondness for sadistically, mentally, and emotionally picking people apart; being in front of a camera/audience; writing or talking incessantly about herself…”
As evidence of the mind games and manipulation Teal uses, she tried on several occasions to plant alien abduction stories into people’s minds:
“She convinced him that he was brutally sodomized and had spikes driven through his body by gray aliens. Teal walked him through an alleged abduction describing what had happened to him and his sister to the point he was SCREAMING BLOODY MURDER upstairs. He threw something and almost broke her sliding glass closet door. I was so scared when I heard him that I thought I was going to have to call 911. He seemed to me to be having a psychotic break.”
“Teal told me her cat, Cosmos, was actually a holographic soul projection from the planet Sirius, and he had been sending me telepathic images of my pancreas, to tell me that my blood sugar was off.”
“Being around Teal was like being in a never-ending drama-trauma cycle. Her emotions were always rapidly shifting. For instance: one minute she was giddy, doing cartwheels in the park; then, 15 minutes later, on the drive home, she became despondent, after claiming to have seen, on the side of the road, the ghost of a person who was ‘traumatically’ killed in a car accident. She acted depressed, claiming to have gone out of body, to help the ghost cross over.”
“And as soon as you question her, the mind games begin, and if that doesn’t work you are out. You cannot question Teal. She sees you and knows you better than you know yourself. Even if all you want is the truth, even if you would never judge her no matter the truth. The only problem is, the lies are becoming much worse and more manipulative.” — Former friend and member
This is new age narcissism and it’s dangerous — particularly when someone rises to the level of Teal and has the power to actually carry out her vision. She’s made a series of irresponsible, troubling and even racist remarks over the years. Undoubtedly, some of her followers are vulnerable and impressionable. People are at risk. Here is a list of 50 cult leader warning signs.
“I got lost in this horrendous neighborhood in New Jersey. I was really interested in watching these women. Most of them were African American women, a lot of them were really overweight. I wanted to tap into what they were feeling like…Some of them were actually feeling so hopeless that they were wanting rape.” (video below)
“I’m not limited to this dimension or time space reality”
“I am an expert in this field. I was born an extra sensory. How is it that I have the information that I have at 26, 29, 30 and now 33. How do I have all this information? It’s because I’m extra sensory. I’m not limited to this dimension or time space reality.”
“I am a revolutionary”
“The reality is, I’m a revolutionary in this field. Look at what happens to revolutionaries. What do you think happened withMartin Luther King? What do you think happened with Christ? What do you think happened with Gandhi? What’s happening with them is what’s happening with me.”
“If I stand up on stage someday and someone puts a bullet through my head, I have more attention.”
Disciples & Teachings
“I have people that live with me every day and if they were responsible for writing down my teachings they’d completely mess it up. Completely. The way thattheir consciousness is structured is not highenough right now to grasp those concepts.”
“This is a cult, and it will only get more and more dangerous.” — Former member
The Arcturian Diva
Teal claims that a panel of 6th dimensional beings chose the way she would look in this life so as to have mass appeal and to be more affective when carrying out her planetary mission.
“I am non-physical energy that is projected forth into an Arcturian body, an extraterrestrial body. Before I even came down there was an entire panel of Arcturian beings, 6th dimensional beings, who even chose the way I would look in this life. There will not be a person on the planet, regardless of what country you go to that does not perceive some level of attractiveness. Thus, they’ll pay attention. It’s sort of funny to feel like I’m a giant science project.”
She claims to be an alien:
“Most people are the higher self and their human perspective; two points of perspective. I’m three — human, extraterrestrial, and nonphysical.”
“One of the first things Teal told me was that she was an alien.” — Former friend
In this video clip Teal claims there are about 2,000 Arcturians on the planet, 11 of which she knows and is working closely with in an organization that is like an “intergalactic Green Peace.”
Teal also claims that the real rulers of the planet are a hostile alien race.
In this video Teal says she loves to astral travel to “Lyra,” a constellation of multiple different planets. “The minute you touch down you can bring with you your thoughts from this life” she claims.
The term “Arcturian” comes from author Edgar Cayce. He claimed they were one of the most advanced civilizations in this galaxy.
Teal Swan’s Superpowers
As a central claim to her authority Teal says that she is a multi-dimensional being who has special powers.
“Force myself in through the brain stem”
Teal claims to “spend most of my nights consciously out of body working as a kind of universal tool for consciousness.” She has travelled to Iraq, the Ukraine and Africa among other places. One time she “was inquiring with a convention of beings about relationships and dependency. I could not believe what I found out.” Another night she spent on the edge between the eleventh and twelfth dimensions, “it was almost like sitting on the edge of a comforting black hole.”
In a blog post she describes how she astral travelled to Africa one night and saved the life of a young girl in labor in the hospital:
“Then, I did what I so often do to help people stay physically alive… I assume the frequency of their energy field and force myself in through their brain stem, so as to activate the part of their brain which is in charge of breathing (and other autonomic functions like the heart beat). This allows them a channel back into their body.”
She waited for the girls’ “consciousness stream” to be activated and then watched her breathe on her own. She then witnessed “her bleeding slow to the point where I could be sure she would wake back up to the physical dimension.”
X-Ray Vision and Hearing
In this video Teal explains how acute her sensory perception is:
“Based on where my bed is positioned in the room I can actually catch radio channels. That’s how bad my extra-sensory stuff is. I had a bed at my last place where if I rolled two centimeters to the left or right I was actually listening to play by plays of a football game that was going on on a radio channel.”
“When I meet a person, I am able to see their bones, organs, nerves, veinsetc.”
“I do not see negative space (what many people call air). Instead, everything looks like energy with no spaces in between. Every energy field bleeds into every other energy field creating one huge existence of inter-being.”
“I can hear tectonic plates moving… Full moons are very, very loud to me. I hate the sound of cotton balls (a sound I gather many people can’t hear).”
“I can hear thought forms. Imagine trying to have a romantic relationship with someone, when you can visually see their thoughts…[Thoughts] have become a configuration, shape or visual appearance and may manifest in a non-static way.”
“Imagine trying to make a phone call and having entities in the area tap into the signal or electric current.”
“I can see the future. I have prophetic visions and dreams.”
A Reincarnated Master, Sai Baba
Teal claims to be the reincarnation of Indian guru Sai Baba. In this clip she describes how spiritual teachers decide when to come to earth and how she made her decision.
“Often spiritual teachers are a grouping of consciousness. So, when one consciousness continues to a next life then sometimes only a portion of those soulstreams will continue and these ones will not, they’ll go into other incarnations. That’s what I decided to do. That’s why I did not participate in Satya Sai Baba. There was a major rift that happened.”
Teal is undoubtedly using her sexuality and sensual appeal in service of her cult ambitions. One former member who used to live with her explains, “Teal’s sexual allure is all part of the strange hold she uses to control and manipulate the people in her sphere…Everyone in that group either had a previous or current sexual relationship with Teal, or they admitted to wanting one with her.”
“She is obsessed with sex. It’s grotesque. With all the constant talk of sex in the house I was sick to my stomach often hearing these things…Teal has an overtly sexual nature. I quickly learned that nobody in her presence for long is exempt from hearing her gloating tales meant to illustrate her sexual prowess. She even made a couple of passes at me just to test the waters. These passes consisted of several vulgar and aggressively blunt sexual remarks addressed to me at different times. They seemed like tests for her to gauge how I would respond.”
I asked someone with knowledge of Teal’s background if she engages sexually with her followers and they said yes, “She definitely sleeps with her followers and it’s public knowledge. She married two, dated at least one. They find her on YouTube, become enthralled and then involve themselves in workshops and so on.”
There are numerous extravagant terms that Teal has used to refer to herself:
“Spiritual Authority”, “Revolutionary”, “Leader of the New Age”, “Guru”, “Oracle”, “Seer”, “Spiritual Catalyst”, “Therapist”, “Internationally Recognized Spiritual Leader”, “Spiritual Guide”, “Social Media Star”, “YouTube Sensation”, “Star Performer”, “New Thought Leader”, “Game Changer”, “Savant”, “God.”
“I am a master at mental chess. I play mind games with people.”
Teal has made numerous irresponsible statements, unsupported health claims and offensive remarks over the years. Her followers look up to her and trust her, many believing that she is a more highly evolved and thus wiser being. What she says matters. It goes without saying that people should seek a qualified professional for mental and physical conditions. Teal has no formal training or licensure in any sort of mental health field. She was fined in the state of Utah for practicing therapy without a license.
“The Suicide Catalyst”
“What suicide is, is pushing the reset button. It’s not a good or bad decision in and of itself. It’s not something that source either condones or condemns. You cannot say that suicide is wrong without also saying that death is wrong…There is nothing wrong with suicide.”
In April of 2015 a long term member of Teal’s group, who went by the name I.T. committed suicide. He posted in the Teal Tribe Facebook group before doing so. He said, “I actually think I might suicide today. I’ve attempted it enough times for it to be comfortable. And if it doesn’t happen today: Probably soon.” A few days after he died an admin posted about him saying he was a “valued member of this group and was part of the Teal Tribe family for some time.”
A few years ago one of Teal’s clients committed suicide. A former member describes Teals surprising reaction:
“In 2013, our friend Leslie committed suicide. I met her earlier that year and didn’t know her well, but she would reach out when she was sad. It struck me as odd when Teal, her husband and I were sitting there talking about it that her reaction was to say (in paraphrase) ‘I am not upset because she’s dead, I am upset about the fact that I lost a client and it could hurt my credibility.’ It blew me away. And I just sat there.”
Teal claimed that this client was beyond hope, “There’s nothing that any healer could ever do for that type of vibration which is totally fine. From source energy there’s nothing wrong with death from that perspective. So, she chose to commit suicide.” There were of course several things Teal could have done to try and intervene. She then went on to claim the client reincarnated into a similar family situation just two days later while the audience laughed.
In this exchange, a participant on stage tells Teal that her sister killed herself on New Years Eve. Teal awkwardly responds by saying “Just in time for my video,” referring to a video that she had made on suicide at the time.
“You’ve been thinking about it, but not really consciously. This time, what I’m going to encourage you to do is to consciously imagine committing suicide.”
“We have to decide whether we are going to commit to life or not. Let me remind that death is not wrong, so make this decision based on the truth of what you want instead of what you think is right to want.”
When describing the potential risks of her Completion Process method she states, “The number one risk I would say with this process is self-injury and potentially suicide.”
Teal seemingly endorses suicide here by suggesting it alines with the higher self and love:
“People who commit suicide — what you’ll see is that they’ve fulfilled their purpose because they are understanding — you know the higher self. Their source stream is understanding the concept of love. But they only unite with that love they have created when they commit suicide.”
One former member describes how Teal tried to manipulate her, “Teal immediately jumped to trying to convince me that I was suicidal (despite the fact that I wasn’t and had never been suicidal before). I explained this, to her, and she went so far as to tell me that I was ‘passively suicidal’ instead, and informed me that I was ‘uncommitted to life.’”
All of these comments are made in the context of an audience that contains people who are struggling or suicidal. Teal admits this herself, “I receive several suicidal e mails a day (about ten a day in fact).”
Society & Politics
In this video she describes feeling the energy of a poor neighborhood in New Jersey, “I got lost in this horrendous neighborhood in New Jersey. I was really interested in watching these women. Most of them were African American women, a lot of them were really overweight. I wanted to tap into what they were feeling like…Some of them were actually feeling so hopeless that they were wanting rape.”
In a video where she is describing how she was made to look beautiful for people on every continent by the Arcturians she contrasts herself with a woman from Africa claiming “A really beautiful woman down in Africa may come up to the U.S. and be considered pretty ugly.”
In a blog post she uses offensive and prejudice language about the people of Costa Rica, “People who live in a primitive state, more like animals in their behavior than people…Or the sexual aggression of so many of the men here…Or the fact that most people here are so relaxed that they operate on a time system all their own and do not seem to bothered by meeting standards of any kind.”
When Teal posted a picture of custom made booty shorts with the word “Paramahamsa” on them some people cried foul. The term is a Hindu word for revered masters in the tradition. It literally means the enlightened one or “Supreme Swan.”
In this clip Teal claims that Hitler was the greatest contributor to world peace, “If you are on the highest vibrational level looking at this planet the person who added to peace more than anyone else on this planet is Hitler. Because no one was thinking about world peace until he came along.”
Questioner: “Isn’t there something wrong with Hitler? Intrinsically, wasn’t the guy a sort of bad apple?”
Teal Swan: “On a universal perspective, hell no. He was exactly what everyone had asked for.”
It’s OK to Kill Someone
Question: “So you’re saying that killing someone is ok? How can that be when it’s a destruction of the human body without divine intervention?”
Teal: “It’s not right for you. I can tell because of the way that made you feel. When I say it’s ok to kill somebody, because it’s not right for you it will not feel good to you.”
Death is “Delicious”
There are two known suicides in Teal’s community, Leslie and I.T., both mentioned above. Given this and Teal’s cult ambitions these statements by her are concerning:
“Death is such a liberation that you would give it to yourself.”
“You could live in a human body indefinitely, but would you choose to if you knew the deliciousness of the new perspective?”
“Very first thing is that we have to decide whether we are more committed to death or more committed to life. If we are more apathetic we are passively committing suicide.”
“So when you die it’s like lining up with the best food you’ve ever eaten, and the lover who you’ve always wanted, and I mean I could list this whole thing — everything you’ve ever wanted from your life, you line up with.”
“We shouldn’t just assume that living is always right, and there’s no point really honestly in like being on this planet specially from the universal perspective. There’s no point in really being on this planet if we’re going to be dragging ourselves to be here all the time.”
“Let me remind you that death is not wrong so make this decision based on the truth of what you want instead of what you think is right to want.”
“The blessing of people like myself who were born incapable of coping with the current world is that we have only one decision to make… Willingly die to leave the world or willingly alter the world.”
“If I stand up on stage someday and someone puts a bullet through my head I have more attention.”
“What blew my mind when I went out to look at my thousands upon thousands of these life path potentials for my future, I was a match to the very gruesome public murder in every single one of them. . . Jesus opted for public execution, for example. Would we even know who he was today, if it wasn’t for that death. Who knows? . . . If I had a guarantee 100% that what I am doing in the world and the change I am trying to make — would it only work if I got killed, would I still do it? And would I stick to that life path and the answer is ‘yes’.”
“The victim is every much responsible for what they experience as the perpetrator is because we are the ones putting ourselves by virtue of our thoughts which make us a match to a perpetrator.”
Teals videos and writings are filled with irresponsible claims about physical and mental health.
“I’ll explain autoimmune disease. Below all autoimmune disease is that he persons strategy to safe in their childhood is to turn against themselves. This is self hate to the extreme.”
The Cause of All Mental Illness
“Mental Illness is always the result of you thinking thoughts which vibrate at a frequency that is very low. So you’re focusing on things that do not feel emotionally good to you. That is the cause of every single mental illness. It has nothing to do with the brain.”
The Cause of Obesity
In her blog post “The Cause of Obesity” Teal explains how people become overweight:
“When someone develops an excess of body weight, most especially in the form of fat, it is always done to cope with a fear. When it comes to obesity, that fear is the fear of humiliation and shame. At the heart of every single case of obesity is this particular fear. It is not a fear of something unknown; rather it is a fear of something known.”
According to WebMD, “Obesity is a complex disease for which no single cause or cure exists.” They go on to list a variety of contributing factors including lifestyle, genetics, diet, exercise, trauma and medical conditions or medication usage.
Purify Blood With Light
In speaking about potential things her company may invest in she describes a new machine. She says, “I’ve watched blood being filtered out of the body completely through a high frequency light that structurizes (sic) the liquid in the blood. It completely purifies the blood and then it’s fed back into the body.”
Teal takes “branding” to the next level. She encourages her followers to literally brand themselves by tattooing the Seal of Alchemy on their bodies. It’s the symbol that has come to represent Teal and her tribe. These devotees call themselves “Teal Tribers,” “Tealers” or the “Teal Army.”
“When you are a teacher or a leader, or a politician or an artist, the brand you are marketing is YOU. This means that your most valuable asset is your image.” — Teal
“And there I stood, a teacher of alchemy on the world stage, with the seal of alchemy etched into my left arm. I have arrived at court finally.”
The Mormon Satanic Cult
Teal claims she was sewed into a corpse as part of the abuse she faced in the cult she was in while young, “He’d take me into the mortician’s office late at night, and when I was about, I’d say, eight years old, he ended up sewing me into a body, and leaving me there for about twelve hours.” Some people actually asked two different morticians and they both said there is no way for an 8-year old girl to be sewed into a body. It’s just not physically possible.
Her entire story is so outlandish and incredible that just on face value it’s hard to believe. It appears she is just listing every horrible thing that could ever happen in a satanic cult.
“For the thirteen years that followed, I was systematically and progressively separated from my family, I was tortured physically and sexually in rituals, forced to participate in sacrifices, raped, forced to eat and drink out of dog bowls, forced to undergo 3 abortions (all fathered by my principal abuser himself who was in his sixties at the time). He performed them himself with veterinary equipment, which is why I had such a hard time conceiving my son. I was photographed for sadomasochistic pornography, sold for money to men for sex out of outdoor gas station bathrooms and motel rooms, kept in basements, kept in a plank covered hole in the ground in my abuser’s back yard, exposed to electro-shock programming, forced to undergo isolation torture, left overnight tied up in lava caves in southern Idaho. I was forced to participate in bestiality and necrophilia, drugged by my abuser with Ketamine, Dormator, Xylazine, opiates, peyote and speed (all of which he had unlimited access to due to being a vet). I was chased through the Idaho and Utah wilderness by my abuser who loved to “play” tracking games in which he would hunt me, and if I won, I got a reward, if I lost, I was either raped, or he would “count coup” by making cut marks on my rib cage. I was used as a lure to other children that ended up being hurt or on occasion killed by the cult group. And the list could go on. But this experience is still something that seriously affects my life today. On one hand it is obvious that I would not be doing the job I am doing today around the world if it wasn’t for this experience. On the other hand, a life that is spent in a constant state of recovery from the past is a difficult life.”
Those who have investigated this story thoroughly have found no supporting evidence for any of her claims. Supposedly, 7 children were murdered, kids were tortured and Teal went through all of this for 13 years. This would have occurred from around 1990–2003. It’s not that long ago. It shouldn’t be hard to corroborate the story.
Apparently this character is based on a real person who Teal briefly knew. He’s actually a veterinarian who’s been married for 35 years and has no criminal track record. Her family had him around briefly to help with some behavioral problems that she was having.
“She is dedicated to running this facade that was her supposed childhood abuse between two cults by a man called “Doc”. I have seen the lies form right before my very eyes. I have seen the story change again and again. I have seen details edited out because she found out it wasn’t possible, I have seen both her and Blake back out of interviews that might be too difficult or in which they might feel cornered.
I have seen Teal lie about her extra-sensory abilities, claims that she cured people from cancer, claims that she travels out of body to prevent certain situations.”
“She’s a fabulist and a confabulator, and I would call her a mythomaniac. She makes up stories.”
Her story of suffering is central to her entire story as a teacher. Without her claims of special powers and great suffering in this cult what would any of her authority rest on?
“I don’t care I don’t care whether I die. . . . I can tell you.”
Bentinho Massaro was stopped right as he was about to buy land in Sedona and carry out his vision of building a city. 18 days after I published “Tech Bro Guru: Inside the Sedona Cult of Bentinho Massaro” he fled Sedona. He shut down his operations, left his two homes and his followers and went into hiding. He didn’t even tell his staff where he went. In the end he was unable to carry out his master vision.
Teal has is now trying to permanently relocate to a new center in Atenas, Costa Rica where she lives some of the time with her “family” and intentional community. She, like Bentinho has carried out the first phase of building up her cult but now has found a new location. And furthermore, it is in a foreign country where members are much more isolated.
“Today, when I look at the life that I lead, it is not so different from the one that I dreamed up for myself back then. I stand up on stage. I sing to audiences in my own way.”
Any observer of this story must seriously ask, “where is all of this heading?” Teal claims omnipotence and superpowers, has grandiose visions of world domination, makes alarming statements about suicide and is clearly self-obsessed and unstable. All the warning signs are present. The writing is on the wall. As one former friend of hers said, “The lies are becoming much worse and more manipulative.” Again, be warned as looks can be deceiving. As Audrey Hepburn says, “The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries or the way she combs her hair.”
Sedona, AZ has been infiltrated by a polyamorous tech bro cult leader with a massive following. His devotees are everywhere. They believe he can control the weather with his mind. He talks about aliens & government conspiracies, sleeps with and verbally abuses students and believes he is an awakened God not responsible for his actions. He loves expensive scotch and has a sweet spot for cigars, but not Cubans. I spent one month embedded in his group under the alias “Shakti Hunter.” This is my report. #WelcomeToSedona
UPDATE: On December 9th, one of Bentinho’s long time, very devoted students, Brent Wilkins, committed suicide by jumping off a cliff near the Midgley Bridge in Sedona, AZ. See full coverage. On December 18thBentinho Massaro fled Sedona and went into hiding.
[Be Scofield is the most prominent journalist in the world exposing cults and abusive gurus. In 2018 alone, her articles received almost 1 million views. Stories based on her work have appeared on The Guardian, The Daily Mail, VICE, Playboy, CNN, CBC, New Zealand Herald, Die Zeit and more.]
Written by Be Scofield, M.Div / Represented byUnited Talent Agency / Author contact: [email protected]
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“I really feel like he is setting people up for a mass suicide. He talked about ‘The Harvest.’ I always had a weird feeling.” — Former core staff member
Bentinho Massaro is crushing the startup game. He’s the visionary behind an innovative company that has captured the hearts and minds of its users like no other. He’s truly one of a kind. What makes him stand out? It’s not his identity or looks. He’s a typical twenty something founder; white, handsome, charismatic and tech savvy. It’s also not because he built a successful company from nothing. That’s common these days. What makes him particularly unique is that he brilliantly used startup principles to create a legitimately dangerous, real life, 21st century cult. In Sedona. In 2017. Tech bro Guru has arrived. The OS has been upgraded. Cult 2.0 is upon us.
Bentinho’s first talk on his Youtube channel, “Understanding Life is Impossible” dates back to 2010. He was young, perhaps late teens. While many of his millennial peers were seeking investment capital for their new apps or interning at Facebook, he had an even cooler idea. Whether he was cognizant or not at the time, he used elements of growth hacker marketing to begin building a new age empire. He was testing out his “product” aka spiritual ideas for no cost on the platform that defined a generation. It worked. Build, test, measure, convert. He soon began teaching to small groups which further validated his ideas and then grew from there.
Since his first Youtube video, Bentinho has built a massive following. He can attract over 500 people to his in person retreats. His Facebook page has over 300,000 likes. Instagram is over 20,000 followers. There are two, well-run Facebook groups, one with 19,000 members. His Youtube videos have over two million views in total. He runs four exceptionally well designed websites — a free online academy, a monthly video based membership site, his core siteand the Trinfinity Corp. master plan. At its peak Bentinho’s Trinfinity academy was bringing in $60,000 per month from member subscriptions alone. With a $14,000 a month rent for his office in Boulder that level of income was definitely needed. And he gives talks in Sedona that attract over a hundred people each week in which he collects cash donations. He utilizes state of the art technology to record and broadcast them live on Crowdcast and then repurpose them on his platforms. He frequently utilizes Facebook Live and his team uses WhatsApp to communicate via several different groups. One of the WhatsApp groups Bentinho named “Boner in Dona” and it uses an image of a phallic looking Red Sedona rock as its icon.
It’s evident that what has “worked” has little to do the specifics of his spiritual ideas. Bentinho mainly teaches a mashup of Advaita Vedanta and the Law of Attraction. Other influences include Osho, Bashar, “The Law of One” channeled by Ra, Nisargadatta Maharaj and some yogic texts as well. He peddles in unrealistic promises such as “find complete happiness in two steps,” or “realize the absolute in two weeks.” But the ideas could be interchanged without compromising the results. It’s the medium, the format, the method and the technique that “works.” The goal of a cult leader is the same regardless of the jargon: confuse, disassociate and control. It is about “being led away from yourself.” At a recent meeting Bentinho told his followers to not focus on the content, rather focus on what he is transmitting. And that “what” which is being transmitted is much more illusive and deceptive than his students could ever imagine.
Bentinho’s long game for his business is truly audacious. His master plan for Trinfinity Corporation is right out of a sci-fi movie. He’s building a global, cosmic empire in a four phase sequence that ends with a “Trinfinity City.” He wants to create an “enlightened society by 2035.” Earlier phases include apps, film, TV & record studios, virtual reality machines, an astral projection inducer, a tech lab, a publishing platform and yes, a system to foster open contact with aliens.
It’s clear that Bentinho has achieved many of the goals of a new startup: successful branding, passive income, social media reach, great design and platform creation. Bentinho has mastered the game. No, hebecame the game and upgraded it. Cosmic domination. He wants your soul. And his followers are the pawns of his delusional, tragic vision of an enlightened society.
In this clip Bentinho clearly lays out his plan for his new “heaven on earth” utopia, “My vision is to buy a large piece of land and start a new city with all of you…As with everything I will succeed.”
Bentinho has the power, the money and the tech savviness to actually do it. He has slowly and carefully implemented a brilliant strategy to prop himself up as an infallible Guru. However, as of late, his methods are becoming more drastic and his teachings more dire. This isn’t just some pie in the sky far out Sedona hippie experiment. It’s Steve Jobs meets Jim Jones. Time to wake the fuck up.
Branding is Everything
Bentinho’s “brand” brought him as far as being featured with a select group of spiritual teachers for the Sounds True audio program “Waking Up.” Alongside other luminaries such as Eckhart Tolle, Adyashanti and Jack Kornfield he discussed his views on the meanings of spiritual awakening with Sounds True founder Tami Simon. His following and his platform strategically positioned him for such a role.
However, Massaro’s brand has become increasingly tarnished. A series of attacks he made on other teachers coincided with him being disinvited from speaking at the Science and Non-Duality Conference in 2012. As his teachings and tactics become more drastic and the word spreads about his cult techniques his brand will be more and more damaged. There can be real consequences from industry insiders. Leaders like Tami Simon have taken action in the past against other figures. In 2011 she dropped spiritual teacher Marc Gafni from his book contract and publicly spoke out against his unethical actions and abuse of power.
The “How to Start a Cult” Playbook
Bentinho can show us all how to start and run a cult.
1. Claim divinity and special God like powers
According to an ex-member who wrote an article called “The Cult Promise of Bentinho Massaro” he claims he “is not human and incarnates on numerous planets to upgrade their civilizations, is able to direct rain, wind and lightening, is a god/God, is Buddha, is awakened and has never met anyone with as much integrity as himself.” He himself publicly said so:
One of Bentinho’s devotee’s believes he can control the weather and move objects with his mind:
“I’ve watched him control the weather a lot of times. We’ll be at a party and I’ll be like ‘Bentinho these clouds are not good, it looks like rain. Within ten minutes they’re gone. He does it all the time. I’ve watched him move objects on tables. I’ve seen him multiple times change weather or move clouds.”
Another core team member claims that Bentinho changing the weather is “no big deal.”
Here Bentinho claims he can “teleport, levitate and bilocate.”
Someone asked him in a Facebook comment: “I’ve often wondered if you are the re-embodiment of Christ. I see so many similarities and a mirroring if you will of his life here on earth with yours.” His response was disturbing, “He was a fabulous and brave and powerful messenger, but still considered himself the son, rather than having become God.” Bentinho is a God, you see. He said Jesus was only on the “4th density” out of 8. Massaro claims to be on the “8th density” according to one of his students. 8th is the highest level. Others say he is 6th density. Regardless, he claims to be higherthan Jesus!
Massaro claims that his teachings are the best “offered on all of planet earth.”
The grandiosity continues, “I always thought I was supposed to be one of the most efficient and versatile spiritual teachers on the planet. Now that that’s the case it expands my vision even more.”
One program that Bentinho appeared on described him as “a young enlightened master who shines with joy, love and a strong sense of freedom.”
One core staff member claims that the highest, most awakened masters of all time are at “7th density” and Bentinho is at 8th. It’s common to hear his students claim that he is so evolved “there is nobody in there.” All of the students and core staff members I spoke with believe that Bentinho is highly awakened. One of them claims that Bentinho is a “Team Leader for the Starseeds. They also said that the most awakened, highly evolved masters of all time were at 7th density whereas Bentinho is at 8th. Buddha and Jesus came in at 6th density and perhaps evolved to 7th according to her. Again, Bentinho resides in the 8th density she claims, which is the highest. Elsewhere another core team member couldn’t answer the question “Is Bentinho human?”
Bentinho will call out the “spiritual bullshit” of other teachers. He “crucifies” Eckhart Tolle and all of the random teachings in Sedona, referring to them as “unicorn spirituality.” This is cult 101 — attack and denounce other teachings as false to prop up yours as enlightened.
Members believe Bentinho is the “chosen one” sent here on a mission:
“He arrived on planet earth as a massively evolved team leading starseed to do a very quick evaluation of what’s going on the spiritual level, move through it lightning speed. That’s his design. The reason he was sent at this time with that mission is because the starseeds that have gotten here to assist earth can get lost really easily. He helps them get on track so that they can fulfill their blueprint. Because we are a team, everybody’s blueprints are needed for this mission right now.”
2. Normalize verbal abuse as part of the spiritual path and then claim impunity as a Guru
Bentinho states that he is not responsible for his actions because of the spiritual level he has attained. He repeatedly draws upon the idea, “No, it’s not me, it you!”
When I asked a former member why they left she told me, because, in part, “Verbal abuse and verbal degrading of members in public and private. Directing the group to shut down and shut out critics from the group.”
This video demonstrates that Massaro has clearly normalized verbal abuse as part of the spiritual “path.” A female student says she is upset because “I just asked a simple question and he said ‘fuck you.’” He goes on to repeatedly yell at her “fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, FUCK YOU.”
In the video with Bentinho above is Anurag Gupta, a former high level Landing Forum executive. He’s teaching a retreat with Bentinho in Hawaii in January.
And in the video below Bentinho angrily tells the same woman: “If you weren’t so high up in your own ass about this fucking concept of respect you would actually see how much love there is behind me saying what I say.”
Bentinho posted this disturbing excerpt on his Instagram account recently:
Along with this image he included an in depth explanation to support his “anything goes” philosophy:
“Being friends with an awake being is nearly impossible, because: A) his first priority is your purification and elevation into truth; not kindness, niceness, agreeability or even apparent equality, and B) he is not like an ordinary person and thus cannot be successfully compared with normal standards or related to as just another person (which the finite mind does not like).”
And here is evidence of him justifying his own verbal abuse:
Most recently, decades of sexual and physical abuse by Sogyal Rinpoche, author of “Tibetan Book of Living and Dying” came to the forefront in a major way. A previous article I’ve written, “Integral Abuse: Andrew Cohen & The Culture of Evolutionary Enlightenment” illustrates the real life consequences this Guru devotion can lead to. Noted Buddhist scholar Stephen Bachelor recently wrote about the dangers of this path in his recent article “Why I Quit Guru Yoga.” Ironically, Bentinho apparently loved the online series that was produced about Andrew Cohen’s abusive cult. He gathered weekly with his staff to watch it.
3. Have sex with your students
Several inside sources, including former core staff members told me that while in Boulder, Massaro was having sex with one of his devotees. She was dating another group member and Massaro was married at the time. As a result he announced to his close followers that he and his wife were separating and that the student was part of his “new direction.”
A former core staff member also told me that on another occasion he slept with one of his students while leading a retreat in which his monogamous girlfriend was teaching the yoga sessions. She had no idea at first but discovered what he had done during the retreat which made things extremely awkward I’m told.
Massaro currently has three girlfriends and identifies as polyamorous. One of his current girlfriends was a student on one of his retreats. When speaking about Bentinho’s third, most recent girlfriend, who is only 21, his longer term partner bizarrely described him as “being in service to her.” Given the power he yields over his followers, his repeated claims that he is not responsible for his actions and the previous sexual relationships with students, I fear “poly” is being used as a cover for him to have free reign over students.
In this video, Bentinho appears to rationalize his sleeping with a student and having an affair on his wife.
4. Use disorienting methods to keep your devotees confused, distracted and in trance like states
Bentinho is currently pushing “dry fasting” on his followers. It means they cannot eat any food or drink any water, they can only have grape juice. He also recommends public participants of his “Sedona Experiment” follow this dry fasting method during the retreat. Several of his members including his girlfriends have done it. Some for 10 days, others for 21 and some for 108 days. One person told me she was in a “special place” during the middle of her 108 day fast when she discovered Bentinho’s teachings.
How safe is it to not drink water or eat food for 10–108 days? According to Dr. Douglas Graham it is not.
“Last night, I sat listening to a woman telling me about her dry fast experience. Three days in to the fast, she had to be hospitalized by her friends. The doctors made it clear that they were not certain she would pull through, and that only time would tell, but fortunately she lived to tell the tale. Too many others have not been so lucky. Dry fasting is extremely dangerous, and sadly, many more deaths will occur as a result of this unscientific and illogical craze.”
Others who have tried it complain about hair and teeth falling out and then this just being described as a symptom of “detox” by the leaders in the group.
Here is one commentator who tried it:
“This system ruined my mental health (severe anxiety/depression). I now have heart palpitations when I lie down and pretty much have them all day. I Also got really skinny then gained more weight than I have ever had. The fast also triggered severe binge eating. The group is very cultish if you ask me. I was having extreme difficulty and was told to just keep going and pushing and fast some more. I eventually joined their video calls and expressed how the system negatively impacted my health. My testimonial was ridiculed and I have been subsequently blocked from both of the Facebook groups. I wish I never did this.”
One of his staff members said she was on day 26 of no food or water and will be going for 108 days. Apparently this technique works on the level of “plasma.”
Bentinho has also used and encouraged for his members polyphasic sleeping. It means you only sleep in small batches at a time as opposed to 6–9 hours. It’s an excellent way to keep someone in a trance state.
5. Attack the family and encourage separation
In this clip Bentinho angrily tells his members:
“Fuck your relationships. They mean nothing. Let them go, let them go. Don’t give a fuck about your family. Don’t give a fuck about your children. Don’t give a fuck about your parents. Don’t give a fuck about your partner.”
Elsewhere he has stated: “If your family thinks you’re nuts when you express the truth of your being, it’s not your family and you should/could be excited to find a new family. If they don’t wish to be open to any of this whatsoever, they won’t have a real place in the world 10 years from now anyway.”
6. Convince your devotees to lose themselves, abandon critical thinking and reframe everything as positive
Central to Bentinho’s teaching is an attack on the present moment, claiming it is based in the past. Instead we need to live in the “future present” which is our imagination or a constant state of positivity as the video clearly demonstrates. If you think about it, this teaching perfectly sets him up to verbally abuse his students while they are instructed to immediately turn it into a positive.
Another central premise of Bentinho’s teaching is dissociating from and attacking the self. Everything you think you are must disappear. It is a wholesale attack on the mind, the self and anything “real.” We shouldn’t focus on the “what” of our experience, rather just “that” we experience. Definitions, descriptions or trying to “understand” our lives is impossible. He states, “Thinking about something is the surest way to miss out on the beauty of that actual something.”
He takes this to it’s logical conclusion by attacking the very foundation of how we navigate and understand our world.
“Witness yourself and see where you have these allegiances to logic, to reason, to linear description and simply start destroying these. No compassion. Just eradicate them. Completely destroy them. Roast those seeds.”
Here is one devotee revealing the lengths to which she’ll go to implement his teachings:
“I realized that I was just too attached to this belief about my physical body being real. I couldn’t get it to fade and dissolve deeper. So to release my attachment to it, (this sounds a little intense but was necessary) I started visualizing a chainsaw cutting off my limbs slowly. Then I visualized it sawing my body in half from the head down. I saw it clearly in my mind and began tuning into the fact that no matter what happened to the body, I still existed. The chainsaw was me and all of it was simply just presence energy that I was moving around in different ways with my thoughts believing that it was something real. I imagined my body and my”self” completely destroyed. I deeply tuned into the truth of me being the Awareness of all that is…”
7. Make dying easier
Bentinho tries to normalize dying:
“You will all die, so how important can this be really? We want to become a group consciousness, an enlightened civilization, do we not? This is gonna take everything you have. It’s about giving up everything you have for the sake of the vision, to become the vision.”
In this clip, he plants the seed that “you should be excited about your death.”
8. Claim your teachings are so advanced, others cannot understand them
In a Facebook post, Buddhist Geeks founder Vincent Horn called one of Bentinho Massaro’s video’s “infantile spiritual narcissism” and challenged him to a public “dharma battle” in Asheville or Boulder. Horn stated:
“The views I’ve seen you share on Facebook and in your public teaching videos are, in my estimation, naive and immature. More than that they are harmful. I think that you’re a soon-to-be-fallen guru and I’d like to help make the fall quicker — not for your sake — but for the sake of all those people on the fence about you, and all those who are yet to become disillusioned with your nonsense.”
Bentinho’s response was that of a classic authoritarian guru. He claimed that Horn must study his work in depth before he could even begin to grasp his teachings and be worthy of a debate. He replied, “If you first go through my entire academy, I might consider something closer to what you suggest, but unlikely even then…If you could see even 10% of what goes on in my consciousness in a single day, study my every academy lesson and practice its suggested homework with an open mind…you’d have a different opinion altogether.”
9. Promise salvation to your followers
Ex-member Gaby Petris describes his promise of salvation:
“Massaro says his teaching will lead to ‘the cessation of suffering and endless bliss’ and ‘heaven on earth.’ He has announced he is here to ‘transform this entire planet’, ‘nothing else will do’ and ‘nothing else will make his life worth living.’ He says he does not want children because he already has 7 billion.
He predicts planet earth is at the crossroads of splitting into two planes of existence. High vibration 4th dimensional beings who embody love (as do his students) will ascend to a less physical realm featuring telepathic group consciousness. Low vibration 3rd dimensional beings who embody negativity are ‘on a ship going down.”
10. Encourage your members to follow you wherever you live
Massaro tells his followers to move and follow him. Several of the members I spoke with had done just that. Many people relocated their entire families and lives to Sedona just to be with him. Some even had moved twice, first moving to Boulder, where he was for a few years and then to Sedona.
11. Promote government conspiracies & talk about aliens
Massaro promotes the discredited Hillary Clinton Pizza Gate conspiracy:
And here Bentinho claims that the Nazi’s won the war:
Bentinho on aliens and ET consciousness:
“We have bases on the moon, a bunch of slave colonies on Mars that have been mining the asteroid belt, we have been colonizing galaxies of our solar system, we haven’t needed fossil fuels for the last 80 years because we have anti-gravitic mechanisms…The Nazi’s won the war. The US government gave up their control, their governance so we would not be exposed to free energy devices. If free energy gets released, and we’re [Trinfinity corp] working on it, it changes everything. We’ve had free energy for 80 fucking years.”
“Don’t be surprised that the aliens we’ll meet — and we will meet them — look like the things you see in the movies. Don’t be like ‘oh this story of this guy is nonsense because I’ve seen that in the movies. He just got it from the movies.’ Well, did he get it from the movies or did the movies get it from them?”
“The vision statement of Trinfinity is: to have an enlightened civilization by 2035 that’s ready for interstellar absorption. It means that we reach a level of maturity to where we as a collective are able to be contacted openly without us freaking out anymore, without it needing to be kept secret anymore, we have become are own government.”
“Many of you are directly connected to ET consciousnesses.”
“We’re going to be absorbed initially into different confederations or alliances of civilizations that are 4th density or higher. We will be taught a lot. There will be a new type of education.”
This is a short clip from his “ET contact meditation” where he is talking about meeting aliens who are our “brothers.”
12. “Guru gaze” at your followers for lengthy periods of time
13. Take 12 disciples into the desert on retreat as “guinea pigs” to test your methods
“Cult leaders do not have schools of persuasion to attend. They become masters of the folk art of human manipulation through testing and observing what works. They modify their approaches and techniques and use centuries-old manipulative devices to lead people to change.” — Margaret Singer, Cults in Our Midst
One of his main devotees told me how Bentinho took a close group of his inner circle into the desert for 14 days to give them “teachings on the absolute.” She said it was an intense period of meditation and teachings and that he was experimenting on the group. The most cult like elements certainly begin with the closest, most inner core of followers and then expand outward from there.
She said, “He wanted to experiment with a group of 12 people as guinea pigs to be able to synthesize the best way to teach it which is what he does so well…It felt like Jesus and the disciples because we were the first ones receiving these teachings. It was an extraordinary experience. ”
14. Create an enlightened city
After Bentinho dissolved his Trinfinity team in Boulder, he went on a “dark retreat” in Thailand where he sat in complete darkness. It was supposed to be two weeks but after just 5 days he was shown a vision for creating the enlightened society he had been talking about for so long.
“When I came out of darkness, I looked up properties in this area that’s been calling me, and I found a property that would suit our needs, had almost all the elements that were in my vision, looked incredibly similar, and sits at the exact location I was shown…It’ll be the center of everything to come. An anchor for the New Earth vibrations to stream into our atmosphere and into the earth, for we will act as a receiving antenna as well as a grounding beacon.”
What started as a small “build as you grow business” has now moved into the investor phase. This is a screenshot of the investor plan from his attempt to raise capital for his new earth vision.
No dangerous cult began by asking members to sign over their homes or make significant financial investments. They start with seemingly benign things like “spiritual” teachings, community events and gatherings. Slowly, as the cult leader begins to gain power and influence they begin taking more drastic measures to take full control over their members.
This excerpt from one person’s experience illustrates the sort of idealization and fantasizing that is going on in his group. It is propping him to a God like reality which any cult is built upon.
“…when suddenly Bentinho and [his girlfriend] arrived. An air of unreality descended upon the evening, like two elvish beings warped spacetime into a plane of heightened awareness…That night Bentinho’s new partner came on stage for the first time, and it was pure regality to see them sitting there together. Everybody seemed to feel the utter beauty of humanity connected, like an ancient people before their King and Queen…[They] were simply representations of Union on this physical plane, exemplifying the Feminine and Masculine.”
Bentinho talks about consuming his sheep, “the more you become a lion or lioness and absorb and digest the sheep around you and spit them out…consumption is love.”
Bentinho’s Mental State
In 2012 Bentinho posted on FB that he has been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder. In one of his talks he describes how he tortured a kitten when younger by repeatedly slamming it into a bush of thorns for twenty minutes. He didn’t know at the time but it was dark “entities” that were making him do it. When I told a cult expert friend who was following my work on this story that Bentinho had openly admitted to torturing a kitten he was not surprised. He said: “Of course he did. He probably bullied and tortured other children as well. Admissions from people like this are never complete.” The torturing of animals when young is a very high predictor of psychopathy later in life.
Bentinho meets most all the criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder. One must meet at least 5 of the below items to qualify as a narcissist:
Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (exaggerates achievements, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited power, success, brilliance, beauty or ideal love
Believes he is “special” and can only be understood by similarly special, high status people
Requires excessive admiration
Has a sense of entitlement
Is interpersonally exploitative
Is envious of others or believes others are envious of him/her
There are many out there who are fully aware of what Bentinho is up to and not buying into it. They have been raising the alarm bell for quite some time:
“Dear God, something always seemed a bit off about Bentinho to me, but I never delved deeply enough into his stuff to realize how insane and dangerous he clearly is…I think it should be quite obvious to any mental health professional that this guy is suffering from classic bipolar I disorder, complete with outright psychosis. I’m staying far, far away.”
“I met Bentinho when I had a radio program and he was a guest. When I saw him backstage, firsthand, I was appalled. I had invited him to speak at a gathering and had to uninvite him. Several of his devotees came forward to me with their being abused psychologically by him. He is an easy one to spot. There are many more who are wolves in sheep’s clothing that have made inroads in our trust that are unwarranted.”
“He was meant to die a few years back. He told all of his followers that he would be leaving the planet…He’s such a ding dong and the people who believe this shit are even more ding dongs!”
In several of his videos there is a manic like energy coming through. Even in his very first posting in 2010 you can identify it. He’s often excited and giddy. Something is off. This video captures what I see more subtly in many of his other videos:
CLIP STARTS AT 1:24
One of his main devotees told me they will sometimes have to “drag him back to the car” because he’ll be so deeply entranced. She translates it has him being in constant state of “the absolute.”
And another clip of him zoning out. This time while on stage. He does this for 9 minutes.
One of the quintessential characteristics of a narcissist is a reframing of anything they do as just someone else’s issue. It’s “No, it’s not me, it you!” This is Bentinho all day long. It’s his entire “spiritual” schtick. One insider told me how he would just constantly deny, reflect or avoid taking any responsibility for his actions. He said it was classic spiritual bypassing. When I asked one of his girlfriends what Bentinho is like, she said, “He’s like a mirror to myself.” When I asked her what it was like being in a relationship with him she told me “it’s like being constantly shredded.”
The Emerging Portrait
After speaking with numerous former insiders about Bentinho, a common perspective emerged. Several thought he was narcissist, but also brilliant and charismatic. One person told me that without any thought, he left a girlfriend in an instant for another woman. Another told me of Bentinho’s lack of care or interest for a retreat participant who had been suffering from serious cold exposure at one of his luxury retreats.
I’m told Bentinho was an only child who was pampered endlessly by his eclectic and offbeat mother. She apparently constantly told him that he was the most perfect, brilliant, amazing child ever. One former member told me that he thinks Bentinho is recreating this childhood reality through the adoration, praise and support from his cult followers. At one point Bentinho even told his mother that she was no longer his mother as both of his parents are students of his now. Interestingly, Andrew Cohen’s mother, Luna Tarlo, started off as his student as well but eventually broke away and wrote a tell all book called “Mother of God.”
Bentinho is a high school drop out who left for India at 16 with the help of his well off parents. He drinks whisky, loves expensive scotch, smokes cigars and loves to throw parties. Bentinho drives a $55,000 Ford Mustang, rents two homes in Sedona and was a hardcore gamer who won a sizable gaming competition when he was younger. It was that expensive Mustang and the $3 million dollar home that he was renting in Boulder that led some former staff members to become incensed at the little to nothing pay he was offering them.
Startup or Cult? Or Both?
“All the best apps, companies, and products have broken the way we live life, transformed how we communicate, and changed our day-to-day. Good products evolve us.” — Gary Vaynerchuk
A simple google search of “startups and cults” reveals numerous articles exploring the similarities between the two. One claims that the best startups are “slightly less extreme kinds of cults” and that cults are “fanatically wrong about something important” whereas the best startups are “fanatically right about something those outside it have missed.”
Undoubtedly, Bentinho has accomplished what Gary Vee defines as the best qualities of a startup. He’s broken the way his followers live life. People have claimed that he’s transformed their “day-to-day” for the better. I’ve heard stories of people being healed from following his teachings, others claim their lives have been improved drastically. He’s also brilliantly combined the startup game with the Guru game, seamlessly intertwining them together.
Bentinho is not alone as being someone who brilliantly combined tech and cult. Spiritual teacher Teal Swan has made serious advancements in this department. A recent article “Spiritual Guru or Dangerous Cult Leader?”explores the ins and outs of her rise to fame. She has 400,000 subscribers on Youtube, almost 60,000 followers on Instagram, 150,000 likes on Facebook, 15,000 Twitter followers and runs a very active discussion forum on her site. She also has a monthly premium membership section on her site as well as an online store with her books and workshops. Her design is also on point. It’s clean, professional and well thought out. She too has created passive income and an attractive brand experience. And she’s only just beginning.
We are witnessing the birth of a new era — Cult 2.0. Teachers like Bentinho Massaro and Teal Swan offer a glimpse of what is to come. There will be a new rise of cult leaders who brilliantly use technology to grow their enterprises. Can you imagine if Jim Jones had Instagram or Facebook live? And what happens when virtual reality comes into play, something that Bentinho himself said is part of his company’s evolution?
The End Game
“To me death is not a fearful thing. It’s living that’s cursed.” — Jim Jones
“I really feel like he is setting people up for a mass suicide. He talked about ‘The harvest.’ I always had a weird feeling.” — Former core staff member
Several Bentinho people, both former and current members have acknowledged a shift in his teachings over the last year. Some former members and staff are concerned and fearing the worst.
More recently Bentinho has been stepping into the role of awakened Guru and his teachings have become darker and more focused on “The Void” and “The Absolute.” He is normalizing dying. Bentinho claims to not be responsible for his actions. He thinks he can sleep with and psychologically abuse students with impunity. He’s begun “experimenting” on a core group of “guinea pig” students. He’s pushing his members to stop eating and drinking water for extended periods of time. Bentinho has successfully led his members away from themselves by attacking the core of their identities and diminishing their use of reason or logic. Everything, including Bentinho’s shouting, verbal abuse or strange actions are now expected to be interpreted as positive. He talks about the grand vision of building an enlightened city, finding land and taking his people there.
Wacky spiritual ideas, government conspiracies, alien contact or desert meditations are not that surprising for Sedona. There’s something much more disturbing going on in Bentinho’s group, however. The evidence is clear and incontrovertible. Bentinho Massaro has built the quintessential 21st century cult.
In 2011 the California Institute of Integral Studies concluded a several month long investigation into Cultural Anthropology professors Angana Chatterji and Richard Shapiro. Both were fired citing a “cult-like environment,” “exploitation,” and a “siege mentality” among other reasons. In 2007 I was one of four students who walked out of the program reporting serious dysfunction. This is the never been told story of how it unfolded.
[Each of these articles takes up to 80 hours to investigate and write, and I am able to do it thanks to donations from people who believe in and support this life-changing work. Please help by donating.]
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“In its function, the power to punish is not essentially different from that of curing or educating.” — Michel Foucault
Ten years ago, in April of 2007, I walked out of the Cultural Anthropology graduate program at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS). To this day, I’ve never stepped foot back in the building. I’m not sure I ever will again.
I was one of four students who left, mid-semester, and blew the whistle on a personality cult surrounding professor Angana Chatterji and her husband professor Richard Shapiro. We reported in great detail serious psychological abuse, manipulation, exploitation and dysfunction. We warned them that a cult was in their midst.
The school hired an ombudsperson who did a minor investigation at the time, but nothing came of it. CIIS, a major center in the history of the human potential movement, mostly ignored our heartfelt warnings. They offered to refund our spring semester tuition if we agreed not to sue them. The four of us signed the document. The refund was a small token considering what had transpired.
That was 2007.
Almost four years later, in December 2011, both professors were fired by the school with a great sense of urgency. The Faculty Hearing Board who recommended their termination issued a dire warning, “There is substantial risk to further damage to students and CIIS unless immediate action is undertaken.”
The Making of a Cult
Like so many others who entered the Cultural Anthropology program I was a passionate and dedicated social activist who wished to combine theory with practice. The program seemed like a dream come true. With a deep interest in spirituality, the school at large was very appealing as well. And attending an institution where “San Francisco is your campus” as CIIS advertised was thrilling.
None of us could have ever imagined what we were about to walk into. Whatever notions we had about what it meant to be a scholar-activist were about to be twisted beyond all measure. Years of trauma, mountains of loss and lots of unwanted financial debt would be accumulated as a result.
“Dr. Angana Chatterji is the most powerful being I have ever met…Her capacity borderlines on Mastery. Her power is deeply complex…She uses concentrated rage with Mastery…I am becoming a Master — like her I conjure divinity…These beings [Angana and Richard Shapiro] resonate on degrees of consciousness barely comprehensible to others…She [Angana] is the one whom we fear, to whom we gravitate… and in her presence we share divine expression, visions of practice, healing, and transformation. She conjures Kali and she is a destroyer.” — Former Anthropology student
A Radical New Self
Apparently being part of a social change movement meant accepting a cult-like environment because the indoctrination began on day one. Professor Angana Chatterji stormed into class and started screaming and yelling at us. She screamed at students for anything from showing up thirty seconds late to class to asking questions and shutting off a cell phone before class. It was just a tactic; the reason didn’t matter. It effectively shocked us into subservience and fear.
From that class onward, there was not a week that went by where I did not witness a student break down in tears in her classes. Sometimes it was from yelling, targeting, or abuse. Other times it was from students confessing, purging and revealing themselves in response to a radical new way of being — something that the pedagogy required in the most unhealthy ways. The workload was also demanding and often pushed students beyond their means. I witnessed many deaths and rebirths while in that program, including my own.
Terms from very important postcolonialist, anti-racist, socialist and feminist discourses were used as jargon to control, abuse and manipulate a group of idealistic and passionate change-makers who really cared. You’ll remember that Jim Jones, also from San Francisco, used a similarly revolutionary approach when building his people’s temple. Both were abusive, totalizing, controlling, all-consuming, and emancipatory. Both were rooted in passionate expressions of social justice and an inherently dysfunctional framework.
From the beginning, we were taught that the Cultural Anthropology program was part of “the revolution” and that we were now part of it. Angana repeatedly talked about the program being under attack — both from internal (CIIS) and external enemies. She frequently spoke of her brilliance, accomplishments, and all the books she had read. We were often told since the age of two, people had been trying to kill her. Long, often incoherent “lectures” would consist of rambling about her personal life, paranoia about the program being destroyed, yelling at students, and distorting ideas of theorists like Foucault. She was powerful, important and in danger we believed.
We showed up willing and able to do whatever it took for the cause. Angana exploited us beyond recognition. She effectively used jargon and the discourse to force us to restructure, brutally interrogate and dismantle our sense of self in the most pathological way possible. It’s a classic cult grooming technique; itjust so happened that the languaging in this cult used social justice concepts.
It was a brilliant trap. If we objected to the genuine abuse and dysfunction that was going on we were the enemy of the revolution. Even the most radical women of color in the program who protested abuse were too racist according to Angana. Despite being fully committed to an anti-racist and feminist pedagogy the students were still targets. We walked around on eggshells. We didn’t want to be the one that compromised the program by saying or doing the wrong thing.
A climate of fear pervaded the program. Students policed each other, turning in anyone who betrayed the core doctrine or said anything even mildly critical about the professors. Dissent was not tolerated. The most loyal were rewarded with social status and unethical academic reward by the professors. The most disloyal would be subject to public interventions in class, yelling and shame from fellow students.
Angana and Richard got away with it because there was no avenue for students to report our concerns. Angana had graduated from the very same program years earlier while her husband was the chair of the department. After she graduated, Richard made her a core faculty member. This pushed Mutombo M’Panya, a professor who Angana had studied under, to the sidelines. Any concerns we had with Angana we were instructed to go to Richard and vice versa. Obviously, that was useless. And unlike every other department at CIIS, there were no course evaluations in the Cultural Anthropology program. We were trapped.
The four of us who left mid-semester in 2007 didn’t all walk out at exactly the same time. Two women initially left at first, one a woman of color from Africa with a Master’s degree from Stanford. It was a short time later when I caught Angana lying to our class about why they had left that everything began to unravel for me and I left. A fourth student left shortly after I did.
And while four of us walked out during the 2007 Spring semester it was actually five of us who left the program in total. Earlier on in the year a woman of color left mid-semester after Angana screamed at her relentlessly in class for saying she was struggling with the complexity of Gayatri Spivak’s writing. She merely pondered whether or not this was a barrier for folks trying to apply her ideas to action. Just a week after that incident she left the program.
Those of us who left were publicly attacked and smeared by the professors and their devoted students. Richard Shapiro told one class that we left because of “emotional problems.” A student group email claimed that I hated social justice and associated me with people who had wanted to kill Angana, despite knowing I had a long history of social activism. Angana lied to us in class telling us the first two women who walked out, “were needing time away from the program and did not wish to be contacted.” Later, the professors and students circulated the lie that these two students had hired lawyers.
On one occasion after I left, Angana read a personal email of mine word for word without any permission to the entire class. She also spoke about information from another one of my emails without any permission.
I just knew Angana had lied to us in class so I reached out to the two students and told them what she had said. I was right. They had never said what she claimed.
At that point everything began to unravel for me. The night I discovered Angana had been lying to us I stayed up all night moaning and screaming in pain in my abdomen. It was the same place I had felt pain when she yelled at me one day in class. I took myself to the Emergency Room but was dismissed with stress being the cause of my suffering. After the long, tumultuous night of distress, I began to feel as if I had taken my power back for the first time. It was liberating.
It was against great pressure and loss that we stepped out mid-semester. Money, our education, our future, our reputation and our friends were all on the line. This stress is why it was so difficult for students to speak up in this program.
Years of Abuse
Those of us who left gave detailed, in-depth accounts of what was happening in the program. CIIS was fully warned.
One of the women who initially left included a long list of complaints in her document to the school. They read in part:
Fear, intimidation, shame and guilt as organizing principles in Dr. Chatteji’s classes
Psychological abuse and manipulation of students by Dr. Chatterji, affecting students mental and physical health to the point of needing to seek medical and psychological care
Suppression of dissent/critique through retaliation, intimidation, shame, and guilt
Invasive monitoring and ‘strategic coaching’ of students by Dr. Chatterji
Thought police: students functioning as informants to instructor
Failure to provide an intellectual space that allows for independent thought or disagreement
Coercion to disclose personal information about oneself through manipulative pedagogy of what is required as a student in the program
Targeting, hazing, and manipulation of individual students throughout Dr. Chatterji’s lectures
Forced disclosures of personal information through intimidation
Manipulative use of favoritism and financial help by Dr. Chatterji
Many of these points would be echoed almost word for word in the later Hearing Board report published four years later.
I remember the ombudsperson telling me how utterly perplexed she was with the students feeling that any criticism would bring down the program. She was trying to make sense as to why they believed the program was at risk of being destroyed. I told her they were brainwashed and that Angana had built a cult.
After I left, a woman of color wrote to me her concerns while she was still in the program:
“I am finding this program to be a huge assault to my self-esteem…I find it hard to believe anyone could meet Angana’s standards for showing up, and I am a bit tired of hearing lectures about “not showing up properly”…I feel as though I am constantly teetering on the edge of sanity, and I too am concerned for my overall physical and psychological well-being… As a result of not addressing these concerns sooner, we are all more in debt, and the consequences of our choice to stay or leave has increasingly become more weighted.”
The same student who wrote the bullet point list above also wrote:
“I have witnessed Dr. Chatterji ‘outing’ personal information about students in class. The organizing principles within some of the classes are guilt, shame, intimidation, and fear. ‘Self reflexivity’ and ‘interrogation’ are mandated in invasive and judgmental ways, that border on character annihilation, and it appears for some, self annihilation. Students are hazed and intimidated in Dr. Chatterji’s classes. Some students act as informants to faculty, and ‘interventions’ are ‘staged’ in the classroom based on the information given that are meant to silence dissent or critique, via shame and guilt. I will leave this Institute with a deepened awareness of the reproductions of dominance through the very discourses that profess to dismantle it.”
From another one of the students who left, “This is not the department of “parrotology”; neither is it the department of “Anganology.” So why are you talking like a parrot and why are you talking on Angana Chatterji’s behalf?”
I once wrote an email with some mild concerns about the program to the other students in my cohort. For my “sin” I was turned in to Angana. My punishment was to be berated by Angana in class for thirty minutes. Knowing what was about to transpire, Angana forced the only non-anthropology student to leave the classroom saying “we have some business to take care of.” I had a terrible anxiety attack as she lambasted me in front of 20 of my peers. This is when I felt the horrible pain in my abdomen. I remember I was sitting near the window and I wanted to jump out to escape. I was extremely emotionally disturbed by this experience as I viewed Angana in high regard. I internalized the whole thing and believed I was a terrible person. I spent most of the next week, which was Spring break, in my room in tears believing I needed to purge the sickness that was inside of me.
Fellow students absolutely railed into me for writing that email. I literally wrote that I had some concerns about papers never being turned back on time, how our group work could be more effective and how I was frustrated with the Angana using lecture time to not lecture. That’s it. Everything I said was proven true later, but at the time I was a heretic.
In response to the student emails to me I profusely apologized like the good cult member I was. I searched deep inside myself to purge the violence inside:
“Thank you for everyone calling me out. I deeply apologize. I wrote this in a bad state of mind and should have given serious reflection and thought to what I was experiencing…But of course everything I said says everything about me and very little about Angana or this program. The email is offensive and filled with violence. I deeply regret this. I am struggling with it and I apologize for making this public and violent and associating others in the process.”
Violence? It’s unbelievable looking back at this as the email was so ridiculously benign. You can read the email here. But I was so torn up and confused. I was brainwashed. I didn’t understand what was happening.
It’s ironic because the student who wrote the most hateful attack against me was the first one to leave just a few weeks later! She then became subject to the same scapegoating that she had just subjected me to.
I wrote to Angana after this incident. I tore myself up in the email. It is painful to read. I ended with:
“I am convinced that this idea of choosing your parents is not true, because if it were I would have chosen you and Richard. I have taken too much of your time. I am sorry that I have acted the way that I did. I am sorry that I carry these violences with me. You are both very kind. Thank you so much. I promise I will not write anymore. I cannot often see what I am saying. If there are any problematics in this email please let me know.”
A staged public intervention, numerous hateful emails, several confessions and apologies on my part for a benign email trying to start a dialogue about concerns I had about the program.
For so many of us, Angana was our mother — the mother we never had. Students regularly shared their deepest struggles with her. Waiting to see her in her office, you could hear the tears. They would walk out a sobbing mess. I opened up to her in her office one day and told her I was trans. She was one of the few people at that point I had shared that with. One person told me that Angana even spoke about something personal they had shared in private during a class, publicly outing something very sensitive. The revealing of personal information led to an even greater power imbalance, making it that much more difficult for students to speak out against the professors.
As I look back on the emails I sent to Angana ten years ago, I am saddened and horrified. I sent long confessions, details about my struggle with gender dysphoria and intimate things about my life.
“I am trapped in this body. I am trapped in this hotel. I am trapped in the Tenderloin. I am trapped in this program. One professor assigns 200 pages a week — writing on every chapter as well. I open the book and start crying…alone…had a few friends here at this hotel but they moved out…I do want to stay in the program; I want to stay in this city. I don’t know; maybe it has just been a very hard transition for me.
If it was just isolation I could deal with it, but I am isolated from myself. I can deal with the gunshots, the sirens, the screams, the cigarette smoke on my floor, the mice, the rain on my face at night. But I can’t deal with this feminine spirit that seeks reconciliation. I can’t deal with not being able to speak. I am running out of tears. She screams through me. Maybe for one day she will speak.
It’s late; I’m tired…my words are too violent.”
Elsewhere I told her “I wish to do nothing that would jeopordize this opportunity or my relationships with my professors”.
One of Angana’s close assistants once told me how Angana coerced her into giving her a very special ring that had been passed down from her grandmother. She repeatedly resisted but Angana persisted and she eventually gave in. She said something like when Angana was upset with her she would wear the ring in class. When Angana was not upset she wouldn’t wear it.
The ring example is just one of many that illustrate how manipulative and controlling Angana was. What I’ve reported is only a fraction of what actually occurred in the program. Undoubtedly, there are countless more stories of abuse and exploitation at the hands of Angana and Richard. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
I Never Gave Up
I refused to give up after leaving the program and kept pushing the issue behind the scenes. I was angry and concerned. I wrote a lengthy in-depth document called “Reason and Revolution in the Anthropology Department” that detailed the extent of dysfunction occurring. I had someone send it to the CIIS student listserv. It included emails and important statements from the students who left. I was publicly attacked by the anthropology students and the professors but kept pushing back. A final 60-page version of my report was sent out somewhat later called “When Silence is Necessary.” I also repeatedly emailed administrators, professors and staff.
After my concerted efforts I was told things were changing. Pushing the issue and going public apparently had an impact. It held Angana and Richard accountable to a larger audience and brought the issues outside of the single minded mentality of the anthropology program.
I received numerous emails from students not in the anthropology program in response to my efforts to expose them. It was clear they could see what was transpiring:
“I am very glad you sent this to all the faculty and administration. I really hope they find a way to fire that psycho Chatterji and her husband Shapiro. They are a disgrace to CIIS and it is a crime that our tuition supports such vile behavior. And again thanks for taking all that heat and never giving up! Blessings to you! You were a godsend to CIIS!”
“Your ability to think about your experience, make meaning of it, and educate others about the dangers of groupthink is a testament to your resiliency. Best of luck in all of your future endeavors. Any academic institution would be luck to have you.”
“I am so glad you fought this through all the way. As I think I mentioned before I almost did not come to CIIS because my first contact with it was Angana Chatterji and I thought she was insane. I really hope they get rid of her. It is an embarrassment that she is employed by CIIS. I want my PhD to be from a reputable school. Best of luck to you and again thank you for fighting this through and informing everyone you can.”
My persistent efforts weren’t enough to end their reign, however. That didn’t happen for several years but the foundation had been planted.
An Investigation Ensues
The investigation that began four years after we left was initiated when the entire 2011 PhD Cultural Anthropology cohort refused to return. It was also spurred on after Angana and Richard orchestrated a plan to fire fellow anthropology professor Matthew Bronson. They convinced their students, most of whom didn’t really know Matthew, to sign a petition to get him fired. These sorts of group emails with mass signatures were common in the department. It’s how uniformity was ensured and one of the ways dissent was squashed. Combined with the previous history of complaints, Dean of Faculty Judie Wexler and Dean of Students Shirley Strong began a full investigation.
While I wasn’t directly involved in 2011 there were many students involved in the process of accountability. One student explains, “In the fall of 2011 I and many others were doing an immense amount of organizing work, every day and week, to support two dozen student whistleblowers, have healing story circles, secret meetings in bars, get people access to trauma counseling, putting out fires that the Inner Circle folks were lighting with their framing of the hearing process as a violation of academic freedom, meetings with the administration, etc. It took so much work from so many people to make the hearing process move forward.”
In order to ensure fairness, both the two professors, Angana Chatterji and Richard Shapiro and the CIIS admin had the right to nominate and veto faculty to the three-member Hearing Board that would decide their fate. During the summer of 2011 the board heard testimony from students and CIIS staff, including Angana and Richard and they evaluated letters, files and numerous documents.
Some of Angana and Richard’s closest followers, assistants and longtime PhD students (7 years+) flipped on them and told their stories, revealing everything. For the first time students who had previously been too terrified to come forward, finally spoke their truth. There were approximately 19 written statements presented against Angana and Richard in addition to the five witnesses that spoke against them. The two professors also got to have five students of their choosing testify on their behalf during the hearings.Angana and Richard and the school administration were allowed to question and cross-examine each witness.
“She conjures Kali, and she is a destroyer”
Angana and Richard were suspended during the investigation. Their closest students were not happy about that.
During the investigation one student could be found in the hallway of CIIS crying while fasting. He stated, “I weep compassion and vulnerability — the compensatory emotional fields needed to heal and transform our school.” He warned that if the Anthropology program’s “core disappears [Angana & Richard]… be forewarned: The ecology of place, of CIIS, and of the Earth is in jeopardy.”
One student went on a 13-day hunger strike in October to try and get Angana and Richard reinstated during their suspension. She stated, “I fast because it is the only way I know how to physically express the starvation I feel every day that passes, wasted in the wind, void of the education I was promised. I fast in hope that it brings me peace amongst the chaos that has become my life…That our lives have been destroyed — forever altering them, robbing them their bounty of education?! How dare you dangle something so precious as that in front of my face, letting me get just a taste, and then greedily snatch it back!”
Tires were slashed in the CIIS parking lot. People were harassed and threatened. One student even had their entire computer erased by Angana’s most devoted student.
The same student who fasted in the hallway also wrote the very cultish statement that deserves repeating:
“Dr. Angana Chatterji is the most powerful being I have ever met…Her capacity borderlines on Mastery. Her power is deeply complex…She uses concentrated rage with Mastery…I am becoming a Master — like her I conjure divinity…These beings [Angana and Richard Shapiro] resonate on degrees of consciousness barely comprehensible to others…She [Angana] is the one whom we fear, to whom we gravitate… and in her presence we share divine expression, visions of practice, healing, and transformation. She conjures Kali and she is a destroyer.”
Another Angana devotee professed her love:
“Yes, she can be opinionated and if you don’t know Anganaese (the nickname I gave her language), it can be overwhelming. But, she helped ME to open my mind and my heart to the world around me…This has allowed me to maintain a descriptive relationship to Self, within a framework of unorganized, non-directional selfs (sounds familiar?)…if you felt intimidated by Angana, that was lesson 101…I AM LESSON 202…CALL ME….”
This talk of “unorganized, non-directional selfs” was typical of the jargon used to dismantle our internal stability and make us question ourselves.
Fired from CIIS
Angana and Richard were fired when the investigation was completed. Their firing confirmed everything the four of us whistleblowers reported several years earlier.
As in accordance with the Faculty procedures the Hearing Board produced two reports detailing the findings against Angana and Richard.
“The Hearing Board was shocked at the climate of fear and intimidation within the program fostered by Dr. Chatterji. The abuse of power, the stifling of students’ growth and professional development, the controlling behavior towards students in their personal lives and the CIIS Student Association and in supposedly confidential student surveys, the “siege mentality” in which enemies were seen to be constantly threatening the two leaders of the program who then needed to be protected at all costs, the traumatization of students and the ensuing loss of confidence and self-esteem, the strong negative impact on their academic and professional careers, the exploitation of students for faculty interests, the promotion of a cult-like atmosphere that banishes dissent and dissenters…”
The Hearing Board also found a “knowing or reckless violation of established students rights to confidentiality, to non-discrimination, non-harassment and non-retaliation,” the violation of “the professional ethics of the Institute,” “Dishonesty, including misapplication of funds,” and “Persistent failure to perform position-related assignments or other neglect of academic duties.” The board recommended they “be relieved of all duties and dismissed from the Institute” as “there is substantial risk to further damage to students and CIIS unless immediate action is undertaken.”
On December, 5th 2011 president Joseph Subbiondo emailed faculty and staff with the findings of the Hearing Board:
Dear Faculty and Staff,
In keeping with the requirements of the Faculty Handbook, the Faculty Hearing Board sent me its recommendations that Professor Angana Chatterji and Professor Richard Shapiro be terminated from CIIS for cause (for copies of the recommendations and the reports of the Faculty Hearing Board, please see the attached). After reviewing the Reports, the transcripts of the hearing, and the supporting evidence for the hearing, I have sustained the recommendations. I transmitted the Faculty Hearing Board’s recommendations and reports as well as my sustaining recommendations to the Board of Trustees. The Board of Trustees has decided to sustain the recommendations of the Faculty Hearing Board and of the President for the termination of the faculty members.
While we are grateful that the hearing process has concluded, I am mindful that other steps remain to support our Social and Cultural Anthropology program (SCA) and to enable it to fulfill its full potential. We will continue to provide an Anthropology program that is committed to social justice, social advocacy, and postcolonial Anthropology. Professors Mutombo Mpyana, Andrej Grubacic, Hodari Toure, and Fouzieyha Towghi will teach in Spring semester 2012, along with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Eddie Yuen.
A priority throughout this difficult fall semester has been attempting to work with Anthropology students on an individual basis to address their academic concerns and ensure their academic progress. This will remain a key component of our efforts to support the department.
I especially wish to thank the members of the Faculty Hearing Board and of the Executive Committee of the Faculty Council who appointed them for their extraordinary commitment to due process.
Joseph L. Subbiondo
One high-level official at CIIS with whom I had been in contact, emailed, “I can’t believe it! This is amazing. After four years…it’s all over! At least the biggest part of it…Interested in returning to a new program with excellent faculty? You might be able to negotiate a free completion of your MA.”
The new program and directors are great I just had no interest. I was too traumatized by the whole experience and the way CIIS had handled it.
The impact of this situation on students’ lives is hard to grasp. Many of us were extremely traumatized and deeply wounded. We lost months or years of work that was abruptly ended or wouldn’t transfer to other schools. I personally lost $20,000 between tuition and living expenses. Angana’s main student, who eventually flipped on her, developed cancer in the midst of the collapse of the program. For years I had PTSD and probably still have it today. I cannot imagine the cumulative personal, financial, and emotional impact this had on students.
It’s ironic because the Cultural Anthropology program was the most critical at CIIS of religion and spirituality. In practice, however, it most embodied the stereotypical religious structure. It was dogmatic, controlling, salvific, authoritarian and abusive.
That a personality cult of this nature could exist for so long and do so much damage in an academic institution should teach us all something. Cults don’t only exist in far off places where the members wear strange garb and chant in tongues. The cultish mechanisms of control, manipulation and authoritarianism can seep into our most modern, “conscious” structures, institutions and practices.
Other than the Hearing Board reports sent to faculty and staff there has been no public acknowledgment by CIIS of this situation that I’m aware of. Now that the story is public, perhaps there can be transparency on CIIS’ part of what happened.
Studying this graduate school cult is important in preventing similar instances in the future. What happened in the Cultural Anthropology program at the California Institute of Integral Studies must never be forgotten. No group or leader, regardless of how secular or how supported they are by a trusted institution, is immune from reproducing a cult like environment. We should always remain suspicious of power.
I’ll end with a particularly relevant quote from Noam Chomsky, “Any social arrangement that inhibits or constrains that free creative capacity is fundamentally illegitimate unless they can justify themselves. Any structure of authority, domination, hierarchy whether it’s in a patriarchal family or in international affairs should be subject to challenge. It’s not self justifying.”
Several women have accused “tantra” teacher Andrew Barnes of rape, sexual assault and abuse. Most of the abuse victims report receiving multiple sessions free of charge. His long time teacher Shantam Nityama was recently outed for sexual abuse and running a cult. Barnes was a head teacher at ISTA (International School of Temple Arts) for some time. They parted ways over his stance on animal rights and ISTA eating animal heart during their trainings. Barnes apparently “would get furious” if anyone hurt an animal.
Andrew Barnes did not respond to my request for an interview.
Larissa Gray met Andrew Barnes at the European ISTA conference where he was teaching in 2010. She was with a tantric massage therapist friend who saw Andrew and remarked about how amazing he was. This gave her trust in him she said. While in another teachers workshop he started to perform energetic orgasm on her. And he offered her free session in his room at lunchtime.
Larissa did end up going to his room for a treatment. She started to really open up to him. At that time she didn’t know anything about protecting her boundaries or boundary work. She claims that he then raped her during the session.
“I was telling him all my fears about men and my past. I had been celibate for years in my healing process. He started doing the energetic work on me and the next thing I know he was penetrating me. He never asked consent. There was no verbal conversation. He just did it. I just froze. It lasted about five minutes and he did not use a condom. He then ran out of the room to go present about student/teacher sexual boundaries at the ISTA conference.”
She was conflicted about how to handle it. “I was in a difficult position. Everyone was looking up to this guy. I was a newbie to this world. I didn’t want to be pushed away out of the group.”
“This was a teacher, I thought I was safe. He took my light and destroyed it and he’s not having it anymore. I want it back!”
Larissa Gray is one of several women who are now speaking out about the sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of Andrew Barnes.
A self-described “internationally acclaimed tantric teacher,” Barnes is the latest in a string of “tantric” healers to be accused of sexual abuse. His long time teacher Shantam Nityama was recently accused of sexual abuse and running a sex cult in an in depth expose.
Barne’s bio states that he has taught in 46 countries. He has offered his “Tantric Body Dearmouring” and full body orgasm workshops around the world. His business is called Awakening Within Foundation. It’s a non-governmental organization that allows him to operate tax free a source said. He was also a head teacher with the “International School of Temple Arts” (ISTA) for some time.
A similar pattern emerges out of the women’s stories who were interviewed. Three women allege Barnes raped them, two allege sexual assault and one claims he groomed her into having sex with him during sessions. One woman said she knows there have been several other women who have also been victimized by Barnes. Some of the women received multiple “tantric” sessions from Barnes and most all of them were free. Some women were groomed over the course of several sessions to slowly break down their boundaries. All of the women report a desire to heal, open or learn more about tantra. And they were trusting of Barnes. They believed that he had their best interest in mind.
Andrea Williams (not her real name) described a sensual healing session where Andrew Barnes raped her. Like other women, Andrea had several sessions with Andrew and he progressively groomed her.
Andrea first met Andrew at an annual retreat and had attended some of his workshops and been to some of his cuddle parties that he hosted outside of the event. It was after one of the retreats that Andrew offered her a 3-session package at a “very reduced price” she said. She took him up on the offer saying that she trusted him to know where to take her. It was during the third session that she said he raped her.
“I was in total orgasmic state. I hear this voice and he said “you need to ground. You need to come back into your body.” I couldn’t even talk, because I was so out of my body in an orgasmic state. I could hear him, what sounded like in the distance, saying ‘I don’t do this very often but sometimes it’s helpful to have the penis in the vagina.’ Next thing I knew was his penis was in my vagina. I didn’t have time to say yes, or no, let alone give consent. He put his penis inside of me for a few minutes. I never gave him consent. I was still off in orgasmic land. He then pulled out and left me to get dressed. No discussion about what happened, or how I felt after the session. I left felt very confused as to what had happened and only many years later realised the actual extent of what had happened and how he had totally manipulated me.
There are so many ways he could have grounded me back into my body. He could have got me down regulating my breath which grounds you, he could have put his hand on my belly to ground me. He most certainly didn’t need to put his penis in me without consent to do this. It was all to stroke his ego.”
Sophia Nielsen (not her real name) was a short time lover with Andrew. Although most sexual experiences happened with consent she explained that she once was met by a very different Andrew. “He was aggressive, his eyes looked different. He held me down and forcefully had sex with me against my will. I froze and was in shock.” The experience was non-consensual but she was too overwhelmed to know how to act she said. “He was my lover and I couldn’t believe he would actually do this.”
Andrew demonstrated a pattern of grooming with Victoria Holloway (not her real name) over the course of several sessions. She was young, only 20 at the time, and was very impressionable she said. She stayed with him for a month on the recommendation of a friend whom she told she needed a place. She had no idea who he was or what he taught. Barnes eventually asked her if she wanted a “discovery session.” In subsequent sessions she claimed he sexually assaulted her by performing oral sex on her without consent. They also did a “self-pleasuring ritual” together in his healing room during a “session.” Later they became sexual and lovers. Like the other women, all of her sessions were free.
“Andrew framed it as ‘I want to do a session with you’ and I said ok. It was a talking session. He just hit the nail on the head with my stuff, my trauma, my relationship to my dad and so on. He touched on my ultimate fears, fear of abandonment, betrayal, rejection. He literally blew my mind that he knew and how well he read me. It opened me a lot and made me hugely trust, I thought he was God.
The second session came a few days later. He was giving me a massage and doing some energy work. He may have asked if he could touch my yoni, I don’t remember. He did though. He then went down on me and I was very surprised as I did not know that was part of an ‘energy session’. He never asked my consent. I froze in my body completely. He then made me orgasm.
The next session he proposed that we do a self-pleasuring session together. We were both naked in his healing room masturbating. I don’t think he even had a reason, maybe a ‘ritual’. The whole thing lasted about 30 minutes and he ejaculated.”
“Is any of this tantra? I don’t think so” she said.
Victoria said Andrew would often be masturbating to porn in his room in the open with the door open.
Several months later he was in her town and came to her place to do a healing session with her. She said she was very “open and orgasmic.” She continues. “He was really going for it and I asked him if he would penetrate me and he did. He used a condom and ejaculated inside of me.”
Later, he paid for her to go to another country to attend his de-armouring workshop. She didn’t know what to expect. She describes what happened:
“He asked if I’d be the demo for the session. He was inside of me and fucking pounding me with his fingers. I’ve never felt so much pain. There was much pain and so much emotion. Very, very intense and very orgasmic. He was trying to make me ejaculate although I had no idea about this at the time. He did not make me ejaculate.”
While together at this time they were sleeping together frequently and had become lovers.
Faith Wright, a tantra teacher and former organizer for Andrew said she stopped hosting him for events after she received numerous complaints from women about him violating them sexually and crossing their boundaries during sessions. Wright said witnessing a disturbing incident in a training where he violated a woman without her consent also led to her stop working with him. “The woman was in a state of shock” she said.
She also witnessed highly controlling behavior towards his young girlfriend who was around 22 at the time. Andrew was in his late 40s. “The way I observed him treating her I just wanted to put her on a plane back home and get her away from him. I tried to insert myself to spend time with her and he was incredibly controlling of me spending time with her alone.”
Wright said she no longer promotes or recommends male tantra teachers because “every single one of them has complaints.” She said “my focus is healing, not further traumatization.”
Cathy Neff (not her real name) received around five sessions from Andrew — all free of charge as well. She believed the sessions would entail energy work and massage. She said he never told her he would do yoni massage. At the beginning of the session he told her “take all your clothes off and lay on the table.”
“He seemed like he was trying the energy work that he does. Light touching here and there. He never asked but he just started rubbing my yoni and gave me a yoni massage. I felt kind of frozen. I didn’t really expect that. I was really surprised and I was freaking out. My first reaction was I’m going against my relationship.”
She said that he said it was ok because it was how sexual therapists “all around the world” work. “He told me to be mindful of who I talk to about the sessions as others wouldn’t understand.”
In subsequent sessions Andrew had sex with her.
“One time he suggested sex in the session and I was like ‘no way.’ He never pressured me or forced me but he did suggest it again the next time. I really wanted to heal and be open and I thought if I do this extreme thing and massively cross my regular boundaries it will really open me. I thought maybe it is some kind of healing transmission that just opens a woman so much. It sounds so fucked up and crazy but I trusted that he had my best interest at heart and I thought if it’s for healing I can just do it and then I’ll be open.”
She said she had sex with him during two sessions and that there was “no healing transmission” and it “really wasn’t anything special.” She said it did not help her heal or open. “It was just a guy getting off.”
“I did end up feeling like I had gone against my relationship in the worst way possible and felt so much guilt and shame. Andrew recommended not to tell my partner, and this caused so much inner turmoil and conflict within my heart. I just wanted to heal and open but all of this was not helpful or necessary and in the end felt very damaging.”
Naomi Evans said that her experience receiving vaginal dearmouring work from Barnes was very violent and has left her with problems urinating years after. She was in “complete shut down mode” and the session was a “catastrophe” she said. Namoi said Andrew “forcefully hammers” and that it “very easily creates physical damage.” The pressure was a “9 out of 10” she said.
Naomi described how Andrew would participate in an exercise where men and women yelled at each other to release aggression. She said he would yell at a female student for 15-minutes and then be yelled at by the student. She said he would say “I need to have this possibility to participate because I have so much rage against women.” She said “many women felt very unsafe that he participated in his role as a teacher. He should have held space. Instead he would be very, very angry towards women.”
She said she witnessed Andrew being aggressive and yelling in a variety of situations.
At the beginning of workshops she said Andrew would tell the students “I am a grown up man. Everyone here is grown up. If I want to have sex with someone I can because everyone is grown up.” He would then say “agree?” and ask for people to raise their hands if they did. Naomi said she felt this was inappropriate given his role as an authority and teacher in the space. “He is very charismatic and very good with words” she said.
One of the women said something particularly poignant for our times. “Being a tantra teacher allows someone to get sex, fame and money without having much to offer.” It’s painfully true. Perhaps this is the heart of the matter. These men like Andrew Barnes were never in it for the tantra or the healing. They were in it for themselves. For the sex, the money, the power and the status. Tantra was their ruse to get their rocks off. But now the whole world is watching. #TimesUp #MeToo
Ex-followers claim Yoga teacher Uma Inder used the world famous Yoga Barn studio in Ubud, Bali to operate a cult from 2008 until she was fired in 2016.She groomed potential members there, promising them “enlightenment.” They claim she verbally and physically assaulted members and slept with students. She frequently compared herself to Jesus and said she was God, Kali and Death. Uma told devotees they will feel “raped” by working with her and that they’d actually become Uma while making love. Full transparency and confession were required of members. Group sessions would include chanting in tongues, yelling and harshly criticizing other members. A “sex energy” ritual ended up with everyone naked in the pool moaning while holding Uma over their heads. Yoga Barn founder Meghan Pappenheim then showed hostility towards cult survivors who reported abuse, calling it a “witch hunt” against Uma.
[Each of these articles takes up to 80 hours to investigate and write, and I am able to do it thanks to donations from people who believe in and support this life-changing work. Please help by donating.]
“Do you know who Kali is?” That’s what longtime Yoga Barn teacher Uma Inder said to her student Kelly Ness (not her real name) right before she assaulted her in front of 13 members of her group. Kelly describes the incident in depth:
“Her eyes were so big and black and they were like bulging and her mouth was big…I was sitting against the wall and she launches for my neck and pushes me up against the wall…She was holding onto my black and gray tights and pulling on them. I was trying to kick her off…And then somehow I got up and we got entangled again…She takes my hair and does a 360 with my hair and it’s being pulled…And at this point, I’m crying…I just remember feeling so fucking scared and so fucking confused as to what I did to deserve this because it was punishment…And then she said ‘I want you to spit on me.’ I was like ‘What? No.’ She then started saying really sweet things. Who was that and who is this right now? What the fuck is this? This is fucked up. She was so loving. And then she told me again to spit on her. I tried, but said I didn’t want to. Then she told me to do it again. And I got some spit but it went on her shirt or something. I couldn’t do that. I tried for a long time just standing there, just crying so much.”
Uma actually had Kelly’s account recorded by followers to document how powerful the force of Kali was moving through her. This audio clip is an edited version of her account. You can hear her crying and trembling while recounting what happened:
“The powerful will worship at my feet. The powerless will rise above me to preach and conspire against me.” — Uma
The Yoga Barn Guru
According to former members, during her time at Yoga Barn from 2008–2016 Uma Inder (ERYT-500) built a cult following using Ayurvedic consultations, Kundalini classes and segments of the Bali Spirit festival which were taught at the Yoga Barn. She used retreat centers and hotels in Bali to hold events and trainings as well. She has also taught at the Byron Yoga Festival in Australia in 2017, the No Mind Festival in Sweden and the Bhinneka Yoga Festival in Indonesia among other places.
“I am a convergence point. All aspects of Shiva. I exist back and here and in the future all at the same time…I’m in all places at all times.” — Uma Inder
Uma used Ayurvedic consultations at the Yoga Barn to identify potential new cult members, former devotees claim. The sessions often had little to do with Ayurveda and would, at times, last as long as 6 hours, they said. She would use “psychological hooks” against those who opened themselves up and made themselves vulnerable in this supposed medical healing context according to former members. It was in these sessions and elsewhere she’d make grandiose promises of enlightenment, saying things such as “you can have it all.” It’s estimated that at least 100 people came through her cult during her time at the Yoga Barn.
Some were in awe at first sight:
“When I first met Uma, I was mesmerized. We walked through the thick red curtains to a beautiful Indian woman with sparkling dark eyes, the whites whiter than white. She pranamed me, and I felt honored and special. She told me I was one of the best trained yogis in the world. I felt seen, appreciated, and special.”
While some members lived in Bali, others would travel to Bali several times a year to study with her. Some would go to Bali for several months out of the year or just a few weeks during a retreat. But members report it was easy for others to get sucked in regardless of how long they stayed. Uma then used an online forum to keep control over members.
“She used yogic practices, Sanskrit terms, and Ayurvedic routines to underpin her authority.”
Uma claims to have spent more than 7 years in the Balinese jungle with her own teacher Sri Shunyata. Since then she claims to “have mastery of Tantra, Kundalini, and Ayurveda.” Yet, a former member describes Uma’s path of spiritual training as abusive:
“By her own account her ‘process’ towards ‘enlightenment’ with her ‘guru’ involved her being the subject of Satanic rituals while high on LSD, demands for unprotected sex with her while he was also having unprotected sex with prostitutes, and being beaten with 2×4’s until she stopped flinching.”
“Cult members who did not give Uma worship and gratitude were punished and ostracized as ‘ungrateful’ and ‘leeches.’”
Former members describe many cult dynamics at play in Uma’s group. Devotees believed Uma was a divine and enlightened being. “Absolute surrender” to Uma was required and imposed on group members. Being part of the cult also required “full transparency.” Members shared everything about themselves with Uma and others. These confessions would be used to control and blackmail members. They would “spend virtually all their free time in service to Uma, on her internet forum, or in group processing sessions.” Some gave tens of thousands of dollars and thousands of hours of free labor to her over the years. Jargon was used such as “FalseID” which meant “aspects of members personalities” which “Uma deemed fake and targeted for destruction.” Uma would often attack other spiritual teachers, and members who contemplated studying with them were accused of “muddying the current.” She would often attribute negative experiences or members’ physical injuries to “divine punishment” for not following her dictates. And Uma’s bodyguard and lover, via the forum and emails, threatened to kill people in the group and threatened to “disintegrate the human form” and “chop off the head”of one woman.
Former members claim Uma controlled many aspects of their lives:
“Cult members are guided, often coercively, on what to eat, what to wear, who to talk to, what to talk about, who to have sex with, what movies to watch (if any), financial payments to Uma, and free labor for Uma. All this coercion is at Uma’s whim, with no basis in any lineage. Cult members gradually become totally dependent on Uma.”
Uma tried to cut off members from outside influence:
“Use of Facebook was shamed and for certain members Uma prohibited it. Cult members were encouraged to spend time largely with each other. Outside connections were labeled by Uma as ‘leaks in the shared container’ of practice. Over time cult members became more and more isolated within the cult.”
Claims of Divinity
A former member describes the terms Uma used to refer to herself as:
“Uma claims that she is God. She regularly self-compares to Jesus and has referred to herself in the first person as Shiva, Death, Kali, Kundalini Maa, Maa, Source, the Absolute, the Revealer, Love, Truth, Nature, “The Way”, and “the process” of enlightenment itself.She has also claimed to have cured herself of HIV, transmuted LSD, and received initiation directly from Shiva.”
She claims she is a “convergence point:”
“I am a convergence point. All aspects of Shiva. I exist back and here and in the future all at the same time…I’m in all places at all times.”
Her repeated claims of divine authority instilled that belief in her followers:
“We had a mission more special than anyone. Uma was, to most of us, the second coming of Christ.Several of us frequently made these comparisons of Uma to Christ, and she encouraged them “seeing,” “revealing the Revealer.” I was particularly good at this. I had great visions of the future. It was one of the ways Uma was “working through me.”
Members believed she was “The Path:”
“Uma would say “I am the Path. I am the Way.” Uma was the path and the way to enlightenment, to God, and being with her was the Holy Grail for the spiritual seeker who could see. Those who didn’t believe or think Uma was God, they just couldn’t see, and we pitied them from our benignly superior stance. They were too programmed, too asleep. We were the awake ones.”
“We were ‘the few.’ The elite. The winners. Of the entire planet.”
“She kills the souls inside of living bodies. The 18 months I spent with her I look back on as largely being dead, of having my soul and mind consumed by a monster…who lied to me and deceived me in order to achieve her aim of controlling me.”
Group sessions with Uma at the Yoga Barn and other spaces in Bali would often consist of speaking in tongues, confessions and explorations of consciousness and divinity. They served to keep members under her spell.
Speaking in Tongues
Uma would growl, chant, speak in tongues and yell at members during these sessions which would often last 6 or more hours:
“When I come into your dreams it’s evil, evil. Your mouth will widen open, you’ll be vomiting, pouring out what could be seen as evil, evil, evil. What are you letting inside you, what are you letting inside you? Do you even know? Do you know? Do you know? You’ve got to fucking know!”
Uma had a “track record of dry humping female students” in group sessions members claim. A former member describes a session:
“Several people were lying down inside a circle of others. Uma was pinning women down and pulling hair, and making very aggressive moaning and growling sounds — definitely trying to prove she was top dog.”
One woman describes her experience:
“Uma grabs my hair and then suddenly I’m on the ground on my back and Uma is on top of me and it is nearly instant that we are having sex I am being penetrated by her We have our clothes on we are grinding sweating undulating writhing it’s just a current of energy I can feel Uma penetrating me”
This session ended with everyone naked in the pool, moaning while holding Uma over their head. The following morning the hotel next to the villa complained about the disturbance.
“I need to come to Uma. Crying, offering up, offering up. I give up, I lose. I am defeated. Down at Uma’s feet in my mind.”
The practices and methods became more extreme as time went on:
“Over time as the practices become more extreme and as cult members become more psychologically unstable, cult members become increasingly unable to relate to their family, friends, or anyone outside the cult.”
Former members describe Uma as an intense, abusive and voracious teacher who would call students “fucking pussies,” “bitch-cunts,” “whores,” “donkeys” and “contaminated vessels” in front of other group members. Another explains, “If we missed words, misremembered, or misquoted, we got to face her wrath and our own self-loathing born of the failure of not being worthy to be Uma’s scribe, let alone her student.”
The intensity of the abuse led to psychological breaks:
“In the cult several members have had psychotic breaks due to the abuse and psychological stress inflicted while in the group. At least one was institutionalized after leaving the cult. Uma has taken credit for another cult member suffering a miscarriage, in our view because of the stress inflicted by the abuse she promulgated. Contemplations of suicide are common among cult members, and we worry it is only a matter of time before that takes place.”
“I did not even know that I was already under the massive hypnotic state. I did not even know that my brain had been wired with new programs, and I was a part of her ‘cult’ group. How did it happen?’”
A former member describes Uma’s abuse:
“Many times my state of vulnerability was forced by “attack” from Uma through sarcasm, shaming, guilt tripping, judging, hatred, and for me the most powerful force and most painful was emotional rejection. (Push — pull tactic). In these open states of vulnerability I would be under constant attack by Uma or other “group” members live publicly or through a private forum. I felt unsafe, confused, unsupported in a state of fear and in need to survive.”
Uma also directed group members to abuse, tear down and insult each other they claim.
Former members explain:
“Uma at least twice physically assaulted students on her private SATYA retreat immersion, kicking one girl for failing to address her and tackling and clawing another to the floor. Uma has spat at students and watched as students assaulted one another in retreat immersion settings, encouraging this violent and abusive behavior among cult members.”
One former member says “she hit me with a rolled up placemat and yelled in my face.” Another claims, “Uma has kicked me in my arm and leg, punched me in my stomach and has slapped me in the face.”
Sex with Students
Former members describe how Uma slept with and sexually assaulted students:
“Inder has had sex with several of her followers, at least one of whom has contracted a sexually transmitted infection from her. The follower believed that flare ups of the STI is the result of ‘impure thoughts’ — namely thinking about any woman other than Inder.”
Newly to the group, Uma asked this woman about having sex with her boyfriend:
“She asked about our relationship, and our boundaries. She said, at one point, “so, sex with me, for example, is off limits.” Yes, it was, I said. Though if we were all to have sex, that might be possible, I said. She was so powerful, I thought she could teach us something.”
“Uma systematically broke apart couples, calling relationships outside the cult ‘based on FalseID,’ or other forms of untruth.”
One former member claims sex was shunned, “Sex was discouraged in Uma’s group, except in rare intense occasions…Masturbation was ridiculed, as Uma never did it herself and always found a beloved physical partner to do the job.”
One of the requirements of being in the cult was “full transparency.” Members had to share anything and everything about themselves in the name of self-transformation. This was not true for Uma. One former member describes:
“We spent hours and hours and hours together — sometimes as many as 14 hours in a day, spilling our hearts out, sharing our deepest secrets and all the thoughts we wished we weren’t thinking — revealing our inner demons and ‘offering them up’ to Uma. She was our mirror to Absolute Truth. And, as she and others would say, if she wasn’t your mirror to Absolute Truth, ‘it won’t work.’ So we did our best to stay in the stream of constant gratitude, no matter what was happening, ‘offering up’ our shit and being grateful for what came in return, no matter how painful. And frequently, it was soul-tearing, mind-exploding pain.”
“Every thought must be divulged, especially problematic thoughts, andpunishment follows failure to do so. Private conversations are called sidelining and are punished. Cult members are encouraged to report on each other.”
“In Uma’s circle, holding private thoughts or emotions was highly discouraged, and seen as ‘a drain on the source,’ as ‘there is no private world of feelings.’ All emotions and experiences were shared among the group, and as such, group property.”
“You Will Feel Raped”
Uma told her followers that working with her as their teacher that they would feel like they were being raped:
“You will feel raped. [She] saw and felt my arm raping her right through her anus, all the way up full on. RAPE! you will feel raped..What’s wrong with rape? You have a problem with rape?”
“My being was attacked, interrogated, forced by energetic penetrations into my feminine depths, after being neglected, abandoned, shamed, controlled.”
“Loss of Your Individuality”
Uma also claims that to study with her means to lose your individuality completely:
“At that point there won’t be separation between you and me. You will be making love and you will be making love as me. Physically, you will feel me, making love. You will feel your face as my face. You hands, your gestures, your way of moving, your way of sounding, your way of talking, whether it is Swedish or English. The tone, it’ll be me. You’ll have me all over you, all the way inside of you. It’s a loss of your individuality. Everything that your forefathers have worked so hard to provide for you.”
“You are serving me Quietly serving and watchful It is becoming your pleasure To serve me The only reason to be here Is to be ‘with’ me Serving me To serve your dying into Us Speak of this dying as you fall through As you fail As you break As you exalt the truth through it all”
— Uma Inder
The online Google message board forum is “what tied things together internationally.” This digital platform allowed Uma to have active cult members in the “US, UK, Canada, Scandanavia, Russia, Mexico, Japan and elsewhere.”
Participation in the online forum was required of members regardless of where they were. The online chats consisted of in-fighting, sharing compromising information, discussing consciousness, in-depth descriptions of sex and Uma’s controlling dictates. All of this was used to control and even blackmail devotees. As one describes, “Members often spend the entire day verbally abusing others, confessing, and in group processing.”
One former member reflects about the time in the forums and spent in discussion groups in Bali:
“The sheer amount of time we stayed involved in them created isolation from other people. The environment was deliberately creating extreme psychological pressure (“break down”), and there have been sporadic instances of physical violence as well, as well as explicit and implicit threats of violence.”
The message board was how Uma kept her controlling influence over members:
“The forum was a place for us to pour our deepest thoughts and feelings out, and to receive Uma’s ever-poetic reflection on where we are “in False ID,” so that we can liberate the true self. Ultimately, the goal was dying, while alive. Dying into God.”
Former members describe themselves as having been deeply traumatized by Uma:
“I don’t even know how to begin describing the fear, anxiety, hurt that I suffered at Uma’s hands. Part of me died that year. I lost a year and a half of my life to that woman. She ate it, as she ate my soul. It was a temporary death, and descent to a low circle of hell…I don’t know how long we will be dealing with our individual and shared pains acquired from Uma, but I know it will be years…She would talk about dying into enlightenment, but it was all based on so many lies and falsities.”
Another former member:
“I am actually experiencing post traumatic stress disorder in my body. And realized that I am a survivor of intense abuse which took place more deeply in last year in my connection with Uma, inside Uma’s group…Horrifying process through which I experienced deep abuse of my vulnerability. The affect is disturbance, difficulties in my brain functioning after close contact with Uma’s “Mysterious” spiritual powers.”
Another describes their deepening states of emotional trauma:
“I descended into deeper states of emotional turmoil, fear, panic, and anxiety. I again reached profound emotional lows and had no idea how to bring myself out of them. I found myself crawling on the floor, barely able to think.”
Yoga Barn Founder Meghan Pappenheim Referred to Complaints as a “Witch Hunt” against Uma
Given the recent climate of sexual assault and abuse in yoga communities, and the ongoing discussion about how practitioners and studio owners should address it, I wanted to get some clarity on how the Yoga Barn handled Uma’s situation.
I approached Yoga Barn founder Meghan Pappenheim via a message on Facebook trying to understand what transpired surrounding Uma’s departure from the Yoga Barn.
To my surprise, in our Facebook chats and emails Meghan downplayed the concerns and wouldn’t answer straightforward questions. She told me “there was NO PHYSICAL EVIDENCE to support the allegations,” yet she had read numerous in depth accounts of abuse and manipulation by Uma. She evaded many of my questions and sent me contact info for a few people who had more positive experiences with Uma, suggesting I didn’t know the whole story. I wondered if a male teacher had been accused of sexual assault or abuse by multiple women if she’d have sent me contact info of those who had a positive experience with him to get a more full perspective. And I wondered how that’d be seen.
In her communication with me, Pappenheim referred to the cult survivors as “those fuckers” and victim blamed them several times:
“They wove the web they were in as well. As it is said ‘it takes two to tango ‘ and, in this case, more than two. Darkness attracts darkness, hence they were attracted to Uma and vice versa.”
Via email she confirmed that she had indeed previously referred to the cult survivor’s process as a “witch hunt” against Uma.
Former cult members had wanted more support and engagement from Pappenheim but she felt like these efforts — which included requests for a public acknowledgement and apology and potential financial support for therapy and the trauma they endured — were too much. Pappenheim described what they were doing as “extortion” and denied the role that Yoga Barn played in Uma building her cult. This was despite having read multiple accounts which detailed how Uma used Ayurvedic sessions and classes at the Yoga Barn to recruit members and having read in-depth stories of abuse, manipulation and lying.
Survivors of the cult have asked Yoga Barn for support:
“Yoga Barn markets itself as a center for healing. We went to Yoga Barn looking for that, and we instead experienced extraordinary abuse and exploitation. Yoga Barn made a lot of money off of Uma and her cult.”
Former members believe that Meghan and the Yoga Barn “should have known something was off, and investigated” sooner. They highlight several things such as:
The strange behavior of cult members in the cafe and in Uma’s classes,
Numerous lengthy “Ayurvedic” consultations that lasted as much as 5 hours rather than the allotted 90 minutes and
Nearly 50 Ayurvedic consultations bought from Yoga Barn from overseas with the explicit understanding that this was in order to buy Uma some vacation from Yoga Barn.
Uma’s partner Mateo’s strange and cult devotional behavior which included chauffeuring her everywhere, paying for all her meals, bringing her all her food and drink, taking care of her email interactions with Yoga Barn, and prostrating himself fully face down on the floor to her in Yoga Barn classes.
Complaints from Yoga Barn students in the cafe who witnessed growls, yelling, and other strange noises, pain, tears or public processing of highly personal emotional matters.
In 2012, the School of Sacred Arts, which operated out of the Yoga Barn, publicly acknowledged that they had discontinued their relationship with Uma. A public denouncement such as this is one of the requests that cult survivors had of Pappenheim and Yoga Barn.
One Yoga Barn team member apparently even acted on a complaint and called for a meeting with Uma and her students. The meeting never manifested however. And, former students claim that a manager was exploring a space removed from the Yoga Barn main practice area for Uma to work out of because of her controversial and disturbing methods.
When F.A.C.T. was going to publish their expose on Uma Inder, they alleged via a screenshot of the schedule, that Pappenheim had put Uma on the Bali Spirit Festival which she runs after she had been let go from the Yoga Barn. Pappenheim’s lawyer then sent aggressive letters to cult survivors and F.A.C.T. threatening to sue them for defamation. Pappenheim claimed that it was a clerical error and it was not intentional and F.A.C.T. removed it. It is of interest to point out that Pappenheim threatened to sue cult survivors for suggesting that Yoga Barn was still employing Uma and simultaneously she secretly allowed Uma’s work visa to continue as described below.
As of yet, Yoga Barn has not publicly acknowledged what has transpired with Uma nor met the request for financial support for survivors who are dealing with extensive medical bills to recover from years of trauma inflicted by the Yoga Barn teacher. Some survivors have had to go without necessary medical support. Pappenheim reiterated to me that Yoga Barn wasn’t responsible for damages.
Meghan told me she “did everything” she could once she “knew what was up.” She reiterated that she was the owner of the Yoga Barn, not a day-to-day manger. She simply wasn’t aware of what was happening on the ground, she claims. Meghan told me, “As soon as I received the information, I took a compassionate course of action. I responded to the person/people who sent me the information and I offered to do all I could to support them in their process.” Yet, as already stated, the Yoga Barn never met some of their most basic requests such as acknowledging that Uma had been let go.
Yoga Barn management was first informed on February 14th, 2016 of the allegations via an email labeled “URGENT.” It contained five in-depth, nuanced and detailed accounts of abuse, manipulation, and control from cult survivors of Uma’s group. Former members were deeply concerned for the well being of other students and hoped Yoga Barn would acted quickly. Pappenheim claims to not have read the accounts until around March 1st, but the co-founder and manager had seen them on February 14th. It wasn’t until around March 17th, over a month later, that Uma stopped teaching at the Yoga Barn.
When I asked if Uma was fired from the Yoga Barn she told me that she was not, explicitly to prevent her from losing her work visa and being deported. Instead, she was allowed to resign.
Meghan sent Uma a formal “Cessation of Cooperation” letter on May 24th, 2016, yet she was technically “let go” and stopped working there in mid-March. The letter also stated that her work visa would be officially ended. Wondering why Pappenheim would have waited that long — because it seemed like an effort to aid Uma — I asked her to explain the timing. She told me it wasn’t relevant and refused to answer specifically when her work visa was cancelled.
When I asked her if the Yoga Barn continued to sell Uma’s Aranya Ayurvedic products after she had been let go she told me: “the products were discontinued a few months after Uma was fired/let go.” She said they were sold in the Bali Shop “which has a contract with Yoga Barn,” seemingly distancing herself from it, but Pappenheim actually owns both and the Bali Shop is inside the Yoga Barn. I then sent her two photos. One was of a receipt of a purchase of Uma’s products at the Yoga Barn and a photo of Uma’s products still on the shelf — both one year after Uma was let go. She then told me that the images were doctored and photoshopped:
“If someone sent you photos then they are doctored — its super easy for someone to walk into YB, put something on the shelf and photo it. It’s also really simple to photoshop or simply make up a story to support an agenda. You have been equally deceived.”
Was she telling me someone brought a suitcase of jars into the shop to frame her?
On May 9th a staff member of the Yoga Bali Shop said Uma’s Aranya line of products were in stock and sold there until about 6 months ago. Thus, they were still sold for over 1.5 years after Uma was let go, not just a few months as Pappenheim claims.
What began as a simple journalistic inquiry into Uma’s firing from the Yoga Barn turned out to reveal that she was never in fact technically fired, that Uma was allowed to keep her work visa for at least two months (or longer) after “resigning” and Meghan lied about the fact that Yoga Barn was still selling Uma’s products a year after she was fired and claimed the photos were doctored. And she victim-blamed the cult survivors in our conversations. I wondered again if this was a male teacher accused of sexual assault by multiple women and if Pappenheim’s offered similar support to him, how that’d play out.
Uma Still Teaching
Uma Inder is still teaching yoga retreats and workshops worldwide. She has an upcoming training in Norway in June, and is teaching once again at the No Mind Festival in July in Sweden. And former members tell me she still has several active devotees in her cult.
A Complex Tale
This story is about an abusive yoga teacher who propped herself up as an infallible Guru. But it’s also a story about how yoga studios should handle allegations of abuse. How do they respond to victims’ stories? What sort of responsibility do they have to name the abuse and work to protect future students? How do they create a safe space for students who’ve experienced trauma? Should teachers like Uma remain certified by the Yoga Alliance? What processes are needed to heal and repair the damage.
Swami Vivekananda Saraswati, the founder of Agama Yoga has indefinitely fled the center in Ko Phangan, Thailand several sources confirm. He is believed to be headed to Europe, presumably Romania where he is from. His abrupt departure comes just four days after the publication of an expose that chronicled numerous accusations of sexual assault against him and several senior Agama teachers. The story has gone viral, gathering over 25,000 views since its publication on Tuesday. A public statement posted on Facebook by Agama says that Swami has “taken the decision to step back from all his administrative and teaching responsibilities” while they investigate.
Agama yoga teacher Ram Avnur, accused of sexual misconduct in the article, fled Ko Phangan yesterday sources confirm. It is believed Muktananda, also accused of sexual misconduct, is leaving the island.
The accusations have rocked the island of Ko Phangan, where hundreds of people flock for Agama yoga and tantra programs each year. “It’s like a bomb exploded” on the island wrote one student. Another wrote that everything is in “chaos” at the center. Several witnesses report that it is a “ghost town” with little activity and very few people attending classes. Additionally, some key Agama staff have quit since the publication of the article. One teacher who quit states that several yoga teachers left when they realized Maha and the leadership were not interested in changing:
“Several teachers have resigned. They saw that the school has no real intentions to change and keep up the denial and secrecy. I’m of course one of the teachers who said we can’t stand behind a system that doesn’t stand behind it’s teachers and students who got hurt. We started to see all the manipulation.”
The current director of Agama, Ananda Maha, held a community meeting on Friday night to address the controversy. An attendee reports that the meeting was “a big cover up. No acknowledgements. There was no compassion for the victims.” She said it was clear “there will be no investigation into what these 31 women from the 31 written statements have experienced. Not by an internal committee, nor by an external source.” In regards to the numerous women who have come forth with sexual abuse stories, Maha said “It had all been their own perception, because of the wounds they were already carrying” the attendee claims. A source previously stated that Maha, who is Swami’s former lover, has turned a “blind eye to every abuse” that has occurred over the years.
A Ko Phangan resident has started a Facebook group called “Boycott Agama”where people can stay updated on the story.
Yoga Alliance, the governing body for Agama’s yoga training certifications, has received several formal complaints and has begun their own investigation.
This is a developing story. Information will be updated when possible.