Author and spiritual teacher Robert Augustus Masters, also known as RAMOS ran two abusive cults for a period of 17 years. He is accused of systemic physical and emotional abuse. Former members claim he has never confronted his own shadow nor has shown empathy or compassion for his victims or remorse for his actions— something that contradicts his so called expertise on “the shadow.” Masters’ history raises important questions about what accountability means for spiritual teachers who have abused in their past.
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My request for an interview with Robert Augustus Masters had not been granted at the time of this publication.
On October 1st, 2018 Sounds True published a new book by “spiritual bypassing” guru Robert Augustus Masters. It’s called “Bringing Your Shadow Out of the Dark” and features a forward by author Lissa Rankin. Known by many for his popular book “Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects Us,” Masters is often cited as an expert on the ways people use spirituality to avoid their own shadow and taking responsibility for their actions.
Masters is a self-admitted former abusive cult leader. Between 1977 and 1994 he ran two cults in Canada, one of which was called Xanthyros. He wrote a short blog post around 2014 about his past called “A Needed Shattering” in which he admits that he got “off track” and was an arrogant, “spiritual asshole” who ran a cult and harmed people. After a 9-month psychotic break from a drug induced experience, he claims that all of his former abusive ways “no longer fit” him. Mentally unstable and in need of constant care, his members fled him in 1994. He now claims his former experience as a cult leader makes him particularly well suited to teach about spiritual bypassing, cults, abuse and aggression.
The accusations against Masters include claims of many years of physical and emotional abuse, manipulation, mind control, intimidation, financial manipulation, relationship tampering and more. Former members claim he also broke up numerous couples and demanded some members give their kids up for adoption. A former insider describes him as “an abusive, cruel, egocentric, power hungry paranoid child” who “coerced us into abusing our families outside the community as well as those inside — spouses, children, and friends.” The actions by Masters caused extensive trauma and harm to former members, including babies and children they claim. Former members state that he has settled three lawsuits out of court in regards to his past abuse.
In 1995, just one year after the mental breakdown and cult break up, he began practicing therapy again without having sought treatment for his abusive past former members claim. In 1999 he received a PhD in psychology from the online school Saybrook.
Accusations of Abuse
“In public RAM is hiding his past as a cult leader.”
The specifics of the allegations come from former members who have posted about their experiences with Masters online. They are collected on a Spiritual Wiki page. They claim Robert Augustus Masters (RAM):
“Threw his wife Gail down the stairs.”
“Forcibly and repeatedly banged his front man Philip’s head on the floor while sitting over him.”
“Banged the head of an intimate against the wall which resulted in prolonged headaches.”
“In the middle of a group, he farted in Kobally’s face.”
“Forced a child at age 10 to wear a diaper for three weeks in front of his peers, and the adults.”
“Spit in more than a dozen people’s faces, both men and women.”
“Groomed a teenager, preparing her to be sexually initiated by him.”
“Separated, physically and emotionally, each of the 20–30 (married) couples that joined the Xanthyros community as well as children from their parents.”
“Constantly encouraged psychological mobbing and physical bullying.”
“Put each infant in the middle of a Xanthyros group circle and was only satisfied if the baby crawled towards him.”
“Expected sooner than later that each joining member would give over their life savings to him. Many did, given the very forceful group pressure.”
“Set up his inner circle to commit crimes on his behalf.”
“Encouraged members of Xanthyros to cheat by filing for welfare, which resulted in a simultaneous raid on three of the community houses by the Welfare Agency of the province.”
“The three mothers of RAM’s five children claim that he abandoned his financial obligations toward his children.”
“Four out of his five now adult biological children are estranged from RAM. His four step children hate him.”
“RAM succeeded in disempowering all the members of Xanthyros, by applying the standard mind control tricks as in intimidation, seduction, pushing boundaries, zero tolerance for criticism by way of threat of aggression, isolation from family and friends, creating growing financial and emotional dependency, resulting in genuine confusion as to what was right and what wasn’t — after years of these tactics. As a way to manipulate the group dynamic in his direction, RAM constantly encouraged psychological mobbing and physical bullying.”
“Please be informed that Robert Masters was once the leader of a Cult named Xanthyros where he used brain washing techniques and damaged the lives of many of its members. This cult ended in 1994 when Robert had a drug induced near death experience that left him in need of constant care, at which point the members disbanded. Please, do not trust this man with your emotional and psychological well-being. Truly, he should not be able to practice any form of psychology with the atrocities he committed in his past.”
“Having been to group work with Robert recently, I have witnessed first hand his cultish group think and indoctrination and left 5 days in. I would advise all considering his content to research Robert. He is not what his writing makes him seem.”
Evading Personal Responsibility
“Robert abused many, many others, young and old, on his journey to the pinnacle of Guru.”
Former members claim that Robert Augustus Masters (RAM) has never owned up to his behavior, nor shown any true remorse for his actions. Instead, like he has done several times before, he merely rebranded himself and propped himself up again they say. He left Victoria, BC in the 80s because of his increasingly poor reputation amongst his community of Osho Sannyasins, fled Vancouver in the 90s after Xanthyros fell apart and then relocated to Ashland, Oregon to escape once again. This passage details the end of his Xanthyros cult in Vancouver:
“In need of continued full daycare after his 5MEO [drug] hell trip started, RAM had lost control. One of his students accepted the task to nurse him. Teenagers who he had abused for years stood up to his face. To his close inner circle, desperate RAM expressed he was thinking of obtaining a gun. The prospect of a mentally deranged man shooting (himself or others) was the ‘last straw’ for devoted intimates to jump off the ship without captain. First gradually, then increasingly 30–40 disheveled cult members moved out of the Vancouver housing complex to embark on the long road of their recovery. The remainder of 30–40 Xanthyros cult members left the peripheral houses located in BC and USA to which RAM had demoted them for having spoken up to him. No one had asked RAM for permission to leave and no one waited for him to declare the nightmare was over.”
As early as 2006 he rebranded himself once again with the help of Ken Wilber and the Integral scene as a relationship and shadow expert. Integral Life currently sells a course about the shadow with Masters and Wilber. Former cult leader Andrew Cohen and discredited predatorial teacher Marc Gafni were also in the Integral scene at a similar time. Since then, Masters has appeared on numerous spiritual and self help programs and currently offers intimate, in-person trainings.
Former insider Phillip Clement explains the lack of remorse, “His sense of regret for separating families, putting children into isolation, humiliating people and provoking mobbing, spitting in people’s faces, banging heads against walls, is essentially nil.” He also says that Masters has “unfinished business” in regards to taking responsibility for his actions which “he has chosen over and over NOT to do.” Former “right-hand woman” and assistant Kobally:
“Robert has done none of this reparation or healing. Do not be fooled. He only talks the talk, and very well, but he does not nor has he ever walked the walk. He has no capacity for love or empathy.”
“There is virtually no one from that period who feels Robert has made good on his past transgressions with them” states Clement. He continues:
“He has yet to directly apologize:
— to the three mothers of his children for his abusive treatment, (none of whom want ANYTHING to do with him to this day);
— to community members who were coerced to give their children up for adoption;
— to the dozens of children (now adults) who were separated from their parents, and experienced terror, confusion and daily emotional abuse for years under his “leadership”;
— to the dozens of genuine seekers who joined his community, and left years later with horrendous long lasting wounds from his ego maniacal self centered pathological abuses.”
He continues by saying that Masters uses “spiritual gobbledygook” to “avoid, deny, and reject any opportunity to authentically do right by those he abused.” He apparently told former abuse victims — two children who were abused and were then older — who confronted him, “Stop complaining and turn the past shit into compost.” He has allegedly blocked, deleted and suppressed comments and commenters online as well who try to speak about his past. He deleted his Facebook page as a result of the negative comments. And he apparently had Rick Archer take down his video interview on Buddha at the Gas Pump because of the negative comment thread which was later reinstated without comments.
“If you want the treasure you have to face the dragon.” — Robert Augustus Masters
“Instead of trying to get beyond our personal history, we need to learn to relate to it with as much clarity and compassion as possible, so that it serves rather than obstructs our healing and awakening.” — Robert Augustus Masters
Masters’ short blog post about his cult past can be seen as a form of “strategic transparency.” He shared just enough about his past to make it appear he has changed while simultaneously avoiding real accountability. In the least, accountability would include describing the specifics of the abuses, naming the harm caused, reaching out to those he abused, expressing genuine remorse and detailing the steps he has taken to get therapy or treatment for himself. Aside from reaching out to a few former members in a very limited way, Masters has not taken any of these steps they claim. Apparently only about 20% of victims have been reached out to by Masters. And you’d think his past would play a central role in his current teaching if he had truly done the work to overcome and integrate it. Instead, former members describe a pattern of evasion, suppression and denial when they confront him about his past abuses. It seems clear that he is refusing to confront his own shadow.
One reason for his selective sharing is because Masters may be unable to show genuine remorse, compassion and empathy for his victims. Former members believe this to be the case. They think he simply cannot accept personal responsibility for his actions because of a deeper pathology and instead will manipulate, deflect and deny as much as possible. He weaves a convincing tale.
This comment on one of his Amazon books highlights the concern of him manipulating current followers with his new image:
“Robert Masters is VERY clever with words and can fool most people into not noticing that what he is really saying in all his books is how evolved and all knowing and more spiritual he is than everybody else. It’s about creating an image of Him in YOU: he is not writing about you. He has changed cities three times and countries once in order to not take responsibility for the people he abused, and the lives he ruined. Read up on psychopaths, read up on Robert’s dark past and refusal to take responsibility for his past criminal behavior. He is particularly attractive to “teachers” who themselves long to conquer their hidden insecurities and feign wisdom and superiority the way he does.”
Masters should be our utmost model for “bringing the shadow out of the dark” in his own life.
Running a cult for 17 years while physically and emotionally abusing people extends far beyond the realm of making “mistakes” or “being human.” This is profoundly pathological, narcissistic and abusive behavior. It’s not a difficult or demanding boss. It’s not a moody friend. It’s extremely serious, long-term, systemic physical and psychological abuse and manipulation. Approximately 30 couples were broken up. Children were separated from their parents and deeply traumatized. Over 100 people were impacted.
It’s remarkable that Masters can abuse and traumatize people for almost 20 years, skip town, write a short blog post, and then rebrand himself as an expert on the shadow without having demonstrated any real accountability. And on top of that he got a book contract with a major publisher like Sounds True. He also has appeared on founder Tami Simon’s podcast several times. What sort of standards do they have? Giving him a platform and increasing his credibility — whether it’s Sounds True or Buddha at the Gas Pump — is problematic given his seeming inability to atone for his past abuse. Sounds True dropped Marc Gafni and Bentinho Massaro from their brand in the past so they seem to be somewhat aware of these kinds of issues.
What would it require for a former abusive cult leader like Masters to be accepted as a legitimate teacher again? There should be thorough evidence that he had sought serious treatment, accepted full responsibility, was not in denial, has integrated his shadow and was no longer a danger to potential students. Aside from the 4-paragraph blog post with generalizations about his past I’ve seen no evidence of this. There is no public display of genuine remorse and no in depth explanation of his behaviors and actions. It falls short of what you’d expect from a supposed expert in the shadow. And it is a far cry given the extraordinary nature of the abuse that occurred. A former member points out that Masters is still a potential threat to spiritual seekers:
“RAM — still dangerous — is a predatory man of the mind whose psychopathy is alive and unhealed. Lacking empathy, remorse, or compassion, this ‘relationship expert’ is unable to relate with people outside of promoting himself, and of being a therapist, an expert, a master.”
Unfortunately, there are many brilliant exponents of spiritual, self-help and transformative teachings who are woefully unable to apply their teachings to themselves. Masters is wrapping himself in the protective cloak of intellectual expertise to compensate for the very thing he is unable to actually achieve: true shadow integration.
I’ll end with a quote from Masters, which is particularly fitting for his own situation:
“Real shadow work does not leave us intact; it is not some neat and tidy process but rather an inherently messy one, as vital and unpredictably alive as birth. The ass it kicks is the one upon which you are sitting; the pain it brings up is the pain we’ve been fleeing most of our life; the psychoemotional breakdowns it catalyzes are the precursors to hugely relevant breakthroughs; the doors it opens are doors that have shown up year after year in our dreams, awaiting our entry. Real shadow work not only breaks us down but also breaks us open, turning frozen yesterday into fluid now.”
My request for an interview with Robert Augustus Masters had not been granted at the time of this publication.
The founder of the Thailand based yoga and tantra school Agama, Swami Vivekananda Saraswati, has been accused by multiple women of sexual assault. He claims to be the “brilliant exponent of a unique and modern trend of thinking in Yoga” who “has reached high states of spiritual realization.” Agama is one of the world’s largest yoga training centers. Swami’s teacher is the infamous Romanian yoga guru Gregorian Bivolaru. He was sentenced to six years in prison for having sex with an underage girl. Swami warns those who dare to speak against him that they are under “demonic influence” and face “infernal consequences for many lives to come.” Several of his most senior teachers have also been accused of rape or sexual assault. Former staff have stated Swami says he is paying off the Thai authorities. This article draws from interviews of several former students and staff, most of which chose to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal and retaliation.
UPDATE – 7/28/18: Just 4 days after the publication of this article Swami has fled Ko Phangan indefinitely. Sources believe he is headed to Europe, probably Romania where he is from. Read full press release.
UPDATE: 9/4/18: Thai police and military raided Agama Yoga today after charges were filed against Swami.
UPDATE: This article has led to the closure of Agama Yoga and widespread international coverage including front page stories on The Guardian, CNN, the CBC, Die Zeit and the New Zealand Herald. There are now over 50 articles in 25 counties. SEE PRESS.
[Each of these articles takes over 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.]
It was a typical night on the island for Jessica Rose (not her real name). She had just finished hanging out with some girlfriends and was headed home. She had been drinking wine. On the way she noticed that her spiritual teacher and employer, Swami Vivekananda Saraswati, had his light on. She hadn’t seen him in ages. She popped in to say hi like she had previously done on several occasions. Swami was glad to see her. He immediately made a comment about her being drunk. She sat down on the couch and there was small talk between them for several minutes. She doesn’t remember specifically what happened for a short period of time. She described to me what occurred then, “The next thing I remember I’m sitting on the edge of the couch and he’s putting his dick inside of me and I didn’t want that. And then he put his fingers inside of me and I said I didn’t want that. I told him that this is not what I wanted and that he needs to stop immediately.” She then left and cut off all contact with Swami (real name Narcis Tarcau).
Jessica said Swami should have known better. He was both her spiritual teacher and employer. In addition to the fact that she was drunk, “He knew that I wasn’t into him for sure,” she said. “He knew that I was in a closed relationship and not open to other guys. I had clearly told him in the past I’m not attracted to you sexually and I just want a teacher/student relationship.” She said she didn’t want to go to the police because she had been in Thailand illegally.
Jessica’s account, which occurred in June of this year is the latest in a string of accusations that have followed Agama Yoga founder Swami Vivekananda Saraswati for years. He founded the center in 2003 and since then it has become one of the largest schools of tantra yoga in the world with thousands of students having passed through. A Yoga Alliance registered school, Agama offers 200hr and 500hr yoga teacher training certifications, tantra instructor training, yoga therapist certification and more. Several women, many of which are former senior staff, have recently come forward with their stories of sexual abuse by Swami and other senior Agama teachers.
A Pattern of Abuse
When Agama student Kelly Anne (not her real name) met with Swami for her first spiritual consultation she says he sexually assaulted her. She told me that she sought advice from him on anxiety and other issues. His advice was three men a day she said. When she tried to leave he threw himself on her, “Then I got up to go away and he started kissing full on tongue. It was very aggressive. And then he started groping my bum. I was literally dizzy.” This was her very first consultation with Swami.
Kelly Anne did eventually end up being sexual with Swami at one point. However, on one occasion she messaged him before she arrived for a meeting and said, “I don’t want to have sex. I don’t know what I want to talk about.” She made it clear what her intentions were, expecting he would listen. Yet, when she arrived Swami immediately threw himself on her:
“When he opened the front door he instantly stuck his tongue in my mouth and started kissing me. I closed my mouth and started moving my head away. He then proceeded to feel my ass and tried to get his hands inside my shorts to finger me. I pushed his arm away, in a downward movement, with my fist clenched. To this day I don’t know why I didn’t slap him and walk out of the house.
Instead we sat on the sofa and he continued to try and get in my shorts. I remember moving positions several times, to try to get his hands away from that area. In the end, he succeeded and I was lying on the sofa, he had his fingers inside of me. It wasn’t like he was trying to pleasure me, he just had his fingers inside me and continued to chat to me about general things.”
Kelly Anne describes another incident, “I had come over for a yoni massage. Instantly after I got there he was trying to fuck me. Then he went down on me and started to stick it in.” A yoni massage is a sacred healing massage that involves therapeutically touching a woman’s genitals. She said she felt sexually violated.
Stephanie Houser (not her real name) went to Thailand to work through issues related to having been raped twice several years before. She believed Agama would be a “safe and welcoming environment” to work through her pain and trauma. Like so many of the other women, Swami told her she “had a lot of sexual energy but that it is blocked” and that she would need “a few normal men to satisfy it.” She says he essentially told her “I could come to him and make love with him and he could help move those blockages for me.” It rattled her:
“I felt sick. I wanted to say how inappropriate that was, how I felt he was taking advantage of me and using this opportunity to manipulate my “weaknesses” and traumas into something that would bring him pleasure. I didn’t feel he actually cared about helping me figure out what was best for me, but instead thinking he knew what was best, which was to have me allow him to ‘fix me’ with his ‘lingam.’”
When she tried to leave he began telling her how beautiful, powerful and sexy she was and he kept pressuring her:
“And then he hugged me goodbye, and wouldn’t let go. He started caressing my back, kissing my head, despite the multiple times earlier that I told him I was not interested in being his lover or being ‘healed’ or ‘unblocked’ by him. I had already clearly said no. He didn’t listen, or if he did, he didn’t care what I wanted or didn’t want.
He then backed me against the door, with his hand against it so that I could not leave (I froze even more, as Swami is a very large man, and I was now feeling afraid he would force himself on me).
He leaned in (me still frozen and in total disbelief of the violation and power being so inappropriately used) and kissed me, sticking his tongue in my mouth.
I felt disgusted and completely violated. He penetrated me when I said no, not with his ‘lingam,’ but with his force and tongue. He then started to try and lift my skirt and touch my inner thigh, and that’s when I snapped out of it.
I told him no, I was not interested, ducked under his arms, and said I’d like to leave now.”
She said the encounter left her feeling “gross, violated, unclean, and like a disposable item.” It “tainted” her “trust in Tantra teachers,” and she questioned what Tantra even was after that. She wondered how “a true teacher of Tantra could use sexuality in such a manipulative way.”
Another student recounts an almost identical experience to Kelly Anne’s. She also had communicated to Swami her intentions for coming over and that she really needed his advice about emotions she was experiencing. She describes what happened:
“The door opens just a small amount and he pushed me against the door and his fingers were inside of me. It took me minutes to push his body away. His hand was still in me. I was afraid that if I fully rejected him that he would fully overpower me and push me, hurt me, or slap me. That’s been my experience with other men.”
“The first time I ever went with him, was also during a meeting that was meant to be to talk about the issues I was having at the school at the time. He was not interested at all in talking about anything with me. Instead he did a music meditation with me to feel all my chakras. After that he sat me on the sofa and stuck his finger inside me and because I was aroused he took me into his bedroom to have sex.”
“We met at his office and I explained to him that my decision about not seeing him for sexual appointments anymore was final and that I do not want to be having sex with him anymore. He looked at me and said that I should stop pretending, that I know I wanted it, then he grabbed me by my waist and he sat me in his lap. He started kissing me and he pulled my knickers to the side and entered me. No man has got the right to violate any woman’s spoken boundaries to such an extent.”
One former senior staff member and teacher who had slept with Swami previously claims that he anally raped her. She says that she never even wanted to sleep with him to begin with but after years of him breaking her down she finally conceded. She describes what happened:
“I was in bed with him, and he just turned me over and shoved it in. It hurt like hell and didn’t ask if I wanted it but he kept going. It was only after I’d left the school and looked back at that incident that I actually realized it was rape. It was absolutely not consensual. It was violent and painful.”
Another staff member, who had also slept with Swami previously, shares an almost identical story of being anally raped by Swami:
“He grabbed me and threw me on the bed. He didn’t say anything. There was no talking. He pulled my pants down and he shoved his dick up my ass. He was shoving it violently. No lubrication. He kept shoving it and shoving it. I said “this is hurting me, this is hurting me.”
One woman says she “got all her courage up” one day to visit Swami in seek of support. “I told him everything; that I had issues approaching a man, that I felt sexually vulnerable & confused and that I need advice on how to heal and live healthy sexuality & relationship,” she said. She was “shocked how ‘blunt’ and not sensitive he was talking” to her. And like other women he told her she had a “big sacral chakra” and that she should be with a lot of men. When she tried to leave she says “he pulled me toward him and kissed me very abruptly” which left her “very shocked.” He told her he could help her heal if she went back. In hindsight she is really embarrassed that she did go back. “All I wanted was to live a healthy sexuality, and I thought he could help me heal.” She said that she expected to work together with him and that he’d “explain things to me or him to be very sensitive, but he only slept with me. I had to say that ‘I am his’ all the time and I felt so empty.” Other women also report that Swami would ask “are you mine?” and make them answer yes when they were orgasming. She says he then told her to get in touch with her desires and to “send him naughty text messages” which she did. “It all felt so wrong, but I thought I was only dealing with my blockages and the resistance was to be broken and behind it was happiness and freedom” she said.
A woman who went to see Swami for advice because her father was about to pass away says his first question was inquiring about how many lovers she had. He began teasing her for being too “picky” with men she said. Swami told her to have lots of lovers and claimed to have read the impurities in her chakras. It all appeared strange to her as it was completely unrelated to why she went to see him. On the way out she says “he grabbed my bum, reminding me about sex.” She felt “disturbed and unsatisfied” after the meeting and soon left the school.
A former student says she “did not get any support” from Swami and her “concerns and my questions were always ignored.” She said he was someone who “did not care nor show any respect towards” her. She describes how every time she went to him for guidance he only wanted sex. He wasn’t willing to address her “sexual questions or concerns” and she found it “very damaging” she says. Her attempts to discuss her feelings with him fell flat as she claims he just “dismissed” and “talked over” her.
Another former student told me she found the overall environment at Agama exploitive and that the Swami “often asked me to have sex with him.” He told her “it would benefit me to experience his Tantra master energy and that I had this power that needed to be matched by someone experienced like him.”
After telling Swami about a crush she had on a teacher he advised Jessica Rose to “go for it” despite knowing that teacher was in a monogamous relationship. “You can have anything you want” he told her. His direction was to masturbate while thinking about the person she had a crush on and audio record it. He told her to scream his name while she was orgasming. Swami wanted the audio recording himself so he could “analyze it” she told me. She was hesitant about doing it and told him it sounded like dark sex magic. But he convinced her and she went along. After sending Swami the recording she immediately felt like she shouldn’t have done it.
One woman who tested positive for chlamydia after having sex with Swami says that he told her she “psychologically created” the STI. He tested positive as well but told her she needed to ask permission to tell anyone else. Women were not warned by him she said, despite that fact that he did not use condoms during sex. I’m told that numerous women got Chlamydia at Agama.
According to the staff and students who have come forward it was common for Swami to often grab women’s buttocks, touch them without consent and tell them they were beautiful, and send flirty text messages. After having only met Swami twice, a new staff member expressed how weird it was when her boss and director of the center sent her text messages such as “5 cervical orgasms in a row will blow your Virgo reservations to the moon,” and “I will love to see you have some massive surprises that will shatter your rational character.” He would often tell staff and students, “I’m open to it,” referring to sex. Women report that despite clearly stating that this type of behavior crossed their boundary and made them uncomfortable he would continue it. Sometimes Swami would try for years to sleep with a student or staff member. One woman says he regularly put her down and “constantly chipped away at my confidence and undermined me” in order to have sex with her.
Senior Agama Teachers
There are complaints of sexual assault and rape about other Agama teachers as well. Swami’s most senior students are Somananda (Moses Maimom) and Muktananda Mistry (Khushru Mistry). Serkan Temel is an advanced teacher who opened Agama Linz in Austria. They’ve all been accused of sexual misconduct.
One woman who went to a yoni massage with an Agama teacher says he pulled out his penis and told her she could touch it while telling her they could take things further. A former staff member describes one of her experiences with Agama staff, “I had one senior teacher come over to my house and penetrate me without my consent when I was in an altered state and really vulnerable. I came to my senses and threw him off me half way through.”
Somananda is one of Swami Vivekananda Saraswati’s most senior Agama teachers. He’s been studying with him since 1999. He claims to have reached self-realization. Several former Agama employees and students explained to me that Somananda was pushed off the island by Swami after being accused of rape as a way to hush the situation. Sophie Bekkering, the woman who experienced the alleged rape, describes what happened. It occurred during a yoni massage, she says:
“I had my eyes closed the whole time trying to go inward and focus on my sensations in an attempt to drop in. However all of a sudden I felt something inside my yoni that felt very different then a finger. As I open my eyes and I see Somananda (completely undressed all of a sudden) who was now penetrating me. I was completely in shock and felt absolutely frozen. He did not use a condom and did not say a word, or gave me any warning or any other signs that would make me see this coming in any way.”
When Bekkering reported the incident to Swami he said “that he didn’t believe it happened this way” she said. “He implied that I was ‘asking for it’ and said that I needed to have lots of sex because I had a lot of confusion in my Svadhisthana.”
Somananda currently runs one of the largest tantra massage schools in the world which is publicly affiliated with Agama.
Serkan Temel is a senior teacher who runs the Agama Yoga School in Linz Austria. An Agama teacher and former co-worker describes an incident in Linz where Serkan forced her into having sex:
“I told him a couple times I did not want him to be sexual. I had told him for weeks that I did not want to be sexual with him…I would tell him cuddling is ok, but I do not want to have sex. He said okay and stopped. Then a few moments later he would start again, trying to get his hand in my pants, pulling his pants down. After asking him to stop and pulling his hand away several times, I push his whole body away physically. I told him ‘Serkan, I really do not want to, can you please just stop it.’ I tried with logic. He replied with the argument that we are a tantric school. I got angry to the extent that I got louder and tried to push him away more strong. But at that point he had already wrapped his arms strongly around me. He didn’t respond to my clear and repeating no’s.”
She felt helpless and out of options with a larger man on top of her, overpowering her. She contemplated physically hurting him to get away but quickly thought of both the immediate and longer term consequences of that at the school. Despite her repeated attempts to both physically push him away and say no numerous times she finally relented.
“I turned around to my side (so I wouldn’t have to face him) and let him have sex with me. I was frozen and didn’t make a sound. I didn’t move and didn’t make any moans. I didn’t even dare to breath. I just wanted it to be over. I tried to disconnect as much as possible from my body. When he was finished I felt disgusted. I laid frozen there. He fell asleep. As soon as I could move again and I knew he was asleep I got out of bed and left. I quietly gathered my stuff, packed it downstairs and ran home 20 minutes at 1am. I took 3 showers. I felt sick. I cried. I didn’t quite understand what happened. I didn’t understand for months.
When I saw him the next day, he hugged me and whispered in my ear ‘that was so hot last night when you really didn’t want to have sex and I just took you despite it.’ I was shocked, I was speechless. I felt deeply disgusted by him and myself.”
She also described an incident while working in Linz where she was approached by Serkan and Ram Avnur, another advanced teacher, in a “very predatory like way.” She says she was “completely overwhelmed by the situation” and that she “got really scared.” She told them “no, I’m working right now”and but they continued to pursue her. She describes what happened:
“I couldn’t get out of the situation (at least I was convinced so), so it was either Serkan or Ram. I felt more comfortable with Ram, less endangered. It sounds weird but Serkan kept touching me, so I literally just buried my face in Ram to get away from Serkan. Serkan started rubbing himself against me, playing with himself and masturbating against me so I tried to get away from him by getting closer to Ram.”
Serkan then took a selfie while she was performing oral sex on Ram in the background:
“Serkan said ‘this is such a cool Agama teachers meeting. We should take a picture and send it to Mukta.’ I thought he was joking. When I looked he was taking a selfie with me and Ram in the background. I was really shocked. I didn’t realize what was going on. And then, without anything he sent it to Mukta. I was so shocked. I immediately stopped. I realized what the fuck, what am I doing here, I don’t like any of these actions, this is so against any of my boundaries, I feel so uncomfortable, I don’t feel safe at all. I feel really endangered right now.”
A former Agama staff member recalls when Ram Avnur made sexually offensive comments to her. She said that during a group conversation, “he started being vulgar in a sexual way, and he announced to me, and in front of the other people, that he would like to get a glass bottle and shove it up my yoni.” On another occasion Ram told Swami in front of her that “she is a dirty little slut.” She says “Swami just nodded at him” and they left.
Muktananda Mistry is one of the most senior Agama teachers. He has been studying with Swami for over 16 years. He has been a principle defender of Swami when allegations surface, claiming that he has witnessed cruel rumors being spread about him over the years. He has told Agama students they should look within first and take care of their own issues before accusing Swami.
One student says she felt Muktananda took advantage of her in a vulnerable moment after she collapsed in yoga class. She says he suggested she come talk about it with him at his house and he then began being sexual with her. She said she only wanted to talk about what had happened in class but ended up having sex with him. She felt like he took advantage of her altered state.
When Jessica Rose, the woman allegedly assaulted by Swami while she was inebriated, spoke with Muktananda about her concerns of having been violated by Swami he twisted and manipulated her account she says. He told her, “The demons always come and test you. The demons take over. They were puppeting you to test you with Swami. He could have sent you home or act in that moment.” She told me Muktananda “was suggesting that Swami put his penis in me to get the demons out.” He also told her “The more you tell other people, the more you will attract bad things.” Muktananda told her “I’m your friend.” He said “all these people are just blind and only seeing the surface level, they’re not seeing the causal level of what happened with Swami.”
An insider also told me, “it is known by a select few in the community that Muktananda has been accused of rape and was detained in prison in India.”
One Agama staff member says that Muktananda sent her several unsolicited “dick pics” over the years of being there. And other women spoke about additional predatory type behavior against them by Muktananda and Ram as well.
On one occasion Muktananda referred to the Agama yoga teachers as “our bitches” while laughing and claiming he and Agama can get them to “do whatever they want them to do because they are so desperate to get some teaching experience.” A former staff member told me this was in regards to her wondering how they’d fill the extra teaching slots needed after a scandal erupted and many staff members had left. She said this lack of gratitude and willingness to manipulate Agama teachers was “sickening” to her.
Muktananda has also stated “I disagree with the #MeToo movement” claiming that women were “playing too much the victim.”
Swami’s Guru: Gregorian Bivolaru
Swami’s spiritual teacher is the infamous Romanian yoga guru Gregorian Bivolaru, founder of MISA (Movement for Spiritual Integration in Absolute). It is perhaps the largest tantric yoga school in the world. In 2003, he was sentenced to six years in prison for having sex with an underage girl. He has been accused of “coercing or seducing hundreds of vulnerable women into producing hard-core porn videos,” some of which were allegedly underage. An article in the DailyMail claims that he “promised tantric illumination in exchange for sex with virgin girls as young as 15” and reveals that former members claim he was carrying out an Indian myth that said if you have sex with 1,000 virgins you will achieve enlightenment. Former members claim his yoga students would send him photos of girls that he would have sex with that had their birthdate on the back of the picture. Agnes Arabela Marques, who had sex with Bivolaru when she was 15, and was in a relationship with him at the time said, “In his apartment, there were constantly girls that were there to have sex with him” and that they’d rotate out every week. An article in the Huffington post includes statements from former members who say teenage girls are recruited into the group and “are slowly drawn into a series of deepening and more compromising personal commitments, frequently backed up by written contracts that the members are led to believe have the force of law.”
A Culture of Abuse and Denial at Agama
Members of the community testify to a culture at Agama of rampant sexual misconduct, abuse and boundary violations. When incidents are reported to senior staff women have been victim blamed. Or at best, small, incremental changes are made which have little to no real impact on the abuses occurring a source says. Swami and other senior teachers and staff will dismiss complaints as being “ego based” or “drama.” People who speak out have been referred to as impure or not advanced. Others have been told bad karma will come to them. There is no official, company process to receive, document and deal with complaints from what I understand.
One former staff member testifies to the exploitative environment she found herself in at Agama. She says she had her “tits and ass grabbed without consent hundreds of times, included being pinned down and assaulted regularly in public, often by senior teachers.” She says “there’s continual incidents of sexual assault and rape by senior teachers” at Agama.
Some women were told they need to be better “tantric women” when they expressed their boundaries or refused sexual advances.
When Jessica Rose reported the incident of being sexually violated by Swami to the general manager, she victim blamed her, “There was no part of her that thought it was wrong” she told me. She said “it was you who broke your tapas [of drinking]. You offered yourself to him. It is very easy to put the blame on others.” Jessica told me that the general manager was “saying this was my fault.”
Ananda Maha (Dr. Mihaiela Pentiuc), the director of the yoga therapy teacher training program and a trained doctor, has “turned a blind eye to every abuse, often even sending women to him saying ‘he’s the best at what he does’” an insider said. Maha has a 20+ year relationship with Swami which began as sexual and is now platonic.
Justine Baruch, another senior teacher, runs the Agama Tantra Initiationtraining program and has taught there for 15 years. The same inside source as above says she “has also turned a blind eye, even blaming the women for having issues. Many women have gone to her only to receive no empathy and the hardline — its your projections onto swami — you have to deal with it. I was told yesterday she also has a pile of testimonials of which nothing was ever done with.”
Other women who report to senior teachers about Swami’s behavior have been told that he “was doing this for the benefit of a woman to use their full potential” a former staff member said.
Swami has threatened students who speak up to him or others in the community about the abuse they are experiencing. One former member says she’s heard him say he can get people’s legs broken if he wanted. He tells them they are under the influence of “demonic influences,” and speaking out equates to “terrible spiritual crimes” that will incur “infernal consequences for many lives to come.” He also has accused women of creating a relationship with him that is based on “egocentric neurosis.” All of these actions will be “dearly paid karmically” he has told them. Anyone who continues will be subject to “further demonic influence.”
There are many negative reviews about Agama on TripAdvisor which warn potential students about Swami and the exploitative culture that surrounds him. You can read a few of them here: Sexual Manipulation of the Shakti’s, Beware of Fake Gurus and The Dark Underbelly of Agama. One former staff member told me that when she asked other Agama staff about the reviews they made excuses by downplaying them or dismissing them as coming from crazy or loose canon women. Yet the negative reviews all echo the claims made by those I’ve spoken with.
It’s also important to note that many have studied and trained at Agama over the years have deeply benefited from the trainings, yoga classes and community created by the school on Ko Pha-ngan.
Deeply Entrenched Patriarchy
From the numerous accounts I’ve received about the school, it is steeped in a deeply patriarchal view of women and sexuality. One former staff member, Ryan (not his real name), who worked and taught there for six years, told me that Swami has stated “Women are fundamentally inferior on the spiritual path” and that “men are fundamentally superior — which is why there are so many more saints, enlightened beings etc who are men throughout history.” He also said Swami claims men achieve awakening through samadhi (meditative consciousness) whereas women achieve it through sex. At Agama they teach men to not use condoms because it “disrupts the flow of energy” he said. Ryan also told me that women could get almost unlimited time with Swami and men could get almost none. Men are encouraged to use “pickup artist” tricks from The Game and other things such as “negging.” When Ryan asked Swami about the Agama rule against teachers sleeping with level I students he replied “you’re a man, she’s a woman, nothing else matters.” Ryan said the “rule” is almost universally ignored. He said he knew Swami was sleeping with at least four women in the teacher training that he coordinated.
There also have been men at Agama who have spoken out against abuse over the years. They have defended victims, raised awareness and fought for what’s right. While there are deeper systemic problems, many individuals, both men and women have tried to do the right thing. The problem is that no real change has been implemented.
A Counselor Speaks Out
Susan Kirk (not her real name) is a counselor who has had many former Agama students referred to her. Over the years she heard numerous accounts of trauma, sexual assault and abuse:
“I have been approached by women in or formerly in the community who are suffering or who have suffered assault, harassment, violation, trauma & retraumatization. I have done sessions working through violations ranging from rape, non-consensual touch, coercement, psychological manipulation and boundary violations. Victims are usually too afraid to report incidents for fear of retribution from the school or community. They worry that the Thai Police are part of the circle and won’t take their report seriously or that their safety will be threatened. Silencing or ‘shushing things up’ I’ve seen happen a few times — the most serious one when Somananda had non-consensual sex with a woman while doing yoni massage. He quickly left the island. Another one was a woman who went into psychosis after having group sex with several male student/teachers. She had to be put into hospital, she was in such bad condition.
It appears the school diminishes, minimizes and silences victim experiences. I’ve had women say to me that they are told it’s their fault that and they have brought the assault or violation onto themselves in some way. It is clear people are being awarded teaching certificates and qualifications that put them in places of power which are then abused by some.”
In reference to the Thai police and government connection to Agama, one former senior staff member said that Swami told her and another staff member in a meeting that he was paying off the authorities. When someone told Swami they couldn’t just put up promotional stands all over the island he said they “shouldn’t worry about that too much as enough money is being paid and that it will cover it and added that actually he could buy himself underage Thai girls for sex and do whatever he wants with them if he wanted and he would be covered.”
A former staff member who worked closely with Swami for years says that he has been banned from India, where he operated from for many years, because there were allegations of rape.
Reform or Revolution?
In 2015 many senior Agama staff members quit. It was one of several exodus’ that have apparently occurred every few years when the staff realized the type of place they are working at. A long email thread ensued where members of the community debated about a path forward amidst the numerous allegations against Swami and issues facing the community. A few incremental changes were made that had no real lasting power I’m told. After the last exodus in 2015 it was business as usual until 2017 when another group left.
Staff have tried to act and they’ve been stopped. A former staff member ended up leaving the school after her attempts to create change fell flat. When Swami denied engaging in inappropriate behavior anymore she asked him, “So you say you are not actively approaching women anymore and not touching them without consent, so how come you did both of that with me? How was I different?” She said “Swami didn’t answer my question, he just looked down and remained silent in his seat.” This occurred after a large travel booking platform contacted her to say they would no longer refer people to Agama because they’d received numerous complaints of sexual assault.
Susan Kirk, the counsellor quoted in this article, reflects on attempts to create change at the school:
“I’ve heard there have been many attempts at internal change which come and fail. It is not taken seriously and never gets up, never succeeds. People see the good things they get out of the school so they get attached and turn a blind eye to the shadow. There are many long term enablers there. Most of the long term senior teachers are enablers. Even those who think they want change are actually attached to the school so couldn’t bear it’s downfall.”
Sex scandals are nothing new to the yoga and tantra communities. Matthew Remski chronicles some of the latest yoga scandals in his latest article which exposed sexual abuse by Ashtanga Yoga founder Pattabhi Jois. Fueled by beliefs about unconditional devotion to the guru, claims of divine authority and deeply entrenched patterns of institutional denial, abusive gurus are able to get away with misconduct for years. Many of the women genuinely believed that what Swami was doing was Tantra and it left them confused and doubting what they’d otherwise know was harmful behavior. Mix in wounded spiritual seekers looking for love and healing and it’s a recipe for disaster.
The actions of Swami, Somananda, Serkan, Ram and Muktananda have had real, lasting impacts on the lives of those who have come to Agama for healing and transformation. Students and staff that I’ve spoken with suffer from PTSD, trauma, anxiety, low self esteem, flashbacks and other conditions. One former staff member says that many women’s lives have been ruined. She said “I was left emotionally wrecked, my confidence destroyed and my physical health was ruined for a long time.” People report showing up bright eyed and excited and then lose their friends, family and life, leaving the island a complete mess.
The people I spoke with for this article believe that Swami must step down and even suggested the school shut down. One former senior staff member told me “he needs to be in prison.” The most likely successors, Somananda and Muktananda would be very poor choices to take over they believe given their sordid history. Other potential successors, Ananda Maha and Justine Baruch, have played a central role in maintaining the status quo in the face of widespread abuse. There doesn’t seem to be anyone who could run Agama who is not tainted by the years of abuse that has gone on. Perhaps Agama’s days are coming to a close.
My request for an interview with Swami Vivekananda Saraswati had not been granted at the time of this publication.
In this #MeToo era Medium’s decision harms victims of cult abuse and puts women at risk of being sexually assaulted. Write to [email protected] to voice your opinion. Medium.com is founded by Twitter co-founder Evan Williams.
After the publication of an in-depth expose about Alex Vartman’s international sex cult called “The New Tantra,” the online blogging platform Medium.com has banned me and removed all of my articles from the web. The story sent shockwaves as it documented years of sexual abuse, manipulation and highly disturbing cultic activity. Some former members stated in the article that there was a strong demonic presence in the group.
As the most prominent journalist in the world exposing cults, gurus and sexual abuse in the tantric world the loss of my articles on Medium is a huge blow to the women who stand to suffer from their continued abuse. It has allowed numerous alleged rapists, sexual abusers and cult leaders to escape public scrutiny.
My articles were averaging about 30,000 views a month from searches alone. That’s tens of thousands of people being made aware of dangerous cults and gurus. And when a new story was published that number could rise to 100,000+ a month. My article on Bentinho Massaro “Tech Bro Guru” got 200,000 views in a few weeks and became a model in modern cult exposing. In the last year alone my articles had almost 1 million views. Coverage of my stories have appeared in front page articles on The Guardian, The Daily Mail, The New Zealand Herald, the CBC and CNN. In total over 70 articles worldwide have been written in 35 countries based on my stories. Barcroft Media produced a short documentary and Jezebel and VICE are currently working on short documentaries based on my articles.
On December 10th I received an email saying that my Alex Vartman expose was removed because “Medium’s Rules don’t allow posts that name specific individuals in this manner.” I was confused because every article I’ve published on Medium.com is about an individual. They’ve reviewed and approved many of them in the past because almost every article I write gets a flood of complaints from the followers of the person I’m writing about and the accused. I simply wanted to know why Medium banned my Alex Vartman article and not the others and there was no answer. They’ve approved articles of mine that are about sexually abusive gurus, rapists and cult leaders. On one occasion they even sent a lengthy email to the lawyer of one “individual” I wrote about who had threatened to sue Medium.com and myself. It read in part:
“The claims include defamation, copyright infringement, and unauthorized processing of personal data. As an initial matter, there is no valid claim for defamation against Medium. Medium is an open publishing platform that allows users to post what they want, just as someone can post their own work on Twitter or Facebook. Medium had no part in the creation of the post. As a platform, we do not mediate content between users. In instances such as this one, Section 5 of the 2013 UK Defamation Act shields online intermediaries, like Medium, from defamation claims arising from third-party content. Similarly, under U.S. law, Medium is protected by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Where, as here, the author of the post is easily identifiable, any claim for defamation must be brought against that individual.
Your client’s view that Medium has somehow engaged in unauthorized processing of his personal data is similarly mistaken. Under Section 2, para. 13 of the UK Data Protection Act (2018), processing by online intermediaries is protected where it is undertaken for the purposes of journalism regarding matters of public interest. Further, Art. 17, Section 3 of the GDPR allows for processing of data where it is necessary to the exercise of freedom of expression and information.”
So, not only did Medium not remove my post for being about an “individual” but they took the time to have their legal team respond in my defense.
When I first published my expose on Bentinho Massaro I got an email from Medium saying that they had read my post and determined it was in violation of of their policies because it included audio recordings I had captured undercover without the other parties permission. No problem. I removed the recordings and the article was allowed to stay. They were fully aware of this post about an “individual.”
Most recently I wrote an article about tantra teacher TJ Bartel who had been accused of raping women during healing sessions. TJ’s assistant told me they contacted Medium to protest. I also emailed Medium to ask them to not remove the post. They were fully aware of my article that contained graphic allegations of rape and sexual abuse against an “individual.” The article was allowed to remain. This was just a few months ago.
Understandably, I had a simple question for Medium: “Why have all of my previous articles been allowed to stay but not my article about Alex Vartman’s “The New Tantra?” Radio silence. I never got an answer.
Next thing I know my entire account is shut down.
One of the reasons they cited for shutting my account down now was copyright violations of images. Hmm. That seems to be a convenient excuse. Yes, I did have a few DMCA copyright complaints about some images. But on October 25th Tobias from Medium asked “do you own the copyright to the image that is now the post?” I had edited it out to exclude the copyrighted image of the woman who filed the complaint but I still didn’t “own” the copyright to the whole image. I told him. I said, “I don’t own the copyright to the image.” He didn’t care. He didn’t ask me to change it. He allowed the post to stay. And he certainly didn’t cancel my account. I even told him I was confused as to how The Guardian and The Daily mail can use images from Facebook without owning the copyright. No response.
Medium also referred to the inclusion of private communications in my stories as a reason for banning me. Again, to my knowledge, that happened one time with the Bentinho Massaro story and I removed it when they said it was against their policy. If it happened another time I would have also immediately removed it upon being warned so as to prevent the article from coming down.
They also said there have been “Multiple instances of unverified and uncorroborated claims against individuals in your posts.” Hmm. That’s a very vague. Technically that is true, but that is true of every rape account that is reported on. This is what the abusers I write about say, it’s just all unverified lies. I’m not sure how I can prove it. I’ve only written about people who have many accusers–not just one. Often the stories include 8 or more women who have come forward. That is how I avoid the “he said/she said” dynamic of one individual fabricating something. I follow Medium’s best practices of journalism.
So, again, Medium had full knowledge of many of my articles about “individuals”–including ones about rape, sexual abuse and cults. These all had numerous “unsubstantiated” and “unverified” claims of rape, sexual assault and abuse. They allowed them to stay online. They defended an article of mine about an “individual” against a lawsuit threat. I told Medium that I did not own the copyright to an image in a post when they asked. They didn’t care. They’ve reviewed and approved my Bentinho Massaro article which had over a dozen images that were obviously not my content.
Then, one day after I published a story about Alex Vartman’s “The New Tantra” sex cult my entire account is shut down. All of a sudden the copyright image violation that Tobias didn’t care about is the reason. All of a sudden Medium doesn’t allow stories about “individuals.” All of a sudden the reports in my journalistic stories that they had read previously were a problem because they were “unsubstantiated.” Medium can shut you down for whatever reason they want. And they can use any excuse they want to do so.
Earlier in the day before Medium shut down my account I launched this platform, The Guru. My articles will have a permanent home here. Yet, in the sake of the public interest Medium should restore my account under the agreement I no longer post there. Tens of thousands of people are being denied crucial information about these dangerous predators.
My question still remains to Medium and it’s founder Evan Williams: “Why had all of my previous articles been allowed to stay but not my article about Alex Vartman’s “The New Tantra?”
Several women have come forward with stories of abuse by Neo-Tantra teacher Shantam Nityama who calls himself “The Divine Madman.” Women report being sexually violated by him during sessions and trainings. They describe a “sex cult” environment where Nityama’s inner circle of women recruit other women to have sex with him and pressure women during trainings to sleep with him. He teaches that AIDS and sexual diseases are an illusion so he doesn’t use a condom. Nityama has no lineage or teacher other than having spent time in Osho’s ashram. He lives in Australia in a home with ten women who service him sexually and work for free. He says several “crazy” women have lawsuits against him and he’d be arrested if he returned to U.S. says a former member.
NOTE: Shantam Nityama did not respond to my request for an interview.
[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.]
When Ashley Morgan (not her real name) went to Shantam Nityama for a healing session she believed it’d consist primarily of energy work based on what she had read on his website. She wanted to learn about tantra and had put a lot of trust in him given his status as a teacher.
Ashley said the session started immediately when he entered the room. He didn’t explain what would happen, discuss boundaries, ask her about her background or ask consent to touch her sexually. Rather, he walked in and began with a 30-minute “orgasmic hug.” They then moved to the bed where he used a variety of energy techniques along her spine and body. After about 3 hours he told her it was time to undress.
Once she got naked and laid on the table he consulted with his OBI’s (a Voodoo divination device) and then turned to her and said “Apparently I don’t need to penetrate you.” She was struck with confusion. “I was like ‘what?’” She had no idea what OBIs were. She didn’t know why he said he didn’t need to penetrate her. He asked her if she was married or had a boyfriend. She said he made it seem like he was trying to figure out why the OBIs said no penetration. During the session she says he sexually violated her.
“He did something with his tongue in my mouth. He put his tongue under my tongue. He then began kissing me on my mouth, neck, arms and was sucking on my nipples. As he was sucking on my arm he said ‘pretend it is your clitoris.’ He never asked or warned me. Nothing was explained before the session.
And then he put his fingers inside of my vagina without saying anything. I could feel he was trying to make me ejaculate and I did within five minutes of him pulsing my g-spot. When he entered my vagina, my system went to a “freeze state.” It was a bit like being in a shock. The moment I went on the table naked, I felt his energy was much more taking from me. I could feel like it’s not for me, it’s really for him. Again, none of this was explained nor did he ask consent to do any of it.”
Ashley was offered a free second session — something she is glad she did not agree to in hindsight. She learned later that this is when Nityama would often have sex with women. She said the first session served as a testing ground to groom her, steal her energy and plant his. She said it seemed how he determined if he thought a woman would eventually have sex with him.
Ashley’s account is one from several people who have come forward with stories of abuse by Nityama. They are speaking out now to warn other women of the potential dangers of working with him.
“He told us that during the tantric initiation the teacher plants his seed of transformation in you.” — former student
Video of Shantam Nityama
Kelly Jones (not her real name) told me she knew nothing about tantra and wanted to experience deep healing when she booked a session with Nityama on the advice of her friends. He didn’t explain anything to her about the session before hand she said.
“The first session consisted of energy work while I was laying on the table naked. I felt energy moving and tingling sensations and when I started to cry he said ‘don’t worry baby, I got you.’ I thought this was strange. He then put his tongue in my ear and said ‘are you afraid?’ to which I said ‘no.’
After this session I felt very sexually aroused and I would randomly have orgasms throughout the day. I would go to the supermarket and get wet for no reason days after the session. It was unexplainable. He would just pop in my mind.”
She says Nityama told her that she needed a second session and it’d be free — something she appreciated because she didn’t have the large amount needed (sessions can cost as much as $1,000).
“One day before the session he called me and told me ‘tomorrow I’m making love to you.’ He said that this was the path of initiation in Tantra. I paused and said ‘oh, ok.’
I was really nervous during the second session. He went down on me for a few minutes and then we had sex. It lasted for 7 hours. He stayed inside of me the entire 7 hours. The sex was not enjoyable in anyway. I felt a lot of energy moving but pleasure was not one of them.”
In explaining how he kept his penis inside of her for 7 hours straight she said she did not need to eat, drink, go to the bathroom or sleep. It “was strange” she said.
She became one of his lovers after this session. “Our relationship moved super fast. I felt so special and very loved. He said I had potential, I’m beautiful and was so powerful.”
Kevin Ness (not his real name) said that in a workshop he witnessed Nityama make a woman ejaculate during a hug. “He was starting to get her really aroused and she started ejaculating and then he moved aside and laughed at her for ejaculating in front of the group. She then burst in tears in shame. There was no support for her at all.”
“I could be on this side of the world and have a woman on Skype on the other side of the world and make her [ejaculate], make her shoot out across the room.” — Nityama
Sophia Brown (not her real name) hosted Nityama for a training in her home in 2017. She said a young 21-year old woman in the training had a healing session with him where he sexually penetrated her without her consent. She told Brown about it the next morning. “Hours into the session his dick came out and he penetrated her. She was so in a freeze. She allowed it to happen because she was so scared.”
Julia Reed went to Nityama for what she thought would be only an energetic healing and he ended up asking to kiss her and then berated her for not obliging.
“He talked to me and touched me, like a massage on my back, with clothes. But then he asked me if I was ready for my first kiss? No, I wasn’t. It was then that it started. He tried to frighten and manipulate me, telling me that I was weak, childish, that he could feel better what I needed and that if I didn’t have the courage to break through my boundaries, life would present me very difficult situations until I finally learned my lessons. He talked to me for hours and afterwards I realized that it was almost hypnotizing. It asked a lot from me to resist him. After all, he was famous and highly recommended by people I trusted (Sasha Cobra).”
Coercing Women into Sex
“He’s taking my energy. He’s wanting something from me. I felt that the most when he made me ejaculate.” — former client
When Kelly Jones was part of the group and assisting Nityama she said she’d help recruit women to have sex with him. She recalled a story during a training when he told the women they could have sex with him to clear the past energy of men they had slept with.
“Nityama told us that the energy of every man that women have sex with is stuck with them for life. He said ‘If it is a crazy man you become crazy, if it is a nasty man you become nasty.’ And he then says there are two ways to deal with this: you could not have sex for 7 years or you can have sex with an IFA priest. ‘Everything is gone after having sex with an IFA priest’ he said. Nityama claimed he was an IFA priest, but I know he was only a student. I noticed women became concerned about the past men they had slept with.”
Nityama would end up sleeping with nearly every woman that came to that training she said. Many did not want to and were pressured into it by other members. Jones ended up talking some into having sex with him.
“One of the participants in the retreat came with his girlfriend and daughter. Nityama ended up having sex with the man’s daughter and girlfriend. This man was very confused. Nityama spooned his daughter in front of him. Touched her private parts in front of everyone. He cuddled on the floor, he put his hand on her chest like lovers. Her father walked in and he grabbed his plate and quickly walked out. A few days later Nityama had sex with her. I talked her into having sex with him. She told him ‘I’m not sure I want to. The OBI said no.’ He told her to check again she said.”
Jones told me she wasn’t the only one who pressured women into sleeping with Nityama. She said there was a group chat message where women would send pics of women they’d groomed to have sex with Nityama saying “this girl is ready.” His long-term partner of 15 years, Roxanna Minnona, would also pressure women she said. If they refused she would flip on them. “If you ever question Nityama she turns her back on you so fast.” She said she called her crazy and that she shouldn’t say no. One woman did not want to be sexual with Nityama but his assistant told her that she “needed a man that could lick” her and that was “strong enough for” her. When she kept refusing Jones said Nityama got harsh. He said ‘You know what you need, but you keep finding a reason to say no.’
Jones described how Nityama would groom women to have sex with him during his trainings. “He talked to each of them privately” she said. “He would talk intimately with a woman with his arm around her. And then the next night he’d take her up to his room.” She said “Every night we could hear everything. Screaming, moaning. Sometimes two women at a time.” Another woman said “During workshop breaks he’ll have sex with the women participants.” Jones said they all felt special when he approached them individually. “He hugged them and was moving the energy.” Jones said “Women had no idea this was going to happen to have sex with him. They just wanted to learn tantra. Along the way we were told ‘initiation’ was a part of it.” This was in the context of Nityama teaching them “Women are so jealous, selfish and want to take” and that “One of the ways to give back is by sharing love.”
Jones noticed that the day after the women would have sex with him she saw they had a “distorted look, one of emptiness, confusion and would often be crying in the corner.”
A former student told me Nityama tells them that “young woman should have sex with him for their first time. He told us he had sex with a 12-year old.” On another occasion a former student says a young 15–18 year young girl was brought into the group to have sex with him.
“I did a workshop in the UK on Skype. One of the women came up in front of the big screen. I was interacting with her and at a certain point I saw what was going on with her so I said ‘you just need to be made love to.’ I energetically made love to her in front of the women in the group. It was powerful because every woman in the room went into orgasm with her.” — Nityama
Inside the Trainings
“He would teach us all women are insane by default and the only thing that can save them is to have sex with him.” — former student
Several former students said Nityama’s trainings and workshops did not include very much substance. One person told me “He would just say anything would come to his mind.” There was apparently no structure, no method and no formal teachings. She said it was “Just whatever the mother wants” and “he’d tell stories.” The training started whenever he showed up in the morning and often they wouldn’t know when if at all if they’d have lunch. “Then he may just get up and take one or two of the girls to his room” she said. And “then in the afternoon we’d have plant ceremony.” Kevin Ness said Nityama “had no idea what the workshop was about” and he was “sitting there just talking about himself. Saying how could they be so stupid for asking these questions.” Ness said the main purpose of the training seemed to be Nityama recruiting people into a community to live with him. One student said that he told them “There are only 12 people on earth who really know about sex. He was one of them. That’s why we need to be grateful to have sex with him. He’d say a blow job is a token of gratitude.” Another student said they witnessed shouting and humiliation.
When there was content in his teachings former members told me it was a mash up of various things. While he claimed his teachings were unique and special his students traced them back to the Four Agreements, the science of being, the enneagram, human design and the polarity process among others.
“Women Are Horrible”
Marielle Spronck attended a “Tantra” workshop with Shantam Nityama and was so shocked at what he was saying that she figured he was joking. But he was serious. Within the first few minutes of the training he was berating women she told me.
“He told us how horrible women were and what kinds of bad things they did. He said he was the only one in the world who knew how to live. He said he was channeling the Mother and that the only way to be safe was for us to do what he told us. He even told us we are all stupid because no one was questioning him. When I did speak up he used my astrology and enneagram info to attack me. He was trying to shut me up. Everyone that said something, he would say the most horrible things about them so people don’t dare to speak up anymore.”
Because of her previous experience with another cultish “Tantra” group she left the training that same night and posted on Facebook to warn others:
“I was shocked that a teacher that is praised by so many rules his group like a manipulative dictator. Teaching by spreading fear and freeze reactions in people, making them feel stupid and afraid to speak up, turning around information and questions so that it suits him and shows that the people in the room are stupid and ignorant and in desperate need to learn from him as they are all blind. Horrible it was.”
In the workshop where Nityama made the woman ejaculate Kevin Ness said he also witnessed him berating people when they spoke. He was dismissing and judging people when they asked questions he said.
Kelly Jones echoed their experiences. She told me Nityama would teach “All women are insane by default and the only thing that can save them is to have sex with him. Women are so selfish and self-centered, we just take and never give. I didn’t want to be one of these women.” She said that this manipulation led women into wanting to be in service to him.
“I’m full blooded Native American on the quiet side. I’m actually a Yama, Yamasaw…All of a sudden I got tongue tied on the name…Yamasee nation. I’m a chief and shaman in that nation. That’s just a whole other side to my being here and my personalities.” — Nityama (source)
“No such thing as an STD”
A former lover said that Nityama held a variety of strange, un-scientific beliefs. She said that he taught that there was no such thing as STD’s and “that if you have an infection it’s your fault because of something you do.” He doesn’t use condoms either. She said he doesn’t believe gravity exists, the earth is flat and that he “doesn’t believe in any kind of science about earth. If we want to know the truth we have to watch the Matrix he told us.” She also said that “Nityama said when a woman is raped she is actually enjoying it.”
“Nityama said when a woman is raped she is actually enjoying it.” — former student
Jones said that Nityama asks women to smuggle drugs for him. They’d disguise weed in a variety of containers such as face cream. His followers would travel the world with weed and hash for him and the group.
“There is a woman assigned the task of rolling the joints. Weed, hash and tobacco. Students are expected to take turns smoking. If someone said maybe not now, others would pressure them “it will help you understand him better, tune in better, different vibration.”
On one occasion she said Nityama and his inner circle asked Jones to smuggle drugs internationally knowing that because of a unique circumstance she would have been searched. It was at that point that she realized they didn’t care about her she said and began the process of leaving.
One former student said that “drug use is rampant” in the group. Some used ayahuasca, San Pedro and weed/hash. She said Nityama’s drug usage has gotten worse over the years to where he is high all the time now — including during trainings.
Kelly Jones claims that Nityama sexually assaulted her by lacing her drink and making her really high.
“He said ‘Now that you’re high I have to have sex with you.’ He just pulled out his penis and shoved it inside of me. I thought it was consensual but I’m now aware it was not consensual. I never gave him my consent to put anything in my drink. No foreplay, no anything.”
Turning Lesbians Straight
Nityama says that after hugging a lesbian woman who had multiple orgasms during the hug that he had sex with her and made her straight. After that many of the “top lesbians” in the city called him with the request to have sex. He explains.
“One day the woman calls me and says ‘ever since I’ve been seeing you and meeting you and getting hugs I have become extremely confused. I’m wondering did I quit men before I ever met a man?’ She tells me ‘I want to pay you to make love to me because I want to settle this for myself once and for all.’ We made love and she came out of it totally orgasmic. She looked at me in the eyes and said “I am no lesbian.” Two days later I get a call and it’s the wife with the same request. By the time it was over 13 of the top lesbians in the city called me with the same request.”
“Sectarian Apocalyptic Cult”
“Nityama says the earth needs to be saved and he’s one of the only persons on this earth that can do this work.” — former student
Several former members describe Nityama’s group as a sex cult. There are numerous cult like dynamics in play. One former member said he uses “hypnotic languaging” to seduce people. The combination of really slow, methodical and monotonous speaking with confusing jargon that people don’t understand leaves people in a trance like state she said. It allows him to plant his ideas and makes the grooming process easier she said.
Jones said people were brainwashed into thinking he was god.
“There would be consequences if you spoke against him. He was the only god man assigned to heal women by the Mother. As a woman it’s our duty to serve him. When we had sex he’d say ‘now show me what the mother put in you to give me.’”
Jones was terrified of leaving the group. During sex he had told her “There will be no options” and “there’s no turning back.” He said “we are in this forever” and that I wouldn’t be “able to go back to my own life.” He would plant these ideas during sex with group members because it was when they were very open and vulnerable she said. “I’d bear the consequences of it all if I left.”
A former member says Nityama has women working and servicing him sexually in a home in Australia. They are not paid she said as “It is seen as a privilege to be in the ‘Buddha field’ created by Nityama.” She said he uses a “zero frequency” device called ZEB. “It makes you feel sleepy. It is a frequency that makes you more receptible to manipulation.”
“There were about ten women in the house last year being at his service for sex and having to do work and jobs as well. Some are residential, others come during the day. When he was there he would choose a woman every night to sleep with him.”
Kelly Jones said she began to see inconsistencies between what he teaches and practices. When she questioned them he’d get upset. “There were many red flags” she said. “He would tell me a story about a girl who he lived with and called her an ungrateful bitch. He said no period sex or any interaction with the opposite gender during periods, but would engage with women during their periods. Has five kids which he doesn’t take responsibility for. He used weed and hash a lot.” She said “In private he said I was psychotic. Tearing me down and building me up.” He would also berate her in front of others she said.
When Jones changed her mind about having group sex she said he became irate.
“He told me ‘You are weak, you are timid, you are fucked up in your mind. Women like you are messed up.’ He went on about not letting fear overcome me. I was wasting his time. I was feeling really scared. I just sat on the edge of the bed for three hours. Everyone changed on me. His assistant and his boyfriend became really cold.”
Jones is one of many women who has now left Nityama’s group. It wasn’t until she finally studied Tantra with a woman teacher that she learned what she had originally approached Nityama for. The healing journey has been long for her but she has made huge improvements. With sharing her story and the stories of other women Nityama can be prevented from abusing more people in the future.
After an expose chronicled numerous accusations of sexual assault and rape against teacher TJ Bartel, Source Tantra has defended him.No one at the school has beenwilling to take the allegations seriously or to condemn TJ’s actions, diminishing the trust and integrity of the organization.
After the publication of a widely shared article that exposed numerous accounts of rape and sexual assault by long time Source Tantra teacher TJ Bartel, the school’s leadership has defended him. Whereas many readers were shocked and outraged at the accounts of abuse in the article — with some not even being able to finish reading it — the school stood by their longtime employee and friend. Many in the tantra community were hoping for accountability, action and support for those impacted. Instead, founder Charles Muir and Source Tantra leadership seemed to further aggravate the situation by attacking the victims, the article and by supporting TJ. And now some have called for the school to shut down as a result.
In a statement about the article, Charles Muir seemed to blame the women victims who came forth, “Perhaps some of their anger was due to being removed from our school for their own transgressions with students.” And he also made excuses for TJ’s alleged rape and sexual assault, “TJ has made mistakes in the past two years, after suffering several seizures. He has learned from his mistakes and changed his practices.” One commenter was quick to point out “rape is not a mistake.” Muir also said, “TJ has not been an employee at our school this year.” Several people confirm that TJ recently taught at the September / October teacher training but he perhaps wasn’t technically an “employee” of the school. And finally, Muir praised TJ’s abilities, countering the claims of abuse about him, “I have supervised over 1000 sessions of TJ Bartel at my trainings. There have been no complaints and many breakthroughs.” Muir offered no compassion, empathy or concern for the victims who came forth. Nor did he express any interest in taking action about the allegations in the article.
Charles’ wife, Christy Rose Muir, who is staff at Source Tantra, also challenged the article. She said, “This article is poison” and it is “filled with fabrications.” Christy said I was “being totally dishonest.” She also said we all had no idea “what you have been drawn into” by one of the victims, who Christy Rose Muir said “winds up shitting on everyone who trusts her.” She also accused several of the victims of lying in the article. And she said to one commenter who was trying to raise awareness “You don’t care. You want blood. Admit it. It’s ok.”
Rima Bonario, who is TJ’s “accountability partner” — a supposedly objective voice to analyze TJ’s behavior — also criticized the article. She said “Women who claim false rape hurt women who are really raped.” She called the article a “smear campaign filled with falsehoods and unsubstantiated allegations.” Bonario also teaches with TJ and is co-leading an all women’s “Awakening the Goddess Within” retreat to Egypt with him where TJ will also be offering yoni massages.
Vice President Leah Alchin Piper did not respond publicly, but as stated in the previous article, several students accuse her of covering up and minimizing TJs and others abuse for years.
Alchin and TJ have been very close over the years and were former lovers. They also have worked together offering dual VIP intensives says a former student.
There has yet to emerge a voice at Source School of Tantra Yoga to take the allegations seriously or to publicly state that they will take action to address these types of behavior. No leader or school official has condemned TJs behavior yet or officially distanced themselves from him.
The Community Responds
After seeing the lackluster response from founder Charles Muir and Christy Rose Muir the community voiced their concerns.
Rodolfo Oliveira had hoped the school would have shown empathy and concern for the victims:
“Everyone seemed to hope for some kind of accountability, ownership even some sort of remorse? The behavior of the school has shown itself intensely traumatizing in the least, consistent in blaming victims and certainly this is criminal behavior. It’s time for charges to be pressed. Rape is a violent act. The men and women of source school need to be stopped. The way this woman Christy Rose Muir behaved in the commenting is intensely manipulative. It’s time for justice.”
A former Source Tantra student, Kevin Raines (not his real name), called for the school to close:
“Yes, it’s time for Source school to be shut down. People need to stop attending their workshops & trainings. People need to stop supporting Muir if he’s going to condone sexual misconduct by himself & his main male teachers.”
He went on to say that if the school really had integrity it would “be coming from a place of compassion & wanting to make things right. Healing things would be the priority.”
Tantra educator Tanja Diamond agreed that Source should close and expressed dismay at them not standing up:
“It’s appalling that Source School is not addressing the fact one of their senior teachers, TJ Bartel, has been called out as a serial rapist. In fact their staff and associates have been engaged in harassing and intimidating the victims and this has to stop. It’s a crime to allow the school to continue, it needs to be shut down before more people are hurt.”
Caroline Carrington — a former Source Tantra student and current NeoTantra educator — also chimed in on her concerns with the school.
“Source School of Tantra Yoga staff have been complicit in protecting the abusers. Victims and anyone asking too many questions have been manipulated, gaslit, threatened and told they were troublemakers. Many people have been talking privately for years to Source Tantra to ask for accountability. When our requests were repeatedly ignored, it felt imperative to speak out so the public can be informed to prevent others from being harmed.”
One commenter wrote, “It is depressing that people are so prone to protect abusers, not their victims.”
Another expressed their disgust over the situation:
“I am horrified and sickened after reading what has happened to these women who trusted these teachers, healers and school. How men in positions of power, think that they can violate women/men like this, as though their behavior is normal, acceptable and of benefit to the women/men that they are abusing surpasses my comprehension.”
These are just a handful of the widespread critical responses that have emerged since the sex abuse scandal broke.
Source Tantra Loses Credibility
In today’s heightened climate, if an organization or business does not take allegations of rape and sexual assault seriously they will lose their integrity and credibility and risk their existence. This is even more true and important for a school that is centered on sexual healing. Having clear, enforceable polices for misconduct is how a healthy foundation is established. Without this, a school like Source Tantra risks their future.
The questions Source Tantra will have to answer now are: Why would anyone feel safe at the school if they continue to work with people accused of sexual assault and rape? Why would students trust the leadership when they do not take sexual misconduct seriously? If a student is abused, how can the public be assured their complaints would be heard given the schools history of gaslighting and abusing victims and their supporters?
Multiple women have accused Source School of Tantra Yoga teacher TJ Bartel of sexual misconduct. The allegations include rape, sexual assault, violation of boundaries, forceable kissing and manipulation. Women also report that he allows clients to perform oral sex on him and have sexual intercourse during yoni massage sessions. Source Tantra founder Charles Muir and Vice President Leah Alchin Piper are accused of enabling and covering up the abuse. Charles Muir teaches that you cannot get STI’s and do not need to wear gloves in sessions if your vibration is high enough. Also, many Source teachers have sex with their students and clients, although they publicly teach this is not ok.
[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.]
UPDATE: Charles Muir has read the article. He said TJ has made mistakes and learned from them and that there have been no complaints about the sessions he has overseen. Muir expressed no concern or empathy for the victims and said they may be angry for being removed from the school due to their own “transgressions.”
In light of multiple sexual abuse allegations against senior teacher TJ Bartel, the Source School of Tantra Yoga (SSTY) has publicly stated they terminated their relationship with him. In April, 2018 founder Charles Muir stated online that he was fully aware of the situation and that TJ had been removed. Muir’s executive assistant — providing me a statement via an email thread that included Muir — said “TJ is not teaching at our seminars this year. He has not worked at the School since January 2018 in Thailand.” Source’s claim is contradicted however, by several people who saw Bartel teaching at the recent level III teacher training in September / October. They said he was there, on stage, giving sessions and promoting his new book, course and clothing line. Several people confirm an email was sent to students that said TJ would be the tantric healer or “Daka” during the training. When I asked Muir and his assistant about the discrepancy I did not receive a response.
According to TJ’s bio, his relationship with Source Tantra extends back to 2004. He is Charles Muir’s most long-term senior student and close friend a former student says. Some refer to TJ as a “Daka to the stars” given his celebrity / Hollywood clientele. Bartel taught at many of their trainings over the years, serving to bolster the school’s reputation as the pioneer in the modern Tantra education movement. Founded by Muir in 1978, Source Tantra has played a central role in popularizing ecstatic and sexual awareness practices and healing techniques. Some in the tantric community refer to Muir as the “grandfather of the modern tantra movement.”
Victims and their supporters allege that Muir and vice-president Leah Alchin Piper (Muir’s student turned lover, now separated) have downplayed and minimized the allegations over the last several months. They claim that Source Tantra is complicit with enabling Bartel’s abuse. A former student says that TJ is central to their trainings and revenue stream. Muir even told one person that her efforts to raise awareness would bring her bad karma as he “invoked the law of sevenfold effect.” He also told her that her “friends” should take lie detector tests because the victims were lying.
When Source Tantra student Palki Mawar told Charles Muir and Leah Alchin Piper of her sexual assault by TJ she says they acknowledged it was wrong but failed to act at the time. She says he told her that TJ “is still learning” and was shocked when Muir made TJ the lead teacher at a Boston workshop despite the acknowledged assault. Mawar claims Alchin put the onus on her and suggested she needed to forgive TJ. When she said she wasn’t feeling forgiveness Alchin told her “we’ll have to see if level II tantra teacher training is right for you then.” TJ was still scheduled to teach in that training. Later, during a meeting in which TJ was present with Mawar, she says that all Muir did was merely remind TJ that he was not using intake forms during sessions. There was no reprimand or action taken.
If you have a story of abuse by TJ Bartel, Charles Muir or Source Tantra please contact me at [email protected]
Critics point out that Muir and Source Tantra have evaded and avoided taking real action against perpetrators. In response to an incident of sexual assault by a different Source Tantra teacher, Muir publicly sided with the man and posted in his defense on Facebook. After calling out a Source Tantra Daka for abuse, Heather Rhea Dawn says she was punished by Charles by being removed from the Source Tantra Facebook group and a Meetup group. When Caroline Carrington tried to raise awareness about an abusive Source teacher, vice-president Leah Alchin Piper told her to “stay in your own lane” she says. She said Alchin told her that her efforts were “creating more discord” and removed her from the approved list of Certified Tantra Educators listed on the Source Tantra website, even though this is offered to all graduates of the teacher training program.
Accusations of Abuse
“The practitioners should be in service to the needs of the student or client and get their own needs meet elsewhere.” — Caroline Carrington
The eight women who share their stories of sexual abuse by TJ below echo a similar pattern of misconduct which took place during yoni massages. His sessions cost up to $900 per session. The victims claim the sessions were oriented around TJ’s pleasure, not their healing. TJ rarely if ever used an intake form or asked about the women’s needs or desires for the session they say. The sexual misconduct accusations include rape, sexual assault, violation of boundaries, manipulation, forceable kissing and sexual engagement during sessions. Several women claim that TJ positioned his genitals in their face for most of the session. Some women report that TJ was naked during the session — a violation of Source Tantra’s policy as they require men to keep underwear on. Two say that TJ told them he allows women to give him oral sex or to stroke him during sessions and others say TJ has sexual intercourse. And just like his mentor Charles Muir, TJ believed he was immune to STIs.
Palki Mawar went to TJ for a yoni massage in 2017 at his home in Topanga Canyon. She told me he raped her during the session.
“I looked up and noticed him standing on his knees with his penis hard against my yoni without underwear. He poured very warm coconut oil on his chest that dripped over my yoni and he said that ‘these are advanced techniques.’ He slid his penis in me with a condom on. I had no idea this was going to happen nor did I consent to it. It lasted about five minutes and he came inside of me.”
Palki described the trauma it left her with.
“It messed me up completely. All of my childhood trauma was magnified by it. It was a realization of being raped on the level of my soul. Somehow it was more painful than the pain of childhood sexual abuse. Simply because this man posed as a yoni worshipper, and a healer and protector of women.”
Later, Mawar emailed TJ looking for answers as to why he penetrated her during the session. She said he emailed her and said that he felt there was something more between them in the moment. She recalled what he wrote:
“I felt like it meant more. I felt a sense of familiarity and you had a deep poise. It felt like a blessing for both of us. You looked like a Dakini from a poster of mine. You seem like a woman who doesn’t hesitate to grab what she wants.”
She told me all of these feelings were “in his own imagination.”
Kara McNealy (not her real name) had a yoni massage session with TJ where he was completely naked and used his penis on her body she claims. She also claims TJ penetrated her without consent.
“He told me that he found me attractive, that I was “his type” and proceeded to work without underwear on, using his lingam [penis] on my body and genitals. During this session he said ‘I can’t help myself.’
She said he told her that he only chose to not wear underwear during a session for “people he felt drawn to” like he did with her. In a later session she says TJ sexually violated her.
“In one exchange, I was receiving from TJ, and he penetrated me without consent, without a condom. I was shocked and surprised.”
And when she tried to confront TJ about what happened he was not available. “The insult to injury for me was that I attempted several times to handle it as an adult with TJ afterwards, I called, I texted, letting him know that I needed to speak with him about the integrity breach. He said, ‘I know’ but never made himself available for this even with my several attempts.”
Erin Grace (not her real name) had a yoni massage with TJ in which she claims he exposed himself to her naked and “rammed himself” into her from behind, without physically penetrating her.
“I was still on the bed and moving in ecstasy with waves of orgasms when he returned in his short robe and he laid the opposite way to me with no shorts on and exposing his balls and cock to me and began stroking my legs so I stroked his legs and said I want to keep feeling this orgasmic. I thought to myself he is letting me touch him and is this allowed? He went back into the bathroom and I followed. He then bent me over and from behind rammed himself into me. Even though he didn’t physically put his cock inside me I could energetically feel him inside of me. My energy rose and he pushed my face into the mirror over the sink as he rode me into a higher state. All I wanted was to feel more and more and I also didn’t understand if this was part of the session as it felt very different. He lead me into the bedroom and I said I don’t feel grounded, I feel like I am flying and my whole body is shaking and vibrating and I feel electric and uncontrollable. He tries to hold my feet to ground me and said our session is over. I feel confused and high as I start to dress. I said how much do I owe you he said his price and I could barely get the money out as he headed me to the door and said goodbye.
I wasn’t in my body fully and I felt fear and confusion rise as to what had just happened. I felt shame and cried as I tried to find my own hotel room as to how I would explain this to my fiancé. Our session was over 4 hours and was only supposed to be 2. I wondered was this my fault for flirting for touching him for feeling so much pleasure and for wanting more of it.”
In July 2015 Irina Lapshina received a yoni massage from TJ in which she claims he penetrated her with his penis while it was still in his boxers.
“During a yoni massage he put his penis in me pretty far even though it was still in his boxers. He would just enter me and leave it there and pulse it. He did this without my consent. He kept it there for a few minutes at a time for about three different times during the session. I was really confused. He told me he was doing it for my healing. I’m kind of ashamed to admit it now but I saw him as a glorified teacher and that’s why I didn’t say anything. During the session his penis was often in front of my face and he encouraged me to touch it and play with it. He also kissed me all over and said I could kiss him back anywhere I wanted. I got a sense it really was up to me how far I wanted to take it, and I didn’t want to take it far. I wanted to heal, not to have sex with my Daka.
I literally cried for two days non-stop after the session. I realized that I was forking over money to this guy and he was not providing any valuable service to me at all.”
She said he told her that he couldn’t get sexually transmitted diseases:
“He also told me he’s immune to STD’s despite having slept with ‘thousands of women in his life.’ He’s quite proud of his ability to ward off diseases with a strong aura and good intentions. He doesn’t believe he can get an STD, or any physical illness for that matter. Later I found out he had been treated for STD’s, and not too long ago was hospitalized for exhaustion.”
During a session she said that he never did an intake and for twenty minutes before the session he talked about himself and his business plans and showed her around the house. “He was not interested with anything about me, nothing that pertained about the session. I wanted to scream ‘I am the paying client! Why am I here to listen to your business plans?’” she told me.
Tantra educator Heather Rhea Dawn went to TJ for a yoni massage in 2015. Like many other women she reports that TJ pressed his erect penis against her vulva, kept his groin close to her face and was open to sexual interaction after sessions.
“He was grinding on me with his underwear on. He was grinding his lingam against my vulva. He kept putting his groin really close to my face. I wasn’t sure if he had wanted a blow job. His groin was always close to my face except when he was grinding on me. When we cuddled at the end he put his hand right close to his lingam, I think one or two of my fingers were touching his lingam. I was feeling like he wanted me to touch him. I finally was like ‘I’m not doing this.’ Then he just fell asleep curled up next to me for the next two hours.”
“I felt the session was all about him in the way that he was determined to make my body do what he wanted it to do, as he was focused on grinding, me having amrita (squirting) — as he is known for that — and me stroking him afterward. I left feeling drained from the session and shocked.”
When TJ woke up she asked him about his unorthodox techniques. He told her “oh you’re a Dakini I figured you could handle it.” When she asked him about why he made her hand touch his penis he said “Some women want to give me a blow job afterward or stroke me as a way of giving back to me.” She looked at him and said “you let them give you a blow job?” He said “yeah.”
Kelly Bentham (not her real name) says that TJ performed oral sex on her without her consent during a yoni massage and gave her genital herpes.
“He didn’t ask my permission and I never asked for him to do it. He licked my pussy. He had a sore on his lip and gave me HSV1 (Herpes). I would find out years later that multiple students accused him of sexually inappropriate behavior.”
Genital herpes is something she has to live with everyday of her life and it impacts her relationships greatly she told me.
In 2017 Heather Gold (not her real name) experienced significant trauma after what she describes as a sexual assault by TJ. She went to him for a yoni massage and was told it would be hands only, but he tried to make out with her several times, pressed his erect penis against her vagina and laid his whole body on top of her she says. She also thought it was strange that he showed up to the session in only his boxers.
“As the session went on, he began using his body as well as his hands, laying on top of me. Several times he tried to kiss me on the mouth. I felt vulnerable and completely froze. I was embarrassed to stop the session as it had been set up as an experience where you’re supposed to ‘let go.’ If I stopped I felt like I would be failing. Also each transgression happened incremental, I kept letting it slide. In my head I kept justifying each progressive action and thought my body language, by turning my head away, expressed I did not want to engage in a reciprocal sexual way. At one point he tried to force my mouth open with coconut oil. Then he pressed his erect penis up against my vagina. Sadly I let the session continue, being somewhere else in my head. Though it wasn’t particularly enjoyable and actually hurt, I was brought to orgasm. I wish I had stopped because I feel like this set the trauma deeper.”
Afterwards she slipped into a depression for around 6 months and began experiencing “many strange feelings” which she later learned were “trauma reactions.” The experience left her with long term trauma that she hasn’t been able to get rid of. It’s still negatively effecting her relationships she says.
“It severely fucked me up…I’m still having abnormal sexual reactions, or non reactions, and it’s nearly a year later. I feel like I have had a healthy sex life stolen from me. Because of the nature of experiencing this trauma in association with having an orgasm I have lost interest in sex. It lodged a reflexive fight or flight response in me because it happened during an orgasm.”
Caroline Carrington describes an incident with TJ in the shower after a yoni massage that left her seriously confused.
“He said I could have a shower in his bathroom. I went into the shower and then he said, ‘Would you like me to get in the shower and wash your hair?’ He ended up washing my hair and washing my body all over. I walked out of that session so confused. For a week, I was like ‘are we dating? Is he into me?’ It all happened directly after 3 hours of g-spot activation. He doesn’t even have an understanding of a container. I spent a week confused and spoke to some of the Source Tantra staff about it.”
She told him the next week, “This really messed with my head. You didn’t technically violate my boundaries but it made me feel really weird and I wanted to let you know.”
Four years later she ran into TJ at a festival and she says that he told her a bold face lie about showering with clients. “He said to me, ‘oh, by the way, after my session with you, Judith Davis, [another Source Tantra Staff member], told me I was completely out of line and I changed my policy and never do that with people anymore.” Carrington told me that “many people I’ve spoken to on the phone who’s had sessions with him since my experience said he’s gotten into the shower with them.”
Source Tantra’s Controversial Practices
“Charles Muir teaches that you cannot get STI’s and do not need to wear gloves in sessions if your vibration is high enough.” — Tanja Diamond
The discrepancy between the public claims and private actions of Source Tantra aren’t limited to their relationship with TJ Bartel. Publicly, Source presents itself as a school that stresses boundaries and consent. “The official party line is no kissing, no oral, no sex” during client sessions Tanja Diamond told me. What happens behind closed doors is a different story.
Source Tantra students and tantric educators told me that many of the teachers in the school have sex with their students and clients during sessions. Publicly, Source would not officially teach this or condone it they said but it is expected and rampant. Those who do not are “looked down upon” says former Source Tantra student Irina Lapshina. “They’re no fun. They don’t get it. You definitely won’t belong” she says. One former student got the nickname “baby Jesus” because she was too prude and “different than the rest.”
Lapshina and educator Caroline Carrington told me that Source Tantra Vice-President Leah Alchin Piper has told them both that she has sex with clients during sessions. One client became her husband after she had sex with him during a several day long VIP tantric healing session. Carrington told me it was strange to see selfies of Leah and her then student (now husband) on social media clearly looking like lovers during the time of the VIP Tantra immersion. Years before, Alchin dated Muir after being his student.
Carrington also told me that she knows of a senior Source Tantra lead Dakini who has had sex with a client. “We taught workshops together for a while so I know she had sex with a brand new Tantra student in a private session because she told me right after it happened.” Caroline stopped teaching with her a few years ago as she no longer wanted to be connected to the Source Tantra staff and their abuse and lack of integrity.
Heather Rhea Dawn said “Most of the teachers at Source Tantra end up dating or having sex with their students coming to them for private sessions, a complete abuse of the power dynamic between teacher and student.” Carrington told me senior Source teachers “Charles, Leah, Lisa and Judith” would “all end up having sex with students either in session or those who have recently graduated.” Some Source Tantra teachers like Mare Simone have openly admitted that sexual intercourse between teachers and students or clients during healing sessions is beneficial. There are even some Source Tantra teachers who refer to their clients as lovers while they have sex with them.
Tantra teacher Tanja Diamond has been collecting testimonies of abuse within the tantra community for years. She told me she has listened to men describe being raped by Source Tantra female teachers during what was supposed to be a lingam massage. The women would straddle the men and start having sex without their consent she said.
“If you are a healer, your mouth, vagina and penis stay out of the picture.” — Heather Rhea Dawn
While Charles Muir “officially” teaches that there is “no kissing, no oral, no sex” during sessions he doesn’t follow this says Irina Lapshina. She described a lingam massage session that she and another woman were required to give Muir for their training. Muir forcibly made out with them, was highly sexual with his touch and touched their bodies including their vaginas Lapshina claims. She describes Muir as a very engaged, active “taker” and says the session, which she believed would be a typical lingam massage, became an “orgy.”
“We thought we were gonna be givers, but it turned out he was an active participant, and a VERY active taker. He basically directed the session.”
“What ensued wasn’t like anything we were prepared for. Charles forcibly kissed us both many times, long and deep. He basically shoved his tongue down our throats, over and over. We both obliged, although were taken aback, because in classroom he has always taught that kissing is not a part of a tantric session. The session escalated quickly and basically became a two-hour, threesome orgy, with us as stunned participants. Charles was the supposed receiver, yet his hands were all over us, and in us, and we basically soaked his bed ejaculating. There was deep kissing, and much grinding. Now, mind you, this was a session. With students. During training. As a part of homework.
When we left his house, soaking wet and bewildered, we looked at one another and asked ‘would we ever be able to share this with our fellow students, as, we’re sure, everyone would be asking? No, absolutely not, we cannot share this. This goes against everything that’s taught in class about how a session should be conducted.’ After that incident I cut ties with Source School.”
When Caroline Carrington received a yoni massage from Muir she says he violated her repeated requests to not touch her throat. She told him she was held at knifepoint and had serious trauma and somatic memory there. Not even her child or lovers are allowed to touch her throat she told him. She said that Charles’ response was “Oh, I’m absolutely going to touch your throat.” She said this to him three or four times but he said “no, we’re gonna do this.” In the end she relented. “In an hour Charles jumped on the four biggest traumas of my life. I was screaming throughout most of the session.” She said she lost her voice on and off for a whole year after the session. She contacted Charles and Leah and couldn’t get support. “I’m losing my voice every single week, what should I do?” And there was no support there she said.
Tanja Diamond participated in an early Source Tantra training and describes several incidents of behavior that shocked her as a student. When a couple started having sex in the middle of the training circle at the end of a segment Charles did nothing. When Tanja witnessed multiple transgressions during triads such as men going down on women unwanted during what was supposed to be a yoni massage Muir dismissed the concerns. Others were having sex in training sessions, sometimes without consent of the receiver. When she brought it up she said “Charles would just bypass my question and tell me to chill out. I wasn’t understanding how the Goddess works.” Others have witnessed Charles making out with and passionately groping another teacher while students were practicing techniques in class.
Allegations of sexual misconduct have also trailed Muir over the years. He has acknowledged that he is aware of them. Muir posted publicly that he is “actively seeking more information” about allegations against other Source teachers and those “who have made claims against me. I welcome hearing from them, for I have never raped anyone.”
The Future of Tantra
“Women go to daka’s for healing, not to have more trauma put in them.” — Heather Rhea Dawn
Tantric and spiritual movements are going through a moment of collective transformation. Abusive and predatorial gurus are being exposed at unprecedented levels. Just two months ago, Agama yoga — one of the largest tantra training centers in the world — was exposed for widespread sexual abuse by it’s founder Swami Vivekananda Saraswati and several of its main teachers. It shut down as a result. The #metoo movement has arrived on the meditation cushion, yoga mat and in the tantra world.
The “hook-up” centric, sex-focused, patriarchal, heteronormative and even sleezy movement that Charles Muir built by merging the swinger lifestyle with tantra is being challenged by a new, younger generation of tantric practitioners. They are diverse, consent focused, differently bodied, queer/trans, gender non-conforming, tech-savvy and trauma-sensitive. No longer can men get away with abusing women without recourse. No longer can broken leaders cloak greed and sexual assault in spiritual lingo without being exposed. No longer will violence against women’s bodies go unchecked. No longer can organizations protect predatorial men without risking their existence.
Charles Muir is now in his early 70s. His generational mindset produced and enabled TJ Bartel. Source Tantra failed to take decisive action against his abuse. Muir endangered the safety of women by protecting Bartel. Muir’s own failure to honor women’s boundaries and consent has inflicted trauma and harm. Publicly teaching “no kissing, no oral, no sex” during sessions while privately encouraging and doing this, threatens the transparency and honesty that is so desperately needed in tantric and spiritual leadership. None of these abuses have been a secret either — they’ve been enabled by an inner circle that fears retribution and loss of social status in the tantra world.
The good news is that the old paradigm is burning down. An inclusive, queer, caring, consensual and transparent future is on the horizon.
Former Shaft and OZ actor and Wu Tang Clan graffiti artist Gano Grills is an emerging cult leader who claims to be god. He says he’s here on a mission to usher 144,000 people off the planet. He claims to do exorcisms and revive the dead. He says he’s part of a Galactic Council of 22 gods that contains four insectoids. Women who have abortions suffer catastrophic karmic debt, he believes. Kendrick Lamar is a “propagator of Lucifer” and drinking dark rum or Hennessy attracts bad spirits. He sells training programs for as much as $12,000. He also says Michael Jackson told him in a meditation that he wanted the world to know he was murdered.
Written by Be Scofield, M.Div / Represented by United Talent Agency / Author contact: [email protected]
“My job is to focus on getting the 144,000 off of the planet to be where they rightfully belong.”
“Many are called, few are chosen.” That’s the tagline of Galighticus, a group run by former Hollywood actor and Wu Tang Clan graffiti artist turned cult leader SRI Master Gano Grills. He’s not just a master though, he also claims that he is Lord Thoth and Ganesh. He was sent to Earth on a divine mission to lead 144,000 souls to ascension he claims. Grills describes his role: “These GODS have not only revealed my own GODFORM, but they have also pledged their support of the #Galighticus movement here on Earth.”
His group has a specially chosen mission Grills claims, “Our movement is the ONLY covenant given to Earth that has the power of 22 main Gods of LIGHT and an extended board of 100 exalted beings who drive the frequency of evolutions of the higher worlds. We have the keys for all that is necessary for evolution and emancipation of humanity.”
Grills claims he was given a “covenant” by Sri Lakshmi:
“Archangel Michael chimed in and said ‘Gano, your mother has given you a covenant to awaken 144,000 souls. You were destined to do that. Anyone who is seeing certain numbers, they are your initiates and students. They are seeing those numbers because they have petitioned in a heavenly court before their birth to awaken in this lifetime.’”
He tells his followers that “angels from the celestial Kingdom of Heaven are responsible for broadcasting and radiating these numbers directly into your reality.” He tells the public: “If you have been seeing 333, 1111, 444, 555, 222 YOU are being invited into, THE GALIGHTICUS STUDENTSHIP PROGRAMME of Ascension.”
Grills says he met the three gods that created the “engine of his soul,” Shango, Sri Lakshmi & Baldr. He learned from them that his mission was buried inside of him: “I actually hid this stealthy mission deep within my being to unfold ever so ephemerally at a predestined time.”
Grills’ bio describes him as a “WORLD CLASS Spiritual Advisor and Master Teacher. The title SRI Master can ONLY be bestowed by the Gods themselves.”
In this clip, Grills explains his divine status, “I am an Avatar for a God named Lord Ganesh. I’m a human embodiment of a God…Avatars have the ability to be in multiple places at the same time…I am enlightened fully.”
“Grills is definitely a success story from the world of graffiti, one of the elder pillars of Hip Hop culture.” — Source Magazine
“Have Wu Tang tagged up on your tombstone by Gano.” That’s a line from the Hip Hop song “Holocaust” by Wung Tang Clan leader RZA. Gano Grills grew up with RZA in Staten Island in the 1980s. Grills, considered a local legend in the street art scene, has had his graffiti featured in Wu Tang Clan’s music video “Can It All Be So Simple” and in “Cold World” by GZA. Grills was also involved in the founding of Wu Wear in the mid 1990s. One article says he’s “ been a part of Wu-Tang’s legacy since day one, has also done creative work such as logos for Method Man, Ghostface Killah, Cappadonna, Wu Wear, and a host of other Wu-Tang Clan’s videos.” And Grills designed the artwork for the 2017 Wu Tang album “The Saga Continues.”
As a long time actor, Gano Grills has had minor roles in over a dozen films and TV shows such as Shaft, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Bomb the System, OZ, Sopranos, Hannibal and Law & Order.
“I am an awakener of the mentally dead. The testimonies from around the worlds, that is correct, WORLDS, prove this.”
Grills, based in Staten Island, began organizing meetings in homes in Brooklyn in 2013. It was at that time that he claims to have first experienced Lord Thoth and Quan Yin.
Since then, he’s used Youtubeand Instagram to build a following over the last five years, attracting thousands of followers online and around the world. His videos have over one million views. He even has an App (which costs $45) and a private Facebook group where members regularly attest to his powers and seek advice. Every “THORS-Day” as he calls it, Grills does a live stream Q&A on Youtube.
Grills echoes Bentinho Massaro and Teal Swan in the way he’s utilizing digital technology in the service of his cult ambitions.
“We are now family. We will always have each others back, we will be our greatest selves, WE will light up the darkness. WE ARE Galighticus.”
It’s hard to discern what Grills actually teaches. He has only a few blog posts on his site and has written very little. One post is about avoiding the “spirit of lack” and another tells people they have super powers. His videos are primarily a mix of his insights on death, demons, illusions, the Gods, dreams and numbers. One video references a deceased MMA fighter, “Did Kimbo Slice die because he didn’t have spiritual protection?” Another is titled, “Bringing the Dead students back to LIFE in the MYSTERY SCHOOLS as LORD THOTH.” Many videos are testimonials from his members about having their Kundalini activated by him. Gano doesn’t list any specific teachers he’s trained with or methods he’s trained in. Rather, he claims he simply recognized his own God form that was buried within.
In his videos, Grills often tells his followers about certain gods that are in contact with them. In response to a woman telling Grills that she’s been seeing visions of rams, including a half ram, half fish, he tells her “she has a strange connection with” the god Opan. He then tells her “There’s also another god that kinda likes you, the god Zeus.” He then asks her when was the last time she’s been in contact with Zeus. She says a few weeks.
Some of his more in depth offerings are available online. His HyperNTR-EL Teachings Volume #1 sells for $100. It features these selling points: “Divine timing, Cosmic beacon, The Big Guns, Hell Notes and Gano Appears as a Giant” among others.
Grills also leads workshops and trainings worldwide. He claims his upcoming Sequence of Power series in London is divinely appointed:
“The Gods have used Sequence of Power to create the galactic coordinates of the cosmos. Now for the first time, the Sequence of Power series will be offered to four audiences only. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to become a holder of divine power.”
Devotees often speak of him in divine regard. “That’s OUR Beautiful Master!” says one excited follower. Another says Grills has been given gifts from the Gods. He told him it was a “complete honor and privilege” to be in his presence and to absorb his light and love. One devotee says it is “amazing” listening to “this Master speak” and that it fills his soul with “so much information” to help him fulfill his “purpose here in the human form.”
The Galactic Council
Grills claims to be part of a Galactic council which include four “Insectoids.” In this clip he explains the council, “Galighticus is a cosmic agency of 22 beings. Some of them are exalted beings, some of them are Gods, some of them are Archangels.”
He continues, “On our Galactic council there are about 4 different Insectoids that would probably freak you out if you were to see them. They speak many different languages. They’re very powerful and they have intelligence that would rival Nikola Tesla and Enrico Fermi put together.”
“The Demi Gods that fashioned your current form also unplugged your 12 strands of DNA leaving you 97% dormant, hence the scientific term Junk DNA. As a result, Humanity as a whole is 13,000 years behind schedule. This is a grave condition to be in.”
On Abortion, Suicide, ET’s & Hip Hop
“When one is ready to blast off, they must train thoroughly before entering into the space shuttle.”
Grills claims that those who commit suicide are punished by their divine parents for “seven consecutive lifetimes.”
He says that women who get abortions suffer “catastrophic” consequences in the form of a “karmic strike” that will vex them for their entire lives and beyond (see video).
Speaking as Lord Thoth, he claims occult writer Aleister Crowley, who died in 1947, distorted his teachings. Grills/Thoth says Crowley “studied a lot of what I had to offer. He’s being punished for that and a lot of the putrification and pugnacious way in which he distorted my teachings. It’s something he will have to deal with for a very long time.”
When it comes to music, he says Kendrick Lamar is a “propagator of Lucifer,” and Lil Wayne is “lower frequency.” Instead, he prefers Jamiroquai and Earth, Wind & Fire. His Youtube videos often begin with Soul and Funk music.
Grills claims that extraterrestrials are “waiting for consciousness to expand” on earth. They are sending us books, teachings and modalities he claims, hoping that the collective humanity will reach 3% out of 100% of this new understanding. At that point “they can touch down on a football field and announce who they are. ‘We’re the Arcturians, the Andromedans, from the Vega Star system. We have a lot to offer you.’” He also shares videos of UFO’s to his Facebook group referring to them as our “space brothers.”
He also says Michael Jackson told him during a meditation that he wanted the world know that he was murdered. It’s of interest to note Grills was at Michael Jackson’s 2009 Birthday party in Brooklyn.
Grills doesn’t approve of certain alcoholic beverages, “When people drink Hennessy and dark rum they are actually inviting spirits to come that are bellicose and that are going to want to act out their desires in your body.”
He also warns of the dangers of certain tattoo’s as well. “You’re putting a contract on your body…The energy of the tattoo has a vibration all it’s own” he says. He recommends avoiding things like skulls because they become a portal for “entities to come through.”
Grills was raised a Southern Baptist but has since abandoned this “fiction” just like he gave up Santa Clause at the age of 12 he says. Jesus was not a God Grills claims and the Bible was designed to keep people “disempowered.” In response to the question “What do we do with our dead who are buried under the cross?” Grills responds, “Remove the cross for it is a contract that mandates a soul to return back into an unconscious life.”
He also tells followers that there are “dark forces” opposing their group and urges them to remain vigilant.
The Exorcist & Healer
“I was put through a battery of tests from the GODS who wished to work with us. There were 22 of them that ganged up on me in a Celestial initiation and tested my desire to help humanity grow and expand.”
Grills claims to have the power to exorcise demons and bring people back to life. In videos he can be seen holding a crystal wand over people as they shake and cry.
He says that his mother died and he used hypernatural magic to bring her back to life:
“My mother died in front of me. She bled out and I had to bring her back to life. I didn’t force her soul back into the body but there was an energy that I had to utilize. When she reanimated her face was morphing in front of me.”
On another occasion he performed a “minor exorcism” on a woman where he removed demons from her. While her boyfriend was holding her, Grills told the demons “You are not allowed to be in this body any longer and you must now leave!” They started laughing and yelled STOP! STOP! he claims. The demons wanted to hold on but they started to leave. She broke free of her boyfriend and said she wanted to assault Grills. She then went and vomited for 20-minutes while she cursed him out.
One of Sri Master Gano’s followers claims that he said a prayer over her injured ankle and healed her. Another claims “Instant healing of many issues like my nerves, back pains and over 20 years of a shy bladder.”
One member claims that Grills would start her car from 3,000 miles away when it was broken. She also claims he put his hand on a pine tree and sap began flowing, of which he used to bless her with. She then had a powerful kundalini activation experience in her third eye.
Devotees testify in group meetings to their visions after receiving Grills’ “attunements.” Some claim to have had visions of “very skinny” 30ft tall beings that are an “olive color green.” One person claims they saw the Sun morph into a headless and legless entity with a head in it’s hand. Another says “big reddish black orbs came out and were in the trees and on the ground looking at me.” Others say they’ve seen beings with huge butterfly wings, dragons or other Gods and Goddesses such as Lord Thoth, Buddha and Lord Ganesha. Several report Kali devouring them. You can hear more powerful visions his followers have had here and here.
“Many miracles have also been a result of Ganos’ interaction with the DivineWorlds.”
God at Your Service
“I am the human embodiment of Ganesh.”
Grills offers a variety of spiritual services on his site. The Karma Emancipation package costs $700-$2,500 and promises to “drastically quantify the effects of negative karma” in 1 to 3 sessions. His “Initiate” program costs $7,000. Only 144 people will be “chosen,” however. He claims it will lead the participant into “the deeper mysteries of Creation itself.” Also, only 144 people will be chosen for the Baldr Kronos program which runs $12,000 and promises to “distribute major cosmic power” to the “common terrestus” being.
SRI Master Grills really wants you to buy his Kundalini Reiki initiation, citing the collapse of Mother Earth if he doesn’t offer it to more people soon. He states, “I AM looking to initiate as many people as possible so that our dear Mother Terra, does not have to go into a cataclysmic state to rid the darkness from her surface and we won’t have to go through a very uncomfortable pole shift.” You can get “all 3 levels, certificate, manual and, pendulum for ONLY $450”
Thoth Medallions & Ancestor Money
SRI Master Gano Grills sells Thoth and Ganesh Medallions on his site. They cost $325 for the “regular” and $650 for one with “added ritual abilities.” He claims they allow “one to input a refined resonance of the Gods into their lives and build a rapport with the higher realities.” Those who have an earnest desire to own a Medallion are more likely to be blessed by the Gods he claims.
Grills also sells “Ancestor Money.” He claims to have built a special rapport with the “Jade Emperor” who has given him his blessing by adding his divine energy to this “money.” Egun, or the spirits of our ancestors, prefer regular offerings of this currency he claims. They have asked the creator for it.
Members claim to have had financial breakthroughs after burning it, “Ever since I’ve been using ancestor money, the struggle financially has stopped.”
A 2-month supply of 5 billion dollar notes costs $35 while $500 billion dollar notes run $65 for a 3-month supply. The BIG GUN $10,000,000,000,000,000 quadrillion dollar note costs $110 for 10 bills. You can, however, save yourself $100 and buy the quadrillion dollar note online for just $14.99 from another source.
He claims that buying and burning ancestor money is “one of the most loving ways” to continue honoring your dearly departed:
“Not legal tender in this dimension of reality, however in the human afterlife known as the spirit world is very similar to THIS WORLD. They have homes, cars, jobs, hospitals believe it or not. Ancestor money is a real currency that shows up in there world as MILLIONS AND BILLIONS of dollars. It is one of the most loving ways to continue your relationship with your dearly departed, instead of just memorializing them on a empty human level that do absolutely NOTHING to benefit them or yourselves.”
What spiritual teacher would be complete without their own line of spiritual bath products? Grills offers a Lord Ganesh spiritual empowerment bath, a Jade Emperor Money bath and a Kwan-Yin “karma booster” bath product.
He sells rituals and alters as well. If you were interested in increasing financial abundance you can purchase the “Mansa Musa Wealth RichYouAll” for $150. Get it? RichYouAll…Ritual.
There are beacons too. Divine beacons. Imperial beacons. Double cosmic beacons. ArchAngel Michael beacons. They range from $750-$2,500 and claim to be “extremely powerful HyperNTR-EL vessels of magnificence.”
Finally, in case you were wondering, the Holy Oil is on sale. And in case you had any doubts about it’s validity, the oil has been blessed by a Shamanic Lumerian priest who’s been shadowed by Mother Mary since he was 14.
The Day is Coming
“144,00 souls asked to be set free from life and death on earth and go back to the CREATOR, through a rare event known as ascension. The Galighticus will be responsible for training these souls for that event.”
In a lucid dream, Gano Grills student RizRas encountered an alien spaceship. She was in East London with Grills and a few other students. As she looked up at the stars she noticed a middle cluster of stars looked different. She looked at Gano and he said “What do you think that is?” in a “knowing kind of way” she says. She realized what it was and said “Oh my god it’s a spaceship!” It then morphed into a pyramid shape with circuitry running through it, she explains. And then the spaceship came down from the heavens and the group stood staring at it. “It glowed with warm, moon like light” she says.
Gano recorded this account and posted it to his Youtube channel. It’s one of many dreams and visions of his followers that he uses to prop himself up as a divine being. These accounts prove his claims that he is a god sent here on a special mission he says. In her dream, he knew it was a spaceship. He knows they are destined for something greater than earthly living.
When Grills speaks about taking people off planet earth to where they “rightfully belong,” does he mean actually on a spaceship? It’d have to be huge. The world’s largest cruise ship only holds 3,600 people. Or perhaps he means in some sort of group exodus end game scenario? Either way, it’s not good.
“Our movement has experienced thousands of divine occurrences…We have now been led through everything that we have done our entire lives and through these past 6 years to the doorway of achieving a monumental feat through the Golden Chariot.”
Gano Grills claims that he is God, Thoth, Ganesh, fully enlightened, a high priest, a miracle worker, a healer, a world class spiritual advisor, a SRI Master. Grills believes Sri Lakshmi gave him a mission to take 144,000 people off planet earth. He is leading them to the promise land. Grills claims he is on a galactic council of 22 gods. His movement is the most powerful on earth. He can revive the dead and exorcise demons he says. His members bow at his feet. What could possibly go wrong?
[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.]
“It is not the talking about people who abuse power that fractures communities. It is the abuse of power that fractures communities and the people in them.” — Eva Blake
Ashevillage was my dream. It’s an all women run eco-urban permaculture community near downtown Asheville, NC. I spent two months there in the spring of 2016, first as an AirBnB guest and then as a staff member. I couldn’t believe it was real. As a trans person it was incredible to be in community with other women in such a powerful way.
The founder, Janell Kapoor, had what people wanted — meaningful work, community, housing, land, connections and a vision. She attracted smart, talented people from all over the country. Natural builders, environmentalists, gardeners, digital strategists and healers showed up eager and idealistic, ready to create the change this world needs so badly.
A former staff member describes Janell as “a master organizer and master visionary. She really is amazing at what she does. She organizes and motivates people into a vision as a common vision to get on board and put their energy into things.” For many years she’s been working tirelessly as a natural builder, environmentalist and change maker for the betterment of the planet.
She had built a name for herself in the natural building community after her work in Thailand teaching cob and adobe building techniques to displaced villagers. Janell continued doing natural building work in service with her non-profit Kleiwerks, teaching and building on the west coast and Asheville. She formed Ashevillage around 2007 and began hosting workshops, trainings and programs there.
Living and working together at Ashevillage was beautiful. In one room someone might be teaching about soil and worms. In another room folks would be planning a social change based online telesummit. We shared meals, taught each other skills, went for hikes in the 60 acre forest behind the property, went dancing, had deep conversations and sat by the fire late into the night.
The description on the website is nothing short of magical:
“Ashevillage Sanctuary is a women-led, community-oriented, 1.3 acre residential permaculture oasis a few blocks from downtown Asheville, NC & bordering 60 acres of woodland trails. Our purpose is to help anchor the wild & divine feminine on the planet in this time. Our values center around creating the world we want to live in by putting our beliefs into practice in our own backyard, working with regenerative systems & living skills, exploring the feminine/masculine spectrum & all manners of authentic & sensual living. Interests revolve around social, ecological & restorative justice; healing & ceremonial arts; human evolution in relationship with Gaia; authentic relating, intimacy, eros; permaculture, resilient living, food as medicine & more. Our site includes 4 connected properties + an integrated living systems landscape + beautiful edible, medicinal & pollinator gardens.”
In theory, Ashevillage was the perfect environment for our dreams to be nurtured. In reality, it was the nightmare of a deeply wounded healer that left countless people traumatized, broken and lost. It was a place where our dreams went to die.
At this time of great accountability, transparency and transformation on our planet we must address what has happened at Ashevillage and imagine a new way forward.
By all accounts Ashevillage was a very unhealthy and toxic work environment run by a controlling, manipulative and abusive leader. Over the last ten years dozens of people — mostly young women and queer men — have been burnt, betrayed and exploited by Janell. People showed up excited and hopeful and left dissatisfied, broken or traumatized. Ashevillage was pretty much the exact opposite of what it claimed to be.
One former staff member told me at first she had an “amazing vision of being there — cultivating myself as a farmer, speaker for earth, connecting other people to plants and place.” Things went south quickly after arriving. She told me she “was taken advantage of. My gifts were seen but exploited and not valued.” She described Janell as “a manipulative, cunning and deceitful person.” I asked her to list her main problems with working there:
Working outrageously hard, not getting paid or credited for work.
Being critiqued all the time.
Nothing is ever good enough. Very manipulative air about her. Working for her was a very imbalanced dynamic.
Never felt worthy as a human being. She never treated me as a human being. Treated others as sub human. She knocks people down. Very discouraging leader. Very painful to live under her rule.
Wanted power, control and money. She was greedy about money and people’s resources. Wanted it all to benefit her organization at the lowest denominator.
I witnessed and heard about people breaking down in tears from the way Janell treated them. “It felt abusive,” one former staff member told me. People were often pushed to their max, overloaded with tasks and jobs, not appreciated, critiqued frequently and exploited beyond measure.
“She had a way of breaking people down and making them second guess themselves.”
There are numerous, highly skilled and talented people that have come to Ashevillage only to leave upset in explosive, tear-filled or traumatic exits. One former staffer told me, “two separate people, separate times, similar capacity — enlisted to be able to really help the organization grow — both left disillusioned, having a very traumatic crying fit. They were just dumbfounded, asking ‘how did this happen?’”
“Janell was only friends with people at Ashevillage in so much as she could take advantage of them,” one former staff member told me. It was “I like you because of what you can do for me” they said. If someone was too strong willed she would say “that person is gonna have to go.” She had a history of “hiring really empathetic people who would support her. She was very manipulative. She knew it was a skill she had.”
Crafting an idealistic vision that young, talented people would dedicate themselves to was one of her strengths. One person who knows her well told me that she’s a “master manipulator. She is great about drawing people to a good cause and then using a lot of idealism and ultimately a lot of good intentions and naivety — she’s predatory in that way.” And then the same pattern emerges over and over again. She will exploit, take advantage of and use them for whatever she can. She “would always sell people on these benefits — you’re gonna get experience doing this and doing that…etc. Things would get sidelined though or shifted or demoted….That’s how you get people’s buy in and support, by promising certain things.”
“She is truly one of the most narcissistic, sociopathic people I’ve ever encountered, all dressed up in a new age loving kindness facade. She’s VERY appealing upon first impression; gorgeous, sensual, impressive, visionary… but upon closer inspection, she is terrifying and incomprehensible.”
Janell would often degrade staff members while they were in important situations. I remember hearing about how a staff member was once sitting in an important meeting and Janell came in and told her to go pick up garbage in the garden in front of them. Another time she asked someone to go weed flowers in the driveway during an important conversation.
One former staff member told me Janell would intentionally push people’s boundaries and create awkward situations merely to watch people “squirm.” She apparently liked watching people become uncomfortable and used that weakness and vulnerability as way to break them down and get in their heads.
“Perfectly normal things that I did there I cannot do. Sitting in circle and sharing gives me PTSD. It was such a ritual there that now I can’t shake this.”
Numerous people described her behavior as narcissistic to me. And she exhibits all of the characteristics of textbook Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
“She has bad blood with everyone”
From not honoring larger financial agreements, breaking promises or manipulating them to not paying for handiwork and just being insensitive and uncaring there are numerous examples of how Janell has burned people.
A former staff member told me about how she screwed over a contractor and then was very difficult with him even during mediation. She only trashed the person behind their back they said. “She completely burnt him. He did all this work. Main project manager, land development coordinator and she wasn’t even gonna pay him.” Other times she’d change contracts and then just not fulfill them. Betrayal around money was a huge complaint that repeatedly came up.
It was common for paying interns in the programs to leave early, “On several different occasions, interns have come spent money to do a program — then they’d not get the fulfillment, quit before the program was over and leave saying ‘I just got taken advantage of’ ‘I didn’t learn what I was supposed to.” One staff member told me that an entire batch of interns even all bailed in the middle of night.
“At some point all the interns turned against her and one night they all packed up and left and never came back.”
One person broke off their friendship with Janell in part because of the way she was treating another member who was old and dying of HIV. He remembers how one person told her “Janell back the fuck up. Wake up. This is supposed to be one of your best friends and you are hounding him when you should be helping him.” He said she wanted him to “be her legal consultant, business consultant, negotiator…Anywhere she’d find a willing participant or free labor she just ran with it.”
Lots of smaller insensitive and careless behaviors added up over the years. Disrespectfully over extending the use of someone’s tools, damaging a friends car and not acknowledging it and building a gray water catch basin that stepped into a neighbors yard when they explicitly agreed that wouldn’t happen. I remember hearing a story about how Janell told a staff member that she was deeply insulted and offended at her grammatical mistakes in what they both knew was a draft. Janell even hit her 70-year old neighbors vehicle and wasn’t going to say anything. The elderly woman who was on limited income had to chase her down so Janell would pay her.
“My God I heard so many stories when I was there about ways that she had disrespected people’s labor and investment of creativity, sometimes destroying projects in front of the students who had just created it as a demonstration of her whimsical misapplied power.”
Janell’s inability to run the organization in a healthy, mature way led to numerous staff members being frustrated and upset. One former staff member explained:
“She was a poor leader. She didn’t show up for work most days until 12 and then would spend half the day complaining about she was tired and didn’t sleep. She was victimizing herself to get sympathy.
She was involved in every detail micromanaging every thing. She never trusted us. She’d tell you that you did everything wrong. She always meddled. I could never just do my thing even when I had my own plan.”
“I always found it interesting that she’d sleep till noon, wake up and make personal calls for a few hours, lounging in bed, then get up and passive-aggressively point out her disappointment that others hadn’t done everything she wanted, exactly the way she wanted.”
Another former resident shares their account from around January-April of 2017:
“The interns have to pay a $500 deposit and she won’t give it back to them if they don’t fulfill their time contract. But they can’t take it and have to leave because she is crazy and she keeps their money. There is no permaculture is happening what soever. Mostly just women’s yoni massage and airbnb guests. It’s such a farce and illusion…
He was doing natural building work for her. She was telling him to complete an insane amount of work by a timeframe that was not available and wouldn’t listen to him when he’d explain how he needed to do things differently for the sake of quality.
She’d also use toxic paint over naturally designed buildings and call it organic and eco.
And every time she came into the guest house she had a complaint and was critical to everyone. They call her a dictator.
Her interns weren’t allowed to have anyone over either. And when guests came to the guesthouse the interns and the ones who were paying 750 were not allowed to use the house to shower!!! Everyone would have to sleep outside and still work 40 + hours a week in the winter time.”
Another person that has known her for over 10 years:
“She is truly one of the most narcissistic, sociopathic people I’ve ever encountered, all dressed up in a new age loving kindness facade. She’s VERY appealing upon first impression; gorgeous, sensual, impressive, visionary… but upon closer inspection, she is terrifying and incomprehensible…She has fucked over everyone I know who has been involved with her. There are some very specific examples of abuse of power, as well as law breaking that might have shut her down — I just don’t have the energy to put toward anything to do with her. Ashevillage being shut down would be a blessing — because it’s so impressive and appealing for young change makers, who she attacks and manipulates for her own benefit. It’s tragic really.”
One of the natural builders who used to travel to Ashevillage to teach there, Mark Lakeman:
“She’s not changed. What I saw last time was worse than ever and truly monstrous.
Several nights when I was at Ashevillage people asked me to come with them to meet others and hear their stories, up past 3am at times. They told me so many horror stories. It was really like a group of survivors needing to compare notes, everyone said that they felt like they were going crazy and they needed to verify with each other because they felt like they almost had to question their sanity. What everyone was going through was unbelievable to them, and the people who were either on staff at the time or who were previous staff all talked about how frightened they were of even speaking with each other. Janelle had done an amazing job of scaring them all into submission
I can also say how disrespected ALL the leaders and teachers feel, whom I know, that have worked with her. How she interrupts us during our lessons, even mid sentence, going utterly tangential, off topic, hijacking the focus while time us running out.
She has me come to teach, then doesn’t even tell me I have a building project until I get there. Treated my assist person like total lesser being, didn’t care how un prepared I was, hogged the time I needed to get ready or work with people. Everyone around me was clearly upset and I could see they were terribly disrespected.”
And she never would apologize for anything I’m told. She would never say anything like “I’m sorry and didn’t mean to treat you that way” a former staff member told me. They continued, “I never saw the humanness in her. How can you be so devoid of basic humanness?”
“I would say I was just heart broken in a sense. I had hopes that I would be safely rooted in a community of sacred sisterhood. I ultimately felt exploited in the last place on earth that I thought I could be.”
Despite never apologizing, she would, when forced to, admit that she had stuff to work on but then never did.
“Happens over and over again — have these morning meetings and it will fall apart. Had a handful of interns all really upset with what they were getting from it. One or two dropped out — she’ll come to this place when cornered and she’ll admit ‘yes, this is my blindspot.’ ‘I’m really working on this on myself,’ but then it doesn’t change anything. Super strong and entrenched pattern of utter narcissism. She is incapable of fully seeing and changing.”
Janell’s inability to accept other expert opinions also led to frustrated relationships, conflicts and poor results on projects. She thought she was good at everything and would often discount the life experience of wise people who were there to help.
One story captures how unsafe it was for some people to work at Ashevillage:
There was a young man who volunteered before it was officially Ashevillage who was struggling with demons that had haunted him his whole life. One of his tasks was to clean up the basement in one of the houses. There, he encountered an overwhelming infestation of black mold. He informed Janell who told him she’d reimburse him for a particulate mask (about $20), but he had to bike out to Tunnel Rd. to get one. The mask was really inadequate for the amount of mold in that basement, and he really should have just quit, but he sallied forth.
Needless to say, he ended up sick and had to cease work. He then requested the money he was owed (they’d actually negotiated for him to receive actual pay), which including the mask, was about $90. He left voice messages, sent texts, emailed… and was mostly ignored or put off. Eventually, after he had a breakdown and ended up at Copestone, someone in the community had to confront Janell and demand payment. Her response was to ask who he was talking about — she literally didn’t remember — though she ultimately did pay up.
Ashevillage also hosted numerous workshops with leaders in the natural wellness, healing and building communities. I’ve heard that several of them, some rather well known, have decided to no longer teach at Ashevillage. It’s another unfortunate loss to our community.
“Everything about Ashevillage is illegal”
Several people have raised issues of the legality of Ashevillage:
“Ashevillage operates illegally. It is a business operating in residential zone and bending the homestay laws for AirBnBs in Asheville. She now skirts around that by not paying people. None of the buildings in the back are permitted, none are built to code, and when the city came to inspect, she had an army of people (men being paid $10/hour and women being paid about $2/hour, who were under nourished) filling in a stream in the back with garbage, which was created by siphoning city water.
Several of the buildings are not to code, were put up without permits, and there are mountains of garbage buried in the backyard. That place in not an oasis. It’s a hell hole.”
“Everything about Ashevillage is illegal and, as a result, a disrespect to the neighbors. The business is run on private property that is not zoned for the work that’s happening there and as a result, it’s noisy from constant construction and groups of people passing through (not to mention taking up a good portions of the neighborhood parking spaces). The tiny home dwellings went up without permits, and were labelled ‘storage sheds.’ The electric wiring and plumbing that extends the four properties were installed by uncertified work traders: dangerous. Rain catchment and pond systems were (illegally) installed, and over the years, they were not maintained and now breed mosquitoes and pose serious storm water run-off risks for the neighboring homes. Property lines are ignored, there are structures and systems on the neighbor’s property. To shut it down…that’s all that really needs to be said.”
Janell was renting out rooms nightly at Ashevillage on Airbnb which was against code as you need a permit and have to live in the dwelling. Since the rooms being rented were in the guest house where no one lives permanently it is in violation of code. Rooms are still being rented as of today, but I’m not sure about which ones or for how long exactly.
Ashevillage has also morphed beyond it’s original eco-urban permaculture origins greatly:
“What started as a visionary center for permaculture and natural building is now a place where rooms are rented by the hour for sex work. Not saying there is anything wrong with sex work — my intention in mentioning it is merely to call a spade a spade.”
Janell was also known for throwing sex parties at Ashevillage. One former member describes the situation:
“We all shared one house, and only after moving there learned that sex parties took place in that house. There were times we were requested to not be at the house…I definitely felt shamed for not wanting to converse openly about my sexual preferences and experiences etc with anyone who asked.”
Physical Violence & Abuse
Former lover Terry Wayne Kirkland describes physical abuse from Janell:
“I had to defend myself from her. I tore my left shoulder trying to get her out of my bedroom at 51 Linden Ave. She had destroyed my altar and was throwing my Jade plants at me…I threatened calling police….but settled for pushing her into the hallway and locking the door. Waited her out..she finally left my house. On the way home from the third session (from passenger seat) she came undone and clawed the side of my face like she was running her nails down a chalk board…almost taking my left eye out…still have the scars….I had pulled into mission hospital parking lot so I could be visible by the public.”
People would over extend themselves for Janell’s vision. Many people worked their hearts out for the greater good. Yet, all of these efforts were going into a privately owned set of properties that were having their value increased. And Janell did everything for herself. One person who used to be close to her shared their thoughts on the nature of her organization:
“Disappointing to see the manipulations — using the guise of new age service in the name of capitalistic narcissism — old service to self, money, demeaning people. It’s a known pattern of abuse for those of us that have been around for awhile in communities like this. It’s unfortunate when you have these visionary leaders that are thriving on an old control system rather than introducing what Ashevillage could be. It’d be wonderful if it were a true non-profit, a true collective so people could come in and take that out into the world. I don’t see that happening.”
Another person speaks to the reality about the financial situation:
“It’s like she’s building an empire — not sure how that corresponds with cooperation, just economics, equitability, social justice. She uses this facade of being kind of destitute. In a lot of ways she does use people’s good intentions and pulls strings to her advantage. She will nickel and dime the poorest, most desperate of people. To know her background and the worth of her family — her parents own millions and millions of dollars of property. They bought the houses. All the property is in their name. It’s like poor old Janell barely getting by with this little old non-profit but her back is covered and then some — this destitute poverty level stuff, barely getting by is all theatre.”
Another echoes the sentiment:
“It’s a non-profit, I don’t have money, it’s for the community, see all the good things I do.’ That’s how she sells it. If everyone knew there that this is all owned by her family, she has no intention of giving back. Offer some free workshops, do some community service. In order to participate in an Ashevillage workshop you’re gonna pay $300 or more. I never saw a spirit of giving back or generosity. It’s only what can you give me to honor me and my vision? A few people that would collaborate with her said she would always want the credit. She was very clear that this was her program and that she wanted the glory and recognition for it. Everyone would always feel burned. She didn’t recognize or acknowledge them.”
“I learned that things aren’t always as they seem, that capitalism weaves its divisive and hierarchical ways into even the most beautiful visions for a new earth.”
“I think the real story is about fraud, and I would like to add that Ashevillage was promoted as a non-profit, which in my opinion, it was not. That was money laundering for her and her family which owned everything. Anytime the board of directors questioned her, they were forced out. She even had a city supervisor friend on her board that help skate around zoning laws for the illegal pond and campsites she had. It was laughable that her website had pics of my backyard and gardens as part of Ashevillage Institute. I consulted and helped her acquire the land parcel behind my house, that I had first right of refusal to by the previous owner. She bullied and stalked the buyer into finally capitulating and it falling out of escrow and she acquired it. It is endless.”
In referring to the natural building she teaches one person said “She learned it free and then charged an exorbitant amount and they are just indigenous methods of building.”
Janell would often tell people she’d pay them and never would:
“One of my own interns here in Portland tells me stories of how he was commissioned to build the amphitheater, that teaching space behind one of the buildings and told that he would be paid for his work. Yet once he was done with that back-breaking project, she maintained that he had said he had volunteered to do the project. This is a beautiful man who gives lots of time and energy to support other people, but he had been clear with her that this was a job. She totally took advantage of him and days and days of his life energy and ended up with a free Amphitheater and didn’t pay him.”
And one woman was invited into Janell’s “gifting circle” which was a harmful scheme that left many women devastated:
“What I do know is that Janell started a few of the scams in town a few years back (women circles… women would need to give $1500-$5000 for a space in these circles in hopes to walk out with $20,000-$40,000 or more. ) This is an unsustainable pyramid scheme….this is just another form of her abuse of this community. I watched many women/ friends “gift” her money never to see it again. Many borrowed or took out credit Card loans to pay for this scam. I almost got wrapped up in it myself but once hearing her involvement I jumped ship. The community was torn apart… completely devastating for a woman to do this to others in such a small community.”
There was even an article in the Asheville Mountain Express about them.
And someone else posted on Facebook at the time: “I’ve watched SO MANY women in Asheville get burned by gifting circles… Relationships ruined, money lost, respect destroyed.”
And for someone running a non-profit who claims to have no money she certainly doesn’t act like it:
“She loves to eat the most expensive food, she treats herself lavishly, she goes out for expensive restaurant food and drinks all the time…”
One former staff member told me “She conned Greenlife into giving her food — people are paying to be interns, part of that is the meals are included. She used the free food and recapitulated into food for lunches. Interns are paying for local, organic, healthy lunches and they’re getting sushi rolls that we’ve taken apart and mixed in with other stuff.”
Long Term Damage
Some of the former staff members sought out therapy to deal with the trauma of working under Janell. A while ago I remember that one person told me she was in therapy for 6 months while there and that almost all of her time spent in sessions was used talking about Janell and Ashevillage. She spent thousands of dollars. Another spent a year in therapy in which a significant portion was dedicated to Janell.
“Several nights when I was at Ashevillage people asked me to come with them to meet others and hear their stories, up past 3am at times. She’s not changed. What I saw last time was worse than ever and truly monstrous.”
When I was there many of our evenings out were spent venting, processing and decompressing from the toxic environment. Others were surprised they still had friends given how much they complained about Janell and Ashevillage to them.
I asked one former staff member if their time at Ashevillage had any longer term impact on them. She said she had PTSD. “Perfectly normal things that I did there that I cannot do. Sitting in circle and sharing gives me PTSD. It was such a ritual there that now I can’t shake this.”
Another person told me she used things shared in vulnerable space against them and that it took a long time to recover:
“You share something in an intimate, vulnerable space and then use that as a weapon against me. It was scary that someone could have the lack of conscience or integrity to do that. Things I shared about my family she used to beat me up. Took me a couple years just to get through the emotional brutality of it.”
What’s perhaps most concerning is that Janell seems to be unaware of how harmful her actions have been. As one former staff member said, “she doesn’t know she’s so manipulative, there’s no culpability if you can’t see or admit it.”
It’s impossible to know the full extent of the loss, trauma and heartbreak caused by Janell’s abuse at Ashevillage. How can you measure the lost potential of dreams?
A Wounded Healer
When those of us who are deeply wounded are in positions of power it is extremely important to do our work and to be held accountable when we abuse that power. I say we because I am well aware of how prevalent the shadow is in our lives, including my own. Janell is no different. She has a shadow. She is a wounded healer doing what she can to enact a vision of change. It’s messy because she has power, influence and sway over many young, idealistic and impressionable people wanting to make change. When deep shadow wounds are not addressed by those of us in power it can lead to more trauma and more pain.
I firmly believe that we cannot move forward as a culture unless we can identify and name the harmful, abusive patterns that are detrimental to our transformative efforts. Furthermore, we must seek accountability and prevent others from being harmed if possible.
“This is about undermining the systems that cause deep trauma and harm to our bodies, our relationships, our survival, our communities.”
Power and authority must justify itself, particularly when there is a documented history of abuse. When you create a situation where someone no longer can sit in a circle and share because of severe PTSD from being in your organization you don’t deserve to hold that power any longer. When you have a 10-year track record of abusing, exploiting and mistreating passionate change makers you lose your status as a respected authority figure in that field. Until you do the work of transformation and are willingly involved in a process of accountability, that power should and will be challenged.
I know speaking truth to power in this manner is seen by some as “negative,” or “not spiritual,” but are we supposed to sit by the sidelines as new interns show up? Are we supposed to just ignore serious abuse and dysfunction in the name of light and love? If we can’t deal with the systemic dysfunction in our own communities how can we expect to deal with it in the world?
“I don’t think critiquing the behavior or words of prominent leaders of a local, global, or online community is a form of infighting unless that critique is peppered with shaming, exile, or personal attacks.
Seeking justice, restoring justice, is a path that is uncomfortable.
Comfort is not a community value of mine when it comes to evolving and addressing abuse of power. Comfort doesn’t address abuse of power. Comfort entrenches power. Comfort obfuscates the lines of power.
When leaders of an organization strive to make their community comfortable in the face of this kind of content, that leadership is myopic and self-serving, especially when the community has named boundaries, consent, and sexual intimacy and exploration as foci of the group.
Hiding the content of these kinds of revelations serves only the people with institutional or social power.
We can’t alleviate our discomfort with conflict by hiding the facts and facets of abuse of power.
This is about undermining the systems that cause deep trauma and harm to our bodies, our relationships, our survival, our communities.
Critiquing how people abuse power, busting open the myths that keep certain folks in a cycle of violence by the state or individuals, and making specific requests of bystanders is NOT infighting or “stirring shit” or silencing you or calling someone out.
It is about evolving our community standards for living in a complex society where everyone deserves dignity and respect while acknowledging the gross disparities in our social order.
It is not the talking about people who abuse power that fractures communities. It is the abuse of power that fractures communities and the people in them.
We must talk about this in order to HEAL.”
The silver lining of this situation is that several former staff members all said they had grown tremendously from having to work with such a manipulative and controlling leader. One said “The experience was a great teacher for me. I realized I was lacking in confidence. I wasn’t able to ask for what I needed.” Several folks are now acutely aware when they are being manipulated. After Ashevillage they would know how to identify this behavior immediately now. One person wrote her thoughts in depth.
“I would say I was just heart broken in a sense. I had hopes that I would be safely rooted in a community of sacred sisterhood. I though I could focus on making the world a greener, more viable place. I feel like my naivete was taken advantage of and it really changed me and made me feel more guarded in the future. Looking back, it feels like an important step for any young environmentalist in today’s world to take. I ultimately felt exploited in the last place on earth that I thought I could be, an ecovillage supposedly rooted in principles of reciprocity, permaculture, care for the earth, and care for people. I learned that things aren’t always as they seem, that capitalism weaves its divisive and hierarchical ways into even the most beautiful visions for a new earth. That is part of the paradox of being alive right now, with the desire to make the world a better place and a need to do it at whatever cost, or even for free, because you wish to see healing in the world even if it’s at your own expense. I learned how to declare my value a lot more after all that, which I consider a great gift. My deepest hurt was not having my passion nurtured while I was there. I knew that my love and care for the earth was precious, and, after my time at Ashevillage, I made a commitment to myself that I would only get involved with projects/organizations/businesses that sincerely respected that and valued my skills enough to compensate me fairly.”
One former staff member said, “we need to do a community intervention, it keeps going on and on. It’s got to stop. She keeps taking advantage of people.” This article is perhaps the first step in that process. It’s what I’m willing to contribute — a clear and concise description of the abusive behavior so there is a foundation from which to work upon.
What does accountability look like at this point? How can this situation be dealt with in a transformative manner? Janell has burned so many people that it’s hard to imagine a group that will help seek accountability in any meaningful way. Even those amongst us who have the spirit to do such a thing have just moved on and have no interest in redeeming that space. One person I spoke with believes Ashevillage should just be shut down. That’s a reasonable argument. Again, why does someone who has a ten year history of abusing power and manipulating vulnerable young change makers for her own gain deserve to remain in that position of power? Whatever happens it should be victim focused and avoid the pattern of rescuing an abuser.
We live at a powerful time where old systems and structures of domination are collapsing, being exposed and undergoing the painful process of transformation. We must not overlook how those damaging systems are being reproduced in our own beloved communities. In order to create the world we want we must be willing and able to speak up against abuse and seek accountability for even those whom we love or whom are leaders in our beloved communities.
UPDATE: Janell likes to claim that this was all in the past and that she’s changed. In response to my article she stated: “I no longer run programs. Life is very different now. I think those who know me now know a very different Janell. Things seem to be more balanced, loving, present, gracious.” Not true says one person with knowledge of the current situation who just messaged me,
“Several people have bailed in the last four months because of the same things your article describes. I too have wondered how this should be handled moving forward. I too fear for other idealistic young people coming to this place only to be crushed. There’s a lot I could say about my time and experience there, but it was all more or less covered by others whom you have interviewed.”
Current situation: “This person was put into a compromised situation situation because she felt unsafe/uncomfortable at Ashevillage.”
And this person was there as early as 6 months ago:
“She exploited the hell out of every single person there, and attempted to do the same to me. Seeing the shit that Janell put those people through really made this article resonate with me in so many ways. Thank you for speaking out about this. I had no clue so many people had had similar experiences there and it’s nice to know that I wasn’t just being unreasonable in my judgements.”
[This article originally appeared on Integral World in 2010. It has been consistently in the top 10 most read articles on the site and founder, Frank Visser considers it a classic. Several years after the publication of this article Andrew Cohen stepped down and admitted he was a cult leader.]
Luna Tarlo spent over three years living with her guru Andrew Cohen(founder of What is Enlightenment? magazine now called EnlightenNext) in India and the United States. After she experienced extreme forms of public condemnation and humiliation she broke from him and wrote a book depicting Cohen as an “arrogant, power-hungry, dangerous figure who practices mind control over adherents.” She is, however, different than the hundreds of other disciples who followed him. Luna Tarlo is Andrew Cohen’s mother. In an interview with the Boston Globe in 1998 she stated, Cohen “requires total surrender to him. You have to obey everything he says and trust him 100 percent, and anybody who disagrees is subject to derision and verbal abuse.” In tragic fashion she ended what had previously been a healthy and loving relationship, “I know my life with him is over, and it’s very sad. I love him a lot.”
The accounts given in “American Guru” (an excerpt from the book is below) are very disturbing. Yenner was certainly in a position to know about these abuses as he was a central player in Cohen’s operation. He explains his role, “I was a member of the “inner circle” of Cohen’s students; in fact, I lived in his personal residence for several years, was a member of the EnlightenNext Board of Directors, and was the real estate scout who located and helped arrange the purchase of the 220 acre, nearly three-million-dollar, EnlightenNext “World Headquarters” at Foxhollow, as well as the EnlightenNext Centre in London.” And like many others in the group Yenner had “donated” a very large amount of money ($80,000) to Cohen. These large sums of money were part of Cohen’s plan. Yenner writes,
“Andrew let it be understood that his good favor could also be had for a price, establishing a practice that was morally reprehensible, legally questionable and indicative of a degree of corruption that had warped his ideals and would eventually stain the fabric of his entire organization. It is a testament to the faith that so many of us had in Andrew that, despite the questionable nature of these new financial arrangements, we complied — some of us taking on enormous and ill-advised debt. Though it may be difficult for outsiders to comprehend, our desire to please our guru was so great that we were prepared to mortgage our futures in order to do so.”
Survivors of Jonestown speak similarly about how once they gave their money, assets and signed over their homes to Jim Jones and the “church” it was the final step in the loss of their identities. I don’t mean to suggest that Cohen is comparable to Jim Jones or that his followers are about to commit mass suicide. But rather I am merely highlighting the similarity in these actions to illustrate how the giving over of yourself includes money, property and belongings. And furthermore this loss of property is directly linked to the increasing loss of the ability to remain an autonomous agent within the group.
For years after his departure in 2001 Yenner remained silent. Like the others he was pressured under “extreme psychological distress and in an emotionally crushed state of mind” into giving his $80,000 and a few years after he finally broke with Cohen he wanted it back. Cohen agreed but made Yenner sign a five-year non-judicial but binding gag order to not speak about his experiences at Foxhollow or with Cohen. This enforced silence was, Yenner states, but yet another reminder to him that Cohen wasn’t ready to let him go. But the gag order expired in 2008 and now Yenner’s book is published.
Luna Tarlo and William Yenner’s books are not the only criticisms of Cohen to surface. Prior to the release of Yenner’s book some of Cohen’s former followers had set up a website, What Enlightenment?, in 2004 that chronicled his abusive and controlling methods with advice on cult recovery. Yenner’s book also contains the passages from other former Foxhollow members. In 2003 former What Is Enlightenment? editor Andre van der Braak published “Enlightenment Blues: My Years with an American Guru”. An eleven year disciple of Cohen’s, van der Braak chronicled the abuse and manipulation he witnessed and experienced as part of the Foxhollow community. He reports that one of the more mild but still disturbing elements of daily life in the community consisted of 600 daily prostrations while repeating the required mantra, “To know nothing, to have nothing, to be no one.” And Geoffry Falk in his Stripping the Guru’s: Sex, Violence, Abuse and Enlightenmentdedicates an entire chapter ‘Sometimes I feel Like God’ to Cohen. It places Cohen in context of his guru Poonjaji and provides a short history of his life.
“Some years ago at Foxhollow, a student named Jeff, a very good writer, was having a great deal of trouble with a writing project he had been assigned to do. He was supposed to write an introduction to a book Andrew was publishing, but he was having no success. Feeling terrible guilt about this, he wrote in a desperate letter to Andrew, “If I don’t come through, I will cut my finger off.” Andrew seemed to like this idea. When Jeff still did not succeed at his writing, Andrew called for Mikaela, [who was a] physician, to come see him…. Andrew told Mikaela to go to see Jeff, and to bring her medical kit. She was instructed to tell Jeff that Andrew was taking him up on his offer to sacrifice a finger. She should take out her scalpel, her mask, her gloves, a sponge — everything she would need for such an operation — and lay them all out. She was told to carry through the charade up to the very last minute, and then stop. When Mikaela visited Jeff, he had barely slept in about a week. He was in a desperate state…. Mikaela [later] confirmed…that she had followed Andrew’s instructions precisely. Jeff was severely and obviously shaken by the incident. He left Andrew and Foxhollow a few weeks later.”
“Face slapping and name-calling, while they were uncalled for and may have been damaging, were mild in comparison to other questionable manifestations of “crazy wisdom” that occurred at Foxhollow. One such incident involved a student (Mikaela) who was responsible for the marketing of Andrew’s publications and who had fallen out of favor by reminding him that something he had criticized her for doing had been his idea in the first place. He decried her as evil and ordered that the walls, floor and ceiling of her office (which had been relocated to an unfinished basement room) be painted red to signify the spilled blood of her guru. She was ordered to spend hours there contemplating the implications of her transgression, with the additional aid of a large cartoon on the wall depicting her as a vampire and the word “traitor” written in large letters next to it.
Andrew often employed red paint in this fashion to create environments designed to induce shame and guilt in students that he felt had questioned his judgment or disobeyed him. Another female student who had displeased Andrew and, after leaving the community, had returned to help out on a weekend painting project, was summoned to another basement room. There she was met by four female students who, having guided her onto a plastic sheet on the floor, each poured a bucket of paint over her head as a “message of gratitude” from Andrew. She left the property traumatized and fell ill in subsequent days (during which she was harassed by phone calls from another student who, at Cohen’s instigation, repeatedly called her a “coward”) and never again returned to Foxhollow. “Crazy wisdom” is the most charitable possible explanation for these often traumatic and disturbing incidents, many of which have already been related on the whatenlightenment.net blog. Several of these student accounts of Andrew Cohen’s “acts of outrageous integrity,” employed to dubious or damaging effect, are reproduced below.”
In 2006 Cohen finally “responded” to his critics with a “Declaration of Integrity.” While you can read for yourself, his 11-page response is more of a treatise on how he is an amazingly revolutionary and groundbreaking teacher than any refutation of charges. And the website Guru Talk was established by other followers who support him to respond to those students of Cohen’s who set up WhatEnlightenment? in 2004 which contains more examples of his abusive behavior. But I must ask, if Cohen’s tactics are so revolutionary and “crazy wisdom” is needed to become enlightened, why haven’t any of his students become enlightened? And why are these tactics so necessary when neither Cohen or Wilber attribute their awakenings to these sorts of experiences?
ANDREW COHEN’S SUPPORTERS
These people have an ethical responsibility to speak out against the abuse that Cohen was responsible for.
Despite years of allegations, two books and numerous followers who have broken from him to tell their stories Andrew Cohen still has his supporters. These people, many of them well known psychologists, therapists and spiritual teachers have an ethical responsibility to speak out against the abuse that Cohen was responsible for. His longtime friends, supporters and anyone who shares a stage with him or interviews him has a duty to confront him on these abuses if they know about them. Otherwise they simply provide legitimacy for him and support the culture of denial that surrounds these kinds of personality cults.
Craig Hamilton, now a Berkeley based “evolutionary spiritual teacher” was in a similar position to Yenner. For fifteen years he was a close disciple of Cohen’s and for eight of those he worked as senior editor of EnlightenNext magazine. Now Hamilton runs Integral Enlightenment. Hamilton here is speaking about how much he loved being in the community with Cohen, “And the inner life of everybody there was elevated to a profound level of well-being — I mean, in this environment everybody was living in a non-ordinary state of consciousness most of the time; there was a sort of enlightened Buddha-field…that permeated the place…” And from his website:
“But the most profound influence on the teachings and practices of Integral Enlightenment is without a doubt the Evolutionary Enlightenment teaching of contemporary spiritual trailblazer Andrew Cohen. IE founder Craig Hamilton spent 13 years at the heart of Cohen’s living “laboratory of evolution” now known as EnlightenNext. As part of the core leadership team guiding this international movement, and editor of its communication arm, What Is Enlightenment? magazine, Hamilton was nourished by, and played a formative role in the development of this powerful force for spiritual and cultural evolution.”
Yenner questions Hamilton for his silence on Cohen’s abuses and his continued praise of “rude boy.”
“Interestingly, however, in the same period during which Andrew Cohen’s reputation has been so stoutly defended by guru-talk.com’s cadre of “fallen” or “unsuccessful” students, the integral community has also seen the emergence of another of Cohen’s former disciples, Craig Hamilton, as a self-proclaimed “teacher” in his own right. As I implied in a footnote of American Guru, no one who knows Andrew Cohen is likely to believe he was pleased by Hamilton’s surreptitious departure from Foxhollow, much less by Hamilton’s own subsequent (and well-planned?) ascent to integral guruhood — but if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Cohen ought to be feeling swell. As a “successful” former student, Hamilton has outdone his fellow alumni not only in his wholesale assimilation of Cohen’s “teaching model” but in his astute — some might say opportunistic — emulation of his teacher’s tried-and-true PR strategy of using public dialogues with famous “luminaries” as a means of enhancing his own reputation. That Hamilton was able to cultivate such relationships while selflessly “serving” as his guru’s senior editor and ambassador to high-level interfaith conferences is yet another manifestation of that “something other than enlightenment” that seems to be Cohen’s less than inspiring human legacy.
At such moments, it is worth remembering that the list of spiritual leaders who have “fallen on their faces” — often with catastrophic results for their followers — is a long one indeed. In his foreword to American Guru, Stephen Batchelor suggests that things might have turned out far differently if, at the time of Andrew Cohen’s “emergence” as a teacher, those who felt they had reason to question his motivations or qualifications had spoken out more forcefully. This is all the more reason to scrutinize Hamilton’s account of his many years “working side by side” with Andrew Cohen; yet despite his acknowledged involvement in “trying to guide and work with [Cohen’s] global body of students,” Hamilton remains curiously silent on the issue of the abuses that took place under his nose (and mine) at Cohen’s Foxhollow ashram. As Daniel Shaw has observed, “It would be wonderful to see…honesty and courage demonstrated by…leaders of the New Age movement. Instead of rationalizing and minimizing the extent of [Cohen’s] abuses, instead of ignoring and dismissing the experiences of former followers, wouldn’t it be wonderful if people like Ken Wilber, Genpo Roshi, Rupert Sheldrake, Deepak Chopra, Bernie Glassman, etc., could have the courage and the integrity to pay attention, to take up the cause of Cohen’s former members, and confront Cohen publicly?” As an up-and-coming “spiritual luminary” — not to mention one who was actually there! — Craig Hamilton certainly deserves to have his name added to that list. The dangers of a “free pass” based on charisma and inspiring intentions having been borne out by history, I feel it ought to be perceived as reasonable, rather than gratuitously destructive, to raise questions about anyone representing himself as a “pioneer” of a cutting-edge spiritual discipline.
While Hamilton evaluates himself rather differently than most of his fellow former students — insinuating references to his own “awakening” into his “free preview,” to a virtual audience of nearly 700 spiritual seekers, of a 9-week “teleseminar” for which he is charging each participant $285 — he shares with guru-talk.com’s contributors the same abiding nostalgia for a community very different from the one I remember (a community in which abuses such as those documented in American Guru took place over a period of two decades) as well as their retrospectively rose-colored notions about the significance of what happened there.”
It isn’t surprising that Andrew Cohen’s best friend Ken Wilbercontinues to be a supporter as well. There is probably no more of a featured figure than Wilber in Cohen’s EnlightenNext(formerly What is Enlightenment?) magazine. Wilber, the leading figure in the integral movement is another subject entirely but his support for Cohen his uncompromising. This isn’t surprising because Wilber believes in the same sort of authoritarian teaching style as Cohen (and employs it himself in many ways). Here is what Wilber has to say about Cohen:
“[Rude Boys] live as Compassion — real compassion, not idiot compassion — and real compassion uses a sword more often than a sweet. They deeply offend the ego (and the greater the offense, the bigger the ego)….
Andrew Cohen is a Rude Boy. He is not here to offer comfort; he is here to tear you into approximately a thousand pieces … so that Infinity can reassemble you….
Every deeply enlightened teacher I have known has been a Rude Boy or Nasty Girl. The original Rude Boys were, of course, the great Zen masters, who, when faced with yet another ego claiming to want Enlightenment, would get a huge stick and whack the aspirant right between the eyes…. Rude Boys are on your case in the worst way, they breathe fire, eat hot coals, will roast your ass in a screaming second and fry your ego before you knew what hit it….
I have often heard it said that Andrew is difficult, offending, edgy, and I think, “Thank God.” In fact, virtually every criticism I have ever heard of Andrew is a variation on, “He’s very rude, don’t you think?””
Wilber has received attention for the abusive way he treats critics and the insular nature of his Integral project. One book written about Wilber is called “Norman Einstein: The Disintegration of Ken Wilber.” This is a link to a chapter called “Bald Narcissim.” And this is a great summary of Wilber’s ordeals from Frank Visser’s Integral World called The Wild West Wilber Report:
“In June 2006 Ken Wilber embarrassed himself in front of the world by abusing and insulting those of his critics who did not “understand” his work, and invited those who “did” to come to his integral “sanctuary…” Obviously, this alerted some cult-watchers to reflect on what on earth is currently going on in the integral scene. Here’s a listing of most of the relevant blog postings and articles, including my three personal replies to Ken Wilber. Compiled for future historians, Wilberologists — and psychiatrists!”
Craig Hamilton works closely with Terry Patten another Bay Area Integral teacher who is also a senior trainer in Wilber’s Integral Institute seminars and contributor to Cohen’s EnlightenNext magazine. Patten and Wilber share another common theme: they were both students of the controversial spiritual teacher Adi Da also known as Adi Da, Da Free John and Bubba Free John (birth name Franklin Jones). The followers of Adi Da believed he was “an ‘adept,’ a person who came into this world already enlightened with eternal truth. The sect’s publications also call Jesus an “adept,” but make it clear that Jones is considered more important.” In 1974 Da claimed to be “Divine Lord in Human Form.” Da also had nine common law wives. For more see the section on Rick Ross’s cult watch site and the chapter on Adi Da from Stripping the Gurusfrom which this is taken:
“Also in 1974, during his “Garbage and the Goddess” period, Bubba apparently started his “sexual theater,” involving the switching of partners, sexual orgies, the making of pornographic movies and intensified sexual practices (Feuerstein, 1996).The Mill Valley Record (Colin, et al., 1985) further reported:
[James] Steinberg [head of the Hermitage Service Order] says the destruction [of the pornographic films] took place a few months after they were made. Steinberg also says that the church’s dildo collection was either sold or destroyed, he isn’t sure which.”
Wilber has made many statements in support of Adi Da. Wilber wrote in the intro to one of Da’s books:
[M]y opinion is that we have, in the person of Da Free John, a Spiritual Master and religious genius of the ultimate degree. I assure you I do not mean that lightly. I am not tossing out high-powered phrases to “hype” the works of Da Free John. I am simply offering to you my own considered opinion: Da Free John’s teaching is, I believe, unsurpassed by that of any other spiritual Hero, of any period, of any place, of any time, of any persuasion.
Terry Patten’s biography claims that he was “a longtime student of the late American spiritual teacher, Adi Da Samraj.” And not surprisingly Patten is also a supporter of Andrew Cohen. The “Great [Integral] Awakening Online Teleseminar” which Patten was involved in with Hamilton features Wilber and Cohen front and center.
And then there is Marc Gafni, founder of iEvolve and (he is also featured in the above Global Awakening teleseminar) another controversial spiritual teacher who is part of the Integral inner circle, supported and defended by Wilber, Cohen, Patten and Craig Hamilton, Sally Kempton and Diane Musho Hamilton among many of the other figureheads of the movement. Gafni also works closely with Wilber at the Integral Institute. Gafni fled his position as head of the Bayit Chadash in Israel after several members of his community accused him of sexual misconduct. These were only the latest in a string of sexual accusations that has plagued Gafni. He was also stripped of his ordination as a Rabbi. While he apologized for his relationships with these women at Bayit Chadash he claims they were “loving and mutual,” (a claim which they strongly dispute). But if it gives any perspective he also says that his relationship with a 13 year old girl when he was 19 and 20 was “loving and mutual.” This is the testimony of the young girl who he claims he was in a mutual and loving relationship with.
“The abuse went on through the year I was in 9th grade. The school year was almost over, I remember it was warm out. He called me on the phone one day to tell me that he would no longer be coming over. He realized that what he really needed was to get married soon, and he explained that this would give him a proper outlet for his sexuality. Its hard to describe how I felt at that moment, because it is complex. My molester finally decided to stop abusing me, to leave me alone, to move on. You would imagine I would feel great relief, but actually the full weight of the abuse I had endured in silence came crashing down on me. Here I was, left with this horrible experience, still with no one to talk to about it, and no language for it anyway. And he wasn’t retreating because I had some how managed to make him stop, but because he decided it just wasn’t worth the risk any more. He was terrified that he would do more and make me pregnant- then there would be no way to keep his secret. Until then, his abuse included exposing my body against my will, forcibly touching my breast, grabbing my hand and forcing me to touch his penis, and forced digital vaginal penetration. All were the most horrifying, degrading and painful experiences for me. All this only a year or so after my bat mitzvah…
Unfortunately, I knew Mordechai very well. He told me a lot about himself, and I knew him as a sexually compulsive, sexually violent man. After talking with counselors, lawyers, and professionals who advise and counsel sexual perpetrators, I learned that in 99% of cases, people who compulsively sexually abuse girls or women, especially those who were abused themselves as children, don’t stop. These are dangerous people. The more we are silent about them, the more they have the freedom to act out their sexual compulsions. Further first hand accounts show that Mordechai continued to molest young women after he was married. Unfortunately, marriage did not solve his problems. There is no reason for me to assume he is not still victimizing girls and women. Back when I knew him, he was a refined manipulator, “groomer”, “brain-washer”, and he used those skills in order to victimize girls and young women. I have no doubt that, years later, he has honed his skills as a predator.”
His defenders repeatedly claim that “he as done nothing illegal,” and ask us to believe that Gafni is the victim of a widespread attack up on him. All of the women (over ten) exaggerated, distorted and lied about what reallyhappened. Gafni also claims to have passed a polygraph test that proves that the relationships with the women were loving and mutual. You can read it for yourself but I would question the nature of the questions he was asked as well as the polygraph itself. You don’t have to be an Einstein to know that they are not admissible in most courts of law and are widely thought to be based on junk science. In other words they aren’t reliable or accurate. You can read more about them here. And here is a “WikiHow” on how to cheat a polygraph test. Here is a link to a Marc Gafni’s website where he responds to the controversy.
At least five female students and staff members have come forward to accuse Rabbi Mordechai Gafni of luring them into sexual relationships through intimidation, psychological manipulation and deception. Late last week, Gafni, an Orthodox-trained rabbi who has become a star of the New Age-style Jewish Renewal movement, was dismissed from his position as the head of Bayit Chadash, a center on the Sea of Galilee that he co-founded six years ago.
Gafni subsequently issued a public apology for having “hurt people I love,” and said that he would seek in-patient treatment for what he called “a sickness.”
…He was originally ordained as an Orthodox rabbi and moved to Israel more than a decade ago, after leaving posts in New York and in Boca Raton, Fla., amid rumors of sexual misconduct. He assumed an Israeli name and transitioned into the world of Jewish Renewal….
Rosenblatt said he had interviewed about 50 supporters and critics, including two prominent Orthodox leaders — Rabbi Yosef Blau, spiritual mentor at Yeshiva University, and Shlomo Riskin, chief rabbi of the West Bank settlement of Efrat — who had known Gafni since the 1980s. Blau and Riskin, who both criticized Gafni, told Rosenblatt that over the years they had spoken with a number of women who had complaints about the rabbi.
Rosenblatt interviewed several alleged victims. One was a woman named Judy, who first accused Gafni of molesting her in 1986, when she was a 16-year-old member of a youth group he directed. Shortly thereafter, Gafni left New York for a pulpit job in Florida. Another woman, Susan, who was an adviser for the group at the time, said that Gafni had threatened her when she tried to intervene on the girl’s behalf.
When asked about the allegations, Gafni told Rosenblatt that Judy was a troubled, unstable teenager who fabricated the story after he rebuffed her advances.
But he admitted to having had a sexual relationship with another girl, when she was 13 and 14 and he was 19 and 20, studying to become a rabbi.
“I was a stupid kid and we were in love,” Gafni was quoted as saying in The Jewish Week. “She was 14 going on 35, and I never forced her.”
The woman told Rosenblatt that Gafni had “repeatedly sexually assaulted her” when he stayed at her house for the Sabbath. The rabbi also told her that she would be “shamed in the community” if she told anyone.
As Frank Visser says, “Integral confirms integral confirms integral.” I have heard people defend Marc Gafni by stating that Andrew Cohen and Ken Wilber support him. But it actually is a silly game they all play because they all defend and support each other. It goes something like this. Patten, Hamilton, Gafni and Wilber support Cohen. Cohen, Wilber, Hamilton and Patten support Gafni. Cohen, Gafni, Hamilton and Patten support Wilber. Wilber and Cohen support Patten and Hamilton. Wilber and Patten support Adi Da….etc. And they all appear on each others integral programs, websites, conferences, book chapters, magazines and platforms. Among the various offerings is Integral Life Practice, Integral Naked, Integral Institute, Integral Spiritual Center, Integral Enlightenment, EnlightenNext magazine…etc. And as Yenner notes above, they seem to employ the same tactic: surrounding themselves with other luminaries, celebrities, and public faces who agree with them and provide much needed support. If all of these amazing people support Cohen he must be ok, right? Nowadays it seems all you have to do is add the word integral in front of something to boost its credibility. Add the word integral and you have a sexy and attractive product ready to be sold to eager spiritual seekers who are hungry for idealism and more purpose in life. The whole thing equates to a very large money making machine.
I want to be clear that this article is not an attack on integral theory or the nature of the teachings that many of the people here offer. I am a fan of integral theory in general — not of the Wilber sort, but the principle behind it. One can recognize that many of these teachers have said wise things while simultaneously being aware of their shortcomings.
Is it wrong to call out Cohen’s enablers? Is it wrong to expect them to break the silence on Cohen’s legacy of abuse, manipulation and cultish behaviors? In the face of the sadistic acts of Cohen isn’t it problematic when Wilber says “Cohen is here to tear you into a thousand pieces?” What about accountability? Responsibility? Ethics?
I would never appear on a program with Cohen, Wilber or Gafni let alone work with them. And if I was in a position of power as Cohen’s friends and supporters Ken Wilber, Craig Hamilton, Terry Patten, Marc Gafni, Genpo Roshi, Diane Hamilton are I would speak out against him. Do they deny the multiple, disturbing claims made by former disciples of Cohen? Or do they merely brush it aside as “Crazy Wisdom?” How can someone like Craig Hamilton continue to praise Cohen given the overwhelming evidence against him? After spending fifteen years with Cohen I suspect that Hamilton is still in Cohen’s cult trance. Can Cohen’s supporters be deemed legitimate if they are unable to call out his abusive, manipulative and sadistic behavior? There is really no excuse for the silence because it only enables Cohen further. In a post-Jonestown and present day Catholic Church scandal era we simply cannot afford their silence. I doubt any accountability will be had because this particular integral community is a family of “evolutionary thinkers,” who has discovered a revolutionary truth and will defend it to the end. They simply employ a form of group think that rationalizes, justifies and spins the truth to meet their agreed upon conclusions about each other.
The ultimate irony is of course that these spiritual teachers are supposedly on the forefront of instructing us on how to confront the shadow. However, I won’t take their advice until they confront the very large shadow of Andrew Cohen.
[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.]
You most likely know that Asheville, NC is widely thought of as a queer haven in the South. A recent headline boldly claimed it may be the “Most LGBT-Friendly City in the U.S.” There are even 83% more gay and lesbian people who live in Asheville compared with an average American city. Living up to this reputation means filling some big rainbow striped shoes, but if anyone can do it, we can.
Despite all the love however, it’s not uncommon to hear about LGBTQ folks being harassed. In 2012 a gay couple was violently assaulted walking downtown. Some have left and headed to the West coast and elsewhere because of the backlash they’ve received. One friend who recently moved wrote to me, “Get out of the south. Asheville is not what it’s talked up to be. I don’t feel comfortable in this city being Gay, can’t imagine being in your shoes!”
Those of us who do stick around, particularly trans folks like myself, know important battles still have to be fought to make the communities that define Asheville live up to it’s glowing promise of inclusion. And it’s not just Bible thumping, Trump supporting Christians who need to be challenged.
This years Asheville Beltane festival was not trans inclusive, at least initially. I was at the center of a several week long painful fight that led to it becoming fully inclusive just a few days before it started. In the end, a community was left divided, friendships were ruined, a slew of hurtful and ignorant remarks were made and the event was almost canceled. It was another reminder of how anti-LGBTQ hostility doesn’t only come from the right. Oddly enough, it all happened in this Southern city of pride, at a spiritual festival organized by liberal progressives.
According to the Asheville Beltane Facebook event the festival is “a celebration of flowers, wreaths, and joy! Also fertility, fire, and passion! The wheel of the year turns now to the Goddess of Spring, the God of the Sun, and the Magician, Bridger of Worlds!” It attracts around 100 people annually and has existed in Asheville for over 10 years.
To several of the organizers’ surprise, long time event organizers Alexandra Tait and Jeremy Schewe were staunchly opposed to including trans folks in the men’s and women’s ceremonies. And because the team of six people had not clarified and posted a policy on this beforehand it led to the whole drama playing out in public in the Facebook event. The episode became a textbook example of how to re-marginalize and oppress an already marginalized group.
As it unfolded I was subjected to wide variety of exclusionary comments like this one: “I place a higher importance on honoring magic, ritual and spiritual tradition over someone’s feelings getting hurt because they felt excluded. If someone is making this big of a deal over not being included in the only way THEY see fit — then perhaps it is because they ALREADY feel excluded to begin with and are in projection mode.” New Age transphobia?
Organizer Rob Lenfesty commented to me that I could go to the men’s circle, “To be fair, I believe that a trans woman who was born male and has ejaculated would, by the existing rules, be fully welcome in the men’s circle and vice versa.” Unbelievable. While Rob said he personally would not choose to organize the festival that way, he repeatedly defended the other organizers choice to do so because they were doing it based on “fertility.” He said “I do not believe it actually stands against my values” in regards to the exclusion of trans folks based on Alexandra and Jeremy’s reasoning.
As opposed to joining the actual women’s or men’s ceremonies, organizer Alexandra Tait said that trans folks could “tie the ribbons, frolic and tend the Bonfire.” The mystery ceremonies were for “male bodied” and “women bodied” people only. She clearly stated that trans folks were not allowed. She advised folks who don’t want the “real” Beltane experience to “celebrate your belly buttons” instead, citing fellow organizer Trey Crispen.
Tait even said that trans women are not women in one of her comments.
One commenter questioned my motives for wanting to attend the festival. She also asked if I did this sort of thing for every event I went to. I said, “Do you ask these type of questions of everyone who was invited to the Facebook event and thought it was interesting and wanted to attend?” Her intrusive line of questioning seemed odd and to imply some sort of ulterior motive.
Another person repeatedly attacked and harassed me in the Facebook event calling me “vicious,” “violent,” “ignorant,” “aggressive” and “angry.” She accused me of dishonoring the ceremony and wanting to “blowup and insult” it. She said I have a phobia of straight people. She said I was “spewing venom” and demanding that the ritual be erased for “my own sexual preference.”
And then after witnessing all of these horrible comments and knowing that I had clearly stated I had no interest in attending the event, organizer and chef Trey Crispen had the audacity to message me this,“I was hoping to invite you to dinner Saturday night with Jeremy and Alexandra…I strongly believe you would find a safe space in and among these people.” Wow. The level of ignorance and senselessness that would lead someone to say that is astounding given what had just transpired. I was dumbfounded. I’m also told that Trey seemed to be confused as to why they couldn’t just exclude trans folks from the event.
All of this stemmed from me posting a simple question in the Facebook event, “Is this festival trans inclusive?”
Transphobia on the Left
Hatred, awkward comments and transphobia on the left are nothing new to me. I’ve written extensively about transphobia in radical left spaces and prominent progressive organizations.
In 2013 I broke the story about serious transphobia in well known environmentalist Derrick Jensen’s group Deep Green Resistance. Their ideology stems out of a lesbian separatist movement that denies the existence of trans people. Co-founder Lierre Keith has written that trans people were invented out of the porn culture of the 70s. The popular evolutionary consciousness blog Reality Sandwichpublished a very disturbing article filled with hateful and ignorant statements against trans folks and defended it. Liberal writer and poet Anne Lamott tweeted transphobic statements about Caitlyn Jenner when she came out. Noted Buddhist Feminist scholar Rita Gross has displayed a serious ignorance of trans issues. There are too many to cite all of them.
The same lesbian separatist ideology that shapes Deep Green Resistance co-founders Lierre Keith and Derrick Jensen is what motivated Asheville Beltane organizer Alexandra Tait to staunchly oppose the full inclusion of trans folks in the festival. It’s called Trans Exclusive Radical Feminism (TERF). TERF’s are a small but vocal contingent of the left that find common ground with the most conservative and hateful groups who are against trans people. They draw from their same ideas and reasoning as well. Tait echoed right wing ideology with comments like this: “There has to be a safe space and container for natural born women to be with other natural born women.”
I immediately knew that Tait was a TERF when, in her early comments, she wrote “trans woman” in quotes. That’s what people do who don’t believe trans people are real. And again, she eventually came right out and said that trans women are not women.
While Alexandra Tait’s exclusionary views stemmed from TERF ideology, the other organizer against trans inclusion, Jeremy Schewe, apparently just couldn’t wrap his mind around the existence of trans people. Despite lengthy conversations with several people he was unable to grasp how being transgender is a real phenomenon. He wouldn’t budge.
This illustration by Tikva Wolf was posted in the Facebook event during the whole debacle and captures perfectly how silly it is to have to defend the existence of trans people.
Tradition or Transphobia?
Alexandra Tait couched her exclusionary TERF views in ancient tradition, ritual and fertility rites. Myself and others were quick to point out that many other Beltane festivals are trans inclusive. I asked “Does anyone believe that Alexandra really, really wants to include trans folks but cannot because of some ancient tradition or rule?” The answer is, of course not. Folks who want to include trans people in Beltane or anything else, include us. It’s simple. Those who do not, find a wide variety of excuses to exclude us.
Any Beltane festival in 2017 is also mix of a wide variety of traditions that have evolved and been shaped over hundreds of years. One person responded,
“Like others have said, we’re not sacrificing the May Queen anymore, or even requiring she be a virgin! If we insist on keeping trans women out, we’re being the same as the Bible literalists who are anti-gay marriage but still eat shellfish. Everyone who is upset about the “loss of tradition”, I am really curious to know why the Queen being cis is so much more important than her being virginal?”
From another commenter:
“All traditions are made up…Beltane was originally a gathering of farmers to bless their live stock and celebrate spring. The way we celebrate here is a patchwork quilt of different “traditions” from multiple cultures. There is very little “Ancient” about it. Since Beltane is supposed to serve the community, let the community decide how it wants Beltane to serve it.”
According to Alexandra Tait and Jeremy Schewe, trans folks could attend the festival, they just could not participate in the men’s and women’s ceremonies. Of course, by excluding trans folks from one part of the event they effectively excluded us from the entire event. Why would we feel welcome in a space that treated us like second class citizens? Why would we want to share community with people like that?
Some folks also said that trans men and women should go to the 3rd space alternative for gender non-binary folks. However, having someone who identifies as a trans man or woman go to a separate space is like asking a Jewish woman to go to a separate group than the other women. It’s inherently discriminatory.
Asheville Stands Up
At first I was fighting this fight mostly alone, and it required a lot of time and emotional labor. Despite claims that I was “angry” or “vicious,” nothing could be further from the truth. I responded respectfully and civilly to every comment in the Facebook group. I tried to educate and inform at every step. One person even said: “I thank you for taking a difficult stand, and for speaking with such clarity and non-blaming, non-judgmental, language.”
As the drama played out in the Facebook event over the course of a week, more allies stepped up and spoke out. Numerous people wrote very insightful, poignant and powerful responses to the disgusting diatribes they were witnessing.
“I am deeply saddened and disappointed to learn that this event is not trans-inclusive. I cannot continue to support this event.”
“Having been to this event and in the Men’s Circle I do not see any negative consequences of allowing people to align with their soul guided gender orientation. I believe the magic shared in these circles is only powered by the way we walk the road, not by what person is or is not privy to the mystery shared there.”
“This is a serious issue and bothers me a good bit period if it’s true that person isn’t not allowed to participate based on the gender of their identity, that’s a big problem”
“Oh my god. I am so sorry. I apologize on behalf of all of this. You did not ask to be in this role. I have tremendous respect and appreciation for you.”
“Thank’s for your persistence Be. This is not just about trans rights but a metaphor for queer rights and inclusion everywhere. I am really saddened to see how these seemingly liberal folks can’t open heir minds just a tad to include trans folks.”
“Marginalized people have to go through enough in normal life without being expected to show up as second-class citizens to an event in attempts to educate the people who should be educating themselves.”
“This post is so gross, and I’m shocked at how well it was received. It clearly uses pagan and feminist language to defend trans-exclusion. Thinking like this is what is creating transphobia.”
This comment wins the day:
“If it’s just sour-faced, self-appointed “priestesses” claiming that they know some secret of what magic does and doesn’t do when faced with our binary views of what our bodies versus our spirits say about us, why don’t *they* do some private, genital-specific rituals off on their own? Fuck this nonsense. I’d rather stay home. It all seems so self-important and uptight.”
A Rainbow Victory
A persistent voice for inclusion were organizers Taylor Johnson and Kathryn Grover. They were facing significant pressure from long time organizers Alexandra and Jeremy as well as trying to manage an event that was publicly spiraling out of control. For some organizers friendships were at stake, for others, professional relationships were also in the mix. Without this factor I’m confident all of the other organizers aside from Alexandra and Jeremy would have been fine with trans inclusion. The tight knit relationships played a significant role.
It’s important to note that this years transformation had it’s roots in a principled stand taken by former Beltane queen Liat Batshira. When she brought up the issue of trans inclusion last year she was told “those people belong at Short Mountain.” She protested that excluding trans folks would mean leaving out friends and important community members. So, she boycotted the women’s ceremonies and started the 3rd space alternative group. She stated, “I felt like if not all women were welcome in the queens tent I didn’t want to be part of it.”
When Kathryn posted a strong statement of support in the Facebook event for trans inclusion this year it was undoubtedly building on Liat’s efforts from last year. Kathryn worked diligently behind the scenes to make Beltane inclusive. She stated,
“I am intensely debating your and my shared viewpoint currently within the organizing team. I want you to know that as an organizer I am strongly advocating for women- all women- to be more than welcome in the women’s circle. I support you and agree and am working hard to change minds behind the scenes so that the Asheville Regional Beltane lives up to its name. To be clear, as an organizer, I feel strongly that a trans woman is a woman as much as I am. I want you in the queens tent.”
In the end, several organizers would lose friends permanently for taking a stand.
Taylor also fought diligently to make this event inclusive and lost friends in the process. After countless hours of tireless work with no foreseeable conclusion in sight he finally put his foot down as the lease holder of the land and said it will 100% be trans inclusive no matter what. At that point and after all the heated debate, Alexandra and Jeremey stepped out and decided to have their own separate trans-exclusionary Beltane at a later date.
With Alexandra and Jeremy out the others were free to publish a fully inclusive statement. The creation of the statement was a group effort between Kathryn, Kai and Taylor.
We believe in crafting a culture of Asheville Regional Beltane that represents the present Asheville Region. This absolutely and without question includes our trans brothers and sisters, as well as folks who are gender-queer, gender-fluid, agender, two-spirit, intersex, and any and all other identities. By including people of all identities, we are creating a new branch of the Beltane lineage.
We state here and now, that Asheville Regional Beltane will move forward with its full heart embracing the reality that ALL people belong in whatever circle(s) they identify with. Each person has the right to participate in whatever ceremony(ies) they choose, having read our policy stated below. We believe unequivocally that a person who identifies as a woman is welcome in the women’s circle, and a person who identifies as a man is welcome in the men’s circle. We state strongly that the energy of the binary magic we create is enhanced and enlivened by having all types of people present, each following the energetic calling of their highest and most potent selves.
It took several weeks of fighting and dozens and dozens of comments but in the end trans inclusion won out.
I’m told that no trans folks actually attended the event although there were several people in the third space for those who are gender non-conforming.
This experience made my life in Asheville even more difficult. The background community I relied on is now tainted. I no longer feel comfortable in many of the spaces I used to. I stopped going to the events, workshops and gatherings I would have otherwise gone to. It added another layer of tension, awkwardness and uncertainty to my life that I didn’t need. I don’t know who is friend or foe, even amongst the folks who are supposed to be my friends. No longer can I just assume that the majority of people in my scene are supportive. For some, I’m the one who “ruined Beltane.” Ugh.
Some organizers lost friends and their relationship to community and the festival also changed. It divided us for sure. Many have lost interest in organizing or even attending the Beltane festival. The queer community on Short Mountain does a fabulously gay/queer/inclusive celebration every year. More and more people in Asheville have expressed interest in this gathering.
For me personally it’s another lost opportunity to gather in community. It’s a huge loss. I’ve fought so hard to be able to have these types of experiences. It’s more missed fun, joy, love and connection. It’s devastating.
On the positive, the Beltane event and other Asheville events are much more likely to be trans inclusive from now on. This experience was a huge wake up call for many. There is so much more awareness of how important trans inclusion is in our communities.
I want to end with something I posted in the Facebook event:
“Events like these can be so important for trans folks given the everyday exclusion we face. It just hurts more when the transformative communities also exclude us because there are so few spaces for us to be comfortable in. Getting shut out of an event like this is not just an isolated thing for trans folks. It happens in a context of intense exclusion in life in general. But the people at Beltane are supposedly my friends, are progressive, “spiritual” and more aware. So, it sucks when this stuff happens with a supposedly inclusive community.
I’m excluded from most all jobs, there’s only a handful of cities I feel comfortable living in, I always have to check or am worried if a business or service provider is trans friendly, getting a lease is always a concern, I don’t travel much, I fear even getting pulled over, I’m shut out from many spaces, every new activity or event I go to I have to seriously think about it and wonder if it will be alright, I receive lots of weird comments, I’m the only trans person wherever I go, my existence is constantly questioned and debated, laws are passed to prevent me from using the restroom, people portray trans folks as predators, we are discriminated against in every area of life…
I’d wish that these festivals and events could be a reprieve from the harsh reality of being trans but sometimes they are part of the problem.”
Fifteen women and two men have come forth with accusations of abuse against spiritual teacher and self proclaimed “child prodigy” Padma Aon Prakasha. They include allegations of physical and emotional abuse and manipulation. While on spiritual retreats, women who spoke against his tactics were often told they had “satanic contracts” or were under the influence of the “Twisted Sisterhood” — discarnate female spirits who are angry at men. Marriages or partnerships were ended at Padma’s direction and he would suggest sexual partners for members. A spiritual pilgrimage in Egypt turned into a hunt for dark aliens in the pyramids and culminated in Padma claiming to channel the Anti-Christ into a woman’s womb for transmutation while she laid naked on a sarcophagus. In 2011, he told his group the end of the world was near and they needed to move to Australia where they formed the “Aon Sphere” community.
[Each of these articles takes many 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.]
“Padma was a tough, rigorous, irascible teacher, frequently screaming, making us easily feel worthless or incapable, treating us as kids.”
In 2015 Ashley Ray (not her real name) arrived in Hawaii for a Womb Wisdom retreat based on the teachings of Padma Aon Prakasha. It was being taught by the mother of his child and core instructor of his work, Shekinah Zorenski. Ashley had already read his books and been enrolled in his 6-month online course which Padma oversaw. After meeting in person for the first time in Hawaii after the retreat he messaged her and told her that she could be a great teacher of his work but needed a “healed masculine presence” first. He then visited her at the retreat center Ashley was staying at. She describes what happened when Padma was in her room one evening:
“He then kissed me and quickly moved himself on top of me…The way he placed himself onto me was overwhelming and I could feel pain shooting inside my mouth as he kissed me with intense vigor…I was so surrendered and even though it hurt, I didn’t have enough within me to tell him to stop. I was powerless and weak underneath him…The next morning I woke up with swollen and bruised lips and a gut feeling that something was not right.”
Just before moving himself on top of Ashley, Padma told Ashley that they had been Egyptian lovers in a former lifetime. It began after dinner when Padma touched her thigh and “energy shot through” her “entire body.” He then brought her to her room to share a story about how he was a Priest and she was a Priestess in a past life. “He kept telling me I was his ‘soul mate.’” She even felt “special and exalted in his presence” she says. He also told her that he was Judas and she believed him. Ashley said she was “shaken at the core and so entranced” that such a powerful spiritual figure had come onto her. She was 24 at the time and Padma was 40.
Padma would later have sex with Ashley and they then became lovers on and off. She said that she was in a very vulnerable state at the time and viewed him in extremely high regard having previously read his books. While Padma wasn’t teaching that first retreat she was on, he did teach part of the second retreat she participated in. She viewed him as her teacher and he eventually told her that he was her teacher. He also slept with other women who were followers of his work according to these women.
Another student spoke up against Padma as she was aware of the relationship with Ashley:
“It began when I decided to message Padma and express my feelings of anger and concern for Ashley, and that I did not feel it was okay for a ‘teacher’ to be intimate with a student in the way I had witnessed them. His response was that I was having feelings from a past life arise, that this was all because of something that Ashley, him and I had been through in Egypt.”
Padma also intentionally kept the relationship secret. The same student continues: “No one other than Ashley, myself and the guides knew about Padma relating with Ashley. I’m sure others may have suspected, but we were not allowed to speak to it to anyone.”
According to the numerous women who have come forward, Padma Aon (real name Vikas Sharma), has used spiritual teachings about the divine feminine to exploit and abuse women for nearly 15 years. One former member says he’s “on a pathologically, psychopathically, narcissistically, driven mission to bed as many women as he can possibly seduce, under the twisted guise of ‘empowering’ and ‘sexually healing / activating’ them.” His quest has taken him from Bali to Egypt where he’s led retreats called “Womb Wisdom,” “Wounds of Love” and “The Seven Gates” among others about feminine wisdom. The retreat schedules were arduous. One former follower describes them:
“Lots of chanting, sounding, breath work, transmissions and deep deep states. Teaching schedule is all day and often into the night. It’s very intense with practices that are difficult to endure. Lots of challenging postures (like squatting ) for prolonged periods of time which result in all kinds of breaking down. All done to release spirits, dispel curses and spells… it’s nothing but one cathartic process after the other. He has no training what so ever — making it up as he goes along.”
In an effort to maintain control, Padma and his former partner Shekinah would often tell women that some women had “satanic contracts” on them. They also used a term Padma coined called “Twisted Sisterhood” which meant “Discarnate female spirits who are angry with men.” If a woman spoke up against Padma’s abuse he would tell her she “did not know her own mind because she was terribly possessed.” One woman describes when she found out the reason she was banned from the group:
“I later found out that the reason for me being banished from the course and all work with the ‘team’ was due to having a ‘satanic contract.’ There was a list sent to Jamie which she shared with me that I was on this list. At the time I was really broken by this, I felt horrified at the depths of my darkness, that I could be so dark.”
“One practice we did we were in prayer and Shekinah began to tell one woman that she had invited Satan into this space, that she had made a dark contract and should feel why she was now inviting this energy into the space. This woman wept as the rest of the sisters looked on.”
On many occasions the women were asked to break off long-lasting friendships, partnerships and even marriages at Padma’s direction. One person was even told to abandon their children because “it was God’s plan.”He also told some women with children that they were less spiritually evolved because of their kids. One woman describes how difficult it was for her to separate from her husband:
“While living in Australia he asked my husband and myself to get separated for the second time. I left the group the following morning after crying out all night and that moment of separation was awful for me…He asked me to go to an Osho ashram in Puna (India) for nearly 3 months and said it would be good I had a sexual experience over there. We were again not allowed to have any written or oral exchanges between my husband and myself. Under influence we accepted. That was again a very difficult time for me.”
It was common for Padma to also suggest or assign sexual partners for members, telling them they needed to explore new experiences.
Many women who had read Padma’s books and went on spiritual retreat with him were enamored and awestruck by him just as Ashley was. And he used many of the same manipulative tactics on all of them, including telling several of the women they were married in former Egyptian lives. Searching for healing and growth, they believed him when he told them he was the only path to God. Padma told one woman she had the sign of Christ in her third eye and that she could be one of his special teachers. He said that she was “sphere 2” but would have to grow another sphere to be considered as a teacher.
Padma would exploit the women’s trauma and vulnerability to maintain power and fulfill his cult ambitions. As one former follower explains:
“The underlying truth in all the sacred journeys that I arranged with Padma was his manipulation in weaving history, mythology, and fantasy into something that supported his ‘powerful’ connection to greater beings and the ‘Source’ of creation. And we all fell for it.”
And Padma would engage in some very strange practices to achieve his goals.
“Hunt for Dark Aliens”
Anaiya Sophia, who co-authored books with Padma and was married to him for a year shares her story of being on retreat in Egypt with him in 2009. She describes it as “pure madness.” It began with him wanting her to be sexual with another female participant. She declined. He “was furious, saying this refusal was my own conditioning, and how I needed to move beyond it” she stated. Then Padma had 2 hours of private time after hours in the pyramid. At that point things took a dark turn. Anaiya explains:
“The whole retreat turned into fantasy driven hunt for dark aliens inside of the ancient Egyptian tombs. He announced that he was the reincarnation of Osiris and this was a big mission, that we were destined to accomplish. It really was a life or death situation. Towards the end of the retreat, the final ceremony took place in the Cheops pyramid where he ‘channelled’ the anti-Christ and all that was dark and evil into my womb for transmutation. He felt that my health crisis was a sign that I had an open and pure womb, and that I was destined to take on this level of work on behalf of us all.
As I was lying naked in the sarcophagus, and the strange proceedings began. I knew to hold onto my prayers for dear life.
At first, the group of 28 women and a few men faced the walls of the pyramid, and had their hands against the walls. Padma asked them to chant, and I believe he was sounding all kinds of things. The lights were out. It was a 2 hr darkness experience. Padma passed out and slumped against the Sarcophagus after a while. I was just lying there in the dark holding very tightly to all feels good in the world.
Another member who was present describes her experience:
“I opened my heart fully with the desire that all be safe here, and then, all of a sudden, I felt this amazing energy pouring out of my heart and hands into the darkened room. All that I sensed were these rainbow streams of light frequencies and sound currents flowing within and around the room, to guard and protect all from the swirls of darkness emanating from within and around Padma.
I realized much later that a part of my presence with Padma was indeed to keep a balance so that the dark would not overtake the sacred space or the individuals present.”
The End of the World
During a seminar in France in 2011, Padma told participants they needed to move to Australia. One member recalls that Padma told them:
“He has got the information that the end of the world will soon appear and the only way to stay alive is to go to Australia. Then he asked who among us would like to leave with him in order not to die. We were 11 who decided to go to Australia with him in September 2011. That was extremely hard for me as I had to leave my children, gran children, family and friends behind me in Switzerland, but it was the way for not losing my husband.”
Another member divorced her husband, left her family and left everything to follow Padma to Australia:
“He informed us that earth, and society as we knew it, was imminently destined for upheaval and drastic changes. He was calling forth ‘brave souls’ that would stand up and fight with him against the cosmic dark forces. Simply put, I did not want to ‘miss the boat’ to transcendence, and I really believed that Padma knew the way ‘home’.
Another says the move to Australia was prompted by Padma learning of a “future major devastation of planet earth due to the awakening of super-volcanoes in 2012.” He describes what was required to make the move:
“In an extremely short period of time, we thus went through an extensive phase of detachment, by getting rid of our material belongings and social engagements, and saying goodbye to our friends and family before moving to Australia end of September 2011. There were 11 of us, from all around the globe, committed to the experience and personal growth.”
The Aon Sphere
While in Australia they searched for land to purchase to set up this new community known as the “Aon Sphere.” In the meantime they rented a luxury home with views of Byron Bay. Members were told by Padma that there were divine energies supporting them to help humanity evolve. They would meet nightly for “Kodoishka.” This was Padma chanting for hours in a foreign language that at times would last all night. One former member describes their routine, “Practice was going on, rather regularly — when we deserved it, in the evenings, through meditation, sacred sounds chanting or with the seldom use of 3D geometries.”
When members first arrived they were required to put all of their cash into a bowl on the kitchen table. One couple recalls putting in $20,000.
“We were just his playthings; a source of amusement to him. We were all under some kind of dark spell; brainwashed into giving him our power which he was using to manipulate us.”
Eventually, Padma moved the community to one of the member’s country homes in France, requiring them to do extensive remodeling to suit his needs. At that time there were only about six members still part of the group. The community eventually fizzled out in August of 2012 after Padma suddenly “announced his decision to stop being a teacher, move out of the Center, go back to London and be a great music composer. He was “giving us the key of the Center. We had learned enough, his job was completed.” Padma returned just a month later, however. He then refused to leave the community without a significant payment from the house owners, as reimbursement of the works he had funded with sponsors’ money to satisfy his personal comfort and requirements, which they begrudgingly supplied.
One former member reflects on Padma’s true intentions about their time in Australia:
“He got himself a fabulous all expenses paid holiday in Australia for five or six months. Sailing in the Whitman Islands on a privately chartered yacht, scuba diving the reefs, sky-diving, luxury-living, driving a luxury Volvo SUV — that I ended up with all his irresponsible speeding tickets for! All fully paid for and serviced by all of us + sexually serviced, too, by a series of willing, albeit manipulated women. We all got duped into his deplorably selfish, incredibly destructive scheme.”
“I was a part of a cult. There, I said it. A cult.”
Anaiya Sophia says that Padma was physically and emotionally abusive to her:
“We would have blazing rows, and that would often end in physical violence because I would try to leave…He would try to lock me in a room or grab me as I tried to leave through the front door, or out of a window. I would try to get out of his clutches and we would often end up on the floor wrestling with one another…There was a particularly wild night where he smashed in the doors and walls of the house…It wasn’t a case of punching, but brawling.I would forever be trying to escape through doors and windows and he would simply pull me back in. To get off the island — seemed impossible…There was one time we were arguing in his mother’s house in London, and he threw me across the room…It is a miracle that I am still here.
One time he yelled at me ‘I am the anti-Christ’ and I completely believed him.”
She recounts how one time he asked her to commit suicide with him:
“There were times when he would plunge into a deep depression. Just lying on the sofa, not speaking and growing grayer and grayer. One time he asked me to commit suicide with him. I was terrified. I really thought he meant it. I think at the time he really did. At first, I said no, which angered him. After a while I said yes, but I didn’t mean it. I just wanted him to stop talking in that way.
After one former partner refused to have an abortion Padma tried to attack her:
“He chased me around the kitchen at my parents’ home, trying to punch me in the stomach in order to do the job himself. I pulled out a knife to keep him away and fortunately my parents arrived and we ‘acted like nothing was happening.’ I was in shock and he left.”
She also says that he claimed to have given his ex-girlfriend two abortions by his own hands:
“With his own hands and intention, he performed the death of the fetus himself. He placed his hands on the womb of the mother of his unborn child and asked the fetus to return to God and it was not welcome here. He said that it was a loving exchange and an agreeance between him and his child.”
On one retreat the same ex-girlfriend also claims that “He threatened to break my fingers because he thought I’d treated his expensive camera roughly.”
Padma co-opted and warped a Tibetan practice called pulsing where someone would sit on top of another’s womb to open the energy. From the various women that came forth it is described almost as a form of abuse as Padma did it in a much more harsh and violent way:
“Yes, so the pulsing we did in the womb wisdom retreats is not the “real” Tibetan pulsing. What we would do, is sit on another women’s womb and sink down fully and then bounce/thrust on top of our sisters wombs, using shakti to move into the womb and open the energy. We would also do this on the heart. It was more controlled on the heart but often very, very painful.”
Another testimonial about pulsing:
“During the retreat I witnessed a sister being pulsed by Shekinah, she was being told she had a spirit in her and it needed to be pulsed out. I was close by and I felt how this was not right, that this woman was in pain, emotionally & physically. This was really traumatizing to witness.”
“Shekinah asked others to brutally pound me in pulsing. At Glastonbury when I first experienced pulsing my body and mind went into shock. My knees (I have arthritis) were so painful I screamed and my body was trembling. My hands would freeze and I couldn’t move them. It wasn’t clenched fists of anger it was pure shock.”
Emotional & Psychological Abuse
The testimonials from women include numerous accounts of emotional abuse and manipulation. Ashley Ray describes her experience with him:
“I remember him saying that the only thing I was good at was making love. I was ‘Satan’s whore, a slut, a cunt.’ When my face would break out due to my hormone imbalance he would call me “crater face” and would get angry at me for not being “feminine enough”, telling me I didn’t care enough about him to take care of myself.. After cooking for him, my food was “shit”. Time and time again he would tell me how stupid I was, that I was brainless.”
“He was very angry and verbally attacked and belittled me…he still ridiculed me to the point I was literally on the floor in shambles crying my eyes out, feeling deep remorse for how I was ‘too stupid’ and how I had harmed him and caused him to receive spirit attacks.”
A former partner describes how just after 3 weeks he began mistreating her:
“He then began abusing me saying that I was the stupidest person he’d ever met, severely creatively blocked and sexually damaged beyond repair. He thought that God had tricked him by ‘falling in love’ with a “commoner from Down Under,” (I am Australian) who knows nothing of spiritual matters. He yelled at God in rage that he deserved to be with someone of his development and spiritual superiority, but then felt “God” say that he needed to learn patience and that not everybody can learn as fast as he.”
A former student who took Padma’s online course and the Womb Wisdom course taught by Shekinah in which he partially taught:
“One day, Padma had me meet Ashley again, in his presence, and told us to hug one another. Resistantly, I did and we both began experiencing intense emotional releases. He then encouraged us to both lie on the bed and hold each other. He came closer to us and spoke words of being whores and betrayers of God as he gently touch points on both our bodies, which released more emotions through the receiving of intense energy in those places. That particular instance we laid there crying horrendously for about 4 hours.
Eventually, both of us laying in his arms sobbing and praying to God for forgiveness. For the next 8 months this continued. He would tell me that I had implants that he needed to remove in order for me to heal certain layers of my wounding from Egypt. But that he would only do so once I had done enough work, become humble and prayed deeply enough.
…In such spaces he would tell us we sold our souls to the devil and that we or Ashley was a whore of Satan. That we had betrayed him and the work he was doing for God with the Priestesses. Ashley was nearly always in a puddle of tears, praying for mine, Padmas and Gods forgiveness.
The same former student describes how Padma had Ashley call her while he was in the room and he forced her to confess “what she had done:”
“She meekly told me a story about her being possessed and harming others without her full knowing. That now it had come to light that her and I had these horrendous entities living in us that were trying to take down the work Padma had been creating to help the world. He yelled at her, and I watched her sink deeper into intense emotions. I felt so much shock and fear, I remember just being absolutely speechless and frozen as he told us we were no longer allowed to do practices and that we were cursed. That our wombs and souls were lost and that our lives would be spent rectifying our wrongs. That we should not have sex for at least 2 years and that we were to stay away from our wombs and any womb work. It was devastating and insane. I was in a complete state of freeze at that point. I could not grasp what was happening. He spun a story around her and I attempting a demise of the entire planet.”
“Padma made it a point of letting me know that I was not a ‘real woman’…I was subject to verbal chastisement, and witness to that same behavior with others as well. I personally experienced and witnessed his rage & anger on multiple occasions.”
“I couldn’t speak because of fear against this behaviour, the evil was pouring from his mouth. He was shouting at the other teachers telling them they were ‘fucking old men’ the two teachers in tears… so unloving. My soul was raging sat in that room, but I was frozen with fear feeling my own powerlessness against this cruel wounded man.”
One person describes the volatile personality of Padma, “I was scared of his unexpected violent reactions, his attacking my sense of worth or rejecting me as well, and I did not dare to question his authority.”
A former member explains how Padma victim blamed people:
“[In] Hawaii alarm bells started ringing as I started to see Padma’s behaviour shift, informing one woman at a retreat whom had cancer, ‘Your cancer is karmic and your soul is locked up in hell because of the horrible things you did in ancient Egypt and only I have the keys to set you free but not until you are humble.’
At the second retreat in Hawaii I began to notice he was manipulating women to fancy him and I felt a deep sense of illness in my stomach that something wasn’t right…At night I would feel his soul visit the rooms we were sleeping in.”
During a private healing session one woman describes what happened:
“After I told him of my aversion to my parents smoking, he purposefully blew cigarette smoke into my face and I believed his assurances, that it would aid me in overcoming my judgmental disgust and bronchial weakness — assist it may, but it was one of the first signs of feeling cruelly abused.
More harsh words and belittling were followed by what appeared to be a trance like state and then a sudden switch to tenderness and empathy for the ‘past life I had endured as a princess of the Sinai’ (Egypt). He told me that this experience had been blocking me from my true potential, all my life and only he could help me to ‘remove the four locks placed upon the gateways of my womb’.”
“I also witnessed a true lack of respect for women, for the feminine, combined with an arrogance and rudeness I had never seen before, especially from a man pretending honouring the Divine Feminine. I witnessed him on several occasions humiliating women of his ‘crew’ in Egypt and Hawaï. And there were moments where I did not feel truly respected either. Whenever I did say something, he was always right and the other person had still work to do for his/her growth, except himself.”
The New Predator
“The dark attack will start its commandeering of the female power in the actual “womb” to stop this [return of the feminine] from occurring in the physical plane.”
Former partner of Padma, Anaiya Sophia, now writes about the phenomenon of the “New Predator.” She quotes Eve Lorgen on the subject:
“The New Predator topic has been long awaited and is something that needs to be disclosed because of its extreme lethality, toxicity and spiritual danger. In some respects, the New Predator has qualities of a classic Dark Side of Cupid — “alien love bite” dynamic, but presents with more “fallen angel” characteristics.”
Anaiya Sophia expands further:
“Usually these New Predator’s are men (and some women), who seek out the opening, creative spirit held in the womb space for their own gain. It’s time to name the elephant in the room, and encourage women back into their own seat of sovereign power.”
She along with the other women who have come forth want to warn others about this “New Predator,” Padma Aon. He is still teaching and offering retreats worldwide. They want to expose his dangerous and abusive behavior. For years, they claim he has taken advantage of dozens of people, often in their most vulnerable and fragile states. He’s taken some of the most sacred teachings about feminine spirituality and womb wisdom and exploited them for his own sexual and financial gain. As one former member describes, “I felt deep disappointment, great lack of respect and genuine love for the feminine, the art in manipulation, judgment and arrogance and abuse of vulnerability, sensitivity, generosity and kindness making most of the women, but also men, blind.”
At this moment of great accountability and awareness these women’s voices must not be ignored. They are standing up against a powerful and intimidating figure who needs to be understood for who he is. They are clear in that they wish no personal harm to him, rather only to expose his dangerous and harmful ways. They must not be forgotten at this new time of women’s empowerment. Their voices are powerful, important and brave.
Eckhart Tolle’s books The Power of Now and A New Earth have not only sold millions of copies and been translated into dozens of languages but they’ve earned him the title “the most popular spiritual author in the [United States]” by The New York Times. He’s gained worldwide popularity amongst the masses and widespread admiration from movie stars, celebrities and famous musicians. Annie Lennox of the Eurhythmics said that he “has some kind of special quality that I’ve never seen before.” One student of his work asked in an online forum, “has he appeared in your dreams as well?” Oprah included The Power of Now in her 2000 book club, helping to launch it to the number one spot on the NYT book list a few years later. They also teamed up in 2008 to produce a 10-week webinar on the teachings of A New Earth. Millions of people from around the world tuned in for this first of its kind techno-spiritual phenomenon. Never before was so much wisdom instantly accessible and easily understood.”
Given the central role Tolle plays in modern spiritual thinking, his ideas have world-wide implications. He is one of many modern day teachers who emphasizes internal transformation as the central most important part of global transformation. As a result he makes quite exaggerated statements about the relationship between a privatized psychological shift and the larger transformation of the planet. His solutions are simplistic and border on irresponsible, especially when so much is at stake. Understanding the details of his spiritual framework and how his personal experience of transformation influenced it sheds light into Tolle’s thinking.
Tolle’s framework and approach are shaped by a profound awakening experience he had when in his early twenties. After this powerful inner shift Tolle claims to have lived in a “state of uninterrupted deep peace and bliss” for around five months. He studied spiritual texts, worked with teachers and eventually spent two years in a state of profound joy while sitting on park benches. He was realizing that his shift in thinking had peeled back the layers to reveal the “ever-present ‘I am’: consciousness in its pure state prior to identification with form.” Tolle had discovered something of immense value and was now ready to share it with the world.
Tolle’s Vision of Social Change
Given the profound nature of Tolle’s personal awakening and the incredible sense of peace and joy that he felt one can see why he makes a direct link between his own private experience and social transformation. Indeed, if there is a defining theme in his work it is just that: internal spiritual transformation leads to a better, more peaceful and just world. More so, Tolle identifies a shift in the inner world as the only significant factor in social change.
The primary factor in creation is consciousness. No matter how active we are, how much effort we make, our state of consciousness creates our world, and if there is no change on the inner level, no amount of action will make any difference. We would only re-create modified versions of the same world again and again, a world that is an external reflection of the ego.
This line of thinking is problematic. For example if someone were organizing to change the racist institutional structures in society but yet hadn’t changed on the “inner level” Tolle is stating that their work would be futile. Of course people with lots of inner baggage contribute immensely to the transformation of the world and similarly, those who have done years of therapy, are deeply in love with healthy families are responsible for supporting some of the most harmful policies. He proposes that once people awaken to the deepest experience of Being the world will somehow drastically change.
We are not separate from our world, so when the majority of humans become free of egoic delusion, this inner change will affect all of creation. You will literally inhabit a new world. It is a shift in planetary consciousness.
We first need to ask, when one becomes free of egoic delusion what will their positions be on abortion, health care or foreign policy? Won’t this “new world” merely reflect the views of those who describe it, like Tolle? Egoic delusion is vague and it’s unclear what this means in the context of social transformation. In an interview Tolle admits to have $4 million dollars just sitting in the bank. What is the best “ego-free” use of that money? Becoming free of egoic delusion does nothing to provide answers to the most complex moral questions we face. Thus, it is inaccurate to suggest that once we are all free of ego we will inhabit a new world. In order to believe Tolle, you have to think that anyone who “awakens” will necessarily share the exact same social, political and cultural ideology. Secondly, forget about ethical systems, community, protesting or frameworks for engaging with others, everything one needs to play his or her part in the creation of a new world can be found within. He states, “The light of consciousness is all that is necessary. You are that light.” Global transformation has never been easier.
Tolle’s bold claim rests on the belief in a “vast realm of intelligence beyond thought,” that once accessed will guide and direct the planetary transformation through humans. In short, God is evolving through us. It is in this space if Being that such universal experiences as “beauty, love, creativity, joy and inner peace” originate. This energy is the “intelligence, the organizing principle behind the arising form.” Tolle uses the terms Source, the Unmanifested, consciousness, God and Being interchangeably to describe this realm or force. This intelligence has designed the world through its continual unfolding. The Unmanifested flows “through human form…becomes conscious and thus fulfills its destiny. The human form was created for this higher purpose, and millions of other forms prepared the ground for it.” God created humans to fulfill God’s divine destiny.
What keeps us separated from this Source according to Tolle? It’s simple: identification with the mind. By this he means incessant mental chatter, confusing our true identity with form or labels and the obsession with the false egoic self. This is nothing other than evil. He states, “If evil has any reality — it is has a relative not an absolute, reality — this is also its definition: complete identification with form — physical forms, thought forms, emotional forms.” This false identification leads to ignorance and beliefs of separation and hence the complex global challenges that we currently face.
In The Power of Now, Tolle suggests there are various “portals into the Unmanifested” which lead beyond the limited identification with ego. They include: connecting to the body, dreamless sleep, surrender, the now, space and silence. Opening ourselves to pure consciousness via these methods, we can play our part in the unfolding of the divine will.
Without the impairment of egoic dysfunction, our intelligence comes into full alignment with the outgoing cycle of universal intelligence and its impulse to create. We become conscious participants in the creation of form. It is not we who create, but universal intelligence that creates through us.
Tolle claims that when he is speaking it isn’t him but rather the pure power of presence that is speaking through him. It’s interesting as this is an almost universally shared claim made by many other gurus, preachers and religious leaders. Many mainline Christian ministers claim that God is speaking through them. And of course Neale Donald Walsch claims in Conversations with God that God actually dictated several books worth of material to him. Yet God seems to be saying very different things to Tolle, Walsch and Pat Robertson. How can this be?
As we have seen, Tolle believes that God is evolving through us to awaken his or her divine planetary will on earth. How does he substantiate this theory? He doesn’t. The only evidence he can point to for his theology is that more and more people are abandoning “mind-dominated religions.” This is evidence, according to Tolle, that a new consciousness is arising through us. It’s not convincing. Besides, around the globe “mind-dominated” religion is spreading quickly. He gives more insight into his cosmology.
But what we are doing here is part of a profound transformation that is taking place in the collective consciousness of the planet and beyond: the awakening of consciousness from the dream of matter, form, and separation. The ending of time…On our planet, the human ego represents the final stage of universal sleep, the identification of consciousness with form. It was a necessary stage in the evolution of consciousness.
This is almost incomprehensible. How does he know what the evolutionary stages of consciousness are? What is the relationship between evolved consciousness and capitalism? When we no longer identify with form will all injustices be eradicated? If not, and if it is possible for us as a species to be “awake” while simultaneously living in an and being complicit with an oppressive industrial society then we should seriously question the social and political dimensions of spiritual transformation.
Why can’t this divine evolutionary impulse awaken us to the reality of things that actually matter like deforestation, pollution, racism, homophobia or imperialism? Why couldn’t experiencing Being and connecting to our divine source actually provide us with tangible knowledge and concern about the ravages of industrial capitalism instead of disembodied, abstract and politically neutral states of presence? Tolle and others like Ken Wilber and Andrew Cohen believe that God evolves through everyone — Tea Partiers and KKK members, white liberals, black feminists, Chinese Taoists and queer activists to merely discover their deepest and truest self. Unfortunately this divine act does extremely little to actually move us towards global and planetary change. If it helps everyone equally then it empowers everyone at the social, political and ideological perspective they are based in and is essentially neutral. Aligning ourselves with an ever-present divine evolving impulse is vague, empty and will still reflect one’s social and cultural values and prejudices. It’s like going to therapy to discover deeper states of psychological truth. Of course anyone can benefit from therapy, but this won’t make them challenge the worst injustices around them. There are of course millions of Americans oblivious to the realities of racism and injustice who have done profound inner transformational work and who have connected with the “light of consciousness.”
Elsewhere, Tolle’s work is littered with unsubstantiated vague claims like, “All egoic structures are destined to collapse,” and “We are breaking mind patterns that have dominated human life for eons.” Who is the “we” and what are “mind patterns?” Where do they exist? What is an egoic structure?
Tolle’s magical thinking reveals itself more clearly when he gives examples of exactly how internal transformation can affect social transformation. He states, “The pollution of the planet is only an outward reflection of an inner psychic pollution: millions of unconscious individuals not taking responsibility for their inner space…As within, so without: If humans clear inner pollution, then they will also cease to create outer pollution.” While this may intuitively feel right, it is of course nonsense. Some of the most passionate advocates of environmentalism have lots of “inner psychic pollution.” Likewise, many people who are irresponsible with the environment are very evolved, loving and caring people who have done extensive personal transformation work. Tolle’s correlation with inner and outer pollution is profoundly abstract and vague. It’s entirely meaningless, overly simplistic and irresponsible. It’s literally no different than a right-wing conservative saying the reason why there are so many abortions in the United States is because of “inner psychic pollution.” What does this really mean?
In A New Earth Tolle goes so far as to claim all of the atrocities associated with Communism could have been avoided had their been a shift in their “inner reality, their state of consciousness.” Again, his absolutism in regards to the power of internal transformation is quite extreme. If communists would have only stilled their minds, connected to their bodies and dis-identified with their false egoic self he believes countless lives would have been saved. It’s important to understand that when Tolle is referring to shifting inner consciousness, he is specifically talking about stilling the mind, not shifting inner social or political consciousness. Of course the issues are far more complex than Tolle presents. No simple solution like cultivating presence, stillness or embodiment would have changed a profoundly complicated socio-political experience that spanned vast territory and numerous decades. Furthermore, he falsely believes that spiritual awakening supports his social and political positions.
Tolle is suggesting that what communists needed and what environmental polluters need is internal spiritual transformation — not education, training, relationship building, diversity training, political understanding, environmental awareness or anything else. Why? Because Tolle believes in an all-knowing divine power that once channeled knows exactly what to do. This universal intelligence is unfolding and working through humans. If only environmental polluters and communists were to connect with God the world would be a much better place. For those who successfully do, they are contributing to more joy, peace, creativity and happiness on the planet. Spirit is unfolding in a direction and it supports Tolle’s social and political agenda and reflects his social location as a wealthy, heterosexual, white male with $4 million in the bank and a Jaguar in his driveway.
The reason, of course, that environmental experts don’t recommend mind-body practices like meditation or yoga in order to stop worldwide pollution is because they are entirely unrelated. If we were to take Tolle seriously we should instruct environmental educators to stop teaching about pollution and start teaching about how to connect to Being. However, stilling the mind will make someone pollute less just as it would make someone a better chef. Otherwise, we’d expect anyone who engaged in mind-body practices to eventually share the exact same social and political ideology. Again, the divine will of the universe could have resolved this if it only could awaken people to the realities of social injustice — not just instill within them an abstract and politically neutral state of presence.
For Tolle the “mind” is a huge problem. He believes the reason that we have poor art, literature and music is because the world is mind dominated. It is in turning off the mind and stopping thoughts that we find salvation. This is however quite problematic. While certainly people can benefit from stilling the mind, to say that a busy mind is the cause of industrial capitalism or pollution is nonsense. There are lots of people with busy and cluttered minds who are on the forefront of social justice movements. Also, there are many people who have done lots of work to quiet their minds and yet still are supportive or in the least complicit with awful things. Inner calm is not synonymous with anti-capitalistic sentiments. Again, he is identifying a particular social/political agenda or outcome with presence. If only we turn off the mind then society will be better. Yet this is absolutely not the case. Members of the Tea Party can benefit from mindfulness just as left-wing anarchists can. Furthermore, creativity (one of the things Tolle values and is a result of stilling the mind) can be accessed by anyone for any purpose. Increasing the amount of creativity in the world won’t support the political ideas of Mr. Tolle. People can be creative in harmful ways.
Tolle believes that when the mind is still one can listen to and be guided by divine inner guidance. However, intuition is not detached from ones social and cultural conditioning. It is most certainly shaped by the values, morals, beliefs, customs and practices that have already influenced the intuitive feeling. The intuition of a KKK member in approaching issues of race is vastly different than the intuition of a Black Panther member. Any sort of universalizing divine quality that Tolle believes will speak to a particular social or political agenda is pure fiction.
What happens when you still a busy mind in Nazi, Germany? You have a still minded person living in and supporting an oppressive state. Same goes for Imperialistic countries like the United States.
At the end of A New Earth, Tolle describes his understanding of how acting in the world lines up with one’s inner purpose.
Awakened doing is the alignment of your outer purpose — what you do — with your inner purpose — awakening and staying awake. Through awakened doing, you become one with the outgoing purpose of the universe. Consciousness flows through you and into this world. It flows into your thoughts and inspires them. It flows into what you do and guides and empowers it.
He names three modalities of awakened doing, which without whatever we do will “be dysfunctional and of the ego.” They are acceptance, enjoyment, and enthusiasm. He believes these modalities represent a frequency of vibration and claims that we need to be in one of these states at all times. In fact, our suffering is caused by our lack of being in them.
There is a danger to Tolle’s simplistic belief that acceptance, joy and enthusiasm lead to awakened doing. It can easily lead one to believe that whatever they are doing is aligned with the creative principle of the universe as long as they are enthusiastic about it. The only compass or gauge of whether or not something is moral or non harmful is the individuals internal mind. Rather than basing ethics on dialogue, relationships or structural inequalities Tolle’s system is entirely dependent upon the cultivation of acceptance, joy and enthusiasm. These are vague and meaningless terms when trying to determine whether or something is, for example, racist or sexist.
“Resistance to the Now as a collective dysfunction is intrinsically connected to loss of awareness of Being and forms the basis of our dehumanized industrial civilization.”– Eckhart Tolle
A friend recently told me that he believed spiritual awakening would make someone become more progressive politically. I asked him how far left would it make them go? Left-wing anarchist, liberal democrat, socialist? He didn’t know. But he believed it would make them more compassionate and likely to want to serve others. Yet, these are not domains of the “left.” I know many right-wing Christians who have dedicated their lives to serving others, but yet maintain homophobic, sexist and patriarchal attitudes. There were common citizens in Nazi Germany who volunteered and did service. There are many conservatives who are compassionate. My friend, like Tolle, confused spiritual awakening or a renewed sense of love with a particular political agenda.
Love isn’t progressive, socialist or limited to any political position. People of all ideological persuasions fall in love, make love, experience love and act in love. Is global transformation really based on raising the “love” vibration on the planet? After all, Glenn Beck’s latest gathering was called “Restoring Love.” There was lots of “love” amongst Protestant and Catholic Christians in Nazi Germany. Love for spouses, children, families and God. People were kind, caring and compassionate to members of their own kind while turning a blind eye or supporting to the horrific crimes of the state. What frequency did their love vibrate on and how did it matter in the larger scheme of things? Love is not the sole property of either progressives or conservatives. If both a pro-choice and a pro-life activist group based all of their methods, techniques and actions in love who would win?
According to Tolle what is most urgently needed to address the thought addicted insane world is the cultivation of presence. Global transformation hinges upon awakening to our deepest, most essential being. How might one begin to discover this? As we’ve mentioned through stilling the mind or other embodiment practices. Also, “For some,” Tolle claims in A New Earth, a glimpse of awakening “will come while reading this book,” as it is “Designed to draw you into this new consciousness as you read.” He continues, “Again and again, I endeavor to take you with me into that timeless state of intense enlightenment.” If you were worried about the authenticity or truth of his teachings, he clears up the matter by stating his book “is not derived from external sources, but from the one true Source within, so it contains no theory or speculation.”
Like many others Tolle mistakenly conflates presence with justice. People can cultivate presence and still the mind and yet live in a society that is racist, sexist and based on capitalist exploitation. Presence is not anti-thetical to a “dehumanized industrial civilization.” There can be lots of “nice” people who are calm and do things in a “sacred” manner and yet be completely oblivious to the ways in which the surrounding culture pollutes, oppresses and marginalizes people.
As was the case with Zen Buddhism in Japan during and before WWII, the cultivation of stillness, compassion and love can co-exist with the worst fascism and imperialism. The entire institution of Zen Buddhism — the masters, monks and professors supported the cruel and colonizing efforts of the state and emperor. They defended the “wars of compassion,” gorged themselves in killing and advocated merging the small self with the larger self of the state. This was all done within the monastical, academic and ethical systems of Zen Buddhism. Furthermore, most white people in the history of U.S. have believed themselves to be loving, caring, compassionate people. Many have even engaged in spiritual practices for decades now, yet have been complicit in all sorts of racist, bigoted and Imperialistic actions in America. White people aren’t more aware of their own racism or racist past because they’ve cultivated presence or live in the Now.
Certainly Tolle has transformed the lives of many people. Millions have benefited from his teachings. The physical and mental benefits of mind-body spiritual practices are clear. Yet, this just makes the point I’m trying to illustrate much clearer. It doesn’t matter what political or social persuasion one is, anyone can benefit from individual transformative practices. To suggest that engaging in these practices is thus aligning with a certain political direction of the divine will as Tolle does is simply untrue. Again, anyone who stills the mind or cultivates presence would necessarily end up at the same social and political positions. We’d all end up like Tolle. That’s not my definition of a transformed planet.
Teachings like those of Tolle are overly simplistic and irresponsible. To say that the global problems of the world will be solved if we all still the mind, connect with Being and live in joy, enthusiasm and acceptance is incredibly naive. His ideas are based on magical thinking, not unlike The Secret and many other pop-spiritual philosophies. He claims that by just allowing the present moment to be it “will miraculously transform your whole life.” Even if one addresses their shadow through therapy or other transformative work, this still won’t lead to the global transformation that Tolle speaks of. These teachings make larger than life promises and conflate inner transformation with external transformation when in reality people with varying political positions can equally benefit from spiritual/psychological growth and still maintain their perspectives and actions regardless of how harmful they are.
Claims that the divine is working through us to fulfill the evolutionary mission of consciousness are so abstract they are meaningless. Most significantly the “will of the divine” always reflects the social, political and ideological positions of those making the claims. Saying this doesn’t mean I’m against spiritual practices or individual transformation just as me saying that poetry won’t save us doesn’t mean that I’m against poetry. Rather it is important to pull these two domains of internal and external transformation apart to clearly see what has erroneously been projected onto them.
We are already facing immense global challenges, which are seemingly only going to get worse. Getting in touch with God, love, Being or Source won’t save us now. Spiritual awakening won’t solve the problems we must confront. The issue is not lack of Being or unwillingness to be in the Now. Instead of fetishizing internal transformation as a global panacea or promoting the idea that God is evolving through us let’s build the networks of relationships and communities of resistance necessary to survive the coming planetary challenges.