Becoming God: Inside Mooji’s Portugal Cult

  • Former members accuse spiritual teacher Mooji of running an abusive cult at his isolated ashram three hours from Lisbon, Portugal.
  • They allege sleeping with students, abuse such as screaming, shouting, shaming and humiliating, controlling behavior, pairing and breaking up couples, brainwashing and mind control, coercing people from leaving and more.
  • Mooji lives in a secluded hilltop gated area of the property with three young female disciples whom insiders say he is sleeping with. They also dress and undress him daily.
  • Mooji has cheated on his past three girlfriends with other students. One longterm female resident of the ashram who left claims to have had sex with Mooji the entire time she was there. There are other women too afraid to speak out.
  • Followers believe Mooji to be God and refer to him as “my Lord,” “my Master” and “my Father.” They regularly kiss his “holy” feet and bow to him.
  • Strange ceremonies and rituals including exorcism type events occur at the center.
  • Mooji has designated an isolation building for members who act out. They will be given one meal a day and learn to “know the self.”
  • Mooji and his team smuggled over 200,000 of unreported cash into Portugal from London and one member got caught. They used this to purchase Monte Sahaja. 
  • Two members committed suicide in 2017, one at the ashram in Portugal and another in India.

[Be Scofield is one of the most prominent journalists in the world exposing cults and abusive gurus. In 2018 alone, her articles received almost 1 million views. Stories based on her work have appeared on The Guardian, The Daily Mail, VICE, Playboy, CNN, CBC, New Zealand Herald, Die Zeit and more.]

Written by Be Scofield, M.Div / Represented by United Talent Agency / FULL BIO / Author contact: [email protected]

[Several people were interviewed for this article including former senior Mooji staff, students and volunteers.]

3/4/2019

The Next Wild, Wild Country

“We are living with a living Jesus Christ. He is God living.” That’s how a Mooji disciple named Lakshmi described her experience living with her guru at his ashram during an interview. She continued, “The whole vibration here is vibrating with Mooji…it is pure divinity.” Another devotee, Bill Free, was conducting the interview in a series with “Mooji disciples” — the most dedicated and loyal inner circle. He replied, “This guy is just like Jesus. The truth comes out of him in every sentence.” A longtime disciple named Shree says “Mooji is not a man, he is a master.” Another devotee goes as far as to say “Mooji is certainly the evidence in this world that God exists.” One follower refers to Mooji’s “divine presence” and says that he is “so humble, so pure and so profound, he has transcended the limitations of thought forms.” 

On stage at his Monte Sahaja ashram in rural Portugal, Mooji directs his devotees to bow and kiss his feet. They gush with love and devotion in tears. A young woman says to him in an accent, “I don’t kiss your feet, I kiss feet of God of universe.” Another woman tells Mooji, “I had an experience recently, where you, as the lion that you are, took my heart in your teeth and you shook me and the peace and the miraculous revelations that came from that are incredible. It is only because of your generosity to be the lion that we can be the sheep.” A guy who calls Mooji “beloved Godfather” tells him “It is by your grace alone Lord that thy will be done.” Another, “You give everything. You give us life. You bring us home.” A young devotee reads a poetic letter she wrote to him, “If I have to cry let my tears be holy waters to wash your feet. If I have to die, let me die at your feet today…If I have to fall let me fall in love with you my Lord.”

“It’s definitely a cult,” says a former longtime senior staff member who spent many years in Mooji’s group. Former members who are speaking out agree. They claim Mooji has appropriated and distorted the guru tradition and has used it to justify a cult of devotion and worship around himself while abusing many in the process. 

“If I have to die, let me die at your feet today…If I have to fall let me fall in love with you my Lord.” — Mooji devotee

“He encourages dependence,” says one person who spent time at the Monte Sahaja ashram. She said it “seemed odd and inappropriate” the way he fueled the worship of himself. “I couldn’t understand why he didn’t tell people to not do it. He would just lap it up. There were times when people were literally just physically hanging off of him.” In videos, Mooji can be seen directing devotees to bow and kiss his feet. One man told Mooji “I never had a father,” to which he replied, “God wanted you here. I am your father now.” Former members describe residents of the ashram as “zombies” who have lost all sense of themselves in their worship of him. 

A scholar with a Ph.D. in Indian religions said that Mooji has no guru lineage as his teacher Papaji was “not authorized to take the gurus seat” by Ramana Maharshi and Mooji was also not authorized by Papaji. “Mooji is a self-appointed guru. In Indian tradition, a self-appointed guru is the least trustworthy person around, because only a dangerously deluded individual would want that position and the adulation that often comes with it.” He also said feet kissing is not a traditional Indian practice in the guru tradition.

Mooji also eats meat including cow and has been married twice in a traditional Hindu marriage by a Hindu priest in a temple in India within 2 years of each other. And he ended both relationships without dissolving the previous marriage which technically makes him a bigamist legally. A source who is Hindu explains. “Most Hindu traditions are vegetarian and no temple or ashram serves meat. By eating cow meat, doing two Hindu weddings without respecting its legality and sacredness, they aren’t promoting Hindu philosophy. They’re ruining its traditional beauty.”

After two Mooji devotees committed suicide in 2017 people are becoming increasingly concerned about the well being of those living under his command at the Monte Sahaja ashram.

VIDEO: The Only Video You Need to See to Know Mooji is Running a Cult

There is music devoted to Mooji as well. One kirtan song, sung to hundreds of his followers who live at his ashram, has the lyrics “Mooji you’re the answer, master you’re the way” repeated over and over again. In another, a devotee sings on stage “Praise to my father, Sri Mooji. Praise to his lotus feet that whatever they touch they make it pure.” Another song has the lyrics “If you have to die, die at the feet of the guru.” Another one sung to Mooji “By your grace I am. I come to life in you. Shiva, Shiva.”

VIDEO: Music for Mooji — “Mooji you’re the answer, master You’re the Way” & “Praise to my father, Sri Mooji, the most humble king”

One person who spent time Monte Sahaja reports seeing “frequent crying, screaming and the appearance of many weird individuals as well as some exorcism-like episodes.” A staff member says exorcisms were common.

“The first exorcism was in Tiruvannamalai around 2011 or 2012. It was a Spanish woman who came in and started to scream on his lap. She was possessed according to Mooji. That night we were there all night and he was trying to get the spirit to leave her but it refused to leave her. And then later on a little girl was possed with many demons according to Mooji.”

She said people with mental illness started to regularly show up and Mooji would tell them they were possessed with demons. People would have voices in their head and other symptoms and he believed they were possessed.

A former member says “There was a lot of indoctrination occurring like naming ceremonies and women would have their heads shaved by him. There were some very strange, bizarre things going on. It felt very unhealthy to me.”

“She was crouched against the wall saying ’no, no, no’ and he took the scissors and cut her hair against her will.”

The staff member who witnessed the exorcisms said Mooji cut her hair and another woman’s hair against their will. Some went along but some did not want it. There were about 20-30 people in total who had their hair cut by Mooji that night. She described what happened:

“I was like ‘I don’t want my hair cut, I don’t want to do it.’ Mooji said ‘No, no. It’s your turn, come on, come on.’ He ordered me to stand in front of him to get my hair cut against my wishes. He would grab our hair and pull it up toward the ceiling and then take the scissors and cut all the way across. It was a bad hair cut. He did the same thing to another woman with very long hair. She was crouched against the wall saying ’no, no, no’ and he took the scissors and cut her hair against her will.”

VIDEO: Mooji Conducts “Divine Ego Exorcism” While Blood-Curdling Screams are Heard in Background

Humble Beginnings

Before Mooji became God he was Tony. Anthony Paul Moo-Young to be precise. Born in Jamaica in 1954 he made his living as a street artist doing charcoal paintings and selling incense. He eventually opened up a small Chai shop in London. As he became interested in ideas of awakening he began teaching to small groups of students which slowly grew over time. According to his bio he spent a few months studying with Papaji and now claims direct lineage to Ramana Maharshi because of it. In 2011 he opened a spiritual center called Monte Sahaja in a remote area of Portugal where he currently lives with hundreds of devotees. He teaches his followers there and around the world that they can attain “immediate awakening.”

“Just one look, one glance, one touch, one word from Mooji can transform your whole life.” — Mooji devotee

Mooji now sits at the top of the self-made guru game. He has 52 million views on Youtube, 70,000 Instagram followers, and 380,000 likes on Facebook. His talks are live-streamed and he runs a membership site with exclusive content. He’s made millions, has a book published on Sounds True and has hundreds of thousands of followers around the world. People line the streets to get a chance to see or touch him and massive crowds come to see him speak. He is one of the most worshiped and sought after spiritual teachers of our time.

But now, for the first time ever, Mooji’s holy status and divine empire are facing major public scrutiny. Allegations of being sexual with students and of running a destructive cult are surfacing — verifying what people have been stating for years in online cult forums and websites. 

“When I see Mooji from these eyes now, I don’t feel like I’m following a man. I feel like I’m following the embodiment of the Christ mind, of the one Braham, God mind.” — Bill Free, Mooji devotee

Breaking the Silence

In January 2019 a former staff member in his ashram and follower posted a video called “The Real Mooji Exposed” on Facebook. She had reached out to someone and got first-hand knowledge of what was happening at the ashram. She publicly called out Mooji and alluded that he was having sex with young students. “What you’re doing, that you know is wrong to young women, all under the guise of spirituality and being a spiritual master, telling them this is their way to quicken their awakening and merge with God. Shame on you. It is a blatant misuse of power and it’s wrong.” She said that she wasn’t one of those girls who could be manipulated or silenced. She said “every single one of my fears was confirmed today” and describes it as “devastating news” as Mooji was her spiritual master. The video caused a stir, garnering over 14,000 views. 

Mooji responded publicly in a Facebook video that has been viewed almost 60,000 times. While he didn’t address any specifics or reference the recent video he said he wasn’t guilty of any of the allegations. “My heart has always been clean before God. I’ve not done anything to harm anyone…It is an intentional and malicious attack on myself.”

A longtime Mooji disciple and Monte Sahaja staff member was one of many who defended their beloved teacher in the comments of the video:

“Moojibaba is impeccable in all aspects of his life and so is Monte Sahaja a pure reflection of the Master’s purity and God’s Grace, for the miracle of awakening happens here. When we go to rest at night I see the Master rushing off to work on yet another project that is to benefit humanity…The Master doesn’t ever think of himself.

For myself I am eternally grateful for knowing Moojibaba, for he has taken me from a kind of death to real life. Through his pointings my eyes were cleaned from the distortions of human thinking that produce the kind of unfounded lies that we encounter in [the] video.”

A young female devotee who’s been living at Monte Sahaja for 3.5 years also commented:

“I could never possibly express the gratitude that I have for my Master in words…It hurts my heart hearing such untrue gossip about him.”

Another devotee’s comment: 

He is not a person, how can you doubt?

Sex with Students & Disciples

There are credible accounts of Mooji engaging sexually with female students. One longtime former disciple who left abruptly claims she had sex with Mooji secretly the entire time she was at Sahaja. Additionally, insiders say that Mooji is sleeping with the three young female disciples who live with him in the secluded gated area of the property. The follower who initially exposed Mooji stated he is telling young women “this is their way to quicken their awakening and merge with God.” It is all happening under coercive mind control and an abusive environment. There are other women who have made themselves known too but are afraid to speak out publicly as well. 

A former senior staff member who spent many years close to Mooji said he has a fetish for “young, hot girls.” She described a pattern of Mooji cheating on his girlfriend and then dumping her for a younger, more attractive woman who was a student. She said it left the women completely devastated and in tears. One girlfriend “was laying there sobbing on the bed, a complete mess, and no one helped her.” She asked her “Why are you crying?” She said “he left me. Mooji left me.” And then the girlfriend would be out of the group or sidelined. Mooji has cheated on his prior three girlfriends with students and dumped them for a new, younger student she said. 

One time Mooji slipped out at night to get away from his girlfriend Radha so he could have sex with a devotee while in India for a retreat she said.

“She was staying next to my room during the retreat and I heard the loud noise of her orgasming because there was one wall between us. I was like ‘she’s having sex.’ I could hear the bed. I was like ‘with whom?’ because I knew there was no guy around she liked. And I went out to see if I could see bikes or something and I saw Mooji’s bike out there. The girl was shouting so loudly. I knew he was having sex with her.

A few weeks later she was expelled from the group. He was speaking bad about her in private satsangs and saying she was a devilish girl. So every woman in the team started outcasting her. One day she was a member, next day nobody likes her.”

This woman wanted something more than just sex but Mooji did not she said. “She was not the abusable type so Mooji realized he stepped into a trap and had to set the team against her.”

She said Mooji later admitted to her that he was there. “Mooji told me he was in her room that night. She said that when he walked in she closed the door and pushed him on the bed and just laid on top of him. He was trying to make it out like she initiated everything or was even groping him. As he was describing what happened his girlfriend Radha walked up and he told me we’d discuss it later.”

On another occasion, she said Mooji kicked her and another staff member out of the apartment late one night to have sex with a student. Mooji’s girlfriend was on vacation. She said they both could have stayed as it was also a communal space but Mooji had other plans.

“I knew he was gonna fuck but I was pretty cool about it. I was like ‘ok, the guy is having a bit of a break. He needs a bit of a refreshment. The girlfriend is away. He can have a treat every once in a while. So, that kind of free mindset.’ We left and it was him and her alone in the house. She slept at his place. The next morning we were walking towards his house. We see him and her walking hand and hand and you could see they were pretty intimate.”

The other staff member asked her ‘Is she the new girlfriend now?” and she said, “nah, it’s fine, just forget about it.” She said they learned to just downplay and ignore these types of things.

After Mooji spent a few nights with this girl he “got his hands clean” of her she said by pairing her up with one of his devotees. They ended up in a long term relationship and the guy had no idea Mooji had just slept with her.

She also described several relationships in which Mooji paired people together or broke them up. “He has broken up so many couples. He wants people to follow him and is obsessed with everyone looking at him.” Mooji would give impassioned speeches to people about how good a person was for another group member and how great they’d be together. To break up couples he’d tell one of the partners how incompatible they were with the other partner and dissuade them from being together. He always did this one on one, not when the couple was with him.

A former staff member described how Mooji broke up her and her husband. At first, she was close with Mooji and he never liked having her husband around when they would be working together. When she and her husband couldn’t both afford to go to India they decided that he would go. Mooji resented her for this she said. When Mooji and her husband returned they were very close and she had been pushed out. And then her husband moved to Portugal and Mooji would not allow her to move there. He intervened in her relationship and separated them. One day she got a call from him saying that he was dating a Mooji disciple.

This pattern showed itself again when Mooji’s girlfriend Radha was pushed out for a younger devotee named Krishnabai. Radha dramatically confronted him during satsang in 2014 after her attempts to create more space between him and Krishnabai failed. One person who witnessed it saw Mooji wave his hand at Radha and say “you were too attached.” He said the whole incident occurred in front of hundreds and was recorded on video. Krishnabai then became his girlfriend and Radha was sidelined and eventually left. “It’s knowledge to those living at Monte Sahajra,” that Krishnabi and Mooji are together a source said.

Krishnabai arrived at the age of 20 and quickly became enamored with Mooji. She said the first time she saw him on stage she was filled with love, joy, and light. She then became a dedicated personal assistant. Krishnabai says she lives in a state of “complete devotion” to Mooji. She claims Mooji has the rare ability to reflect the pure self and is God. Mooji is currently 65 and she is now 27.

Insiders say Krishnabai along with two other female disciples live in Mooji’s private and gated area of the property. They say Mooji is sleeping with them. They are also responsible for dressing and undressing him each day. And these disciples rarely leave the gated area, not even to eat with the group much sources say. A former senior staff member refers to these women as Mooji’s “concubine.” A person who lived at Sahaja said of one of these women has been abused by Mooji. “He treats her like absolute shit. I felt like she was trapped. I knew that she had been screamed at and yelled at.”

And this comment from someone who exposes cults suggests many knew of Mooji’s sexual “antics” from the beginning: 

“The amazing thing about Tony (Moo) is that everyone knew about his proclivities from the get go. Tony’s great chum Reiki Shiva used to regale everyone with tales of his sexual antics to all and sundry in the chai shops of Tiru. It’s a bit like Harvey (Weinstein): everyone knew but they all wanted the starring role so they played along. Harvey was sharing Hollywood stardust, Tony is selling the mystical allure of enlightenment .”

A former staff member said she has seen emails directly between Mooji and female followers to go on dates and engage sexually. This was while he had a girlfriend.

When one of Mooji’s girlfriends got pregnant several years ago she really wanted to keep the baby and Mooji did not. Mooji having a baby was not in his plan of building his empire as it would have introduced a legal obligation to support a child. Someone who was close to the girlfriend at the time says that Mooji coerced her into getting an abortion against her will.

“I told Krishnabai ‘I know Mooji is God.’ She said, ‘That’s good you know that. Most people just think he’s very wise.’” — Former Monte Sahaja volunteer

Inside Mooji’s Monte Sahaja Cult

“Mooji is the sun and we are his rays. He is the ocean and we are his waves. It is his grace only that brought us together in the first place. He is all that there is.” — Mooji devoteee

“People are being traumatized and brainwashed,” a former senior staff member, who had worked closely with Mooji for years said. Former members speaking out claim people are isolated in rural Portugal, thousands of miles from their homes and are under very intense and coercive mind control. It is a highly regulated and abusive environment centered on absolute devotion to Mooji. Members literally believe he is God. “They sound like him, he speaks through them. It’s creepy. It’s almost like they’ve been taken over by him, like he’s possessed them.”

Former members say the Mooji people see on Youtube and in public events is very different than the real Mooji. They describe him as “cruel,” “abusive,” “narcissistic,” “extremely controlling,” “a bully,” “ruthless,” “dangerous,” and a “demon.” One minute Mooji is loving and kind and the next minute he is screaming and yelling at someone or belittling them.

A former volunteer describes an incident when Mooji threw water on a student’s face: 

“We were in the dining area. She asked him a question about her thought process. He then asked a person to slide their glass of water to him. He picked it up and threw the water on the woman’s face. It was a lot of water so it covered her hair and face and was dripping on her clothes. He did this while we were sitting there. No warning. Very calmly. Then he told her ‘go take a walk.’”

She also said Mooji publicly shamed a woman during satsang. “I also remember Mooji reading an email from someone who he said was ‘mentally ill’ and he read her full name so we all knew who she was and said, ‘see what I have to deal with?’”

On one occasion the group doctor was brought in front of Mooji and the community and made to repent and repeatedly apologize for not obeying his commands. Mooji was angry and said, “how long have you been with me and you still don’t act as I want?” He said she wasn’t measuring up to the devotion expected of her and wasn’t sure how much longer she’d be around.

“We may think how cruel the Master is being, but the Master always knows best.” — Mooji devotee and designated teacher

Even Mooji’s daughter is humiliated in front of the group. A former member says it appears she is forced to use public satsangs as her only method of communicating with her father. When she stated during satsang she wanted to leave and live in London he shouted; “I’ll have to shut down the entire Sahaja to afford it!” He controls her and her finances and she would fear being exiled permanently if she ever left without his permission they said.

Former members say Mooji will yell, scream and belittle people regularly in the group. One person says “I also saw him super angry at one of the girls that used to serve him. He was brutal to her and she started crying.” Another echoes this type of behavior, “He would make very outlandish and arrogant remarks and completely embarrass and scrutinize people in front of others…I went to hug him one day and he pushed me off him with an angry look yelling at me because he felt that I didn’t ask enough questions and also called me a devil.” Someone who spent time at Monte Sahaj:

“I spent almost 3 months there last year, I have seen him yelling at people on MANY occasions…She went to Mooji for help and he relentlessly yelled at her in front of over 200 people. She was completely shaken up and her parents are extremely concerned about her. ”

Former members say any criticism or challenge to Mooji or his orders is dismissed as “mind.” One says “you stop questioning anything.” And for members who do act out, Mooji has designated a place to serve as an isolation building. They will receive only one meal a day and learn to “know the self.”

A strict code of silence is enforced 24/7 all year round at the Monte Sahaja ashram, aside from work-related needs. Former members say this leads to isolation and psychological distress. It’s how he prevents people from connecting to each other and their own selves, they say. Members used to be able to talk during meals but Mooji even ordered that to stop because “he didn’t want to hear everyone chatting.” A former volunteer said “You can’t talk to anyone. You are never to speak of your history, your life or anything. You are never, ever supposed to talk about your experience with anyone.” She said a few guys got hell for briefly talking in the smoking area. This was not during a silent retreat. She had no idea it was like that before arriving to volunteer. When she asked a staff member how they were doing they replied, “We don’t ask that kind of question here, but that’s ok, we still love you.”

“Followers are conditioned to march immediately. It’s not natural behavior to scramble like rats to give him what he needs.”

People pay as much as $600 a month to go to Monte Sahaj to do “seva” as volunteers. Critics say Mooji essentially cons vulnerable followers to get free labor by having his ashram designated as a charity. Members work 10 hour days under a very critical and watchful eye. “Clean the showers as if you are cleaning it for Mooji” a volunteer was told. “With all your heart, clean.” She said a few crumbs would drop on the floor while cleaning and someone she didn’t even know came up to her and harshly scolded her. When she was 15 minutes late the first day of volunteering due to severe jet lag and arriving late at night she was heavily belittled by her team leader. The working conditions were disgusting she said. And there were no gloves. Sometimes the work would go into the middle of the night for some crews if Mooji kept the satsang late. 

Routine safety issues on the property would also be ignored and when confronted team members would say “do you not trust the Guru?”

“He’s actually quite cruel. He doesn’t want you to have your own spiritual experience. He has to dominate every aspect of your life. And even then it’s not enough.”

Monte Sahaja center in Portugal

Residents of Monte Sahaja live in a constant state of competition for who can be the most devoted to Mooji. “Somehow he put us in direct competition with each to fight for his acknowledgment and most of us had no idea that that’s what we were doing.” And if he doesn’t like someone’s energy or they haven’t shown enough devotion they are kicked out or ostracized. One student told Mooji that she loves other teachers too and he told her “then go be with them.” Her promised work assignment at Monte Sahaja suddenly disappeared. Another said they experienced awakening and she was kicked out for it. People walk around on eggshells fearing him and wanting to outdo others to show how devoted they are.

Students are taught that the mind is “poison” and to relentlessly attack their own thoughts. When this happens in an environment of social isolation and silence with long work days, where there is no emotional support, heavy mind control and when Mooji is abusing them it is a recipe for disaster former members say.

One former staff member said the gaslighting was frequent.

“There is a lot of gaslighting. It leads to so much self-doubting that you don’t believe anything that you think yourself. You rely on Mooji. And you start to do whatever he wants you to do. You don’t trust your inner voice anymore because you are told so often that it is your ego and you don’t know anymore.”

Mooji controls people’s behavior regularly. As one example, a former staff member of many years said that in Mooji’s pre-Monte Sahaja days he coerced all the vegetarians in the group to eat meat. Even an Indian couple who were vegetarian since birth began eating meat under Mooji’s influence. His girlfriend at the time Radha was the last hold out but even she couldn’t resist Mooji’s coercive pressure. “She wasn’t eating by her own will. Her eyes were closed and he was feeding her chicken.” She was shocked watching this scene unfold she said. 

“In Sahaja he is really turning out to be the monster he wants to be.”

One former staff member said she would have done anything Mooji asked because she thought she was serving God. On one occasion she said Mooji told her a guy had thrown a rock at him but missed. On Mooji’s orders, she threatened him and the guy never came back. She said she would have tried to beat him up if Mooji had ordered. In hindsight, she said she thinks Mooji lied to her about the incident. She also said she heard a woman say she’d jump off of a bridge if Mooji had asked. 

Members of Mooji’s Monte Sahaja cult

Mooji ordered his team to stay on watch 24/7 all night to prevent a heron from eating fish out of his pond. It was a mother trying to feed her babies. When that didn’t work he ordered the heron shot and it was. 

“He is nothing more than a psychopathic, narcissistic mental abuser and con artist out to make money off the backs of broken people.”

Some want to leave the group but can’t because of group pressure, coercion by Mooji, fear of permanent exile from their friends or financial hardship due to commitments to the group. One person who spent a lot of time at Monte Sahaja explains, “I know a lot of people there who are afraid to leave him and afraid to come out and tell what is really happening there. I have begged some of them to leave but they are deeply afraid of him.”

Smuggling €200,000 Cash Into Portugal

A former staff member who was in the planning meeting and present after says Mooji and his team smuggled over €200,000 Euros into Portugal from London. This was from six years of unreported money they had made during retreats and events around the world. The staff member said Mooji worked on a tourist visa all those years and did not have a proper work visa. Another staff member confirms this and said he kept the cash in his room. “Mooji stored tens of thousands of dollars in cash under his bed in his apartment in London. He also had a safe in the closet behind the coats with at least $50,000 cash in it. It was British pounds wrapped in rubber bands.” There was no declaration of taxes before they became a charity in 2010. They took out pounds in London and converted it to Euros which they smuggled to Portugal. They then used this money to purchase Monte Sahaja.

“They were forming a charity and deciding to buy land — 30 hectares, more than €130,000. A person cannot carry more than €10,000. They hid it in the luggage in two different shipments. One of them got caught with the cash. They were all traveling on the same flight, all managed to get through security aside from one guy who got caught with cash. He lied about it and it took him several months to clear it up.”

She said there is a police record of the incident that can be checked using the person’s real name. Another former staff member also confirmed this and says she helped write the statement to the police lying about the origins of the money. She said they told the police the money came from the person who was caught’s book sales.

Another former staff member confirms this and says that she smuggled tens of thousands of dollars in cash on flights for Mooji. She said other staff members would also smuggle cash from America and India to London. “It was always last minute, like the day of the flight or the day before. There was always cash on us.”

When Mooji first purchased Monte Sahaja it had no buildings on it. A former staff member said the whole center was built illegally. “He didn’t have the permits to build on the land. None of the buildings were built legally.”

Selling Spirituality

Mooji sells a variety of spiritual products at his center. “Sahaja Dust” is labeled as “earth Mooji may have walked on.” It’s dirt from their retreat center. Mala beads blessed by Mooji sell for up to 25 Euros. Pictures of Mooji’s feet sell for 1.5 Euros. And he sells blankets that he has personally used.

Two Suicides in One Year

When two members, Florentin (Flo) Camoin and Helen Kelby, committed suicide in 2017 it was not surprising to some who know what’s actually going on in Mooji’s communities. Flo died at Monte Sahaja and Helen died in India. One resident who knew Flo acknowledges the ways in which Mooji’s teachings and the culture at Monte Sahaja contributed to his death: 

“He had no voice for his deep needs and troubles. He needed to be ‘seen’ first as a person before annihilating his identity. He said to a sangha member here that ‘in his life he has never been seen.’ Maybe he needed a subtle ego boost and nourished the ‘spiritual person’ first before cutting off his head. A platform for this must be created to make sure it never happens again.”

There is no emotional support at Monte Sahaja. Anything wrong is just your “mind.” So, you can imagine if someone was struggling at all and then forced to remain silent and keep their problems within. 

Was Flo ever put into isolation? Did Mooji ever counsel Flo or offer him spiritual guidance? Did staff members know that he was struggling? Mooji and the team should be held publicly accountable. What other work and social pressures was he put under?

Former Members Speak Out Online

“I suffer from PTSD from all the psychological trauma he inflicted on me.”

For years people have been posting online about their experiences or the experiences of loved ones connected with Mooji’s ashram in Portugal. They have warned others to stay away and that Mooji is running an abusive cult.

One person who was at Monte Sahaja describes Mooji as a dangerous fraud: 

“I spent 3 months with Mooji and Sahaja and can tell you first hand that he is a BIG fraud. He and his inside clique uses group pressure to psychologocally break you down and control you, leaving you very confused until they even strip that until you are an empty mindless shell…A lot of people there think he is some God because they feel an energy pass through their hands when he touches them..His old body guard I spoke with recently is absolutley terrified of him. This guy is EXTREMELY dangerous and must be stopped.”

One person lost his girlfriend to the group:

“She left her parents and all her friends same way after staying there for three months, she also doesn’t want to come back home from there this year. I can not speak with her anymore, I am afraid that she is manipulated, brainwashed and misguided to do all of this things by the members of this organization, cult. What kind of enlightenment do they teach there to leave your family like this? Please help!?!”

Someone who was at Monte Sahaja warns others: 

“I went to his place in Portugal and there I saw the whole sad truth about this man, I am studiying to become a therapist, I have learned about narcissistic personality disorder, and I have seen many traits and dodgy behaviours in him which are attributed to narcissists…If you want to know about Mooji, educate yourself about NPD (Narcissitic Personality Disorder).

Another lost their partner to the group: 

“My partner went for 3 weeks but he never returned. He left 4 months ago. He is brainwashed, he is lost there with all these people who are incredibly selfish. Mooji is just another fake guru with a very good business.”

Another says family members distanced themselves after joining the group: “My father and his wife are devoted disciples of Mooji and he has sadly estranged himself from his children and grandchildren.”

Another person who spent time there: 

“They got me to break down and cry. They were really nice to me in the beginning and then all of a sudden everyone starting to become hostile towards me. I really didnt understand why they all of a sudden started to act like I was a criminal. After I broke down and showed my vulnerability I started worshippng him like everyone else and then they were nice to me again. I then started to have doubts again and then they started back being mean to me. Wow I knew that something was up. I knew they were afraid that I had a strong mind and I was encouraging others there to leave which they did not like.”

Another warns a mother who’s daughter got into Mooji, “Don´t let your daughter go to Portugal, he is worshipped like a god, there are brainwashing elements in the daily routine, he is a dictator in his Ashram, during the silent retreat we were watched the whole time, I saw really evil people there in his Sangha group.”

This person’s partner got caught up in Mooji’s group: 

“The same almost happened to my husband he went to work at Monte Sahaja for 3 weeks and came back has a zombie. It was really hard to take him out of that stage. It took him 3 years to start behaving normally and because he couldn’t work we lost all the money we had saved for years. Now he is ok and very thankful that I didn’t gave up on him. Now he sees how dangerous Mooji and his people are with their fake love, they will use you and abuse you and when they don’t need you anymore they will kick you out and you have nowhere to go. ”

Another person had to get therapy after her time with Mooji:

“I have sought out counseling after leaving him and had to accept the fact that I unknowingly joined a cult, something I said I would never be a part of. Mentally I was fucked for a while from the mind games he played with me but slowly I am gaining my confidence back in myself which he desperately tried to take away with his incomplete teachings and hypnotic trance techniques. It was VERY hard for me to accept the fact that he is not true. “

It’s Just the Beginning

“When you are living with a master who is in front of you, the very presence is there, it confronts you about things, challenges your perceptions, loves you, beats you, lifts you up…” — Mooji

What is being reported here is a small portion of the abuse and dysfunction that has occurred in Mooji’s cult. Given the rural and isolated location of Mooji’s ashram in Portugal and the fear around speaking about him, much information has remained suppressed. The former staff member who came forward on Facebook with the accounts of Mooji sleeping with students was the first wave. This article is the next. Each thing is a step forward towards truth and exposing the abuse that’s occurring in Mooji’s cult.

[Exposing cults require lots of emotional and financial support. All my work happens only through donations of my supporters. Thanks. Donate Now.]


Related Stories

Aaravindha Himadra and the Mysterious Orcas Island Death of Carla Jean Shaffer

At 1:30 pm on January 5th, 2006, Carla Jean Shaffer’s body was found dead, floating in a small pond near the Orcas Island airport in Eastsound, Washington. She was 52 years old. Three weeks before, on December 14th, Carla suffered 30–40 stab wounds, a broken rib, a punctured liver, a damaged breastbone and had received a blunt force strike to her face, smashing in several teeth. Thirteen years later there is still no definitive conclusion about how she died. Officially ruled an accidental drowning, and self-inflicted stabbing, many people, including Carla’s family and friends, have never accepted this version of events. For the first time ever, the story of this unsolved mystery is being told.


[Be Scofield is one of the most prominent journalists in the world exposing cults and abusive gurus. In the last year alone, her articles received over 1 million views. Stories about her work have appeared on The Guardian, The Daily Mail, Playboy, CNN, CBC, New Zealand Herald, Die Zeit and more.] 

Written by Be Scofield, M.Div / Represented by United Talent Agency / FULL BIO / Author contact: [email protected]

1/24/19

When I showed up on the doorstep of county prosecutor Randall Gaylord’s home the morning after Thanksgiving he answered the door wearing a red and white striped apron and was holding a spatula in one hand. “Randy? Hi. Um, hello, sorry to bother you,” I said. “I’m writing a story about a woman who died on Orcas Island about ten years ago. I believe you oversaw her case.”

I thought his home would be highly secured given that he was the prosecutor and coroner. Or that he’d be suspicious of a stranger on his doorstep. But this was Orcas Island–a tiny community where crime is almost non-existent–so he invited me in without hesitation. 

I wanted to know how and why Carla Jean Shaffer, a beautiful dance instructor, mother and artist, had died 13 years ago under suspicious circumstances. “Drowning is a death of exclusion” he told me as we sat at his dining room table. “When a body is found in water and the death cannot be explained in any other way it’s essentially presumed a drowning.” He said there was no foul play, no other individuals suspected and there were no drugs or poison in her system. But there also wasn’t enough supporting evidence for him to rule it a suicide. Thus, the coroner’s report reads “Accidental Drowning.”

How would Carla, who was known to be an excellent swimmer, accidentally drown in a small pond only a few hundred yards from her home? That’s the question I posed to officer Herb Crowe. He was one of the responding deputies on the scene. “We couldn’t figure out exactly if she fell in the pond and drowned or wanted to commit suicide. I think it was more of an accidental thing.” I asked if he meant that she went swimming. “No. I think she walked close to the shoreline and she fell in. And I don’t know if she was in some type of altered mental state or something when that occurred.”

During an interview with Randall, his deputy prosecutor and a detective several weeks later at the Friday Harbor courthouse, I pressed them about Carla “falling in” to the pond and drowning. Randall said she couldn’t have just fallen in as the pond was even with the shoreline at the time. “If she had been suffocated and then put into the pond would you have been able to tell in an autopsy?” Randall said no, most likely not. He admitted he had no idea what events led to her death. It was a mystery.


“Legend has it that just off the shore from Eastsound, beyond a tiny island in the bay, there is an energy vortex that provides an unseen source of peace and well-being to those who are ready to accept it.” This area is the “place to start for mysterious feelings and vibes” reads a post on a site for a local vacation rental. It’s one of the many things that makes Orcas Island a deeply magical, powerful and even haunting place. 

When I arrived at the Outlook Inn on Saturday, October 27th, I had no idea the hotel sat directly in front of this vortex. I couldn’t see it because it was a dark and rainy night. But I could feel it.

The Outlook Inn on Orcas Island

Last year, on the exact same day, October 27th, I had arrived in Sedona, Arizona–another town known for it’s powerful vortexes and energy. I had rushed there on short notice because my astrologer looked at my “solar return.” It’s the forecast for the upcoming year. The entire year prediction changes based on where you are physically on your birthday. I had mentioned I wanted to head west, possibly to Sedona in a month or so. He put Sedona into his program and said “Go. Get there by your birthday. It will have a huge impact on your year ahead.”

I did make it to Sedona and within a few days of being there, I was surrounded by information and energy about Bentinho Massaro. I would end up spending a month infiltrating his group and writing about it. The story went viral, getting 200,000 views in a few weeks and 18 days after I published, the cult leader fled Sedona and went into hiding.

This year my astrologer and I did the same thing. “Stay near or to the west of Eugene, Oregon” he said. He sent an image of a map with lines, one of which extended from north to south directly through Seattle on a slight diagonal. After traveling for several months I had managed to make it to Portland around October 25th and thought I may just stay there. But on the morning of the 27th–one day before my birthday–I started feeling this pull north. At first I thought it was just a scenic trip and that I’d return. But as I drove I felt a magnetic pull north. “Maybe the Olympic mountains” I texted him. “They look epic.” He was a huge yes. But as I drove through Olympia I had this pull to keep going. And then almost out of nowhere I felt this urge to go to Orcas Island.

And so the night before my birthday I somehow ended up on Orcas Island. I awoke on October 28th in front of a vortex. It could have been in Portland, in the front seat of my car, where I had awoken the day before. It could have been Olympia or Seattle. But it wasn’t. It was Orcas Island. It was a mystery. 

Indian Island vortex in front of the Outlook Inn

A few days after I arrived I Google searched “meditation Orcas Island” and discovered a group called Sambodha (formerly “The Children of the Light” and “Ma ‘Pushan”) run by a spiritual teacher named Aaravindha Himadra formerly known as Surya (real name Janis Briedis). He and his wife Ashayrah Himadra (real name Jill Peterson Briedis) have lived on the island and run the group for decades. Aaravindha’s book “Immortal Self,” published by Sounds True, captures his journey through the Himalayas where he lived with “Amartya Masters” whom he claims he has a personal spiritual relationship with. His book claims to reveal a “legendary and secluded spiritual tradition” that is a “beacon of hope for spiritual seekers.” According to a former Sambodha member, Aaravindha blends together a variety of different spiritual teachings and many of his followers believe he is enlightened. Members in his Facebook group refer to him as a “Master.”

I took one look at Aaravindha’s photo and my cult radar immediately went off. I decided to dig around and sure enough there was an article from a former member who had spoken with other former members who had left. 

“What I discovered is that all of them said that Aaravindha has two faces. The one he presents to the public is all about love, kindness and humility, and the other one behind the scenes is paranoid, narcissistic and shaming. Many of them said that he lies and manipulates, and this is something I also saw sometimes, like things didn’t quite add up and yet nobody ever called him out on it…Some of the things I heard were shocking and what I would call emotionally abusive.

I finally left because I could see that things were getting weird with the organization and Aaravindha was getting always more paranoid, accusing people of things that were ridiculous, telling people what they should think politically, and also kicking out some members for reasons that I couldn’t understand. In at least one instance I know of, he told other members to unfriend the kicked out person on Facebook and basically shun them.”

Several weeks later I spoke with a former member who lives on the island. She also said Sambodha was cult-like. “He had a way of manipulating people because he could see what your issues were and he would use them against people.” She said he began making the group “the only way” and said she “watched him get corrupted.” She said, “Maybe aspects of his own self” had become corrupted by dark forces.

A cult is a group defined by a charismatic leader who is the source of power and authority for the members. There is a process of indoctrination and often there is some form of abuse from the leader. An in-group jargon is used as well.

By the accounts of her friends, family and a current Sambodha member, Carla Shaffer had joined Sambodha several years before she died. One friend said she had “become enamored” with the group and that she “attended meetings regularly.” Partners Stacy Ramillah and Dave Lutz were Carla’s neighbors in her Opal Commons community and they were part of the group as well. Dave Lutz told me that Carla had been in Sambodha for at least three years before her death and had several personal healing sessions with Aaravindha. Carla had gotten very close to Aaravindha and his wife Ashayrah in the time she was involved with them.

According to her ex-husband, Jim Shaffer-Bauck, Carla had cut off contact with many of her usual friends after joining the group. This is common for people who join high-demand cult type groups. One friend noted how she had changed towards the end of her life. “There is virtually no resemblance to the Carla I spoke with about a month ago and have known for over 20+ years. She mostly warned of dark, evil forces and encouraged prayers and for everyone to stay in the light.” And, like many group members, Carla also adopted a new identity and name. It was Nahmine Attar.

As I investigated Sambodha I asked locals if they had heard of the group. Most people had not. Despite being a small population, the island is expansive and Aaravindha lived near Deer Harbor, deep in the woods, about 20 minutes from town. He also spent a lot of his time in Europe teaching to his large following there.

I learned that there were several active members on the island, probably around 10-15 in total. A few even worked at the local food co-op. They didn’t have a center but would meet at Aaravindha’s home or rent various properties on the island to host Sambodha events. Around 30 people showed up to Aaravindha’s Karunya Marga Seminar in Deer Harbor in April 2018.

The Karunya Marga Seminar in Deer Harbor, April, 2018

Prior to her death Carla may have been trying to leave the group. Jim’s research notes from the time indicate Carla told a friend about another side of Sambodha. His notes read, “Carla had told her she had discovered that there was a dark side to the Sambodha group and that she wanted out.” Jim also described a time when Carla dramatically confronted Aaravindha during lunch at a restaurant called Chimayo. Jim was eating in the back, facing Aaravindha’s table. “Carla walked in very briskly, pulled a chair up to their table, spoke vigorously directly to Janis (Aaravindha), then got up and left. Janis never responded. She saw me as she left; she appeared to be quite angry.” Another long-term resident of Orcas who was present also remembered the confrontation. And Carla’s ex-boyfriend had said that around the time of the stabbing she told him that she was afraid. Another friend of hers I spoke with also told me Carla was afraid at the time.

“Carla had told her she had discovered that there was a dark side to the Sambodha group and that she wanted out.”

So, there I was, one year to the date from my Sedona experience investigating another cult. I figured it’d be similar to Bentinho–grandiose claims, verbal abuse and cult indoctrination. Same story with a different spin. Nothing I hadn’t seen before. But once again the mystery proved much deeper than I ever imagined.

On December 14th, 2005 at around 9:00 am Carla Shaffer was found naked on the front lawn of a home near the Orcas Center. The homeowner told police at the time Carla was disoriented, covered in blood and walking quickly towards him. When she called his name he was surprised, as he could not recognize her at first. He proceeded to take her inside and call 911.

Carla had driven there in the middle of the night completely naked in the freezing cold with an iced windshield. She was “looking for light” she later told the police and went to the Orcas Center to watch the sunrise. One person reported that she almost drove him off the road as she was in the wrong lane, another said he saw her driving with her head out of the window.

A first responder on the scene reported to the police that Carla was afraid and hesitant to speak about what happened. She said Carla told her “They are trying to control my mind” several times and expressed concern “they could get” her if she went to the hospital in Bellingham. The man who discovered her told police that Carla said she was afraid “he” may get her. His wife told police that Carla asked her if she knew anything about mind control and told her “they’re controlling my mind.” She said a “shudder went through” Carla’s body upon saying this. Carla also told her “don’t let anyone in.”

Prior to driving to the Orcas Center Carla experienced a traumatic incident in her home. According to official documents she suffered 30-40 stab wounds, her jaw was smashed in and one or two teeth were forced out of place, a rib was broken, her lung was damaged or collapsed, she had a black eye, her liver was slightly punctured and her breastbone was significantly damaged. There were also two, finely made identical slits on her eyelids. She had also apparently been unconscious for some period of time.

What actually happened to her remained a mystery to those investigating the case because she told them she was attacked by a male spirit that was non-human. She had been sleeping naked in her sleeping cabin behind her home and when she went inside to use the bathroom she said someone grabbed her. The detective who interviewed her in the hospital wrote down what she told him happened in his police report.

“Carla said ‘someone grabbed me as I ran into the house…I didn’t see its face.’ I asked where she had been grabbed and forced to the ground and was told, ‘I didn’t see their face or physically feel his hands…I do not believe it was a physical person.’ Carla told me she believed that it was a ‘struggle between Light and Dark…light being good and dark being evil.’ Carla added ‘I believe it was a male spirit or force as it was not a physical person…I could feel the force only. I could feel the repeated blows but I could not feel his hands.’ The voice sounded male but it was distorted, like something from a science fiction movie, it was a spirit voice.”

Carla told me that after the wounds were made to her eyes she could no longer see (blood) but she was ‘listening to the voices from the Light that was helping me.’ Carla added that the Light kept telling her to look at the light.

Carla said she didn’t know how long the attack went on but was on the floor kneeling when she was stabbed. Carla said she was also hit in the face with a one-gallon jar of red beans.”

He also described the treating surgeon’s perspective on her injuries.

“I had also talked to Dr. Fox, Carla’s surgeon and she said she found no defensive wounds on Carla. Dr. Fox said that usually shows that there was no attacker on an assault like this one, but she had problems with the number of times she was stabbed and the locations (eyes done slow no injury to the eye). Dr. Fox said one of the wounds was made hard enough to break a rib and force an injury to the lung. I was told that an injury like that one would take some strength to do.”

The surgeon was reportedly quoted by a witness as saying “If I had to swear in a court of law that those injuries were self-inflicted I couldn’t do so.”

A doctor who visited Carla in the hospital noticed the fine slits on her eyelids and reportedly remarked that he had seen them before and they were ritual markings. These carefully made cuts are what the detective described above as “eyes done slow no injury to the eye.”

Because Carla wouldn’t name her attacker(s) and because there were no defensive wounds on her, the incident was ruled self-inflicted.

Some have suggested that she refused to name them out of fear of retribution. A close friend who visited Carla in the hospital said that Carla told her the story “just needs to be this way for now.” When a long-term friend asked what really happened Carla replied: “I will call you, we will talk.” The friend told police Carla “said it’s very complicated but huge.” And Carla was very adamant about not stabbing herself. “I did not do this to myself” she said while in the hospital.

Carla would end up spending around two weeks in the hospital in Bellingham, the last few days of which were spent in the psych unit to evaluate her mental health.

She was released at the end of December into the care of Markus Naugle and Laura Wheelock. According to current Sambodha teacher Dave Lutz, they were both involved with Sambodha. Aaravindha describes Markus and Laura as “close friends.” Carla stayed with them until January 3rd, when it appears she became suspicious of them and demanded to immediately go home.

While at home she was being watched over by two friends Deborah Martyn and Clay Philbrick. Deborah was her neighbor in Opal Commons and Clay was Deborah’s partner. They would be the last reported people to see her alive.

The night she arrived home–only days after leaving the hospital and a few weeks since the stabbing incident–she went missing. That evening Deborah and Clay called the police to report that they couldn’t find her. When the officer arrived he found her in her sleeping cabin. The police report reads: “Clay Philbrick claimed that he, Martyn and Deputy Taylor all attempted to waken Shaffer but that she was ‘just absolutely stiff and unresponsive, like stone.’ Philbrick and Martyn asked Deputy Taylor to just leave her alone and let her sleep. Deputy Taylor agreed inasmuch as Shaffer was clearly breathing and did not appear to be in distress.” Carla was known to be a “very light” sleeper I was told. Why didn’t she wake up when three people tried?

The next evening Deborah said she checked on Carla at 11:00 pm and she was home. At 1:15 am she checked again and she said she was gone. Deborah and Clay said they believed it was too late at night to call the police and that they wouldn’t do a search. Yet, they had called the police the night before with no issue.

For some reason that evening, Aaravindha was called for advice on what to do. He said in an interview with me that Laura Wheelock called him, which meant that Deborah and Clay must have called Markus and Laura and told them Carla was gone. Deborah had called the police when she went missing the previous evening. But the night before Carla was found dead Deborah and Clay did not call the police, instead, Aaravindha was called.

At around 9:00 am the next morning Deborah Martyn called the police to report Carla missing. A search crew was formed. At 1:30pm on January 5th, 2006 Carla Jean Shaffer’s body was found face down, floating 12 feet from the shore in a pond a few hundred yards from her home. How she got there is unknown.

The pond near the Orcas Island airport where Carla’s body was found

“Carla Shaffer was murdered!” A voice rang out from a car parked down a few spots from me. I looked up and I saw a young woman’s eyes focused intently on me. My body began pulsing with chills.  She had overheard me asking a man in the parking lot if he knew where a pond was around there. “A woman died in a pond about ten years ago. Her name was Carla Shaffer.” He had no idea.  

“How do you know Carla Shaffer?” the woman asked. I replied: “I’m a journalist investigating her death.” As she got out of her car and started walking up to my car my body became overwhelmed with vibrations. Deep, full body chills. I’ve never experienced anything so powerful. I got out of my car to continue the conversation. 

“None of her family or friends believe she committed suicide or stabbed herself. I’ve been trying to raise awareness about this for years. There was a woman who was cleaning up the blood the morning of the attack. She was into a bunch of weird occult stuff. A guy did a bunch of research on the case years ago. She was murdered in some type of satanic ritual.”

At that point my body was vibrating so strongly that I could barely compose myself.

“We’ve been waiting for someone to come” she said. “I’m one of the most prominent writers in the world exposing cults” I replied. We both stared at each other in disbelief.

The way I happened to run into this woman is a mystery. After I first googled “meditation Orcas Island” I began asking locals if they knew anything about the group. A guy mentioned that there was a death associated with the cult. He said something like she had mental illness and committed suicide as did several island residents. At a bonfire a few days later a guy told me that there were some people who believed she was killed by the group. I was stunned.

As I gathered more info and spoke to more locals I got a fuller picture of what was happening. One person at a shop in town who knew Carla told me the backstory. And then a guy told me where he thought the pond was where she was found. I figured I’d go check it out.

He told me it was near an area called Bonnie Brae. I found the community and drove through but didn’t see any pond. I turned right out of the development and drove for awhile only to return once again to Bonnie Brae. Still no pond. I saw an old woman and asked her but she had no idea. “Go to the Opal community office right there at the end of the road. They’ll know.”

When I pulled in I saw the guy in the parking lot. I rolled down my window and asked him about the pond and Carla. The woman who overheard me was just about to close her door and drive away. Had I arrived seconds later our encounter never would have occurred. I never would have gotten the next crucial steps of the story.

I thought back to last year in Sedona when I had had a similar experience. After I figured out the cult ambitions of Bentinho Massaro and that I was there to expose him I laid down on my bed and chills pulsed through my body. That experience lasted a few minutes.

This time it was different. The sensations were much stronger and lasted hours after randomly running into this woman. As I returned back to the Golden Tree hostel where I was staying at the time I recounted the uncanny encounter I had just had to my landlord. As I did I became overwhelmed once again with these pulsing, chill-like sensations. It was eerie. It made no logical sense. It was a mystery.

Aaravindha Himadra teaching at Deer Harbor on Orcas Island in 2018

When the two detectives first arrived on the scene at Carla’s home where the stabbing incident had taken place they were “very surprised” to find her neighbor Deborah Martyn cleaning up the blood. They had not immediately been able to secure the crime scene because Carla was found near the Orcas Center, not at her home. The police told Deborah to stop what she was doing and quickly leave the house. She was taken to the police station and ordered to recall everything she had seen, what she had moved and where things were.

Deborah told the police that another neighbor, Molly Roberts, had called her and said the cat had made a mess and asked her to clean it up. Molly also told the police the same story. She saw Carla’s gate and doors open and went in to investigate. The scene in her home was a far cry from a cat’s mess. There were four bloody knives on the floor, broken glass, a 7-inch hole in the window, blood on the floor, blood spatters on the walls and appliances, a blood-soaked rug near the front door, blood smears on the handrails and doorknob and a broken jar of lentils on the floor. Molly insisted during an interview with me that it was not obvious a crime had been committed based on what she witnessed. She said there wasn’t a lot of blood on the floor.

In her written police statement Deborah described what she had done at the scene: “washed floor, walls, picked up tea towels, put knives in bowl to soak, rearranged dishes. Took mostly full garbage bag that I added the broken glass to out to the garbage can and removed top garbage bag and put the white plastic one under it to lower risk of others getting cut.” She said she was using a “wash tub and green cloth and yellow rubber gloves, broom, dust pan, orange cleaner. I dumped water with blood, water, lentils, glass…etc. out back of the porch near fern.”

Thus, by her own account, Deborah walked into what was a messy crime scene and soaked multiple bloody knives, washed the walls and floors, cleaned up the glass and put the trash bag with all of the evidence underneath the other trash bag in the can. Because of her actions, a proper forensic investigation of the scene could not be completed.

There were other strange or suspicious actions of people at the time as well.

One neighbor said in the weeks following Carla’s death people were seen in Carla’s bedroom dressed in black robes performing ceremonies in the middle of the night. Another neighbor also told police: “In the next two weeks her house lights were on most nights between midnight and 2:00 am, sometimes 3:00 am.” Carla’s friend said that Sambodha member Stacy Ramillah admitted to being in Carla’s home performing rituals at the time. After the locks were changed by a neighbor there were no longer any sightings of group members in the home.

A woman who entered Carla’s house after her death said “she felt an energy that made her nauseous.”

Locals who know about Sambodha, and particularly those who lived near them, said they knew of their “strange occult practices.” One person said “For years people on the island would talk about them doing ritual sacrifices in their group and say there was a demonic aspect.” One person I spoke with also mentioned ceremonies in black robes and nude rituals. Other locals I spoke with said they also heard about these things.

Perhaps Carla had gotten deep enough into Sambodha’s “inner circle” to discover these occult practices and rituals. Perhaps this is what she was referring to when she told a friend she had discovered a “dark side” to the group and had wanted out.

Aaravindha Himadra and his book “Immortal Self” on Sounds True

Aaravindha Himadra and Clay Philbrick gave peculiar accounts about Carla’s death.

Jim Shaffer-Bauck had a note in his research that said Aaravindha had said “he had contacted Carla outside her body before she was found. He had tried contacting her in her body but it gave him headaches.”

Current Sambodha teacher Dave Lutz said after Carla had died Aaravindha used his psychic abilities to describe to him Carla’s final moments. “Aaravindha said she was determined to take her life, that she failed the first time and she just walked into the water and let the water take her away.” Another person said Aaravindha told them the same thing and described how the cold water took over Carla’s body.

Clay Philbrick, who was one of the last people to see Carla alive, told police that the morning of the search he consulted with two psychics (one of whom is believed to be Aaravindha). Before Carla’s body was found in the pond Clay said that the psychic told him she was in a cold body of water east of her home. And Clay told police that his own vision powers allowed him to see that Carla was near water but that he was afraid of using these powers because he may attract alien beings. Thus, the last reported person to see Carla alive told police he knew the correct location of the body before it was found. And this was all only hours after Aaravindha had been notified that Carla was missing.

He also gave police a rather incredible account of what happened to Carla when she was stabbed. The “Rife” machine he references was an electronic energy device Carla was using to heal herself and others. The detective who interviewed him wrote what Clay had said.

“He claimed that he has visions and learned from an unearthly being that the RIF machine had ‘caused a disturbance in the time/space continuum and five beings slipped through.’ He said that two angels stood between the beings and Carla’s neighbor’s home and prevented the beings from harming the neighbor. He went on to claim that five beings had ‘slipped through’ but had no intention of staying. They were only here to retrieve one of their fellow beings who had come through before and had wanted to stay. That being was allegedly the one who stabbed Shaffer.”

Deborah also told one of Carla’s friends that Carla was not attacked by a human but rather a spirit entity.

Clay was staying in Carla’s home as a caregiver the last two nights before she was found dead. The detective wrote what he told him happened two nights before she was found “He claimed that ‘the vibes’ in the house were so strong and negative that he awoke in a panic and ran out of the house. He said that he went to Martyn’s house, awoke Martyn, and explained about the negative vibes. He said a short while later they went to Shaffer’s sleeping cabin and discovered that she had been missing.” It was then that they called the police.

The next night Clay claimed that he and Deborah “stroked her until she fell asleep.” Once again Clay said he was unable to sleep in Carla’s house due to the “bad vibes.” Deborah stayed up and checked on Carla several times throughout the night. At some point she told Clay that Carla had disappeared again. They searched for her and decided to not call the police because they didn’t believe a search could be conducted at night. They waited until around 9:00 am and called the police to report her missing.

Jim Shaffer-Bauck was in Deborah Martyn’s home on January 5th, just hours before Carla was found. Several Sambodha members had gathered there. He said Clay began speaking about a “disturbance” he heard in the home the night she went missing. Jim said Clay quickly changed the subject as if he recognized he shouldn’t be talking about it. “It was like he started to tell what he had seen and then stopped himself.”

When one of Carla’s friends asked Deborah Martyn if she really believed Carla stabbed herself 30-40 times Deborah replied “Carla just knew it was her time.”

Carla Shaffer and Jim Shaffer-Bauck

Several friends of Carla’s suspected the involvement of Aaravindha and Sambodha in her death. They gave statements to police describing Sambodha as cult-like and highlighting unusual behavior by members. In mid-March someone actually put posters up in town with a photo of Aaravindha that read “Wanted For the Torture and Murder of Carla Shaffer.”

Several people, including Sambodha members, were on scene at Carla’s home and the surrounding area at the time she was found. One person who was there saw Markus Naugle and Laura Wheelock, Deborah Martyn, Clay Philbrick, Stacy Ramillah and Dave Lutz.

Jim had heard Carla may have been found and started to walk down the road to the pond. He was intercepted by Markus Naugle. Markus walked Jim up to Seaview Street, where Jim got into a Jeep that was stopped there. Soon the car was surrounded by a group of people including Aaravindha and Ashayrah. Jim said, “they were right there keeping control of things.” They all gathered around the Jeep and prevented him from going down to the pond he said.

In Jim’s notes from his research into the case, he writes that on one occasion in the weeks after Carla died Markus came by with a “hard sell” that her death was suicide. He listed things like the fact that she hadn’t paid the full water bill as evidence of her being suicidal. Markus had also contacted people shortly after Carla’s death rationalizing what happened using spiritual lingo.

On another occasion, Jim said Markus made a strange comment. After describing to him that Carla’s liver was punctured Jim said Markus replied “They were so delicate, her internal organs, I’m surprised they weren’t all punctured.”

Jim noted in his research journal that Herlwyn Lutz (father of Sambodha member Dave Lutz) tried to convince him the Rife machine made Carla lose it. “He was convincing me the Rife machine was responsible for Carla attacking herself. He approached me yesterday to clarify that point because people were thinking that Janis [Aaravindha] was involved…Plan to inform him that no one is buying that theory.” Jim’s notes also reflect that Aaravindha was saying the Rife machine made Carla go crazy and attack herself.

Several people wrote in their police statements that Deborah Martyn tried to steal Carla’s $4,500 Rife machine after her death and only returned it upon threat of having the police involved. She was also going through Carla’s things, opening her packages and frequently accessing the home without permission from the family. This only stopped once a neighbor changed the locks.

Sambodha member Stacy Ramillah reportedly contacted a woman who was investigating Carla’s death to try and convince her that Aaravindha was not involved.

Of interest to note is that Markus and Laura moved to Guatemala for ten years soon after Carla died. According to Aaravindha they left “very shortly” after Carla’s death, perhaps within a month or two. They returned in 2016. And the basis of Aaravindha’s book on Sounds True–his trek through the Himalayas–also occurred the summer after Carla’s death. A friend of Carla’s said she was told Aaravindha also left soon after Carla’s death, first going to Germany before the Himalayas.

Several Sambodha members were trying to control the post-death narrative, saying that Carla was crazy and they actively tried to shift attention away from Aaravindha as some of Carla’s friends had begun to suspect him and the group. Even the former member who I spoke with who told me about the cult like ways of the group said “Aaravindha definitely didn’t kill Carla.” I was surprised as I hadn’t even asked her about that. But she said that she knew there were people who thought that he had.

One resident and Orcas business owner spoke of the fear that many people lived in after Carla’s death. “It was a really, really scary time. We were all locking our doors and on edge. Everyone was afraid.” Many Orcas Island residents never lock their doors given the generally peaceful and crime-free environment. On several occasions this person asked me if I was from Sambodha, fearing that I may have been sent from the group. Their fear of talking about this was still very much alive.

Some people who were pushing for more investigation into Carla’s death at the time experienced strange encounters with group members.

An Orcas Island business owner and friend of Carla’s said that after Carla’s death Aaravindha and his wife showed up every day for a month in front of her business. “They would show up everywhere. It was really creepy.” Aaravindha and Ashayrah could also both be seen doing a ritual/symbolic movement with their arms repeatedly after Carla’s death she said. She demonstrated the arm movements. The arms stay at the side and the forearms raise up and down and then the forearms cross over each other. She also said Stacy Ramillah had tried to leave Sambodha but didn’t make it out. During her process of trying to leave she could be seen doing the same arm movements frequently.

One person investigating Carla’s death claims she was followed on four separate days by a dark green SUV. On one occasion she said the car aggressively came at her while visiting Carla’s grave site. On another day the same car followed her the entire 23-mile trip to the ferry and back. On one occasion the car followed closely behind her with no lights. This person claims that after these incidents she awoke to someone shining a flashlight in her window at 3:00 am for 30 seconds. And her son reported that he was followed and surrounded by cult members.

A friend of Carla’s who was investigating her death at the time said there was a guy at the memorial bonfire on January 6th who didn’t even know her but who was sobbing crying. When he returned home, the housemate of this person reportedly had asked him if he went and he said yes. They then said “You didn’t even know Carla” to which this man reportedly said, “At least I didn’t fuck her like the other guys did.” This friend speculated that his housemate was present to a sexual assault or a ritual in which she was sexually violated. One of Carla’s close friends told me that the man who made this concerning statement quit his excellent job at the post office and left Orcas Island very soon after Carla’s death.

If Carla was sexually assaulted and wanting to not expose the perpetrators it would explain why she refused a rape kit test. Her treating doctor reportedly said, “When I got to that area and asked for the rape kit Carla sat straight up and said ‘oh no you don’t!'”

The town of Orcas Island

Carla’s mental state at the time of the stabbing incident and her death are important to examine given what was being said about her. Again, Sambodha members were pushing a narrative that she had lost it mentally and that the Rife machine had contributed to her going crazy and stabbing herself. Deborah Martyn claimed, “Carla just knew it was her time.” The predominant narrative amongst locals was that Carla had a mental breakdown and committed suicide.

I spoke with several of Carla’s friends and family members and none of them said she had any history of mental illness. Yes, she was very sensitive to chemicals and scents but there was no mental illness. There were several accounts from friends in the police reports as well saying she had no mental illness, with several saying she was in good spirits around the time of the tragic events.

A statement by one of Carla’s close friends to the police reads “Life was only improving for her. She was physically feeling great and looking forward to earning income healing others with her Rife machine.” Another friend’s notes from the time pointed out Carla was organizing a movement against more cell towers on Orcas Island, she was planning on teaching an arts & crafts class and was writing songs with a Baha’i friend with performances in mind. “She had many good friends and two loving daughters” it reads. Their notes conclude by saying “None of her old friends observed any suicidal tendencies or indications of suicidal behavior. No one I know has come up with any reason for her to take her own life.”

Markus Naugle and Laura Wheelock told police Carla was “clear and lucid as she always had been” and that she was “happy” and appeared to be in “good spirits.” Carla had stayed with them a few days before she was found dead.

Deborah Martyn told the detective that she “did not detect actual depression in Shaffer’s behavior” after the attack. She also said she had “several positive and happy conversations with her about her future plans.” Yet publicly some of these people were saying she knew it was her time or that she had lost it mentally.

Current Sambodha teacher Dave Lutz told me that he never noticed Carla show any signs of mental illness or express interest in killing herself.

There are also at least two accounts of Carla’s state before the stabbing incident. One friend saw her just hours before and said she was in good spirits. Another said there was a gathering or party at her home that night and that she appeared fine.

And the coroner’s report noted that there was not enough evidence to conclude she committed suicide.

Carla was also a long time Baha’i member and they have strong beliefs against suicide. It is strongly condemned and forbidden.

During a nearly 3-hour interview, Aaravindha told me that he and his wife were out of the country at the time of Carla’s stabbing incident on December 14th, 2005. They sent me a photo of a portion of a passport that showed a stamp indicating entering Europe on November 14th and returning to the US on December 27th. I have no idea who’s passport it is however as there is no name visible in the portion they sent. And they only sent an image of one passport, not both. Without seeing both of their passports in person I have no way of verifying the truth of their claims. But a detective (or anyone) on the island could easily inspect them. He said they were both at home the night Carla disappeared and then went to help search for Carla the next morning.

I asked Aaravindha and his wife about numerous critical statements and remarks that cast suspicion on him from Carla’s friends, family, Orcas residents and former Sambodha members. All of the claims were lies and rumors he said. He described them as “disgruntled people” controlled by dark forces. He said you can’t teach meditation or yoga these days without being accused of being a cult leader. He told me that I needed to meet him in person before I could say anything about him.

The interview with Aaravindha was very different in tone than were the other interviews I conducted. Whereas Sambodha teacher Dave Lutz calmly and casually responded to my questions, Aaravindha appeared nervous, would stutter at times, would at times repeat the question before answering, would go off on tangents not related to the questions and became increasingly aggressive and defensive. I also noticed a change in pitch of his and his wife’s voice on certain key questions. This did not occur on “baseline” questions I knew they were answering truthfully.

There were several stark inconsistencies in Aaravindha’s interview. He lied about his relationship with Carla Shaffer, Markus Naugle and Laura Wheelock and their connections to Sambodha in addition to lying about having made certain statements to people.

Aaravindha Lies About Carla’s Involvement in Sambodha

In the interview, Aaravindha repeatedly said Carla was not involved in Sambodha at all, in any form. He did so defensively and aggressively. “I don’t know how many times I’ve said this to you, but I’m about ready to hang up. Carla was not in our group. She didn’t attend any meetings. She didn’t come to do anything with us. She didn’t even learn the meditation techniques.” He said they only knew Carla as a friend who they saw occasionally on the island. He said that they have a lot of friends like Carla who are not connected to Sambodha.

I spoke and texted with long term Sambodha member and current Sambodha teacher Dave Lutz. He said Carla was in fact in the group. “Carla was in Sambodha for at least three years,” he told me. I asked him, “So, you were there with Carla, physically present in Sambodha meetings?” He replied “yes.” He said during the sessions, “Aaravindha would teach us different meditation techniques and he would use his psychic abilities to help people with blockages and personal issues they had in their lives.” He said this took place in Aaravindha’s home. Dave and Carla would meditate together both in their homes and in Sambodha meetings.

Dave also said that Aaravindha had done several private, one-on-one spiritual healing and counseling sessions with Carla. This was common in the group he said. Aaravindha offered free sessions to members. Dave said Carla considered Aaravindha “an excellent, highly evolved teacher.”

Aaravindha likes to say “disgruntled” people have lied about him but he cannot say that about a current senior Sambodha teacher. Dave was calm, respectful and forthcoming. He had nothing to hide and no reason to lie about Aaravindha’s actual relationship with Carla and Markus.

One of Carla’s close friends described a time when Carla was so excited because she was headed out to a birthday celebration for herself that Sambodha members were putting on at Aaravindha’s home.

As stated earlier, a friend had said Carla had become enamored with Sambodha and had been attending meetings regularly. Another friend spoke of not being able to recognize who Carla had become after getting involved in Sambodha. And Carla told a friend she had discovered a “dark side” to Sambodha and had wanted out.

All of this evidence from multiple people, including a current Sambodha teacher pointing to Carla’s involvement in Sambodha and yet Aaravindha says “She didn’t attend any meetings. She didn’t come to do anything with us.”

What is Aaravindha trying to cover up by lying about Carla’s involvement in Sambodha? Why is he lying about his relationship to a woman who died under mysterious circumstances? A woman he had counseled and offered spiritual support to?

Aaravindha Lies About Having Told People He Knew How Carla Died

I asked Aaravindha to explain why someone told me he told them that he had used his psychic powers describe Carla’s last moments of life. He had described to this person how Carla walked down to the water, felt the water take over her body and go into the water. Aaravindha said “I didn’t say that to anyone. I didn’t say that to anyone. I don’t know what Carla was feeling when she went down to the water…That person right there is a bold face liar.”

But I spoke about the same claim with Dave Lutz after I spoke to Aaravindha. Dave said, “He told me the same thing.” He said that Aaravindha’s abilities allowed him to know what happened to Carla in her last moments. He said, “Aaravindha has a unique ability, similar to psychic ability but much clearer. It’s called Saumedhika.” He went on, “Aaravindha said she was determined to take her life, that she failed the first time and she just walked into the water and let the water take her away.”

Aaravindha claimed to know Carla had committed suicide and that she walked into the pond whereas no one else actually knows what happened in her final moments. Even the coroner, Randall Gaylord, said there was not enough evidence to conclude suicide and her death was ruled an “accidental drowning.” Thus, we have Aaravindha pushing a narrative that is convenient for him that she committed suicide. And despite two people claiming he told them what Carla’s last moments were like he is now lying and saying he never said it.

Aaravindha Lies About Markus Being In Sambodha and Their Relationship

Aaravindha said several times that Markus was never part of Sambodha in any way shape or form. Yet when I asked Dave Lutz about the relationship between Aaravindha and Markus and Laura he replied: “They had been occasional members of the Sambodha community, meditating with us, attending gatherings and seminars.”

When I asked Aaravindha if he had a phone number for Markus he said he did not. “I don’t know. I haven’t had any contact with Markus for a long time. I know he’s back on the island but I don’t have his phone number or anything.”

When I called Markus’ workplace I left a first and last name with the person who took the message for him. I had never given a last name to Aaravindha and his wife. Yet, only one hour after I left the message for Markus I received the email from Aaravindha and Asheylah with the image of the passport. But this email used the first and last name I had left for Markus. This is unequivocal proof that Markus and Aaravindha were immediately in contact after Markus received the message from me.

If Markus was Carla’s friend why wouldn’t he speak to me and answer questions to help clarify what happened? Why did he immediately contact Aaravindha but not me after I left a message for him? Why did Aaravindha lie to me and say he’s not been in contact with Markus?

Early in the interview, Aaravindha described Markus and Laura as “close friends” but later he said, “we never got to know them that well.” He was shifting his story to suit his own agenda.

Aaravindha Lies About Carla Committing Suicide and Being in Constant Pain & Nausea

Aaravindha aggressively and defensively pushed the narrative that Carla was in a deep state of constant suffering and pain and couldn’t deal with life anymore.

“She just slipped into that pond because she was tired of fighting with a disease that stole everything from her. She was in constant nausea, constant pain, she was having psychotic episodes with a septic liver. Do you have any idea how horrible that is? She just got fed up, she just couldn’t do it anymore. She wanted out. She started to lose it. It happens to people all the time. All over this country, right now a number of people have committed suicide because they couldn’t take it anymore in this world.”

There is no truth to his claims. Carla was not in a constant state of pain or nausea, nor was she having psychotic episodes. As the segment above about Carla’s mental health indicates she was doing well. She had dealt with symptoms of Hepatitis C like fatigue, but things were much improved. One friend had said “Life was only improving for her. She was physically feeling great…” Carla had been doing activism work, was planning arts and crafts classes and was looking forward to making money by healing others with her Rife machine. Markus and Laura told police she was “clear and lucid as she always had been” and was happy. No friends or family detected any depression, mental illness or interest in suicide.

Why was Aaravindha pushing so confidently and aggressively that Carla committed suicide when it is not known what happened? And when her death was ruled an accident? Why is he so heavily invested in a certain narrative?


The last time I met with coroner and prosecutor Randall Gaylord was the late afternoon of Friday, November 30th. We met at the Friday Harbor Courthouse. That was when he provided me with a copy of the police report for Carla’s case. It was about 8 inches thick. This was my first criminal investigation and so he helped orient me to what I was receiving. Overall, I found him and his staff to be helpful and forthcoming. He always promptly responded to my inquiries and requests.

Orcas Island Prosecutor and Coroner Randall Gaylord

What is noticeably missing from the police reports, however, is any sign that the authorities–either detectives or Randall–investigated Aaravindha Himadra or Sambodha. He nor his wife were ever interviewed. Had the authorities actually interrogated them and other Sambodha members thoroughly, checked phone records, alibis, and compared the stories to each other they would have discovered inconsistencies as I did. When people being questioned lie, it raises even more suspicion and should lead to even further digging and interrogation.

There were several specific statements given to police and Randall explicitly warning them about Carla’s involvement in the group and these were ignored. Some of them named specific people and concerning behaviors. When one of Carla’s friends asked the detective to investigate her death further she says he told her “I’ve already put 150 hours into this case and I need to wrap it up.”

Carla’s ex-husband wrote an impassioned letter to Randall pleading him to further investigate her death. He wrote: “My observations, and the circumstances of the initial attack have led me to conclude that Carla was murdered…I think we are dealing with sophisticated, experienced psychopaths, which implies that similar incidents have been executed in the past…”

There was a long police statement written by a friend of Carla’s that detailed numerous suspicious activities on the part of Sambodha members and raised many questions for authorities. And there were some other accounts given to authorities by Carla’s friends as well.

In his coroner’s report Randall himself acknowledges that he was made aware of the group and their activities but effectively ignored it. “After her death, other strange events were reported to me, concerning neighbors and others trespassing into Carla’s residence, a description that Carla and her friends are members of a cult referred to as “Children of the Light’ and that she used an energy machine called a ‘Rife’ machine…These events confirm bizarre behaviors but they are not specific for the purposes of determining that anyone else was involved in this death…”

Those raising concerns didn’t have specific proof of foul play but they provided evidence and clues that Randall and the police should have followed up on. It was a huge oversight on their part. Randall learned that a woman who died under mysterious circumstances and her friends were part of a cult called “Children of the Light” and he did not even investigate them at all. How is this possible? Had they understood cult dynamics and dug deeper they could have realized the full extent of how indoctrinated Carla and other members were.

Randall learned that a woman who died under mysterious circumstances and her friends were part of a cult called “Children of the Light” and he did not even investigate them at all. How is this possible?

There were some parts of the police report I was only allowed to view and not permanently keep. These included things like photos of Carla’s body and photos of her post-stabbing injuries.

When viewing the photos I was visibly struck by the socks Carla was wearing at the time she was found. They both had holes in the heels but one of them was quite torn up on the bottom and the side while the other hole was more of a neat circle. The one sock was raggedy and had a large piece missing. I just remember feeling that something was not right when looking at it. It seemed obvious to me that this would raise concern but it had not. There was no way the damage had come from walking in them. The socks were thicker than usual too. It would have taken many days walking on pavement to create that kind of damage and even then it seems unlikely that the sides could have been torn up like that. One friend said Carla never wore socks with holes in them.

The implication of the torn up socks is that she was dragged from her residence to the pond.

It’s also interesting to note that the detective who visited Carla in the hospital noted that he looked at her ankles and saw that they were free from marks. Yet, the autopsy report reveals several cuts and abrasions on her ankles and legs. This means that at least some of them could have happened the night she disappeared. Were these cuts and abrasions on her legs, ankles and feet also evidence of her being dragged?


Carla Jean Shaffer was a member of a cult when she died. Her search for healing and spiritual growth led her into the path of Aaravindha Himadra, who by the accounts of former members, is a controlling, abusive, narcissistic cult leader. Carla reportedly grew close to him and was “enamored” with the group, attending meetings regularly. She was undoubtedly indoctrinated and brainwashed into their teachings. She even cut off contact with her usual friends and adopted a new identity with the name Nahmine Attar. One friend barely recognized the person who Carla had become. And then, when she discovered a dark side to the group, Carla confronted Aaravindha. She was then found dead, floating in a pond near her home.

It’s very common for someone to get deeply involved in a cult or religious group without their friends and family knowing. The person will often hide the full extent of what is transpiring or it will appear like an innocent spiritual exploration. In reality what happens in these groups is a deep process of mind control. It takes someone having gone through it to understand the depth and severity of how much someone’s mind can be changed and influenced. What Carla went through is much more than anyone can probably imagine. And it is most often very difficult to break away from a cult.

When this poor woman was brutally attacked in her home and left bloody and unconscious she was under heavy mind control. She said so herself on the lawn that morning. “They’re trying to control my mind” she said repeatedly. “Do you know anything about mind control?” To the police and others, this was evidence of mental illness. Yet, had they only bothered to dig a little deeper they would have seen that it was real. It reflected the fact that she was under the control of a charismatic and powerful leader–a man whom they never even bothered to interview or investigate.

Too afraid to name her attackers, Carla either created a story that she was attacked by spirits or the story was planted in her mind by Aaravindha or fellow cult members. Both Clay Philbrick and Deborah Martyn also believed Carla was attacked by spirits.

The police then concluded that Carla was deranged and mentally ill and had somehow stabbed and cut herself 30-40 times, broken her own rib, punctured her liver, smashed her own face, gave herself a black eye and shoved in her teeth, damaged her breastbone, sliced two, identical, fine cuts into her eyelids and then knocked herself unconscious. All this by a woman with no history of mental illness. A woman who was reportedly seen just hours before by two different people and was said to be in good spirits. A woman who emphatically said she did not attack herself and did not try to commit suicide. A woman who was calm and lucid while in the hospital.

“It was clear they were trying to kill her” Jim told me. “The only thing that saved her was her fear of sharp knives. Every knife in her home was incredibly dull. That’s why we think four knives were used. They were looking for a sharp one and couldn’t find it.” This would also explain why many of the “stabbing” wounds were more like cuts and not that deep. Had the knives been sharp they could have penetrated her deeper.

And then, according to police, a few weeks later Carla left her home in the middle of the night, fell into a shallow pond and drowned. Perhaps it was intentional, they don’t know. All this by a woman with no history of mental illness. A woman who had given no sign she wanted to kill herself. A woman who was an excellent swimmer.

And of course, walking into a shallow pond is a very strange way to kill yourself. A paramedic on the island said what we all know, the body would instinctively physically reflex and contract to save itself. It’s like trying to kill yourself by holding your breath. It makes no sense that she would either intentionally or accidentally just die in a shallow pond a few hundred yards from her home. 

The focus of the investigation was on Carla when it should have been on Aaravindha and his Sambodha cult. As a result, we are left with unanswered questions.

Was Aaravindha actually out of the country as he claims during the initial stabbing incident? Where was he the night she disappeared? When she was found dead? Where were other Sambodha members? Why has Aaravindha lied about his relationship with Carla and Markus? Why did Markus flee the country for ten years soon after Carla’s death? Why did Clay run out of Carla’s home in a panic two nights before she disappeared? What were the “bad vibes” that caused him to leave Carla’s the night she disappeared? How did Clay know the location of Carla’s body before it was found? Why were Sambodha members trying to convince others that Carla lost it mentally and committed suicide? Why were the lights on in Carla’s bedroom from 12:00 am – 2:00 am for several weeks after she died? Why did Aaravindha and his wife stand in front of the business of a woman who was calling for more investigation for thirty days in a row? Why didn’t Markus agree to answer questions about Carla if he had nothing to hide?

The Golden Tree Hostel where I stayed for a month

“There’s a demonic presence on this island,” a young woman sitting at the Lower Tavern bar said to me. “I can feel it,” she said. “I know. I feel something too” I replied. I was telling her about my work writing about cults and my story investigating Sambodha. I told her the island had a deep, dark and creepy vibe to it. “I have to leave soon,” I said. “I don’t feel safe here anymore.”

By the time I had this conversation I had spent a month on the island interviewing people, researching and investigating the story. I had travelled all over the beautiful landscape in deep awe of where I was.

Given what my research revealed about Sambodha members following people and showing up in unexpected places I became increasingly concerned about my safety. Jim had told me he that he suspected Sambodha knew something was up. He had a few tense interactions with members. And I was stared down hard by a current Sambodha staff member and potentially followed. The last night I stayed there I even had a police officer do a patrol around the hostel premises throughout the night.

Before I left I visited Carla’s grave at the Woodlawn cemetery. I told her I’d get justice for her. 

The final mystery was randomly running into one of Carla’s family members on the streets of Seattle soon after I left the Islands. They normally didn’t take lunch at that hour. And my decision to go to Pike Place Market and then randomly walk around the city was last minute. As I was crossing the street they passed right by me. I almost missed them. We ended up walking and talking for a while. It was an unexpected meeting in the midst of a very large and bustling city. Perhaps it was the same mystery that brought us together that brought me to Orcas Island in the first place. 

As I was driving south Spotify randomly played a song by Florence and the Machine called “Shake it Out.” I was struck by the lyrics and immediately thought of Carla who was a dancer.

“And it’s hard to dance with a devil on your back
So shake him off, oh whoa”

Whoa to you Carla Jean Shaffer. Whoa to your beauty, your grace and your dance.


If you have any information relevant to this case please email me at shaktihunter123 @ gmail.com.

Several phone messages were left and an email was sent to Deborah Martyn seeking comment from her and Clay Philbrick and I had not heard back at the time of this publication. Markus Naugle did not respond to the message left for him at his work. Stacy Romillah did not respond to my interview request.

Tech Bro Guru: Inside the Sedona Cult of Bentinho Massaro

Sedona, AZ has been infiltrated by a polyamorous tech bro cult leader with a massive following. His devotees are everywhere. They believe he can control the weather with his mind. He talks about aliens & government conspiracies, sleeps with and verbally abuses students and believes he is an awakened God not responsible for his actions. He loves expensive scotch and has a sweet spot for cigars, but not Cubans. I spent one month embedded in his group under the alias “Shakti Hunter.” This is my report. #WelcomeToSedona


UPDATE: On December 9th, one of Bentinho’s long time, very devoted students, Brent Wilkins, committed suicide by jumping off a cliff near the Midgley Bridge in Sedona, AZ. See full coverage. On December 18thBentinho Massaro fled Sedona and went into hiding.


[Be Scofield is the most prominent journalist in the world exposing cults and abusive gurus. In 2018 alone, her articles received almost 1 million views. Stories based on her work have appeared on The Guardian, The Daily Mail, VICE, Playboy, CNN, CBC, New Zealand Herald, Die Zeit and more.]

Written by Be Scofield, M.Div / Represented byUnited Talent Agency / Author contact: [email protected]

ORIGINAL ARTICLE VIEWS: 300,000

12/1/17

“I really feel like he is setting people up for a mass suicide. He talked about ‘The Harvest.’ I always had a weird feeling.” — Former core staff member

Bentinho Massaro is crushing the startup game. He’s the visionary behind an innovative company that has captured the hearts and minds of its users like no other. He’s truly one of a kind. What makes him stand out? It’s not his identity or looks. He’s a typical twenty something founder; white, handsome, charismatic and tech savvy. It’s also not because he built a successful company from nothing. That’s common these days. What makes him particularly unique is that he brilliantly used startup principles to create a legitimately dangerous, real life, 21st century cult. In SedonaIn 2017. Tech bro Guru has arrived. The OS has been upgraded. Cult 2.0 is upon us.

Bentinho’s first talk on his Youtube channel, “Understanding Life is Impossible” dates back to 2010. He was young, perhaps late teens. While many of his millennial peers were seeking investment capital for their new apps or interning at Facebook, he had an even cooler idea. Whether he was cognizant or not at the time, he used elements of growth hacker marketing to begin building a new age empire. He was testing out his “product” aka spiritual ideas for no cost on the platform that defined a generation. It worked. Build, test, measure, convert. He soon began teaching to small groups which further validated his ideas and then grew from there.

Since his first Youtube video, Bentinho has built a massive following. He can attract over 500 people to his in person retreats. His Facebook page has over 300,000 likes. Instagram is over 20,000 followers. There are two, well-run Facebook groups, one with 19,000 members. His Youtube videos have over two million views in total. He runs four exceptionally well designed websites — a free online academy, a monthly video based membership site, his core siteand the Trinfinity Corp. master plan. At its peak Bentinho’s Trinfinity academy was bringing in $60,000 per month from member subscriptions alone. With a $14,000 a month rent for his office in Boulder that level of income was definitely needed. And he gives talks in Sedona that attract over a hundred people each week in which he collects cash donations. He utilizes state of the art technology to record and broadcast them live on Crowdcast and then repurpose them on his platforms. He frequently utilizes Facebook Live and his team uses WhatsApp to communicate via several different groups. One of the WhatsApp groups Bentinho named “Boner in Dona” and it uses an image of a phallic looking Red Sedona rock as its icon.

It’s evident that what has “worked” has little to do the specifics of his spiritual ideas. Bentinho mainly teaches a mashup of Advaita Vedanta and the Law of Attraction. Other influences include Osho, Bashar, “The Law of One” channeled by Ra, Nisargadatta Maharaj and some yogic texts as well. He peddles in unrealistic promises such as “find complete happiness in two steps,” or “realize the absolute in two weeks.” But the ideas could be interchanged without compromising the results. It’s the medium, the format, the method and the technique that “works.” The goal of a cult leader is the same regardless of the jargon: confuse, disassociate and control. It is about “being led away from yourself.” At a recent meeting Bentinho told his followers to not focus on the content, rather focus on what he is transmitting. And that “what” which is being transmitted is much more illusive and deceptive than his students could ever imagine.

Bentinho’s long game for his business is truly audacious. His master plan for Trinfinity Corporation is right out of a sci-fi movie. He’s building a global, cosmic empire in a four phase sequence that ends with a “Trinfinity City.” He wants to create an “enlightened society by 2035.” Earlier phases include apps, film, TV & record studios, virtual reality machines, an astral projection inducer, a tech lab, a publishing platform and yes, a system to foster open contact with aliens.

The Sedona Creative Life Center where Bentinho holds his weekly talks.

It’s clear that Bentinho has achieved many of the goals of a new startup: successful branding, passive income, social media reach, great design and platform creation. Bentinho has mastered the game. No, hebecame the game and upgraded it. Cosmic domination. He wants your soul. And his followers are the pawns of his delusional, tragic vision of an enlightened society.

In this clip Bentinho clearly lays out his plan for his new “heaven on earth” utopia, “My vision is to buy a large piece of land and start a new city with all of you…As with everything I will succeed.”

Bentinho has the power, the money and the tech savviness to actually do it. He has slowly and carefully implemented a brilliant strategy to prop himself up as an infallible Guru. However, as of late, his methods are becoming more drastic and his teachings more dire. This isn’t just some pie in the sky far out Sedona hippie experiment. It’s Steve Jobs meets Jim Jones. Time to wake the fuck up.

A screenshot from Bentinho Massaro’s website showing a large crowd of his followers.

Branding is Everything

Bentinho’s “brand” brought him as far as being featured with a select group of spiritual teachers for the Sounds True audio program “Waking Up.” Alongside other luminaries such as Eckhart Tolle, Adyashanti and Jack Kornfield he discussed his views on the meanings of spiritual awakening with Sounds True founder Tami Simon. His following and his platform strategically positioned him for such a role.

However, Massaro’s brand has become increasingly tarnished. A series of attacks he made on other teachers coincided with him being disinvited from speaking at the Science and Non-Duality Conference in 2012. As his teachings and tactics become more drastic and the word spreads about his cult techniques his brand will be more and more damaged. There can be real consequences from industry insiders. Leaders like Tami Simon have taken action in the past against other figures. In 2011 she dropped spiritual teacher Marc Gafni from his book contract and publicly spoke out against his unethical actions and abuse of power.

The “How to Start a Cult” Playbook

Bentinho can show us all how to start and run a cult.

1. Claim divinity and special God like powers

According to an ex-member who wrote an article called “The Cult Promise of Bentinho Massaro” he claims he “is not human and incarnates on numerous planets to upgrade their civilizations, is able to direct rain, wind and lightening, is a god/God, is Buddha, is awakened and has never met anyone with as much integrity as himself.” He himself publicly said so:

One of Bentinho’s devotee’s believes he can control the weather and move objects with his mind:

“I’ve watched him control the weather a lot of times. We’ll be at a party and I’ll be like ‘Bentinho these clouds are not good, it looks like rain. Within ten minutes they’re gone. He does it all the time. I’ve watched him move objects on tables. I’ve seen him multiple times change weather or move clouds.”

Another core team member claims that Bentinho changing the weather is “no big deal.”

Here Bentinho claims he can “teleport, levitate and bilocate.”

Someone asked him in a Facebook comment: “I’ve often wondered if you are the re-embodiment of Christ. I see so many similarities and a mirroring if you will of his life here on earth with yours.” His response was disturbing, “He was a fabulous and brave and powerful messenger, but still considered himself the son, rather than having become God.” Bentinho is a God, you see. He said Jesus was only on the “4th density” out of 8. Massaro claims to be on the “8th density” according to one of his students. 8th is the highest level. Others say he is 6th density. Regardless, he claims to be higher than Jesus!

Massaro claims that his teachings are the best “offered on all of planet earth.”

The grandiosity continues, “I always thought I was supposed to be one of the most efficient and versatile spiritual teachers on the planet. Now that that’s the case it expands my vision even more.”

One program that Bentinho appeared on described him as “a young enlightened master who shines with joy, love and a strong sense of freedom.”

One core staff member claims that the highest, most awakened masters of all time are at “7th density” and Bentinho is at 8th. It’s common to hear his students claim that he is so evolved “there is nobody in there.” All of the students and core staff members I spoke with believe that Bentinho is highly awakened. One of them claims that Bentinho is a “Team Leader for the Starseeds. They also said that the most awakened, highly evolved masters of all time were at 7th density whereas Bentinho is at 8th. Buddha and Jesus came in at 6th density and perhaps evolved to 7th according to her. Again, Bentinho resides in the 8th density she claims, which is the highest. Elsewhere another core team member couldn’t answer the question “Is Bentinho human?”

Bentinho will call out the “spiritual bullshit” of other teachers. He “crucifies” Eckhart Tolle and all of the random teachings in Sedona, referring to them as “unicorn spirituality.” This is cult 101 — attack and denounce other teachings as false to prop up yours as enlightened.

Members believe Bentinho is the “chosen one” sent here on a mission:

“He arrived on planet earth as a massively evolved team leading starseed to do a very quick evaluation of what’s going on the spiritual level, move through it lightning speed. That’s his design. The reason he was sent at this time with that mission is because the starseeds that have gotten here to assist earth can get lost really easily. He helps them get on track so that they can fulfill their blueprint. Because we are a team, everybody’s blueprints are needed for this mission right now.”

2. Normalize verbal abuse as part of the spiritual path and then claim impunity as a Guru

Bentinho states that he is not responsible for his actions because of the spiritual level he has attained. He repeatedly draws upon the idea, “No, it’s not me, it you!”

When I asked a former member why they left she told me, because, in part, “Verbal abuse and verbal degrading of members in public and private. Directing the group to shut down and shut out critics from the group.”

This video demonstrates that Massaro has clearly normalized verbal abuse as part of the spiritual “path.” A female student says she is upset because “I just asked a simple question and he said ‘fuck you.’” He goes on to repeatedly yell at her “fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, FUCK YOU.”

In the video with Bentinho above is Anurag Gupta, a former high level Landing Forum executive. He’s teaching a retreat with Bentinho in Hawaii in January.

Anurag Gupta teaches with Bentinho Massaro

And in the video below Bentinho angrily tells the same woman: “If you weren’t so high up in your own ass about this fucking concept of respect you would actually see how much love there is behind me saying what I say.”

Bentinho posted this disturbing excerpt on his Instagram account recently:

Along with this image he included an in depth explanation to support his “anything goes” philosophy:

“Being friends with an awake being is nearly impossible, because: A) his first priority is your purification and elevation into truth; not kindness, niceness, agreeability or even apparent equality, and B) he is not like an ordinary person and thus cannot be successfully compared with normal standards or related to as just another person (which the finite mind does not like).”

And here is evidence of him justifying his own verbal abuse:

More:

Most recently, decades of sexual and physical abuse by Sogyal Rinpoche, author of “Tibetan Book of Living and Dying” came to the forefront in a major way. A previous article I’ve written, “Integral Abuse: Andrew Cohen & The Culture of Evolutionary Enlightenment” illustrates the real life consequences this Guru devotion can lead to. Noted Buddhist scholar Stephen Bachelor recently wrote about the dangers of this path in his recent article “Why I Quit Guru Yoga.” Ironically, Bentinho apparently loved the online series that was produced about Andrew Cohen’s abusive cult. He gathered weekly with his staff to watch it.

“Thinking about something is the surest way to miss out on the beauty of that actual something.” 
― Bentinho Massaro

3. Have sex with your students

Several inside sources, including former core staff members told me that while in Boulder, Massaro was having sex with one of his devotees. She was dating another group member and Massaro was married at the time. As a result he announced to his close followers that he and his wife were separating and that the student was part of his “new direction.”

A former core staff member also told me that on another occasion he slept with one of his students while leading a retreat in which his monogamous girlfriend was teaching the yoga sessions. She had no idea at first but discovered what he had done during the retreat which made things extremely awkward I’m told.

Massaro currently has three girlfriends and identifies as polyamorous. One of his current girlfriends was a student on one of his retreats. When speaking about Bentinho’s third, most recent girlfriend, who is only 21, his longer term partner bizarrely described him as “being in service to her.” Given the power he yields over his followers, his repeated claims that he is not responsible for his actions and the previous sexual relationships with students, I fear “poly” is being used as a cover for him to have free reign over students.

In this video, Bentinho appears to rationalize his sleeping with a student and having an affair on his wife.

4. Use disorienting methods to keep your devotees confused, distracted and in trance like states

Bentinho is currently pushing “dry fasting” on his followers. It means they cannot eat any food or drink any water, they can only have grape juice. He also recommends public participants of his “Sedona Experiment” follow this dry fasting method during the retreat. Several of his members including his girlfriends have done it. Some for 10 days, others for 21 and some for 108 days. One person told me she was in a “special place” during the middle of her 108 day fast when she discovered Bentinho’s teachings.

How safe is it to not drink water or eat food for 10–108 days? According to Dr. Douglas Graham it is not.

“Last night, I sat listening to a woman telling me about her dry fast experience. Three days in to the fast, she had to be hospitalized by her friends. The doctors made it clear that they were not certain she would pull through, and that only time would tell, but fortunately she lived to tell the tale. Too many others have not been so lucky. Dry fasting is extremely dangerous, and sadly, many more deaths will occur as a result of this unscientific and illogical craze.”

Others who have tried it complain about hair and teeth falling out and then this just being described as a symptom of “detox” by the leaders in the group.

Here is one commentator who tried it:

“This system ruined my mental health (severe anxiety/depression). I now have heart palpitations when I lie down and pretty much have them all day. I Also got really skinny then gained more weight than I have ever had. The fast also triggered severe binge eating. The group is very cultish if you ask me. I was having extreme difficulty and was told to just keep going and pushing and fast some more. I eventually joined their video calls and expressed how the system negatively impacted my health. My testimonial was ridiculed and I have been subsequently blocked from both of the Facebook groups. I wish I never did this.”

One of his staff members said she was on day 26 of no food or water and will be going for 108 days. Apparently this technique works on the level of “plasma.”

Bentinho has also used and encouraged for his members polyphasic sleeping. It means you only sleep in small batches at a time as opposed to 6–9 hours. It’s an excellent way to keep someone in a trance state.

5. Attack the family and encourage separation

In this clip Bentinho angrily tells his members:

“Fuck your relationships. They mean nothing. Let them go, let them go. Don’t give a fuck about your family. Don’t give a fuck about your children. Don’t give a fuck about your parents. Don’t give a fuck about your partner.”

Elsewhere he has stated: “If your family thinks you’re nuts when you express the truth of your being, it’s not your family and you should/could be excited to find a new family. If they don’t wish to be open to any of this whatsoever, they won’t have a real place in the world 10 years from now anyway.”

6. Convince your devotees to lose themselves, abandon critical thinking and reframe everything as positive

Central to Bentinho’s teaching is an attack on the present moment, claiming it is based in the past. Instead we need to live in the “future present” which is our imagination or a constant state of positivity as the video clearly demonstrates. If you think about it, this teaching perfectly sets him up to verbally abuse his students while they are instructed to immediately turn it into a positive.

Another central premise of Bentinho’s teaching is dissociating from and attacking the self. Everything you think you are must disappear. It is a wholesale attack on the mind, the self and anything “real.” We shouldn’t focus on the “what” of our experience, rather just “that” we experience. Definitions, descriptions or trying to “understand” our lives is impossible. He states, “Thinking about something is the surest way to miss out on the beauty of that actual something.”

He takes this to it’s logical conclusion by attacking the very foundation of how we navigate and understand our world.

“Witness yourself and see where you have these allegiances to logic, to reason, to linear description and simply start destroying these. No compassion. Just eradicate them. Completely destroy them. Roast those seeds.”

Here is one devotee revealing the lengths to which she’ll go to implement his teachings:

“I realized that I was just too attached to this belief about my physical body being real. I couldn’t get it to fade and dissolve deeper. So to release my attachment to it, (this sounds a little intense but was necessary) I started visualizing a chainsaw cutting off my limbs slowly. Then I visualized it sawing my body in half from the head down. I saw it clearly in my mind and began tuning into the fact that no matter what happened to the body, I still existed. The chainsaw was me and all of it was simply just presence energy that I was moving around in different ways with my thoughts believing that it was something real. I imagined my body and my”self” completely destroyed. I deeply tuned into the truth of me being the Awareness of all that is…”

7. Make dying easier

Bentinho tries to normalize dying:

“You will all die, so how important can this be really? We want to become a group consciousness, an enlightened civilization, do we not? This is gonna take everything you have. It’s about giving up everything you have for the sake of the vision, to become the vision.”

In this clip, he plants the seed that “you should be excited about your death.”

8. Claim your teachings are so advanced, others cannot understand them

In a Facebook post, Buddhist Geeks founder Vincent Horn called one of Bentinho Massaro’s video’s “infantile spiritual narcissism” and challenged him to a public “dharma battle” in Asheville or Boulder. Horn stated:

“The views I’ve seen you share on Facebook and in your public teaching videos are, in my estimation, naive and immature. More than that they are harmful. I think that you’re a soon-to-be-fallen guru and I’d like to help make the fall quicker — not for your sake — but for the sake of all those people on the fence about you, and all those who are yet to become disillusioned with your nonsense.”

Bentinho’s response was that of a classic authoritarian guru. He claimed that Horn must study his work in depth before he could even begin to grasp his teachings and be worthy of a debate. He replied, “If you first go through my entire academy, I might consider something closer to what you suggest, but unlikely even then…If you could see even 10% of what goes on in my consciousness in a single day, study my every academy lesson and practice its suggested homework with an open mind…you’d have a different opinion altogether.”

9. Promise salvation to your followers

Ex-member Gaby Petris describes his promise of salvation:

“Massaro says his teaching will lead to ‘the cessation of suffering and endless bliss’ and ‘heaven on earth.’ He has announced he is here to ‘transform this entire planet’, ‘nothing else will do’ and ‘nothing else will make his life worth living.’ He says he does not want children because he already has 7 billion.

He predicts planet earth is at the crossroads of splitting into two planes of existence. High vibration 4th dimensional beings who embody love (as do his students) will ascend to a less physical realm featuring telepathic group consciousness. Low vibration 3rd dimensional beings who embody negativity are ‘on a ship going down.”

10. Encourage your members to follow you wherever you live

Massaro tells his followers to move and follow him. Several of the members I spoke with had done just that. Many people relocated their entire families and lives to Sedona just to be with him. Some even had moved twice, first moving to Boulder, where he was for a few years and then to Sedona.

11. Promote government conspiracies & talk about aliens

Massaro promotes the discredited Hillary Clinton Pizza Gate conspiracy:

And here Bentinho claims that the Nazi’s won the war:

Bentinho on aliens and ET consciousness:

“We have bases on the moon, a bunch of slave colonies on Mars that have been mining the asteroid belt, we have been colonizing galaxies of our solar system, we haven’t needed fossil fuels for the last 80 years because we have anti-gravitic mechanisms…The Nazi’s won the war. The US government gave up their control, their governance so we would not be exposed to free energy devices. If free energy gets released, and we’re [Trinfinity corp] working on it, it changes everything. We’ve had free energy for 80 fucking years.”

“Don’t be surprised that the aliens we’ll meet — and we will meet them — look like the things you see in the movies. Don’t be like ‘oh this story of this guy is nonsense because I’ve seen that in the movies. He just got it from the movies.’ Well, did he get it from the movies or did the movies get it from them?”

“The vision statement of Trinfinity is: to have an enlightened civilization by 2035 that’s ready for interstellar absorption. It means that we reach a level of maturity to where we as a collective are able to be contacted openly without us freaking out anymore, without it needing to be kept secret anymore, we have become are own government.”

“Many of you are directly connected to ET consciousnesses.”

“We’re going to be absorbed initially into different confederations or alliances of civilizations that are 4th density or higher. We will be taught a lot. There will be a new type of education.”

This is a short clip from his “ET contact meditation” where he is talking about meeting aliens who are our “brothers.”

More:

12. “Guru gaze” at your followers for lengthy periods of time

13. Take 12 disciples into the desert on retreat as “guinea pigs” to test your methods

“Cult leaders do not have schools of persuasion to attend. They become masters of the folk art of human manipulation through testing and observing what works. They modify their approaches and techniques and use centuries-old manipulative devices to lead people to change.” — Margaret Singer, Cults in Our Midst

One of his main devotees told me how Bentinho took a close group of his inner circle into the desert for 14 days to give them “teachings on the absolute.” She said it was an intense period of meditation and teachings and that he was experimenting on the group. The most cult like elements certainly begin with the closest, most inner core of followers and then expand outward from there.

She said, “He wanted to experiment with a group of 12 people as guinea pigs to be able to synthesize the best way to teach it which is what he does so well…It felt like Jesus and the disciples because we were the first ones receiving these teachings. It was an extraordinary experience. ”

14. Create an enlightened city

After Bentinho dissolved his Trinfinity team in Boulder, he went on a “dark retreat” in Thailand where he sat in complete darkness. It was supposed to be two weeks but after just 5 days he was shown a vision for creating the enlightened society he had been talking about for so long.

“When I came out of darkness, I looked up properties in this area that’s been calling me, and I found a property that would suit our needs, had almost all the elements that were in my vision, looked incredibly similar, and sits at the exact location I was shown…It’ll be the center of everything to come. An anchor for the New Earth vibrations to stream into our atmosphere and into the earth, for we will act as a receiving antenna as well as a grounding beacon.”

What started as a small “build as you grow business” has now moved into the investor phase. This is a screenshot of the investor plan from his attempt to raise capital for his new earth vision.

No dangerous cult began by asking members to sign over their homes or make significant financial investments. They start with seemingly benign things like “spiritual” teachings, community events and gatherings. Slowly, as the cult leader begins to gain power and influence they begin taking more drastic measures to take full control over their members.

This excerpt from one person’s experience illustrates the sort of idealization and fantasizing that is going on in his group. It is propping him to a God like reality which any cult is built upon.

“…when suddenly Bentinho and [his girlfriend] arrived. An air of unreality descended upon the evening, like two elvish beings warped spacetime into a plane of heightened awareness…That night Bentinho’s new partner came on stage for the first time, and it was pure regality to see them sitting there together. Everybody seemed to feel the utter beauty of humanity connected, like an ancient people before their King and Queen…[They] were simply representations of Union on this physical plane, exemplifying the Feminine and Masculine.”

Bentinho talks about consuming his sheep, “the more you become a lion or lioness and absorb and digest the sheep around you and spit them out…consumption is love.”

Bentinho’s Mental State

In 2012 Bentinho posted on FB that he has been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder. In one of his talks he describes how he tortured a kitten when younger by repeatedly slamming it into a bush of thorns for twenty minutes. He didn’t know at the time but it was dark “entities” that were making him do it. When I told a cult expert friend who was following my work on this story that Bentinho had openly admitted to torturing a kitten he was not surprised. He said: “Of course he did. He probably bullied and tortured other children as well. Admissions from people like this are never complete.” The torturing of animals when young is a very high predictor of psychopathy later in life.

Bentinho meets most all the criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder. One must meet at least 5 of the below items to qualify as a narcissist:

  • Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (exaggerates achievements, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
  • Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited power, success, brilliance, beauty or ideal love
  • Believes he is “special” and can only be understood by similarly special, high status people
  • Requires excessive admiration
  • Has a sense of entitlement
  • Is interpersonally exploitative
  • Lacks empathy
  • Is envious of others or believes others are envious of him/her
  • Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

From the articleNarcissist or Sociopath? Similarities, Differences and Signs: 7 reasons why it’s often so tough to spot them, and how you can.

There are many out there who are fully aware of what Bentinho is up to and not buying into it. They have been raising the alarm bell for quite some time:

“Dear God, something always seemed a bit off about Bentinho to me, but I never delved deeply enough into his stuff to realize how insane and dangerous he clearly is…I think it should be quite obvious to any mental health professional that this guy is suffering from classic bipolar I disorder, complete with outright psychosis. I’m staying far, far away.”

“I met Bentinho when I had a radio program and he was a guest. When I saw him backstage, firsthand, I was appalled. I had invited him to speak at a gathering and had to uninvite him. Several of his devotees came forward to me with their being abused psychologically by him. He is an easy one to spot. There are many more who are wolves in sheep’s clothing that have made inroads in our trust that are unwarranted.”

“He was meant to die a few years back. He told all of his followers that he would be leaving the planet…He’s such a ding dong and the people who believe this shit are even more ding dongs!”

In several of his videos there is a manic like energy coming through. Even in his very first posting in 2010 you can identify it. He’s often excited and giddy. Something is off. This video captures what I see more subtly in many of his other videos:

CLIP STARTS AT 1:24

One of his main devotees told me they will sometimes have to “drag him back to the car” because he’ll be so deeply entranced. She translates it has him being in constant state of “the absolute.”

And another clip of him zoning out. This time while on stage. He does this for 9 minutes.

And another:

One of the quintessential characteristics of a narcissist is a reframing of anything they do as just someone else’s issue. It’s “No, it’s not me, it you!” This is Bentinho all day long. It’s his entire “spiritual” schtick. One insider told me how he would just constantly deny, reflect or avoid taking any responsibility for his actions. He said it was classic spiritual bypassing. When I asked one of his girlfriends what Bentinho is like, she said, “He’s like a mirror to myself.” When I asked her what it was like being in a relationship with him she told me “it’s like being constantly shredded.”

Bentinho Massaro claims the people of the world are his children

The Emerging Portrait

After speaking with numerous former insiders about Bentinho, a common perspective emerged. Several thought he was narcissist, but also brilliant and charismatic. One person told me that without any thought, he left a girlfriend in an instant for another woman. Another told me of Bentinho’s lack of care or interest for a retreat participant who had been suffering from serious cold exposure at one of his luxury retreats.

I’m told Bentinho was an only child who was pampered endlessly by his eclectic and offbeat mother. She apparently constantly told him that he was the most perfect, brilliant, amazing child ever. One former member told me that he thinks Bentinho is recreating this childhood reality through the adoration, praise and support from his cult followers. At one point Bentinho even told his mother that she was no longer his mother as both of his parents are students of his now. Interestingly, Andrew Cohen’s mother, Luna Tarlo, started off as his student as well but eventually broke away and wrote a tell all book called “Mother of God.”

Bentinho is a high school drop out who left for India at 16 with the help of his well off parents. He drinks whisky, loves expensive scotch, smokes cigars and loves to throw parties. Bentinho drives a $55,000 Ford Mustang, rents two homes in Sedona and was a hardcore gamer who won a sizable gaming competition when he was younger. It was that expensive Mustang and the $3 million dollar home that he was renting in Boulder that led some former staff members to become incensed at the little to nothing pay he was offering them.

Startup or Cult? Or Both?

“All the best apps, companies, and products have broken the way we live life, transformed how we communicate, and changed our day-to-day. Good products evolve us.” — Gary Vaynerchuk

A simple google search of “startups and cults” reveals numerous articles exploring the similarities between the two. One claims that the best startups are “slightly less extreme kinds of cults” and that cults are “fanatically wrong about something important” whereas the best startups are “fanatically right about something those outside it have missed.”

Undoubtedly, Bentinho has accomplished what Gary Vee defines as the best qualities of a startup. He’s broken the way his followers live life. People have claimed that he’s transformed their “day-to-day” for the better. I’ve heard stories of people being healed from following his teachings, others claim their lives have been improved drastically. He’s also brilliantly combined the startup game with the Guru game, seamlessly intertwining them together.

Bentinho is not alone as being someone who brilliantly combined tech and cult. Spiritual teacher Teal Swan has made serious advancements in this department. A recent article “Spiritual Guru or Dangerous Cult Leader?”explores the ins and outs of her rise to fame. She has 400,000 subscribers on Youtube, almost 60,000 followers on Instagram, 150,000 likes on Facebook, 15,000 Twitter followers and runs a very active discussion forum on her site. She also has a monthly premium membership section on her site as well as an online store with her books and workshops. Her design is also on point. It’s clean, professional and well thought out. She too has created passive income and an attractive brand experience. And she’s only just beginning.

We are witnessing the birth of a new era — Cult 2.0. Teachers like Bentinho Massaro and Teal Swan offer a glimpse of what is to come. There will be a new rise of cult leaders who brilliantly use technology to grow their enterprises. Can you imagine if Jim Jones had Instagram or Facebook live? And what happens when virtual reality comes into play, something that Bentinho himself said is part of his company’s evolution?

The End Game

“To me death is not a fearful thing. It’s living that’s cursed.” — Jim Jones

“I really feel like he is setting people up for a mass suicide. He talked about ‘The harvest.’ I always had a weird feeling.” — Former core staff member

Several Bentinho people, both former and current members have acknowledged a shift in his teachings over the last year. Some former members and staff are concerned and fearing the worst.

More recently Bentinho has been stepping into the role of awakened Guru and his teachings have become darker and more focused on “The Void” and “The Absolute.” He is normalizing dying. Bentinho claims to not be responsible for his actions. He thinks he can sleep with and psychologically abuse students with impunity. He’s begun “experimenting” on a core group of “guinea pig” students. He’s pushing his members to stop eating and drinking water for extended periods of time. Bentinho has successfully led his members away from themselves by attacking the core of their identities and diminishing their use of reason or logic. Everything, including Bentinho’s shouting, verbal abuse or strange actions are now expected to be interpreted as positive. He talks about the grand vision of building an enlightened city, finding land and taking his people there.

Wacky spiritual ideas, government conspiracies, alien contact or desert meditations are not that surprising for Sedona. There’s something much more disturbing going on in Bentinho’s group, however. The evidence is clear and incontrovertible. Bentinho Massaro has built the quintessential 21st century cult.

Women Accuse Agama Yoga Founder Swami Vivekananda Saraswati of Sexual Assault

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.


Written by Be Scofield, M.Div / Represented by United Talent Agency / FULL BIO / Author contact: [email protected]

[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.]

7/24/18

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.”

And another:

“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.”

More:

“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

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

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.”

Ram Avnur

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

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.”

MISA yoga class in Romania (left) MISA yoga camp (right). The center claims to have “yoga classes in over 250 localities in Romania and 16 other countries.”

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.”

Ananda Maha (left) Justine Baruch (right)

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’sBeware 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.