Thursday, November 17, 2011

Trouble at the nunnery

We were sad to hear about the recent death of Madhuva ...

... a devotee of Sri Lakshmana Swamy and his adopted daughter Mathru Sri Sarada. Then the bizarre news filtered through that Saradamma had ordered the immediate demolition of Madhuva's house so that his ghost had nowhere to rest. (Obviously no squatting rights for dead devotees past their sell-by-date!)

Swamy and Saradamma are very reclusive. They hide away in a spiritual fortress in the midst of a large garden behind huge metal gates. They are rarely seen: especially now that they have ceased their slow-motion Drive-by Darshan (It was like something from a silent movie, their car trolling around Arunachala at 5 miles/hr!). Swamy attained the Self in front of Ramana in 1949 and is probably the last living vestige of Ramana's era. Then Saradamma became enlightened in 1978, recreating a father-husband fixation on Swamy, modelled on the relationship between Ramakrishna and Sarada Devi. But perhaps the Divine Duo are most famous for their mad devotee at The Gate and believing that one of their dogs is the reincarnation of Ramana's grandmother.

The whole thing is a complete mystery, the rules to which no-one is ever quite sure. Swamy and Saradamma actively discourage seekers who have to prostrate in the dirt in the driveway for endless months (and sometimes years!) in the hope of being accepted. Even the great David Godman who penned the turgid No Mind, I am the Self is no longer considered a devotee and has been ejected from their orbit. Like a game of snakes and ladders: you're in and then you're out!

Their most extreme teaching concerns SEX which has been a source of angst and division between their devotees for many years. Saradamma usually mandates celibacy and advises couples to renounce sex and even to separate if they truly want liberation. Effectively there's a caste system. Those who get to work in the garden or serve the ashram are considered to be higher than the others who grovel in the driveway. It is also believed that devotees who are married are not equal to those inside The Gate because these have gained access to the garden by virtue of their sex-less purity. It's a veritable nunnery full of repressed passion where physical love is denied and only love for the guru is permitted.

Saradamma has been meddling in people's personal lives - breaking up relationships in the name of a higher spiritual good - for over 30 years. An ex-devotee from the 1980s told us he was still bitter about losing his girlfriend after Saradamma told her to renounce sex. This has only intensified. A long-term devotee, married with children, who lived in the same street as the ashram was recently told if he wanted to be near the guru he had to practise brahmacharya. i.e. if he couldn't give up his marriage and family life, it was best for him to move away. (With Saradamma it's my way or the highway!) At around the same time, she split up another family by sending a wife and child back to their homeland, while the husband dutifully remained behind in the garden. Marital separation was enforced and even if the couple are reunited here in India, the pressure for a sexless marriage will likely lead to divorce.

What is the basis of this monastic requirement? This is more to do with deeply conservative Hinduism than anything about enlightenment. Brahmacharya in its true sense means complete non-attachment to all things. It indicates being able to experience everything (including sex) without holding on to it. Traditional Hinduism however has rejected sexuality outright and imposed a moral hierarchy where celibacy is superior to being sexually active. This is a materialistic interpretation of brahmacharya which objectifies reality then renounces one aspect of it. Meanwhile Saradamma's injunction that "the ideal man-woman relationship is one in which the couple live as brother and sister" comes from the example of Sarada Devi, the Martyr-Saint of Hindu womanhood. Sarada Devi was originally betrothed to Ramakrishna at age 5 before joining him in a sexless spiritual marriage aged 18. Ramakrishna regarded her as the Divine Mother and her motherly care for her devotees was legendary. Saradamma is projecting this one-off, 19th century, Indian union on all of her devotees, regardless of their culture. Further Sarada Devi (in contrast with Saradamma) is known for often recommending that her devotees took on married life in all its aspects.

And there is a fatal flaw. Saradamma insists there is no mind. She says: "Everything is done by the Self." If this is the case, there is absolutely no one or any thing there when something happens. Any human act is spontaneous and entirely without volition, even the act of choosing itself. Saradamma therefore knows that the lowly devotee could never have done anything else (even though their experience is different to the Jnani's). The bottom line is there is no one to have free will or choice. Everything including the human being is an empty apparition, ultimately devoid of substance. So sex may arise (if you forgive the pun!) but there is no-one doing it - a kind of ego-lite phantom intercourse!

As a result some of Saradamma's devotees have begun to question her. Is any type of prescription really necessary if whatever happens, could not be otherwise? Do they really need a formula for enlightenment if everything is the Self and there is no one capable of following it (or not)? Do they really need threats if they do not comply with Saradamma's wishes? On her website for example she promises: "If anyone claims to be a jnani, he is the worst sinner and will lose all peace life after life." (We also have a track record of not liking these clowns either!). All of this is simply divine play - the maya of the Self. Saradamma also says: "It is good for the devotee to fear the guru." Fear, coercion, vengeance, and punishment: is this the modus operandi of a truly enlightened being?

Such a teaching divides people into the good and the bad on the basis of an ego with the power to choose when that choosing is under the jurisdiction, only, of the Self. This is pure dualism and it creates the problem it solves, producing the unworthiness that is subsequently prayed upon. Like the concept of original sin, the seeker is made out to be wrong, impure and not worthy and then needs the guru's formula to save them. This is nothing short of the doctrine of moral purity forced on us by the corrupt regimes of world religions. It is also no different from the mind-bending dictates of Christianity which places absolute authority in God's human representative on earth and imputes an ultimate state in the name of God.

And yet there is another sting in the tale ... The guru with their improbable demands is also the maya of the Self. These devotees who scramble so desperately to be in the garden have failed to realise that the figure advocating such stringencies in the bedroom is empty too. So Saradamma, enlightenment and her teachings are simply shadows on the wall while the whole vista of reality beckons beyond ...

Instead Saradamma's devotees are clouded by the delusion that what they see before them is truly God in human form. This is exactly the same materialistic interpretation of reality which underpins the prescription of celibacy that has come to haunt them! They have also succumbed to the belief that the "I" is a totally real material object which can die in the Heart and can be removed via physical proximity to the guru or by the practices of self inquiry, surrender and devotion. Saradamma's devotees are desperate to build their homes on the ashram wall to secure their place in paradise and to hug The Gate day and night in the hope of their own personal enlightenment! They are consumed by spiritual ambition, self-advancement and greed - and when they die, their hungry ghosts will be chased away as so much waste and flotsam ...

Is it any surprise then, that there are reports of Saradamma shouting at Arunachala in despair at being sent such poor devotees? But from our perspective it seems more a case of the Guru and her devotees mirroring each other in a game of dualist denial spiced with a touch of hocus pocus that fuels their mutual elitism.

Mistaking the guru for a material object and failing to realise that they - like the world - are not wholly real leads to a type of pain and suffering which can never be alleviated. This is not the pathway to enlightenment; it is the Gateway to Hell!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Pure life, raw, pulsing and vibrant, unmediated by identity or separation. It's a truly scary thought!

So we seek refuge in the cosmic heroin we call spirituality. In return we embark on an endless journey of becoming that gives us hope, aspiration and piety. This odyssey of Doing to Be causes endless pain, agitation and angst but is preferable to the gut-wrenching existential freefall into the abyss. This spiritual game we play is the ultimate mythology of ego. It is more rooted in separation than even the most self-obsessed acts that we all decry and disdain, because it puts the "I" on a pedestal which society universally approves and emulates.

We can rebel against the world because of pain, following paths that society rejects such as crime, drugs, alcohol and sex. And when all of these avenues are found to be empty and devoid of substance, we bite the spiritual bullet in the belief that we are one of the lucky ones who have truly arrived and transcended the squalid realm of desire. But heroin addiction is pure kindergarten besides this hellish world of eternal seeking. It is all the "I" - another extension of materialism in a more subtle and morally seductive world - except that now it is even more fixated than before!

This realm of spiritual experiences is the realm of the ego incarnate. Awakening and the bliss of yogic states only come about when the "I" is under such pressure that it transcends reality and projects another world of pure goodness out of its own separation. The spiritual seeker wants the spiritual orgasm 24 hours a day, maxed out on the credit card, debauched in the bordello with an unending source of narcotic comfort straight out of the genie's bottle. Even the quest for secret and arcane knowledge can never top this one. It is the ultimate quest of self-obsessed fixation all in the name of God!

Spiritual seekers reproduce the same moral judgement so pervasive of society within this transcendent domain, replicating it from a higher spiritual throne. They turn their back on the bad places they have been and the bad people who do not agree with them and threaten their sense of personal autonomy. They even spurn society saying they are better because they are no longer materialistic. But they are just more sanctimonious and more holy - usually a form of buttock clenching Christianity with New Age knobs on - and fail to realise the web of self-deceit has drawn them in even further. They have reacted violently to the world and are lost in an even more polarized fantasy world of good and evil.

There never was anything wrong with the world, the pain was simply too great. The seeker has become a Frankenstein monster of their own making and has retreated to a state of catatonic oblivion, because the reflected image is too grotesque to bear. "Mirror, mirror on the wall who is the saddest of them all?" ...

Spirituality is just junkiedom with a righteous attitude en Route 66 straight to hell. We are not talking about Percy Shelley and his chum Lord Byron having a laudanum jolly on the Swiss lakes, or even William Burroughs blowing his wife's brains out in a stoners' game of William Tell. We are talking about the social decimation of a whole generation on crack and the messianic meltdown that creates Hitler complexes ... a moral and existential car crash that would make even J.G. Ballard blanche