Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Kripalu's Reincarnation and the Anusara Scandal


This isn't the first time that a sex scandal has hit an American yoga community hard. Regardless of how the current Anusara controversy plays out, it's a good time to go back and re-read Chapter 16 of Stephen Cope's classic, Yoga and the Quest for the True Self (1999). (Or, if you've never read it, buy it and read it cover-to-cover! If you have any interest in yoga, it's one of the best contemporary works out there.)

In the book, Cope describes how Kripalu imploded after finding out that its guru-teacher-leader, Amrit Desai, had been secretly having multiple extra-marital affairs for years. The wonderful thing about the story, however, is that it explains how the community eventually emerged stronger and wiser because of the scandal; newly dedicated to and organized around meaningful democratic principles.

Kripalu today (http://www.kripalu.org/article/656)

Cope, a practicing psychologist, astutely describes the deeper psychological roots of the scandal:
Among the hundreds of people of all ages, races, and religions who have been residents at Kripalu, I can safely say that almost all came seeking some version of the idealized family. In the guru and in the community at Kripalu, thousands of seekers sought the perfect Dad and Mom . . . (they) bring a tremendous amount of idealization and projection in their relationships with teachers. We fall in love with our teachers, and with our communities, and as a result we do not see them at all clearly.
As the idealized love driven by unconscious desires projected at them grows, Cope explains, it's easy for teachers who aren't yet ready to handle this wave of adulation to become sucked into these powerful psychological dynamics:
If the teacher is not aware of his own unresolved needs to be admired, highly praised, and adored, he or she may being to believe the idealizations of his students. An air of unreality begins to infuse the entire situation . . .  Teacher and student grow further and further from an understanding of their complicated unconscious motivations. It is only a matter of time before the situation collapses of its own weight.
When the guru was exposed, all hell broke loose. Of course, as a live-in ashram, it was impossible to keep things quiet and contained when events including "shouting, screaming, and what sounded like furniture flying" were there for all to hear. ("'You fucked him. For years. You fucked him. Don't tell me you didn't!' The entire building stopped breathing in that instant.")


Did the community then draw on their yogic resources, start taking deep breaths again, tap into their inner peace, step out of their "mis-alignment," and gracefully forgive? Well . . . there was a bit more to the process than that.
Within days, the guru and his entire family were gone. Press releases were written, forthrightly declaring the details of the scandal . . .  Standing in the naked truth was difficult to bear, but we were doing it . . . We were standing in the best traditions of yoga. We had learned something. This was good.
 But the bonfire did not stop there. There were legal maneuverings. Lawyers' bills mounting into the millions. Challenges from former residents. New allegations of sexual misconduct . . .  The guru's throne was smashed to smithereens in the main chapel. The flames raged on . . . 
Over the course of the next years, the community would go through a complete death and rebirth. Many of the senior members would leave . . .  most did well. The more vulnerable remained deeply wounded by from the betrayal and death of the idealized family. The entire organization was restructured, from the board down.
. . . With several years, signs of rebirth were in the ascendent. But the dream had to die, the guru had to leave, and the idealization had to be irreparably broken. 
 Cope goes on to explain that the success and failure of Kripalu were inextricably interrelated:
It was not the scandal that forced the death of the old forms of yoga at Kripalu. Quite the opposite. It was the impending death of the old paradigm that required the scandal. It is clear that the fact of Amrit Desai's affairs had been in the unconscious of the community all along. It was not new information. Quite a few individuals held the secret. It was simply information that could not be brought to the light of consciousness until the community was more or less ready for it.
In 1994 when the scandal erupted, Gurudev had not suddenly changed. In fact, the sexual misconduct was by that time many years old. Amirt was who he had always been -- ambitious, brilliant, sometimes a sincere yogi, sometimes just a smooth performer, too often a teacher who was too charming for his own good. It was the community's own capacity to see and bear the truth that had changed.
The bonfire was just as much a sign of success as of failure.

I visited Kripalu back in the mid-2000s and loved it. It is beautiful, and has a clean, clear, positive vibe. Of course, it's not perfect. But the organization does offer tons of valuable teachings to tens of thousands of people each year.

I felt blessed to have visited; it's a memory I still cherish today.





29 comments:

  1. Ah..these stories are as old as time and human nature - charisma begets those that would put it on a pedestal and genuflect..and more... And as any psychologist will tell you - it is extremely difficult to continually "turn back" (teflon off) that on-coming energy. And I can see how it might be esp difficult for that type: charismatic, confident, charming, whip-smart gurus/leaders...(fall from grace into the boudoir? Did someone say a very large percentage of male politicians?) I am sure the same sort of dynamic happens with female leaders/gurus as well - but somehow sex/infidelity is not such a common denominator. Anyway - I remember a moment as clear as day..when - at retreat with "Mindfulness Expert" Jon Kabat-Zin - there was such a charged energy from the audience to make him "more than.." it was uncomfortably palpable - this desire to elevate - to hear about the "true Kool-Aid" and then to drink it (or get as close as possible..) And I remember being mightily impressed at how skillfully JKZ kept turning back that energy - deftly channeling it back to the participant - or quietly to the side. I saw then how truly difficult it is to resist/and redirect the energies of the curious enabling matrix of human emotional/spiritual need.

    I am happy that Kripalu found strength in the ashes and am sorry that so much raw emotion had to tear through the community (family) first. Thanks for reminding us that this is not such a "shocking" story - it is a not too uncommon one, unfortunately.

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    1. Thanks for that very interesting comment. I agree that these dynamics are super-common. That's why it's so important to raise awareness.

      The JKZ anecdote shows that it is possible to have the maturity and wisdom to handle them well, however. You have to be really grounded, centered, and ethical, but it is possible. Not that JKZ is perfect, of course - but I've seen such deft handling of students' projections, too, and heard smart, ethical teachers talk about how they deal with it.

      Right now it's a discussion that the yoga community needs to be having.

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    2. I moved into Kripalu on oct 16, 1979,8 days before my 22ed birthday
      I was there for the community, NOT A MASTER... I was seeking out a non religious group with healthy habits...not eating meat, practicing tai chi and yoga was not very popular with the main stream back then...
      I lived there for 6 years, and was thrown out in 1985..... Over night I was homeless, pennyless, jobless, and FRIENDLESS!!!!!
      I was told by Amrit, Kripalu is purifying itself from people like me, and I would go into the world and self distruct...... that was 28yrs ago.... So this is a Master?????????/
      I was a dancer, a BREAK DANCER, and that was totally un accepted by this HINDU.. My drum beats were more afro/latin, and less Hindu, the people seemed to dig it, the Guru didn't...
      and these women who made it with him, getting $$$ for having sex with a married man, and agreeing to receive $$$ in exchange for their silence.... COP OUT TO THE MAX!!!!!!!!
      If $$$ was so important to them, they could have wrote a book, made millions, and exposed this guy for who he is...
      I have many not to flattering stories about Amrit and his son Malay, but the bottom line is, Kripalu has some good things to offer, but when I was there it was an, extreme, left wing liberal Communist community, run by a Dictator, Amrit, and if you didn't follow him, his evil showed by trying to destroy people who didn't listen to his lines of bull!!!!! and having someone tell you what you should do, is wrong.. God gave me life, God gave me talents to express, and share with the world, like, martial Arts, All styles of dance, from lock poppin, to latin ballroom, song writer, poet, singer, rapper, gymnastic instructor, and now a massage Therapist for 10 yrs, self employed!!!! I asked to get massage training at Kripalu, and was told, no, my KARMA WAS IN THE KITCHEN.. Imagine someone telling you your God given talent is not to be expressed!!!!!! that's not a Master, that's an a hole!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    3. Oh, by the way, I KNOW 4 of the women that made it with Amrit, 4... and I'm sure there were more.. I say this cause I keep seeing 3 women.... and the summer of 85 I was making it with one of them!!! LOL!!!!!!! this is 100% true.. but I'm sure that had nothing to do with my getting thrown out that fall, LOL!!! she received 35 grand...... I know this, cause she was my fb friend for a while , and lives now in FL. goes to his Ashram, and on fb has on her page Likes Amrit yoga.... sounds like she was real abused, not!!! LOL!!!! and 2 of the other women, were big wigs, and HATED ME DANCIN, and would bust my chops about how I played drums, ie your showing off, be humble,play like a monk, LOL!!!!! and the 1 who had the longest relationship with him, threw people out for sex, and had the biggest hatchet and came down hard on folks....
      I was the only guy grew up hard, raised by my divorced Mom, violent dad, lived in a real tenement from Brooklyn..
      I know lots of stuff about all the players from Kripalu, and I got judged a lot , ALOT when I was there, lots of great people, and a lot of haters......

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    4. Why not... one of the last satsangas at Sumneytown b 4 all of us moved to Shadowbrook like 1983??? ,Amrit started by saying, "I am on the top of the mountain, and see everything, I have no more karma.. I can do things that would be considered immoral, and it wouldn't touch me" True quote!!!!!!I sat and thought, bul sh@# , but didn't matter much... 1 of the 1st satsangas at Shadowbrook, Amrit said, " you won't always be this poor, we'll build houses on this property, get you all married, and you can come to work everyday at a beautiful health center" now that's why I was there!!!!!! after that, Amrit traveled, like 2 or 3 weeks , he returns, bragging about how he just bought property in St. Croix (sp.) and Florida...where he lives now.... I was like, wtf LOL!!!!!but folks saw me as just a trouble maker, and most in charge under amrit, were older, had been there longer, and were collage educated, business majors, accounts, not me, and also had say about my life, who I married, how to be, and, well, I wasn't gonna win to many fights, but I fought!!!! I'm from BROOKLYN N.Y.only so much bul till I blow.. :) but I saw a lot!!!!just never got to tell anyone till now..... THANKS!!!!!

      Swami Kripalu"s practices were real.. yoga, breathing, diet, chanting, all WONDERFUL!!! but not near the whole pie! and moments shared with folks were real 4 me, sincere folks to the max!!!! but I never hurt so bad, been so down so lonely so poor than in Nov of 85.. seemed like not a friend on the planet.. wasn't the last for me either. Worked at the Option Institute for 6yrs. Barry Kaufman and the crew, LOL!!! Got lot's of stories about them folks, more of the same!!!!! I made more than Kripalu's 17 cents an hour plus room and board, not much more, LOL!!!!! I think cat's like D.B. and Ila (from kripalu) are cleaning up, over 400 thousand dollars made in 2010.. ahhh, non profit... I have a lot to say about Spiritual communities, religion, the world, and the G.O.D. but Swmi Kripalu said his path was not the highest, it was high, but BALANCE was the highest...and he was far from balanced, often insulting "AMERICAN BUSINESS MAN" this from a guy born and raised in a 5 cast system!!!!....these places are part of you, teachings, etc.. not the other way around, I'm a Child of God part of God, not swami, etc...... Master teaches me a front kick.. I practice, now that front kicks mine.. may be better, worse, the same as Master's, but Mine!!!!! Jeffrey Rivera

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    5. Gopi came forward 1st. told of the affairs GOD BLESS YOU GOPI! I sat in sastsasnga in 1985 while Amrit let KRISHNA PRIYA SHAKI MA, carve you up!!!!! Lie after lie, the same Ma who got a quarter mill $$$$$ and was the LONGEST relationship with Amrit, Sandy Healy her English name and who threw people out for having sex , and HATED ME.. but she was just AMRIT's paun, Thanks Guru, LOL!!!!!!!! I sat in the same room with MALTI, who hated my DANCIN and seemingly me too, (married to Baladev, Harold Karpfin,) she also got a quarter mill, and knew K.P. was lieing about Gopi that day, and I sat next to Rambha, Suzanne Wright Dewees well, you guessed it, she got 35 grand, and did nothing also!!!! I feel like not mentioning names is foolish, it's so long ago, and if you make a bed, sleep in it, and I didn't get any COIN for silence, :) wouldn't take it, the TRUTH'S too much fun... Peace Out...

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  2. What an excellent post. Thank you very much.

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  3. Wow. This is just beautiful work on a key subject - post and comments. I think that the yoga teacher is in a role that may be more demanding than we at first realize. Many will expect - and not unfairly, perhaps - that the yoga teacher not only talk the talk but also walk the walk. Speaking for myself, this can be a heavy load. We have a tendency in our society to go to extremes. It seems at times that only the superlative is fully valued. And if we take the yogic ideal of the Yoga Sutras or the Gita to be the expected achievement of our teachers, then we are really getting far ahead of ourselves. Adulation has to be a head-turning situation for the recipient, and potentially corrupting. I don't know that that is what happened to Amrit Desai, but I can easily see how his elevation might have resulted in a loss of oxygen to his brain which led to lapses in judgment.

    As Carol says, it is possible to have the wisdom to handle these things. But imho we don't much value wisdom in our culture. We'd rather have fame. The spiritual practice of yoga may seem at odds with our materialistic culture. But not from yoga's point of view. That's what yoga is for. It's there to help us loosen the bindings of our sense-centered selves.

    Kripalu has done a wonderful job of working through its miseries. And credit for that must be given to Swami Kripalu and his teachings. He taught love, and he taught that objective self-observation is a very high form of practice. By examining our practice of yoga and our teacher/student relationships and our own assumptions and expectations - as we are now doing - we are engaging in a deep practice of yoga.

    This is really good. Thank you.

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  4. freaking awesome thoughts on forgiveness. Which is ultimately the more important question. The scandal is silly, the egos are silly, the abuser or guru is shock value. But what about the people who have been hurt? What does forgiveness mean, in any manipulative situation? Is healing actual, or just a wishy washy 'getting over it'?

    Kripalu stands as a powerful example of how real healing can be. But that it isn't easy (take deep breaths, re-align, recenter is NOT enough). Honesty needs to happen, new lines have to be drawn, integrity has to be restored. Not easy.

    But possible. Stronger at the broken places is real.

    Which is what most of us wanted to learn in our yoga practice in the first place.

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  5. glad to know of this bit of history, it is important!

    thanks carol

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  6. very interesting post, thankyou

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  7. Fascinating. Wonder what would have happened had the Kripalu unraveling occurred in the era of Facebook?

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  8. I lived in the ashram from 1974 through 1981. I can tell you that the sexual energy was very high for all of us who lived there, but we channeled it into seva (work) and practices. The fact that I practiced brahmacharya better than Amrit makes me smile. Despite the overt adulation, in which I wholeheartedly participated, there were many good solid teachings from which I benefited. My life is infinitely better for having met Amrit and lived and worked in his ashram. It took me a long time to forgive him. After all, he's just like my birth father. Too funny really that I would have two powerful, charismatic men in my life who meant so much to me -- and they were both philanderers. My karma I guess.

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    1. Very interesting comment. Thanks.

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    2. I was a summer resident and a disciple from 1974-ish into the 80's. Anonymous above sure has it right and Jeffrey Rivera didn't say anything I know to be untrue. I knew several of the women involved and one was treated very badly, separated from her son and ostracized by the ashram because she 'told'. They claimed she was making it up, that SHE was the problem, but eventually it came out. The only thing I have issue with in the write-ups about this and the one above is that the guru/disciple relationship assumed that all power and wisdom rested with the guru and the disciple was doing his or her role the best to operate under that principle. I sat in hundreds of hours of satsangs and Amrit set up that dynamic. To claim later it wasn't like that is another not so truthful thing. There was a personal betrayal to each of us that signed on BUT, in his terms, it was a 'golden chain' and chains can be cut if they have to be. We were not brainwashed as some cults have done, but we were deceived about some things. For those who financially and in every way gave their lives and livelihood to the place and him, the betrayal is deeper and I understand the need for legal/financial restitution. For me also it is the most important positive thing I have done and it set my course in a spiritual direction that has been the key to my life. My later career wouldn't have worked without his teachings and I connected with spirit in a way with Kripalu in a way I never lost. Jai Bhagwan, other brothers and sisters out there!

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    3. Adding a little more: when I was first at the ashram, summer of '74 or '75, before Bapuji came when the energy was so high that Anonymous earlier speaks of, someone told me there were 'things going on', that some of the brothers were doing things and Gurudev also, that the so-called purity wasn't really so pure, but I didn't believe it. That was when the sister I spoke of was still there and she left under a veil of mystery not long after, so there was probably some truth to it. I never managed to practice brahmacharya too well, fellow Sister Anonymous, and I guess that was o.k. after all!!!

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  9. A little more: I'd like to add that because the Kripalu Centre continued with some of the people and has been successful, doesn't excuse what occurred. To have a financially successful and ECLECTIC centre is a very different thing than an ashram with a one-pointed focus. Eclectic is so appealing, that we sample a little of this and that and everything is o.k. It doesn't challenge anyone nor does it offend anyone. I'm sure the workshops are great, but it's not the same thing. A real spiritual path, as Amrit and every real teacher teaches, can be challenging at times...or nothing of great substance can occur....digging a hole deeply in one place, not a bunch of little holes all over. Also, Amrit Desai had many disciples that did not live at the ashram. They may have financially had more separation, but spiritually they had made a committment and were betrayed at a deep level as well. I am making the point that whatever the Kripalu Centre is now does not make what happened o.k. in any possible way. The two are not connected for me and because of the differences I have explained, shouldn't be.

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    1. Good stuff Anonymous, thanks 4 the comment about Jeffrey Rivera, 1st comment from someone who was there that supported my experience ever....... not 1 person ever said anything nice to me, and I've even met up with the very folks that threw me out, and nothing...... so thanks, :)

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    2. Oh my, Jeffrey. I'm reading this again, months later, and see your reply. I'm so sorry about what happened. There was lots of betrayal, for sure. I was a disciple living elsewhere and pulled away a few years before the news came out because things didn't feel right to me. There were always a few little things, but when the big fundraising was happening, I watched one weekend when Amrit did a weekend in the Toronto area. By Sunday morning, the new arrivals were all giddy with it all and then he hit them for pledges. They were giving anything and everything, of course, with the energy. He even was remarking about how there were no limits, but it struck me as not right, to manipulate the energy for raising money. That was the last straw for me and I decided I'd trusted myself to follow the guru and I had to trust myself when it was time to leave. It was huge for me years before when I felt I couldn't live there for good because of not being American and having health problems, but later when someone died and it was in People magazine, I realized I'd kept myself out of the hospital by leaving NOT coming to the gates of heaven and not walking in. Now that we know how many lies were told and for how long, of course there would be other betrayals and shocks and I'm sorry you were part of it. I knew Gopi a little and that she was never spoken of after she 'left' and knew Malti too. Knew KP, of course. Gopi talked about it very early and that is the most horrible to me, that she was made to be in the wrong and it was for many years. That's evil, actually. I hope she's o.k. And you got some of that. I hope you're well and can find a place for all this in your own life. I wish I had gone to some of the weekends they had for disciples who lived elsewhere after the scandal came out, because I did have the need to process. I've seen people since then and a couple even follow him now in his new role, which isn't acceptable to me. But I learned a lot in ways that have helped me the rest of my life. I'm a bit more wary and wouldn't trust a living master at this point again. I was once told in about 1975 from someone high up whose name I've conveniently forgotten (kind of a grim person and a nurse) that I should lie in order to live in the ashram illegally, which at the time didn't strike me as right! She said it was a 'higher law' I'd be obeying. I'm glad I didn't! I guess you got a lot of that. God bless you and you were treated badly!!!! And you weren't the only one! They weren't saints and they misused power..nuff said! Take care and much love to you today!!!!

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    3. To Jeffrey Rivera, I'll keep this page bookmarked in case you reply so I can answer sooner next time, instead of many months later. Sorry I'm anonymous, but I can be 'Kathy anonymous' if you like to differentiate from others! I tend to stay anonymous one way or another online. Horrible you were put out penniless. All the best!!!

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  10. I was introduced to Kripalu post- scandal. Regarding the Anusura scandal, and the millions of others like it, I'm of the opinion that one can't really force brahmacharya and abstinence. I tried for years, and maybe I shouldn't have tried so hard. My mind, body, and will weren't aligned. It seemed impossible until I had a cystic- fibrosis- hormonal condition, along with a partner who now practices abstinence, and a deeper connection with myself and God. In my mind, I compare it to becoming a vegetarian when I was 13. It's not easy at first but it's not impossible. There may be challenges until it becomes a part of your life, like second nature and something I'm learning rather than lacking. The lessons have been worth the wait. The world of energy has many lessons yet to be learned. Know THY Self. Swadhyaya... and the truth shall set us free. Namaste'

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  11. What a great discussion! Thanks all for sharing your experiences. i first started going to Kripalu not too long after Desai left (I actually didn't know his name for years because he was still called Guruduv then) and I was so impressed with the Kripalu staff/residents who were still living there at the time. It was clearly a difficult transition time, but they were very open and committed to moving onto the next step. In this time of commercialized yoga, I fondly remember those days when everyone was broke (both me and the Kripalu community) and we were all wearing sweatpants instead of $100 pants! I see that some of the big names from that time are doing well and am happy for them. I sometimes wonder about the regular residents (sweet souls!) who were setting out on their own. I remember quite a few meals with residents who knew they had to leave soon and were worried because they had little to no money, no resumes, and for some very little work experience in the real world, etc. This was before yoga became so popular and yoga studios on every corner. I wonder if so many of those really experienced and impressive yogi(ni)s leaving the community and landing hither and yon in America contributed to the increased popularity of this practice we've seen...

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    1. Thanks, Anonymous, for sharing that and so recently! I posted earlier a few times as Anonymous earlier. I was from the old days and lived for awhile there, was an off-ashram disciple for a long time. It makes me happy to hear that the remaining disciples were impressive to you and that they were approaching the transition positively. That was the learning from the ashram/the guru that was good and worthwhile at work. They were lovely people, a joy to know, and I too like discovering some here and there, running this and that. Hadn't thought of the angle that yoga is big now, but then, not so much, so adding to the challenge. All the best to you.

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  12. I discovered Kripalu by reading an article in Prevention magazine during a very bad time in my life. I decided to register for a workshop "Quest for the Limitless You". It was exactly what the doctor ordered and I came back home charged to the max. Then I did a week end workshop and finally moved in. I suffered through the 4.30am yoga, became an expert in peeling carrots, cleaned showers, vacuumed hallways, worked myself to the bone but learned how to take care of myself, how to live in peace, these two years I did in Kripalu changed my life totally. I became a successful massage therapist for 20 years, thanks to the discipline of Kripalu, I even massaged Matadji once in a while. Like all the others, we were drinking Gurudev's words. I will not judge him, it is not up to me, but he changed my life at all levels. I even learned how to breath!

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  13. Sexy Sadie, what have you done
    You made a fool of everyone ...

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  14. So interesting to read about people's experiences after so many years. I was a resident from 1975 to 1982 at Kripalu, lived in Sumneytown and Summit Station. I remember Gopi, of course, and have hurt for her and how she was thrown out of the community and do hope she found a new life. For me, the decision to leave happened after Bapuji left the US. I was much more aligned with him and once he was gone I looked at Amrit and felt nothing. This was a shock to me, I had been such a devoted disciple. The deadness I felt towards him only grew stronger. I had a horrible final darshan with him (I was sobbing at his feet and he took a phone call...he had been sitting cross-legged in front of me, stood up leaving me with my face in the carpet)... I did not understand why I felt like I did, but I knew I had to get away from him.

    The night the residents chased him out I got a phone call from a sister and she told me all that had happened, and the magnitude of God's grace bowled me over...that urgency to go, that heart cry to leave and the deadness I felt towards him were divinely inspired to save me from further abuse and betrayal. I don't know where others have landed but I remember several sisters and do wonder where a few people are. Amrit was the center of our universe in those days, but there were also wonderful times with the brothers and sisters I came to love. God has blessed me abundantly and my life is filled with laughter, love, and the peace that passes understanding. Recalling those days so long ago, my heart goes out to all of us who went through the betrayal and sadness of those times. Yet there is always hope beyond the sadness, lessons learned, and a life to be lived!

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    1. What an inspiring story, sister. I think, despite the big betrayal, that's what made Kripalu just a bit better and less cult-like than some, that there was some real wisdom there that we got, despite everything. We still retained, with some difficulty, a thread of our own to trust to break the chain if we needed it. I think in a true cult, they try and sever anything like that, so the inner destruction is greater. Remember he'd talk about the golden chain that binds you, but some of us had a tiny gold thread of our own that we trusted that helped us disconnect the chain if needed. I too hurt for Gopi and hope she found a new life. I'm so very glad you have. It's been wonderful to share with people here, so thank you so much for your sharing I'm sure we're at least acquainted by sight, you and I, but look a bit different after all these years. Those spiritual connections never leave, though. God bless! Kathy Anonymous

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  15. I don't know what makes me sadder concerning these second "chakra" problems, the so called Gods, or those who put the false Gods before them.

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  16. Was Amrit evil or did he just drink too much of his own kool-aide?

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