I spent in total about 14 months at Shunyamurti's ashram working and living there as a volunteer. After I left I started doing some serious research into cults reading multiple books and articles. I started contacting people who lived there. I talked to short term visitors, other volunteers like me who spent a couple of months and ex members who left after years of involvement. I also talked to somebody who was there from day one being involved for over a decade having access to the inner circles and to the children of a couple who are among the founding members and the main financiers.
I did all that in order to wrap my mind around what happened to me and what is happening there in general. Although I knew something about cult dynamics I couldn't see clearly what was going on while I was there and only through research, reflecting, distancing myself and talking to others gathering reference experiences was I able to understand. Also I trusted the organization, Shunya and Leo's opinion on it/him to much. That makes it easy to get sucked in. I plan to write a detailed article about my experience and what I found out but it will take me some time to finish it. I will post it on the actualized.org forum, the mentioned cult forum and on https://www.satyoga.exposed/ which is a new website, once it is done.
I wanna just briefly mention here to what conclusion I came and that it was and still isn't easy for me to say what I have to say because I really wished it would be otherwise. It would have made things a lot easier for me but the fact is that the Sat Yoga Ashram is what is called a Mind Control Environment. When you look into the literature you will find that in evaluating if an organization is a cult it is not crucial what the teachings are but if mind control techniques are being used to manipulate people into coming, staying, working and donating, etc. Of course every cult teaches legitimate wisdom and techniques to some extent and the quality of Shunya's teachings is very high which makes it even more tricky and deceptive. And of course I can't really speak of his intentions or if he is fully enlightened or to what degree.
Once I had a session with him and I told him I was reading 'Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender' by David R. Hawkins, telling him that the guy is a psychiatrist and supposed to be enlightened. After telling him what I got from the book so far he told me that he thinks the book was dangerous to me and asked me how I know that the guy is enlightened. I don't really know I told him. Well how do you know Shunya is enlightened? You don't and you don't know what his intentions are. Punto. A long term student I talked to called him a shark. Once in a Satsang he said openly that he would tell people anything. Didn't seem to bother them. He is probably more intelligent and well read than you and me are. So be careful what you are getting into. I'm not saying don't go there or that you have to believe any of this. I just wanna say what I have to say because in my opinion it is my duty to do so. If you wanna check it out check it out. If you wanna go live there go live there. It is a beautiful place. But I would advise you to educate yourself on cults beforehand in order to recognize the red flags. If you are a member reading this and you are happy great. But I doubt it. If you wanna talk to me you have my number.
There are different models of mind control. One Steven Hassan speaks about in his book “Combating Cult Mind Control” breaks it into four components: Information -, Behavioral -, Emotional - and Thought Control.
I will give you a couple of examples for each category in an unorganized way. I already gave you one. Telling me that a book was dangerous is a red flag and is part of information control. In subtle and not so subtle ways you are made to distrust other information then those given by Shunya and over time you are given the impression that Shunya is the ultimate teacher and pretty much your only chance of becoming enlightened. It is true that Shunya himself reads a lot of books, lectures from some while teaching, holding book groups in the past and people seem to be encouraged to read a lot. In reality you don't have the time and energy to do so (with reading a lot I mean reading something like 20 – 30+ books a year) because you are following a very tight schedule even more so when you are a full member. People mainly read books recommended and approved by Shunya. I once talked to a member on a walk about books and she told me something along the lines of checking in with Shunya when you read a book and asking him what's valid and what's not. You get the idea. Plus you get bombarded with information already. It is overwhelming. You don't have the space to integrate it. You hear Shunya teaching on average at least once a week, then there is Gyana Video Night were you listen to a recorded teaching, Guided Meditation - Shunya's recorded voice on tape and you hear a recorded teaching usually Thursday evening. That's pretty much business as usual not counting events. Sometimes he's teaching multiple times a week. His output is actually pretty amazing but he is also repeating himself. Combined with little sleep, a light diet and long work hours the amount/kind/style of information shuts your critical thinking abilities down, making you more prone to suggestion and less able to think for yourself which takes a toll on your decision making ability keeping you in the loop. I experienced it myself.
In a session when I was sharing my doubts about staying and preferring to study on my own he tried to convince me to stay. He told me that he distilled all the wisdom already and that I would grow more in one week in his Ashram than in months or years out there. A friend of mine was molested by somebody. They told her not to tell anybody and swept it under the rug. Somebody told me that Shunya put her down because of her physical appearance comparing her to somebody else who supposedly was better looking. Another friend asked for the number of somebody who just left the community. She wanted to check on how he was doing. Do you think she received the number? Of course not. She was asked why she wants the number and was made to feel guilty for having asked and it was brought up in her next session with Shunya. Another friend Shunya just flat out lied to about something she knew wasn't true. Shunya is not accessible other then through having sessions with him which you pay for in general. At some point I told them I didn't had the money any more and I would still have them but once a month or once in two months. You might meet him on a walk or catch him after a teaching but otherwise you don't see him. I never had a meal with him even on events he would leave very quickly. Once they put his chair a little far away from the audience for an event. He wanted to make a joke saying that he was already put at such a distance from the community but this was too much. Some in the community were angry about that remark because who is putting him at a distance other then himself. I guess he knows that people would quickly see through his bullshit if they saw him act more in everyday life. It is easier to play the role of a perfect idealized teacher when your students only see you teaching and in personal sessions every once in a while. On my first days I was told some of the “rules” of the place. I was told not to speak to anybody about what is being said in sessions with Shunya and his wife Radha to anybody. Also you shouldn't try and interpret somebody's feelings or dreams and give advise but leave that to the experts. In that way they isolate you because you then tend to be reserved not wanting to edge on. They keep a veil on what Shunya tells people in sessions. Would seem strange if you knew that he tells the same things to people. Trying to convince people to stay and donate money or build a house. Telling them that they could become a teacher. That in their past life they were somebody special. Some variation of that. He told me that I was a great leader in my past life who made some big mistakes toward the end. That was why I chose a life with little responsibilities. He is flattering people in the beginning. Love bombing is a big thing the first weeks or even months. Plus you are treated very differently when you have money. But after a while they go and undermine your self esteem. Making little remarks in sessions or publicly. I wasn't following all the rules and taking on a little more responsibility. In a satsang he made a remark about the volunteers there which were only me and somebody else. He said something along the lines of we have volunteers here who are telling the Sadhaks what to do. They want their sovereignty but have you earned it? In sessions he becomes impatient putting you down in some way destabilizing you. A friend who got a name from Shunya in private was told that from now on she is being watched more closely and that she had to behave. Later she contacted another teacher what was considered a no go. In my first session after meditating together which was basically staring in each others eyes for a long period of time what has an effect on one's consciousness, he told me that I would know a lot, as if he was reading me. In the past I thought the staring part was he giving me Shaktipat. You consciousness can feel elevated. I asked him what it was but he answered evasively: something like that. Today I think that it is a technique to hypnotize people. Maybe I'm wrong about that.
The Apocalypse is coming soon no doubt so just hand them all your money. You can build a house and live of bananas and broccoli no problem. Somebody I talked to in my research asked me the very good question: If Shunya really believes in the apocalypse why did he build himself a villa which approximately cost at least 500k instead of building himself a small wooden house like most other houses there putting the remaining money into building more greenhouses? By the time he built his house they had zero greenhouses. Only a couple of years later through donations they build their first two big ones. People are made to believe the apocalypse is coming. One of the highest member once told me for example that she is to paranoid to leave Costa Rica. Costa Rica is a protected place you have to know. When Russia/China have their nuclear war with the US the wind currents will transport the nuclear outflow away I imagine. I asked him about Nuclear Winter. He handwaved it away. That won't happen and changed the topic. On an other occation he said that aliens will help clean the earth and that the contaminated landmasses will crush in the sea and new landmasses will come up very quickly. I'm not bullshitting you. You can consider that one a quote. I actually have an audio file with what students call a Dharma Talk. I will post it in the article. It is a very good example of how he is using an apocalyptic scenario to bind and manipulate people using fear, guilt and shame. One visitor once hit the nail on the head when he said that the guilt trip that's going on there is really strange. And you can see it if you spent more time there. People are not really happy. They are lonely and they are sheep as Leo put it correctly. All of them with maybe one exception were not familiar with spirituality when they came into contact with Shunyamurti and they got all their key information through him. That should tell you something. Every week they watch a movie or a documentary or something like that which Shunya chooses. I suggested to watch some of Leo's videos. No response. They know about Leo and his work because he was there. Do you think anybody there is familiar with his body of work to any significant degree? Most of them never watched a single episode. It's ridiculous. I only met one other volunteer who was as familiar with Leo's stuff as I was. Wanna what happened to her? She went through an intense process, having meditated for years starting to meditate intensely and going on a fruit diet. She had some deep awakenings everybody could tell. She started laughing uncontrollably during meditation multiple times. A side effect was that the energy of her body was rearranging itself I guess and she had issues with her energy level not being able to do physical work anymore the way she was doing before in the greenhouses and on the fields. So what happened? The avantgard ashram which is supposed to help the planet to enlightened couldn't provide the space for a women who was obviously going through some serious stuff unless they could profit from it. If she couldn't work she would need to pay money around 100 Dollars a day plus session fees which they knew she couldn't afford because she was a student so she had to leave. I told Shunya that I am interested in working with psychedelics and especially 5 meo. He told me that he is very familiar with it and that is doesn't work very well. Other psychedelics would work better. He sited Terence McKenna and that it didn't bring him anywhere. From a former member I heard what he was given: Weed, Mushrooms, Ayahuasca and Ketamin. I'll leave that uncommented since I honestly do not have direct experience with 5 meo yet and only with some of the substances above. But using weed? Oh yeah lastly in my last session I told Shunya that I decided to leave and I bought a plane ticket and all that. Do you think he thanked me for the work I have done working almost eleven months straight for his organization? To be fair it might just have slipped his mind. Still interesting though no?
So lastly the topic of family and friends. Oh man that's a biggie. You better believe that Shunyamurti and his wife Radha Ma manipulate the shit out of your family situation. Some people living there haven't talked to their families in years but most receive money from them. How do you think the regular members finance themselves? In a session Shunya told me that to my parents I was just a piece of shit actually knowing little about my past. Almost everybody cut off all their ties to friends and to most to their family. It is encouraged and in some way demanded. A guy I know was asked to leave because he refused to cut his family out of his life. They told him he was to attached.
It is actually somewhat difficult to hold contact when you don't have your own house with a wifi connection. There are only two spots where you can talk, one is outside the lodge where it is not very comfortable and the ashram is located in a cloud forest so mucho rain. The other one is not available to regular guests only for long term students and you have to ask for permission to use the room in order not to disturb anyone living in the complex. Plus it is not really encouraged to have contact to outsiders. Classic cult policy. They hold you back and keep you down yadayadayado.
I'm going to wrap it up here.
The last thing I will say is this:
That might have given you an overview.
But this is only the tip of the iceberg we are dealing with here.
I know it can seem daunting.
But we have a lot more to talk about.
I will go on in more detail about this stuff in the future.
Keep your shit together.
Go fucking meditating.
And I'm gonna see you next time with more.
Radha: Shunya has a PhD in Psychology.
Shunya: I never really finished my formal education in psychology because I found out that the system was corrupt so it didn't make any sense.
Me kinda: Mmh Kay...