restricted access 4. Swamis, Scholars, and Gurus: Siddha Yoga’s American Legacy
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87 4 Swamis, Scholars, and Gurus Siddha Yoga’s American Legacy Lola Williamson I want to see the world full of saints. —Muktananda Just prior to departing on his second world tour in 1974, Swami Muk‑ tananda (1908–1982) addressed several thousand disciples who had gath‑ ered at Mumbai’s Santa Cruz Airport. “I am going abroad to initiate a revolution, a meditation revolution,” he told the audience.1 Muktananda attracted tens of thousands of followers worldwide with his charismat‑ ic personality and his ability to awaken spiritual energy, or kundalini, in others. He was called a “shaktipat (descent of grace) guru” because kundalini awakening occurred so readily in his presence. Muktananda taught that once the kundalini was awakened, meditation would occur spontaneously. His revolution continues today as new gurus and spiritual teach‑ ers he and his successor, Gurumayi, influenced spread the teachings of Siddha Yoga, the tradition Muktananda established. The word sid‑ dha refers to an enlightened master and highlights the importance of the guru in this tradition. Muktananda named two successors: Malti, whom he named Chidvilasananda (later known as Gurumayi) when she became a sannyasi (renunciate), and her brother Subhash, whom 88 / LOLA WILLIAMSON he named Nityananda—the name of his own guru—upon becoming a sannyasi. However, Swami Nityananda broke his vow of celibacy and was ousted from the Siddha Yoga organization in 1985. He continued to function as a guru, though, and founded his own organization, Shanti Mandir. Nityananda is, therefore, not officially part of the Siddha Yoga lineage as it is proffered by Siddha Yoga Dham Associates (or SYDA, the legal arm of Siddha Yoga). This chapter helps to delineate the growing tide of American Hin‑ duism by illustrating how two Indian gurus, Muktananda and Guru‑ mayi, have spawned many types of Hindu practice. Covering the dozens of gurus and teachers Siddha Yoga influenced would be impossible, so I have chosen three foci: two individual gurus, Master Charles and Sandra Barnard, and a complex of teachers who were first introduced to the public through Anusara Yoga founder John Friend. This chapter provides an overview of Muktananda’s “meditation revolution” in its complex variety. Because practitioners of American Hinduism, as well as those who study it, are still in the process of developing its nomenclature, a few notes on terminology may be helpful. In Sanskrit, the word “guru” trans‑ lates as “teacher,” and therefore the two words could be used inter‑ changeably. However, the word has a useful place because it allows us to differentiate between those teachers who set themselves apart, or are set apart by their students, in a way that gives them a more extraordinary or sacred quality than others. Often, they serve as a focus of bhakti, or devotion, for those who follow them. Therefore, I use the word “guru” when referring to Master Charles, even though he has taken on the Western honorific “Master” as his title. “Guru” is also used for Sandra Barnard, even though most of her students refer to her as their “spiritual teacher.” In contrast, I employ the word “teacher” when referring to John Friend and the spiritual leaders associated with him. Teachers in this network maintain that jñana, or knowledge, will free their students from the bondage of limited awareness if Hindu texts are deeply imbibed and then applied in a practical way. When referring to each guru or teacher specifically, I use the names their students use: Master Charles for Charles Cannon, Sandra for Sandra Barnard, first and last name for John Friend, and first names for the teachers in the Anusara network. The chapter is based primarily on ethnographic research carried out over three years, beginning in the summer of 2009. I conducted interviews with each of the gurus and engaged in informal conversa‑ tions and, in some cases, formal interviews with their students. I also attended classes and retreats in order to experience firsthand the various forms of the Siddha Yoga legacy.2 SWAMIS, SCHOLARS, AND GURUS / 89 Master Charles: The High‑Tech Guru According to Master Charles’s spiritual autobiography, he was born in Syracuse, New York, where he began to have mystical experiences at a very young age. As early as age nine, for example, he was suddenly plunged into an altered state of awareness in which all form disappeared and he knew himself to be pure awareness.3 Raised in the Catholic tradi‑ tion, throughout his life he reports that he had visions of Mary during which he would...


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Subject Headings

  • Hinduism -- United States.
  • Gurus -- United States.
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