“Gurumayi’s striking beauty rivets attention wherever she goes…[H]er energy seems inexaustible. Her grace, delightful wit, and respectful regard for the needs of each devotee have expanded Siddha Yoga’s appeal beyond what even Muktananda achieved.” (Brooks 136)
Swami Chidvilasananda, often referred to as Gurumayi Chidvilasananda or simply Gurumayi is the current leading guru of Siddha Yoga. Gurumayi is a female Guru, who was born in India, who now resides in the United States of America. After studying yoga under the leadership of her own guru Swami Muktananda, she became the head guru of Siddha Yoga when he passed on his title to her in a five day fire ceremony called a yajna; which was celebrated during the time of his birthday in 1982 [Swami Muktanananda passed away later in that same year]. (Caldwell 27) Siddha Yoga is a form of yoga that is very much about finding energy inside one’s soul and discovering personal inner peace through meditation and connection with their guru.
Siddha Yoga has become a major trend in North America, and the SYDA or Siddha Yoga Dham of America that was created by Swami Muktananda, and has been carried on by Swami Chidvilasananda, is a non profit organization that has dealt with a great deal of controversy (Harris 92). Siddha Yoga’s claim to fame is an extremely intense meditative state known as guru”shaktipat“. Shaktipat is described as a cosmic orgasm that one feels after they connect with their guru (Neimark 60). There has been a great deal of controversy surrounding the practice of Siddha Yoga, and the gurus that lead this spiritual activity. There is much controversy surrounding how much money the SYDA appears to have. The SYDA owns more than three hotels worldwide and has a variety of wealthy celebrity followers (Harris 92). Some have gone so far as to call it a cult; others have questioned the sexual integrity of the gurus; however there are valid arguments on both sides of the spectrum. Some criticize Swami Chidvilasananda of not living a truly pure and holy life; claiming that she, and other Siddha Yoga Gurus are simply concerned with money and fame, and others regard her as one of the most powerful and influential yogic gurus of her time.
Born in Mumbai India in 1955 under her given name Malti Shetty, Gurumayi experienced shaktipat at the age of fourteen and at age fifteen began studying under her guru Swami Muktananda. She moved to the ashram (a hermitage in which she studied religion and yoga) to study yoga seriously. Swami Chidvilasananda accompanied her Guru on many tours as his English translator, and in 1982, both Shetty and her brother, Subhash Shetty were appointed to be the successors of their guru; however in 1985 her brother stepped down, leaving Gurumayi to be the sole successor of Swami Muktanananda or Baba, as he was called by his students and devotees. [Baba meaning father.] Some have criticized Gurumayi for the “falling out” that she had with her brother, claiming that it is not spiritual or holy to have a relationship fall apart, and that it is just as it is in secular life; criticizing the way she dealt with the situation (Healey 12). Gurumayi is the current Guru of Siddha Yoga, which has two main ashrams for people to learn the practices in; one in India, and one in New York. There has been controversy surrounding the practice of Siddha Yoga, claiming that it has a likeliness to that of a cult-like religion, (Healey 5) however Gurumayi’s students seem to feel a deep appreciation for the fact that she not only lives her life purely, but truly tries to bring her teachings into every day-to-day life. She has many interactions with her students and spends a great deal of time with them to offer guidance and teachings (Brooks 159). Gurumayi is known for her kind heart, and her caring attitude towards all human beings. Her students respect her greatly and put her at the center of their spiritual lives. (Brooks 136). Siddha Yoga places emphasis on self-evaluation and tries to eliminate personal negativity, and negative tendencies within one’s life.
The practice of Siddha Yoga was first introduced to the West in 1970 by Swami Muktananda during his first excursion out of India. Siddha Yoga, the word Siddha meaning perfect master (Healey 6) is a practice of yoga in which its main purpose is to achieve shaktipat through the guidance, chants and presence of a Guru. Shaktipat is the ancient method of awakening the kundalini energy, which creates enlightenment at the base of the spine, and sends the body into an orgasm-like state, that causes the body to shake and pulsate upon achieving this sacred energy. When people experience shaktipat through the practice of Siddha Yoga they lose all control over their physical selves, often screaming, pulsating, or physically moving around the room. This energy can only be achieved through the presence and touch of the Guru; and through shaktipat it is said that one can truly achieve self-realization and Atman. Contrary to controversy about Siddha Yoga and its sexual nature; it is said that if one finds a true guru, one who is fully devoted to the art of Siddha Yoga, that it is not about sexual pleasure, but about losing touch between the inner and outer self, and experiencing a more divine power and ecstasy. Achieving shaktipat is said to be the feeling of “seeing the Divine in different forms” (Tymn 180). Gurumayi herself said that “When you experience it, you see light everywhere, you find joy in everything. You experience happiness in times of happiness, but you are also able to experience happiness in the midst of sorrow. This is the greatness of meditation.” (Chidvilasananda 46)
Another important aspect of Siddha yoga is the importance that its devotees place on grandiose ceremonies, such as yajnas. Yajnas are extremely important and have helped to characterize Siddha Yoga. Swami Chidvilasananda holds yajnas many times a year, that attract Siddha Yoga students and Brahmins from all around the globe. Brahmins travel from India to attend Swami Chidvalasananda’s yajnas, as months of hard work and preparation go into preparing for them. During these sacred fire ceremonies, Gurumayi sits and observes, while Brahmin priests adorn her with garlands and perform sacred rituals. Gurumayi holds herself with great dignity and always puts her position as great Guru first and foremost. (Brooks 135) In Gurumayi’s yajnas food and gifts are offered to the Gods and burned in a sacrificial fire. Yajnas and yoga are said to be alike in the sense that yoga offers sacrifices to the Gods as well; however the fire of the yajna; in yoga is an internal flame. Gurumayi has taught numerous courses in the ashram, which emphasize the importance of sacrifice in ones day-to-day life. She teaches that sacrifice is the secret to fulfilling a pure and whole life. (Brooks 136) Love, peace, patience and self awareness are very important aspects of Siddha Yoga, often taking a great deal of time and inner reflection to truly master.
Gurumayi places a great amount of importance on love, calmness, happiness, and inner peace. A young man that attended a retreat led by Gurumayi in Mexico said that “These two weeks were the happiest weeks of my whole life. They gave me a new vision of myself and the world we live in. Never in my life had I experienced so much love, nor did I know that so much love was possible. We just sat down to talk about the day and it was pure ecstasy. Or sometimes we just sat in silence looking at each other and we cried out of love” (Brooks 140). Siddha Yoga focuses on the simplicity of life and helps people to understand what happens within themselves to create pure ecstasy throughout any aspect of life. Another practice that is unique to Siddha Yoga is guruseva which helps a student to gain wisdom by working under the instruction of their guru. The idea of working to gain wisdom is important in Siddha Yoga. For example students of Gurumayi have volunteered to chop vegetables for hours at a time; while chanting throughout the whole process. The idea behind the work is that “unselfish action purifies the mind.” (Brooks 144) Guruseva can take form in any day to day activity; for example washing dishes, doing chores, creating art are all forms of Guruseva. The use of work to diminish ego and create a connection to the gods is extremely important to Siddha Yoga devotees, but only if the work is done with no thought or expectation of reward. The acts of Guruseva must be done selflessly in order to reap its rewards. Guruseva is comparable to the feeling of kundalini in that it creates a deep interior experience. Students who do guruseva experience realizations within themselves, and intense feelings of calmness and love (Brooks 144).
Much of Swami Chivalasananda’s time is spent traveling the globe, spreading the word of Siddha Yoga, through the use of chants, workshops and intensives. There are approximately three hundred Siddha Yoga meditation centers worldwide, located in Europe, North and South America, India and Australia to name a few (Brooks 143). Gurumayi is said to be such a powerful leader of Siddha Yoga, that her devotees do not have to be in her presence to feel her spirit and teachings. Many of her students have seen her through focused and intense meditation. Devotees have said that Gurumayi has appeared in meditation and in dreams where she has provided guidance to them. Many of Gurumayi’s students have felt her presence when she was not physically with them. For example a school teacher in Perth Australia was struggling with a young student’s behavior, when she saw Gurumayi walk through the door and smile lovingly at the boy, giving hope to the teacher (Brooks 147).
Regardless of where Gurumayi is in the world, her presence is honored by her devotees. When she appears at conferences, workshops or intensives often she is greeted with a great amount of emotion and joy from her students. She works hard to prove that she is a strong leader, and tries to live her life in a way that shows example to her students of how to achieve peace and harmony with ones self. Gurumayi provides a realistic approach to her work in the fact that she also talks about inner turmoil. Siddha Yoga requires personal work and sacrifice to find oneself and she has displayed acts of sacrifice in her own life to teach her devotees.
“Where is heaven? Where is Hell? Within us. Each one can create a heaven, each one can create a hell…Look within. Meditate. It just happens. You find your own joy, you find your own inner peace.” (Chidvilasananda 49)
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Healy, John Paul (2011) “Involvement in a New Religious Movement: From Discovery to Disenchantment.” Journal of Spirituality in Mental Health, Vol. 13, No. 1: 2-21
Harris, Lis (1998) “O guru, guru, guru.” New Yorker, Vol. 70, No. 37: 92
Neimark, Jill (1998) “Crimes of the soul.” Psychology Today, Vol. 31, No. 2: 55
Mutananda, Swami and Chidvilasananda, Gurumayi (1991) Meditate. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Durgananda, Swami Muller-Ortega, Paul E Mahony, William K Rhodes Bailly, Constantina Sabharathnam, S.P. (2000) Meditation Revolution: A History and Theology of Siddha Yoga Lineage. Muktabodha Indological Research Institute.
Tymn, Michael E. (2006) “Secrets of Shaktipat.” Journal of Spirituality & Paranomal Studies. Vol. 29, No. 3:179-180.
Swami Muktananda/Controversy surrounding his practices
Siddha Yoga vs. other forms of Yoga
Gurumayi’s various projects
Article written by Jaimee Jarvie (April 2013) who is solely responsible for its content.