Thursday, March 10, 2011

Abuse in Ashrams

I remember talking to Bro. Bimalananda  of SRF one day, saying, “It must be wonderful to be in the ashram?” He looked at me out of the corner of his eyes, as if to say, “You have no idea.” And then never answered. He was a very sweet and humble monk, and I wonder what he went through in all his years in SRF? I will never know.

Back then I felt that there was nothing more honorable than desiring to serve God through monastic life. I always admired the monk or nun that decided to become a recluse, whether they are Hindu or Catholic. Being an idealist, I thought it to be a place where one could worship God and help others, where you would even find peacefulness. More than anything, I thought of these people as being on a spiritual path that included becoming highly moral and kind towards all.

But I know that many people who have entered ashrams wish that they had never stepped foot in one. So my thinking now is, how horrible it is for an organization to destroy another person, a person that had high ideals and a love for God, who is now disillusioned, hurt, and worse of all, many times suicidal.

Here is a quote from Stripping the Gurus:

Ashrams, in my experience, are lunatic asylums filled with jealous and needy people.... [M]ost of the ashrams I have known and visited are not sacred environments where people progress; they’re places in which people regress—to blind adoration, spiritual vanity, sibling rivalry, mirroring and parroting of the so-called master—and in my experience, I have to say, sadly, that I have seen very little real spiritual progress made in them (Harvey, 2000).

And another:

Posted by JLM: 9/22/01: Mental Problems
The message is down in thread:

“You do not need to apologize for suggesting that some of us who have left the ashram setting need mental assistance. You are 100% correct. I found that after leaving that debilitating environment, I had no self confidence, no self esteem, questioned my ability to make decisions without someone telling me what to say or how to think, paranoia; a feeling of being watched all the time, an emptiness left by the betrayal of people I had trusted, an emptiness left by the reality of what SRF was all about and questions as to how I could have given my life to such a cause. I was told not to talk to any "outsiders" (alias enemies; alias devotees; alias another human being) about my life in the ashram for fear of being sued by the church going, high priced lawyers.

Because of my mental and emotional state, I had to talk with someone or go deeper into depression. Those few friends that I had known for decades and felt I could confide in were polite but time has shown that they didn't want to hear anything negative about SRF since they had devoted their lives to it and didn't have the courage to see what it was all about. It would have been too inconvenient for them to have to start all over again since their lives, their friends, their belief system were at stake. I couldn't help but think that within SRF, you have the blind (management) leading the blind (those devotees who do not think for themselves).

Some people have tried to make a difference within the ashram. The couple that had been in the Encinitas Retreat were an example of that. They went all the way to the top and confronted the board and the management committee, as well as both the monk and nun spiritual life committees with what they saw, experienced and questioned. I admired their courage and thought now some changes will be made. That didn't happen and they were driven out by lies, rumors, shunning, slow down - you know the rest.

Several of us monastics left the ashram after that fiasco. Including members of those committees. The truth of the matter is that SRF will not change for several generations. The women in charge now have trained others to follow in their footsteps.

I am happy that their are folks who are willing to help the monastics make the transition to the real world. One of the surprising things I learned after leaving is that their is more love on the outside of the ashram than on the inside. That people treat each other with kindness. That you can smile at someone and they will smile back at you.

God bless anyone who is willing to help those brave souls who have been so wounded emotionally, mentally and financially and are refusing to remain a part of the sickness that is SRF by leaving and starting all over again with little or nothing with which to begin a new life.”

And another:
“One day I got into trouble with another senior nun (who had been around already when PY was there). That day I had been in charge of the postulants' setting up of a room for the nuns' Thanksgiving banquette, which involved moving furniture and setting up folding tables and chairs. So I took three other girls with me to get the folding chairs. They were stored in a little room inside the recreation room. But in the rec. room this senior nun was sitting watching TV. I didn't think anything of it and just marched through to get the chairs. Well, it didn't take long and this senior nun was towering above me inside this tiny storage room, ranting at me how I dared to march through like this when she was censoring tapes for the nuns' movie night (which was supposed to be a secret, but after she blurted it all out, it wasn't a secret anymore). I looked at the other girls who were just horrified, I looked at the nun towering above me with a dark red face, looking as if she was wanting to hit me very badly, and I secretly admired her self-control for not doing so, and all the while I kept apologizing, but I did not really feel guilty because we were just doing the work we were supposed to get accomplished. When we were finally out of this room again and setting up the chairs, Sr. came and I told her all about what had happened. And even though she did not laugh, I could tell she was amused. And she went to settle this matter with this other senior nun for me.

Later she did the same for some novices who were in this other senior nun's counseling group. This senior nun had kept treating her counselees in such an abusive way, that they finally went to Sr. to ask her for help -- with the result that all counselees were taken from this other senior nun, which speaks volumes IMO…

Regarding the suicide question, well, I was aware of people struggling with issues, although most of the time I didn't know what they were struggling with because we were not supposed to talk with each other about our problems. The only person you may talk to about problems is your counselor. But there are always reasons why you may not be able to talk to a counselor, like the counselor is way too busy, or you don't get along very well with your counselor, or your counselor is just not the right person to talk about a particular problem, etc. So, issues can easily spill over without anyone knowing what's going…”

1 comment:

  1. I wish there were a way to get this information to everyone, like a required polio or smallpox inoculation.

    So many people, young adults in particular, join spiritual movements in search of the loving, psychologically healthy parent (or entire family) they never knew at home. They are so vulnerable, and narcissistic gurus can spot them from a mile away, and zero in on them. Often, the business of keeping secrets, not allowing a genuine expression of feelings, and not allowing discussion of inappropriate behavior or policies mirrors the warped environment these vulnerable adults experienced in their early family circle. Instead of experiencing the healing they so desperately seek and need, followers of Eastern spiritual traditions tragically end up re-creating for themselves the familial pattern of abuse. Articles like this need to be widely disseminated.