by William Rodarmor
Illustrated by Matthew Wuerker
"There is no deity superior to the Guru, no gain
better than the Guru's grace ... no state higher than meditation on
the Guru." -Muktananda
ON THE American consciousness circuit, Baba Muktananda
was known as the "guru’s guru," one of the most respected meditation
masters ever to come out of India. Respected, that is, until now.
When Baba Ram Dass introduced him to the U.S. in 1970.
Muktananda was still largely unknown. Thanks to Muktananda's
spiritual power, his Siddha meditation movement quickly took root in
the fertile soil of the American growth movement. By the time he
died of heart failure in October 1982, Muktananda's followers had built
him 31 ashrams, or meditation centers, around the world. When crowds
saw Muktananda step from a black limousine to a waiting Lear jet,
it was clear that the diminutive, orange-robed Indian was an
At various times, Jerry Brown, Werner Erhard, John
Denver, Marsha Mason; James Taylor, Carry Simon, astronaut Edgar
Mitchell, and Meg Christian have all been interested in Muktananda's
movement. The media coordinator at the large Oakland, California,
ashram is former Black Panther leader Erika Huggins.
Baba Muktananda said he was a Siddha, the representative
of a centuries-old Hindu lineage. According to his official
biography, he wandered across India as a young man, going from
teacher to teacher, living the chaste, austere life of a monk. In
Ganeshpuri, near Bombay, he became the disciple of Nityananda, a Siddha
guru of awesome yogic powers. After years of meditation, Muktananda
experienced enlightenment. When Nityananda died in 1960, Muktananda
said the guru passed the Siddha mantle to him on his deathbed,
though some of Nityananda's followers in India dispute the claim. When
Muktananda himself died, a sympathetic press still saw him as a
spiritual Mr. Clean, and his two successors, a brother-sister team
of swamis, continue to draw thousands of people searching for higher
To most of his followers, Muktananda was a great master.
But to others, he was a man unable to live up to the high principles
of his own teachings. "When we first approach a Guru," Muktananda
wrote, "we should carefully examine his qualities and his actions.
He should have conquered desire and anger and banished infatuation
from his heart." For many, that was a warning that was understood too
Some of Muktananda's most important former followers now
charge that the guru repeatedly violated his vow of chastity, made
millions of dollars from his followers' labors: and allowed guns and
violence in his ashrams. The accusations have been denied by the
swamis who took over his movement after the master died.
In the course of preparing this story, I talked with 25
present and former devotees; most of the interviews are on tape.
Some people would only talk to me if promised anonymity, and some
are bitter at what they feel was Muktananda's betrayal of their
trust. All agree that Muktananda was a man of unusual power. They differ
over the ways he used it.
"I don't have sex for the same reason you do: because it feels so good." -Muktananda
IN HIS teachings Muktananda put a lot of emphasis on sex -
most of it negative. Curbing the sex drive released the kundalini
energy that led to enlightenment, he said. The swami himself claimed
to be completely celibate.
Members of the guru's inner circle, however, say
Muktananda regularly had sex with his female devotees. Michael
Dinga, an Oakland contractor who was head of construction for the
ashram and a trustee of the foundation, said the guru's sexual
exploits were common knowledge in the ashram. "It was supposed to be
Muktananda's big secret," said Dinga, "but since many of the girls
were in their early to middle teens, it was hard to keep it secret."
A young woman I am calling "Mary" said the guru seduced
her at the main American ashram at South Fallsburg, New York, in
1981. Mary was in her early twenties at the time. Muktananda was 73.
At South Fallsburg, Muktananda used to stand behind a
curtain in the evening, watching the girls coming back to the
dormitory. He asked Mary to come to his bedroom several times, and
gave her gifts of money and jewelry. Finally, she did. When he then
told her to undress, she was shocked, but she obeyed.
"He had a special area which I assume he used for his
sexual affairs. It was similar to a gynecologist's table, but
without the stirrups." (To his later chagrin, Michael Dinga realized
he had built the table himself.) "He didn't have an erection," Mary
said, "but he inserted about as much as he could. He was standing
up, and his eyes were rolled up to the ceiling. He looked as if he was
in some sort of ecstasy." When the session was over, Muktananda
ordered the girl to come back the next day, and added, "Don't wear
On the first night, Muktananda had tried to convince Mary
she was being initiated into tantric yoga - the yoga of sex. The
next night, he didn't bother. "It was like ‘Okay, you're here, take
off your clothes. get on the table and let's do it.' Just very
straight, hard, cold sex."
Mary told two people about what had happened to her. Neither was exactly surprised.
Michael's wife Chandra was disturbed. Chandra was
probably the most important American in the movement. As head of
food services, she saw Muktananda daily, and knew what was going on.
"Whoever was in his kitchen was in some way molested," she said. A
girl I’ll call "Nina" used to work for Chandra. One day, the guru
remarked to her in Hindi, "Sex with Nina is very good." Nina's
mother was later made a swami.
Chandra said she had rationalized the guru's having sex
in the past, but was dismayed to learn it had happened to her young
friend Mary. Aware of Muktananda's power over people who were
devoted to him, she saw it as a form of rape.
The other person Mary confided in was Malti, Muktananda's longtime translator.
Mary said Malti wasn't surprised when she told her about
being seduced by the aged guru. "She told me people had been coming
to her with this for years and years," Mary said. "She was caught in
the middle." Malti and her brother, who have taken the names
Chidvilasananda and Nityananda, are the movement's new leaders.
Another of Muktananda's victims was a woman I'll call
"Jennifer." She says Muktananda raped her at the main Indian ashram at
Ganeshpuri in the spring of 1978. He ordered Jennifer to come to his
bedroom late one night, and told her to take her clothes off. "I
was in shock," she said, "but over the years, I had learned you
never say no to anything that he asked you to do...."
Muktananda had intercourse with Jennifer for an hour, she
said, and was quite proud of the fact. "He kept saying, ‘Sixty
minutes,’" she said. "He claimed he was using the real Indian
positions, not the westernized ones used in America." While he had
sex, the guru felt like conversing, but Jennifer found she couldn't
say a word. "The main thing he wanted to know was how old I was when I
first got my period. I answered something, and he said, ‘That’s
good, you're a pure girl.’" Devastated by the event, Jennifer made
plans to leave the ashram as soon as possible, but Muktananda
continued to be interested in her. "He used to watch me getting
undressed through the keyhole," she said. She would open the door and
see the guru outside "I became rather scared of him, because he kept
coming to my room at night."
Both women said the Ganeshpuri ashram was arranged to suit Muktananda's convenience.
"He had a secret passageway from his house to the young
girls' dormitory," Mary said. "Whoever he was carrying on with, he
had switched to that dorm." The guru often visited the girls'
dormitory while they were undressing. "He would come up anytime he
wanted to" Jennifer said, "and we would just giggle. In the early
days, I never thought of him as having sexual desires. He was the
guru..." Mary knew otherwise: she talked with at least eight other young
girls who had sex with Muktananda. "I knew that he had girls
marching in and out of his bedroom all night long," she said.
While his followers were renovating a Miami hotel in
1979, Muktananda slept on the women's floor, and ordered that the
youngest be put in the rooms closest to his, and the older ones down
"You always knew who he was carrying on with," said
Chandra. "They came down the next day with a new gold bracelet or a
new pair of earrings." Around the ashram, said Mary, people knew
that "anyone who had jewelry was going to his room a lot."
For a time, Muktananda's followers found ways to
rationalize his behavior. He wasn't really penetrating his victims,
they said. Or he wasn't ejaculating - an important distinction to
some, since retaining the semen was supposed to be a way of
conserving the kundalini energy.
Ultimately, Chandra felt it didn't make any difference.
"If you're going to be celibate, and you're going to preach
celibacy, you don't put it in halfway, and then pull it out. You
live what you preach..."
After years of repressing their growing doubts about
Muktananda, Michael and Chandra finally drew the line when they
learned he was molesting a 13-year-old girl. She had been entrusted
to the ashram by her parents, and was being cared for by
Muktananda's laundress and chauffeur. The laundress "told me Baba was
doing things to her," said Chandra. "I think he was probing around
in her." The laundress suggested it was only "Baba's way of loving
her," but Chandra was appalled.
Charges of sex against Muktananda continued. In 1981, one
of Muktananda's swamis, Stan Trout, wrote an open letter accusing
his guru of molesting Little girls on the pretext of checking their
virginity. The letter caused a stir, but word didn't go beyond the
ashram. In a "Memo from Baba," Muktananda merely answered that
"devotees should know the truth by their own experience, not by the
letters that they receive... You should be happy that I'm still alive
and healthy and that they haven't tried to hang me."
"Wretched is he who cannot observe discipline and restraint even in an ashram." -Muktananda
I N THE first of his eight years with Muktananda, Yale
dropout Richard Grimes said he was "in a funny kind of grace period,
where you're so involved with the beginning of inner Life that you
don't really notice what is going on." But then he started seeing
things that didn't jibe with his idea of a meditation retreat.
"Muktananda had a ferocious temper," said Grimes, "and
would scream or yell at someone for no seeming reason." He saw the
guru beating people on many occasions. "In India, if peasants were
caught stealing a coconut from his ashram, Muktananda would often
beat them," Grimes said. The people in the ashram thought it was a
great honor to be beaten by the guru. No one asked the peasants'
Muktananda's ubiquitous valet, Noni Patel, was a regular
target of his master's wrath. While on tour in Denver, Noni came
down to the kitchen to be treated for a strange wound in his side.
"At first, he wouldn't say how he had gotten it," Grimes' wife Lotte
recalled. "Later it came out that Baba had stabbed him with a
When ex-devotees talked about strong-arm tactics against
devotees, the names of two people close to Muktananda kept coming
up. One was David Lynn, known as Sripati, an ex-Marine Vietnam vet.
The other was Joe Don Looney, an ex-football player with a
reputation for troublemaking on the five NFL teams he played for, and a
criminal record. They were known as the "enforcers"; Muktananda used
them to keep people in line.
On the guru's orders, Sripati once picked a public fight
with then-swami Stan Trout at the South Fallsburg ashram. He came
down from Boston, where Muktananda was staying, and punched Trout to
the ground without provocation. Long-time devotee Abed Simli saw
the attack, but figured Sripati had just flipped out. Michael Dinga knew
otherwise. Muktananda had phoned him the morning before the
beating, and told him Trout’s ego was getting too big, and that he
was sending Sripati to set him straight. Dinga, a big man, was
instructed not to interfere.
In India, Dinga and a man called Peter Polivka witnessed
Muktananda’s valet Noni Patel give a particularly brutal beating to a
young follower: A German boy in his twenties, whom Dinga described
as "obviously in a disturbed state" had started flailing around
during a meditation intensive. The German was hauled outside, put
under a cold shower, stripped naked, and laid out on a concrete slab
behind the ashram. Dinga said the German just sat in a full lotus
position, and tried to steel himself against what happened next.
Noni Patel took a rubber hose, a foot-and-a-half long,
and beat and questioned the boy for thirty minutes while a large
black man called Hanuman held him. "They were full-strength blows,"
said Dinga, "and they raised horrible welts on the boy's body."
There exists a long tradition in the East of masters
beating their students. Tibetan and Zen Buddhist stories are full of
sharp blows that stop the students rational minds long enough for
them to become enlightened. Couldn't that have been what Muktananda
"It could be seen that way," said Richard Grimes. "For
years we thought that every discrepancy was because he lived outside
the laws of morality He could do anything he wanted. That in itself
is the biggest danger of having a perfect master lead any kind of
group - there's no safeguard."
Chandra Dinga said that as Muktananda's power grew, he
ignored normal standards of behavior. "He felt he was above and
beyond the law," she said. "It went from roughing people up who
didn't do what he wanted, to eventually, at the end, having
Though the ashrams were meditation centers, a surprising
number of people in them had guns. Chandra saw Noni's gun,
Muktananda's successor Subash's gun, and the shotgun Muktananda kept
in his bedroom. Others saw guns in the hands of "enforcer" Sripati
and ashram manager Yogi Ram. The manager of the Indian ashram showed
Richard Grimes a pistol that had been smuggled into India for his use.
One devotee opened a paper bag in an ashram vehicle in Santa Monica,
and found ammunition in it.
A woman who ran the ashram bakery for many years said she
knew some people had guns, but that it never bothered her. The
Santa Monica ashram, for example, was in a very rough neighborhood,
she said, and the guns were strictly for protection.
"In an ashram, one should not fritter one's precious
time in a precious place on eating and drinking, sleeping, gossiping
and talking idly." -Muktananda
BY ALL accounts, devotees in the ashrams worked hard
under trying conditions. In India, they were isolated from their
culture. Even in the American ashrams, close friendships were
frowned on, and Muktananda strongly discouraged devotees from
visiting their families. A woman I'm calling "Sally" used to get up for
work at 3:30 a.m. She said her day was spent in work, chanting,
meditation, and silence. "Some days, you couldn't talk to anyone all
day long. I would get very lonely." Recorded chants were often
played over loudspeakers. Even a woman who is still close to the
movement admitted that "the long hours were a drag."
Though he was Muktananda's right-hand man for
construction, Michael Dinga worked "under incredible schedules with
ridiculous budgets," putting in the same hours as his crew. In the
six-and-a-half years he was with the ashram, he said he had a total
of two weeks off.
As time went on, Dinga came to be bothered by what he saw
as exploitation: "I saw the way people were manipulated, how they
would work in all sincerity and all devotion [with] no idea that
they were being laughed at and taken advantage of."
"Even a penny coming as a gift should be regarded as belonging to God and religion." -Muktananda
MUKTANANDA'S movement was both a spiritual and a
financial success. Once Siddha meditation caught on, said Chandra
Dinga, "money poured into the ashram." Particularly lucrative were
the two-day "meditation intensives" given by Muktananda, and now by
his successors. Today, an intensive led by the two new gurus costs
$200. (Money orders or cashier's checks only, please. No credit cards or
personal checks.) An intensive given in Oakland in May 1983 drew
1200 participants, and people had to be turned away. At $200 a head,
Chidvilasananda and Nityananda’s labors earned the ashram nearly a
quarter of a million dollars in a single weekend.
There was always a lot of secrecy around ashram affairs,
Lotte Grimes remarked. During Muktananda's lifetime, that secrecy
applied to money matters with a vengeance.
The number of people who came to intensives, for example,
was a secret even from the devotees. Simple multiplication would
tell anyone how much money was coming in. And when Richard Grimes
set up a restaurant at the Oakland ashram, he said Muktananda "had a
fit" when he found out that Grimes had been keeping his own records of
Food services head Chandra Dinga said the restaurants in
the various ashrams were always big money-makers, where devotees
worked long hours for free. On tour during the summer, she said,
they would feed over a thousand people, and bring in three thousand
dollars in cash a day. Sally said that a breakfast that sold for two
dollars actually cost the ashram about three cents.
Donations further fattened the coffers. if somebody
important was coming to the ashram, Chandra’s job was to try and get
them to give a feast and to make a large donation. $1500 to $3000
was considered appropriate. "There was just a constant flow of money
into his pockets," said Chandra, "it let him get whatever he wanted
to get, and let him buy people."
Muktananda himself was said to have been very attached to
money. "For years, he catered only to those who were wealthy," said
Richard Grimes. "He spent all the time outside of his public
performances seeing privately anyone who had a lot of money."
A parade of Mercedes-Benzes used to drive up to the
Ganeshpuri ashram with rich visitors, said Grimes. In Oakland, Lotte
Grimes saw Malti order a list drawn up of everybody in the ashram
who had money, to arrange private interviews with Muktananda, by his
Devotees, on the other hand, had to get by on small stipends, if they got anything.
Dinga, despite her status as head of food services, never got more
than $100 a month. Devotees with less prestige were completely dependent
on the guru's generosity. Sally once cried for two days when she
broke her glasses, knowing she would have to beg Muktananda for
How much money did Muktananda amass from his efforts?
Even the officers of the foundation that ostensibly ran Muktananda's
affairs never knew for sure.
Michael Dinga was a foundation trustee, and used to
cosign for deposits to the ashram’s Swiss bank accounts, but the
amounts on the papers were always left blank. In 1977, however, he
got a hint. Ron Friedland, the president of the foundation, told
Dinga that Muktananda had 1.3 million dollars in Switzerland. Three
years later, Muktananda told Chandra it was more like five million.
"And then he laughed, and said, ‘There’s more than that.’"
A woman called Amma, who was Muktananda's companion for
more than twenty years, told the Dingas that all the accounts were
in the names of Muktananda’s eventual successors, Chidvilasananda
Michael and Chandra Dinga finally quit the ashram in
December 1980. They had served Muktananda for a combined total of
sixteen-and-a-half years, and had risen to positions of real
importance. Both knew exactly how the ashram operated.
Together, they went to Muktananda to tell him why they
wanted to leave. The guru wasn't pleased. To get the Dingas to stay,
Muktananda called on everything he thought would stir them. He
offered them a car, a house, and money. When that failed, he started
to weep. "You're my blood, my family," he said. Then Muktananda
abruptly changed tack. "You've come on an inauspicious day," he
said. "I can't give you my blessing." Next morning, he called
Chandra on the public intercom and said she could leave immediately.
After they left, the Dingas say they were denounced by the guru, and their lives threatened.
"Muktananda claimed he had thrown us out because Chandra
was a whore" said Dinga, "that she was having sex with the young
boys who worked in the restaurant. Later he said I had a harem. In
other words, he was accusing us of all the things he was doing
himself." Muktananda also claimed that none of the buildings Michael
had built were any good. When one of Michael's crew stood up for him,
he was threatened physically.
Leaving all their friends behind in the ashram, the
Dingas moved to the San Francisco area, but Muktananda's enmity
followed them. Their doorbell and telephone started ringing at odd
hours, and Michael saw the "enforcers" running away from their door
one night. A cruel hoax was played on Chandra. Someone followed her when
she took her cat to the vet, then phoned the vet's office with a
message that her husband had been in a bad accident. Chandra waited
frantically at Berkeley's Alta Bates Hospital for three quarters of
an hour, only to learn that Michael was at work, unhurt.
Death threats started to reach the Dingas toward the end
of April 1981, six months after they had left the ashram. On May 7,
Sripati and Joe Don Looney visited Lotte Grimes at her job in
Emeryville with a frightening piece of information: "Tell Chandra
this is a message from Baba: Chandra only has two months to live."
Another ex-follower said he got a similar message: If the Dingas
didn't keep quiet, acid would be thrown in Chandra's face; Michael
would be castrated.
The Grimeses and the Dingas reported the threats to the police. The Dingas hired a lawyer.
The threats stopped soon after Berkeley police officer
Clarick Brown called on the Oakland ashram, but Chandra was badly
frightened. Some ex-followers still are.
Michael and Chandra's departure sparked a small exodus
from the ashram. Some of the ex-followers began to meet and compare
notes on their experiences in the ashram. "We were amazed and
rejuvenated," said Richard Grimes. "We got more energy from learning
he was a con man than we ever did thinking he was a real person."
Just the same, the devotees who left the ashram are still
dealing with the damage done to their lives. Michael and Chandra's
marriage broke up, as did Sally's. Michael is only now coming out of
a period of depression and emptiness. Richard and Lotte Grimes are
bitter at having wasted years of their lives in the ashram. Stan Trout
still considers Muktananda a great yogi, but a tragically flawed
Chandra Dinga has taken years to come to terms with her
experience with Muktananda; "Your whole frame of reference becomes
askew," she said. "What you would normally think to be right or
wrong no longer has any place. The underlying premise is that
everything the guru does is for your own good. The guru does no wrong.
When I finally realized that everything he did was not for our own
good, I had to leave."
Muktananda’s two successors were at the Oakland ashram in
May end I asked Swami Chidvilasananda about the accusations against
To her knowledge, did Muktananda have sex with women in
the ashram? "Not as far as I saw," she said carefully. What about
the charge that Muktananda had sex with young girls? "Those girls
never came to us," Chidvilasananda said. "And we never saw it, we
only heard it when Chandra talked to everybody else."
Chidvilasananda also denied that there was a bank account
in Switzerland. When asked about the ashram's finances, she said
that all income was put back into facilities. "We are a break-even
proposition," the new leader said.
As for the alleged beatings, she said that Americans had
their own ways of doing things. She said, "You can't blame the guru,
because the guru doesn't teach that."
Why then, I asked, do the other ex-devotees I talked with support the Dingas in their charges?
Chidvilasananda replied, "I'm very glad they gave you a
very nice story to cover themselves up and I want to tell you I
don't want to get into this story because I know their story, too,
and I do not want to say anything about it." When I said, "You have a
chance to tell us whether or not you think these are accurate
charges, falsehoods, or delusions," Malti's answer was: "I’m not going
to probe into people's minds and try to find out what the truth is."
Two swamis and a number of present followers also said the charges were not true. Others say they simply don't believe them.
On the subject of money, foundation chief Ed Oliver conceded in an October 1, l983, interview with the Los Angeles Times
that there is a Swiss account with 1.5 million dollars in it. And
when I repeated Swami Chidvilasananda's denials about women
complaining to her, Mary, the woman who says the guru seduced her in
South Fallsburg, said, "Well, that's an out-and-out lie."
"The sins committed at any other place are destroyed
at a holy centre, but those committed at a holy centre stick
tenaciously - it is difficult to wash them away." -Muktananda
THIS IS a story of serious accusations made against a
spiritual leader who is still prayed to and revered by thousands.
Even his detractors say Muktananda gave them a great deal in the
beginning. "He put out a force field around him," said Michael
Dinga. "You could palpably feel the force coming off him. It gave me the
feeling I had latched onto something that would answer my
questions." Former devotees say Muktananda's eyes had a kind of
light; when they first met the guru, he radiated love and
benevolence. He also had a way of making his devotees feel special.
"I think he liked me so much because I wasn't taken by
all the visions and the sounds," said Chandra, "that I understood
that having an experience of God was something much more substantial
and more ordinary." Chandra still feels that spirituality is the
most important thing in her life. She says the gradual unfolding of
the dark side of her guru's personality chipped away at her love and
respect. "When you have a loved one you never dream that he might hurt
you. At the end, I was devastated." Yet despite the unsavory
conclusion to her ten years with the swami, Chandra still notes, "if
I had it to do over again, I still wouldn't trade the experience
for anything in the world."
In a way, the sex, the violence, and the corruption
aren't the real point. Muktananda's personal shortcomings were bad
enough, explained Michael Dinga, but "the worst of it was that he
wasn't who he said he was."
A person can make spiritual progress under a corrupt
master, just as placebos can actually make you feel better. But how
far can a person really grow spiritually under a master who doesn't
himself live the truth? There was a tremendous split between what
Muktananda preached and what he did, and his hypocrisy only made it
worse. His successors are now in a dilemma: If they admit their guru's
sins, Chidvilasananda and Nityananda lose their god-figure, and
weaken their claim to a lineage of perfect masters. But if they
don't, people who come to them looking for truth are courting
Stan Trout, formerly Swami Abhayananda, served
Muktananda for ten years as a teacher and ashram director. He left
in 1981. "My summary withdrawal from Muktananda’s organization was
also a withdrawal from what I had considered my fraternal family, my
friends, and able all, my life’s work," he wrote us. He sent this
open letter after reading a draft of "The Secret Life of Swami
Muktananda," in which he is quoted. - Art Kleine
The above website is filled with information. For more see here:
This PDF file is a must read.