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Yogi Desai is an enlightened Master with penetrating insight and intuition (in Desai, 1981; self-published).

YOGI AMRIT DESAI IS THE ORIGINATOR of Kripalu Yoga, and formerly the head of the Kripalu Center in Lenox, Massachusetts—by now, the “largest and most established yoga retreat in North America.” How he came to found that center, and then be reportedly forced to leave by his own students, we shall soon see.

Desai grew up in India, meeting his guru, Swami Kripalvanandji—a claimed kundalini yoga master—there in 1948, at the age of sixteen. Kripalvananda’s guru, in turn, was mythologically believed to be “Lord Lakulish, the twenty-eighth incarnation of Lord Shiva” (Cope, 2000). Interestingly, Kripalvananda is said to have practiced “yogic masturbation,” i.e., masturbation in the context of meditation, for the purpose of raising energies up the spine (Elias, 2002).

Amrit himself came to America as an art student in 1960, and described (1981) his discovery of Kripalu Yoga, while married and living in Philadelphia in 1970, as follows:

[D]uring my routine practice of hatha yoga postures I found my body moving spontaneously and effortlessly while at the same time I was being drawn into the deepest meditation I had ever experienced. The power and intelligence that guided me through this seemingly paradoxical experience of meditation and motion left me in awe and bliss. That morning my body moved of its own volition, without my direction, automatically performing an elaborate series of flowing motions. Many of these “postures” [i.e., asanas] I had never seen even in any yoga book before.

As Swami Kripalvananda explained it (in Desai, 1981):

[A]ll of these innumerable postures, movements, and mudras [hand gestures] ... occur automatically when the evolutionary energy of prana has been awakened in the body of a yogi.... This is an integral part of the awakening of kundalini.

Desai gave the name “Kripalu” to the system of yoga which he elaborated from his initial experience and others following it. The name was bestowed in honor of his guru, whose special grace Amrit considered to be responsible for that discovery.

Following that awakening, Desai founded his first ashram in 1970, and established a second one in Pennsylvania in 1975. The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health was created in Massachusetts in 1983, with branches in North America, Europe and India.

From those centers, Yogi Desai (or “Gurudev”) dispensed both discipline and wisdom, for the spiritual benefit of his followers:

As often as possible tell yourself, “I want nothing. I want to be nothing. I brought nothing with me, nor will I take anything when I go. I want to accomplish nothing for myself. I give my life to God and my guru”....
[A]ll the guru wants is your happiness and growth (Desai, 1985).

Amrit’s disciple Rajendra (1976) further explained the details of life in the community:

Gurudev in no way censures sexual love—only the abuse of it. Married couples at the ashram may have a moderate sex life without diverting the course of their sadhana. Unmarried persons are asked to refrain.

In the face of those and other restrictions and assurances, loyal ashram leaders still reluctantly allowed that

[i]n a moment of paranoid self-indulgence [an ashram resident] may question the guru’s honorable spiritual intentions (Rajendra, 1976).

Indeed. As they say, however, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.”

Thus, a decade after his founding of Kripalu, still married and encouraging strict celibacy for his unmarried disciples, Desai found himself caught in a scandal. Such controversy was of his own making, and indeed arose from the discovery that he had secretly been demonstrating his “penetrating insight” ... to the receptive vessels of three of his female students (Carlson, 2002a). In the wake of that, he resigned as spiritual director of Kripalu in 1994. Or, more accurately, he was reportedly forced to leave by the residents of the ashram which he himself had founded.


Following that departure, Kripalu restructured its organization to be led by a professional management team, “several of whom are former ashram residents.” It has thereby become “the first traditional yoga ashram founded on the guru-disciple model to transition to a new paradigm of spiritual education” (Kripalu, 2003).

Of course, anyone who has ever worked under “professional management teams” knows that they, too, are far from perfect, at times to the point of obvious pathology. But at least it’s a step in the right direction.

* * *

Kripalu, wisely sans Desai, now serves over 15,000 guests per year.

As to Yogi Amrit himself, after a period of retirement he resumed teaching, and was recently invited to be the “leading spiritual teacher at a new ashram” to be founded by Deepak Chopra (Cohen, 2000a). He presently teaches in Salt Springs, Florida.

Not surprisingly, Desai’s current bio at makes no mention of the Kripalu Center connection or scandal. (Likewise, there is no word within the History section at as to why Desai left them.) Indeed, on that new site he is referred to with deep respect as “Gurudev”—i.e., “beloved teacher” or “divine guru”—as he was at Kripalu during his heyday.

And thereby are the next generation of fresh-faced, idealistic young spiritual seekers served old, vinegary wine in new bottles—unaware, more often than not, of the history of that sour vintage.

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