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SWAMI SATCHIDANANDA WAS THE FOUNDER of the Yogaville ashram in Buckingham County, Virginia—begun in 1979—and its satellite Integral Yoga institutes in New York, San Francisco and elsewhere.

He was born in southern India in 1914 and married young but, after his wife’s death, left his children and embarked at age twenty-eight on a full-time spiritual quest.

In 1949 he was initiated as a swami by his own spiritual master, the renowned Swami Sivananda, having searched the mountains and forests of India to find that sage in Rishikesh. His monastic name, Satchidananda, means “Existence-Knowledge-Bliss.”

He came to New York in 1966 as a guest of the psychedelic artist Peter Max.

Word soon spread that Satchidananda had cured the kidney ailment of a disciple by blessing a glass of water.

He spoke at Woodstock in 1969, having been flown in via helicopter to bless the historic music festival:

I am very happy to see that we are all gathered to create some “making” sounds, to find that peace and joy through the celestial music. I am honored for having been given the opportunity of opening this great, great music festival (Satchidananda, in [Wiener, 1972]).

Even prior to Woodstock, Satchidananda had sold out Carnegie Hall, being viewed as one of the “class acts” in the spiritual marketplace.

His views on nutrition were solicited by the Pillsbury Corporation.

By the beginning of the 1970s, thousands of Integral Yoga devotees studied at fifteen centers around the United States. By the late ’70s, Satchidananda’s (1977) followers numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Included in that group have been the health and diet expert Dr. Dean Ornish, model Lauren Hutton, Jeff “The Fly” Goldblum, and Carol “You’ve Got a Friend” King, who donated Connecticut land to the yogi’s organization.

Having acquired other, warmer property for Yogaville in Virginia, Sivananda Hall was built there, complete with a wooden throne for the guru, set atop a large stage at one end of the hall. Life for the poorer “subjects” within that 600-acre spiritual kingdom, however, was apparently less than regal:

The ritual abnegations of the sannyasin [monks] included a pledge to “dedicate my entire life and renounce all the things which I call mine at the feet of Sri Gurudev [i.e., Satchidananda]. This includes my body, mind, emotions, intellect, and all the material goods in my possession.” Though they weren’t expected to pay for basics like food and lodging, they were relegated to rickety trailers sometimes infested with mice or lice (Katz, 1992).

In the midst of his followers’ reported poverty, Satchidananda himself nevertheless acquired an antique Cadillac and a cherry red Rolls-Royce.

Further, and somewhat oddly given Satchidananda’s Woodstock background, in the ashram itself

dozens of onetime children of rock ‘n’ roll sat down to make lists of “offensive” songs and television shows to be banned within Yogaville’s borders. Soon after, dating between ashram children was banned through the end of high school. Then all children attending the ashram school were asked to sign a document pledging that they would not date, have sexual contact, listen to restricted music, or watch restricted television shows.
Satchidananda never came forth to comment formally on the new restrictions, but residents understood that the rules carried his implied imprimatur (Katz, 1992).

With those restrictions in place, an ashram member was soon reported for listening to a Bruce Springsteen album.

Increasingly oddly, given all that: Rivers Cuomo, the lead singer of the power-pop band Weezer, spent much of his first ten years in Yogaville.

* * *
Some people take advantage of the language in the tantric scriptures, “I’m going to teach you tantric yoga,” they say. “Come sleep with me.” With a heavy heart I tell you that some so-called gurus do this, and to them I say, “If you want to have sex, be open about it. Say, ‘I love you, child, I love you, my devotee’”....
Yoga monks automatically become celibate when they have a thirst to know the Absolute God, and feel that in order to do so they must rise above the physical body and the senses (Satchidananda, in [Mandelkorn, 1978]).
[T]he distinguishing mark of a Guru is, as Sri Swamiji [i.e., Satchidananda] says, “complete mastery over his or her body and mind, purity of heart, and total freedom from the bondage of the senses” (in Satchidananda, 1977).

The taking of the monastic vows in which the title of “Swami” is conferred inherently includes a vow of celibacy. That serious promise, however, may not have stopped the “Woodstock Swami” from, as they say, “rocking out,” via Springsteen’s The Rising or otherwise:

In 1991 numerous female followers stated that he had used his role as their spiritual mentor to exploit them sexually. After the allegations became public many devotees abandoned Satchidananda and hundreds of students left IYI schools, but the Swami never admitted to any wrongdoing. As a result, the Integral Yoga organization diminished by more than 1/3. An organization called the Healing Through the Truth Network was formed and at least eight other women came forward with claims of sexual abuse (S. Cohen, 2002a).
[Susan Cohen claims that] Satchidananda took advantage of her when she was a student from 1969 [when she was eighteen] to 1977 (Associated Press, 1991).

Another follower, nineteen-year-old Sylvia Shapiro, accompanied the swami on a worldwide trip.

“In Manila, he turned [his twice-daily massages from me] into oral sex,” Ms. Shapiro said (Associated Press, 1991).
Until December [of 1990], Joy Zuckerman was living at Yogaville, where she was known as Swami Krupaananda. She left after a friend confided in her that Satchidananda had made sexual advances toward her last summer, Ms. Zuckerman said (McGehee, 1991).
* * *
A Guru is the one who has steady wisdom ... one who has realized the Self. Having that realization, you become so steady; you are never nervous. You will always be tranquil, nothing can shake you (Satchidananda, 1977).

Satchidananda’s own driver, however, recognized characteristics other than such holy ones, in the swami:

After hours of sitting in traffic jams observing his spiritual master in the rearview mirror, Harry had decided that Sri Swami Satchidananda was not only far from serene, he was a bilious and unforgivingly cranky old man. Not once had Harry felt his spiritual bond with Satchidananda enhanced by all the carping, however edifyingly paternal it was meant to be (Katz, 1992).

As they say, “No man is great in the eyes of his own valet.”

In describing how a “steady” man would see the world, Satchidananda (1977) further quoted Krishna from the Bhagavad Gita:

Men of Self-knowledge look with equal vision on a brahmana [i.e., a spiritual person] imbued with learning and humility, a cow, an elephant, a dog and an outcaste.

There is, however, always the contrast between theory and practice:

Lorraine was standing beside one of [Satchidananda’s] Cadillacs ... when the beautiful model [Lauren Hutton] and the guru came out and climbed inside. Satchidananda did not acknowledge Lorraine’s presence except to glare at her and bark in his irritated father voice, “Don’t slam the door” (Katz, 1992).
* * *

Satchidananda passed away in August of 2002. Before he died, he had this to say regarding the allegations of sexual misconduct made against him:

“They know it is all false,” [Satchidananda] had said about eight years ago [i.e., in 1991]. “I don’t know why they are saying these things. My life is an open book. There is nothing for me to hide” (S. Chopra, 1999).

Yogaville, meanwhile, is still very much alive, albeit amid a more recently alleged “mind control” scandal involving a university-age woman, Catherine Cheng (Extra, 1999).

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