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Saturday, 7 March 2015

How Chinmoy terminated my free will

In May 1998, I had been a disciple for four years. The restaurant was doing ok, but I was very tired physically and emotionally. The restaurant was draining my energy. I was stressed. I would send this stress to my workers, and of course get it back. I was in a kind of vicious circle and I could not find my way out. I was not at all in a good shape to live the events that followed.

H. was the Paris Centre leader. He was a close friend. An older brother. A bit of a spiritual guide too.
In May 1998, H. had not been to a centre meeting in three weeks for professional reasons. I was a bit judgemental about it. But mostly, I was missing him. Centre meetings were way less fun when he was not there.
Chinmoy was traveling to Rome. Someone was trying to arrange a meeting with the pope for him. In his striving for name and fame, Chinmoy was using a team of chosen disciples to arrange meetings with world celebrities and leaders. He would then use photos of the meeting and quote what the celebrities said about him for his own promotion. In many cases, the disciples were allowed to come to see Chinmoy on those trips. We would have evening functions with him and sometimes events or functions during the day too.
I went to Rome. On the morning of the second day I was there, I got a phone call from the centre leader of another French centre, saying that Chinmoy wanted to see all the Paris disciples who were in Rome. It was sixteen years ago and I cannot recollect all the details. I went to Chinmoy's hotel. I think it was sometime in the morning. We were ten to fifteen disciples from Paris who had come to see him in London. We sat around him in a hall of the hotel. The situation was very special. This kind of collective interview with him was quite rare. It could happen sometimes in New York during the celebration, but on a trip like this it was very unusual. Chinmoy used his charm and the love we had for him to give us a very strong message. It was a scolding. Chinmoy said that everyone in Paris had lost their aspiration. According to him all of us had descend spiritually. We had to change the situation ad go back to our height or he would disband the centre. Then he told us we could ask all the questions we wanted to. It was a quite rare opportunity to ask him questions directly. For many among us, it was the first time. Even though the scolding was very hard to take, we were feeling very blessed. The first questions were asking for spiritual advice about how to regain our spiritual height. Then a disciple who was working in my restaurant, S. asked about our centre leader H. There were a few questions and complaints about H. Chinmoy said that if we have some criticisms about H. we should have told him. Not having done it was according to him a spiritual mistake. Chinmoy said that he was not happy with H., that he had lost his aspiration. It was quite an unusual thing for Chinmoy to criticize openly a centre leader. He asked Patsy to write a report about the interview and to read it at the next centre meeting.
We all went back to Paris. Told the disciples we saw or had on the phone who were not in Rome what happened there. At the next centre meeting, either at the end of the meditation or before, I don't remember, Patsy read her report about the Rome interview. She did not mention what Chinmoy said about H. It seems to me today very understandable that H. and Patsy decided not to include the nasty comments about H. At the same time, it was a mistake, because this is exactly the reason Chinmoy used to disband the centre. Chinmoy could easily guess they would not do it. The game was done.
The next day, I was not feeling comfortable about the report, feeling that something was wrong with the fact that the report did not mention Chinmoy's critics towards H. Got a few disciples on the phone who were not feeling well about that too. Later that day I was meditating on Chinmoy's transcendental photo, the one we were supposed to focus on in our meditation. And I switched. I decided that H. was betraying us. I called Chinmoy's main secretary in New York. Chinmoy already knew about the missing part in the report. Some other disciples already had reported this. Chinmoy's main secretary told me that he will mention my phone call.
Later in the evening, the main secretary called me and told me that he mentioned my call but that it was too late. He then told me: "The Paris centre is dismissed. Everyone is out. A few people may be taken back, but later.
Chinmoy had five other people called that evening, but not the now ex centre leader H. Some time later, He said he would never take back H. and Patsy.
Then started a very dry period of two months, were we had no centre meetings and no contact with any disciples who were inside. We only had a phone call once a week from the Montpellier centre leader who was kind of in charge of us. Things evolved slowly. Some of us were just waiting to be taken back. I was in this category. Some others did not know. And as time was passing, more and more gave up the idea of coming back. It was quite strange at the restaurant. For our customers, we were still a Sri Chinmoy restaurant. We could not tell the real story. Telling it would somehow mean we would give up the idea of coming back and protecting the image of our guru, who, I had no doubt at this time, knew exactly was he was doing. Well now I still think he knew exactly what he was doing. But I can see how much it was one of his nasty manipulative tricks. He just wanted to get rid of a still quite independent centre leader who still had some common sense, and at the same time ultimately keep as much as possible of the Paris centre and its restaurant.
The next two months were very difficult. Towards the end of this period, we started getting some signs from Chinmoy that he was considering taking some of us back. I was myself quite sure I would be taken back and I did not examine any other option at all. But some members of my team had decided not to come back, and it was getting obvious that soon we will have to do without them.
After two months, around July 22nd, Chinmoy took back about half of the people, but not me. I was again in such a shock. I was so sure I would be taken back. Just imagine the situation, I was owning and running a Sri Chinmoy restaurant and I was out of his path. Plus, many of my workers were back and those who were not were on their way out or already gone. I think Chinmoy said something like me and other disciples were not ready, making it quite clear that taking us back was still in his mind, but not giving any indication about when.
The situation had just got worse for me. It was one of the worse times of my life. I was in agony. I was examining a few other options like selling the restaurant. There was no way I could see myself keeping running it in such an emotional state without my team. I would have had to change all my team and starting from zero again. I was trapped.
It is only a few days now that we started putting together our memories bout this episode with some other exs. But it is already clear to me how much I was in a situation were I was getting abused and still running after my abuser. A very similar situation to what an abused woman is going through. I was finally taken back a month later, during the August celebrations. I took the first flight to New York, in a desperate need to run again in the arms of my abuser.
He had totally broken my free will. The memory of the pain would remain for many years and I knew that if I would do anything serious that would not please him I would end up with the same pain. It took me almost another eleven years and him dying to regain my freedom.

4 comments:

  1. 'I was getting abused and still running after my abuser.'
    This is like the Stockholm sydrome, Guillaume.
    Yesterday I was reading about Ritual Abuse on the internet.
    This is Guru Abuse, and it is just as destructive to one's self-esteem.
    Chinmoy Ghose destroyed families and isolated his victims from society.
    He belongs in the same low company as Ron Hubbard of Scientology or the despotic Mr. Moon who started the Unification Church.
    The pattern of Chinmoy's emotional abuse is clear.
    He had his Paris disciples hanging on for his approval.
    It's like reading about the court of some demented dictator.
    First comes the scolding.
    Then the dreaded judgement.
    You have all descended spiritually, he tells you.
    What does that mean? To descend spiritually?
    It means a big fat nothing.
    But it allows Chinmoy Ghose to keep you all dangling in suspense.
    Then he leaves you all in limbo.
    'I will give you my final verdict in my own good time,' he's saying.
    This is about as low as you can get.
    The way he demanded sex from one of his New York disciples, and then told her he was pouring his divine sperm into her, was the lowest.
    But gurus who have 'god consciousness' can do what they like.
    And they get to see the pope.
    Ghose's date with the pope is the cherry on his guru cake.
    That the pain should have remained with you for many years to come is the part that hurts me to read.
    Remember, Chinmoy is the inadequate little nobody.
    You and the others were not inadequate, just too trusting.
    The only thing to do is write the book.
    15 Years in Shining Darkness is a great title.
    Like you I was brought up a Roman Catholic.
    Catholicism is a huge subject and to read about it is to be entangled in the nightmare of history.
    Herman Hesse said he thought about becoming a Papist, but as he got closer to the church, he thought that it smelled of blood and history.
    In writing about Chinmoy alone, your focus could be fairly narrow.
    But the culture from which he sprang is a massive subject.
    I think you will need to find tools with which to approach the subject.
    Rene Girard's book, 'Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World', helped me understand the violence inherit in much religion.
    So I think the cultural politics and anthropology of Chinmoy's background would be a useful approach.
    Then there is the puzzle of why so many gurus came to Europe and the States.
    There's a good book on the subject, 'Karma Cola', and there must be more like it.
    Aldous Huxley went a bit starry-eyed over Krishnamurti.
    Why were Westerners so naive about India?
    Daniel Dennett is terrific at turning a forensic eye on religion.
    He thinks of religion as a cleverly evolved system that has similarities with natural selection.
    He has a great YouTube talk, 'What Will Replace Religion?'
    Rowan Williams the former Archbishop of Canterbury in England writes well as does N.T. Wright (or Tom Wright) the New Testament scholar.
    However the incisive Sam Harris says some of Wright's work is woolly and only a fool would want to quarrel with Sam Harris.
    Karen Carpenter is essential reading. And also Don Cupitt who started the Sea of Faith Movement.
    Cupitt's books 'Taking Leave of God' and 'The Long Legged Fly', were milestones in my own journey.
    And I recommend Monica Furlong's 'The End of Our Exploring' with its title borrowed from T.S. Eliot.
    Eliot's 'The Four Quartets' is THE work of high distinction in English.
    You have in French Simone Weil's 'Waiting on God', a classic.
    And Iris Murdoch has written brilliantly on religion.
    It occurs to me that you sought out Chinmoy because you believed in the interior life.
    The result was that he destroyed your interior life.
    That is what gurus, avatars and ascended masters do.
    They are destroyers.
    But you have triumphed for all that.
    D.H. Lawrence put it well.
    'Look, we have come through.'

    John Haggerty, Glasgow, Scotland.






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  2. Erratum.
    I wrote Karen Carpenter when I should have written Karen Armstrong.
    A slip of the tongue.
    Karen Armstrong has written on religious thought and practice.
    She has interrogated the archives as they say.
    Her reading is immense.
    As for the other Karen, 'It's yesterday once more.'
    Yesterday has happy memories.
    For you as well Guillaume, I hope.
    Alan Spence and his wife were such kind and intelligent hosts when we all met to meditate at their home in Buccleuch Street, Garnethill, close to the iconic Glasgow School of Art.
    This was 1973.
    Days I will never forget.
    Alan has turned out to be a world-class short story writer, a novelist of haunting originality and a composer of sparkling haikus.
    He loved Chinmoy and saw something in him that I did not.
    One cannot argue with love, blind or not.
    Time will tell whether Alan can write a warts-and-all portrait of his guru.
    Unless he is honest about the pain suffered by others in the Chinmoy movement, his book will fail to address the moral issues.
    But I have every confidence in his talent.
    He cares about people.

    John Haggerty

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  3. At the risk of taking up your time Guillaume, may I recommend a few more titles regarding Christian literature?
    As a son of France you are in a unique position to read one of France's most undervalued sons.
    I mean Jean Cauvin, born in Noyons, northern France, and better known by his latinized name, John Calvin.
    Calvin's genius has never been recognized by his own people.
    Calvin's name was demonised in Rome.
    The last of the Calvinist fathers of France died in the early 20th Century.
    Catholic philosophers such as Maurice Blondel had no interest in him.
    But you may still find a Reformed church in Paris where Calvin is appreciated.
    Professor David F Wells, formerly on the staff of La Faculte Jean Calvin, d'Aix-en-Provence, has written about Calvin's strange fate, which is to be misunderstood and even hated.
    Protestants know of Calvin's greatest work, 'Institutes of the Christian Religion'.
    But fewer read his other works such as his 'Sermons on the Gospel of St John', a masterpiece of Western literature.
    Calvin has a gift for making us see the greatest mystery, Jesus as the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity.
    The Calvinist doctrine of predestination is nothing if not Biblical, though it is the way we interpret it that causes such a fuss.
    It says that conversion is entirely a work of the Holy Spirit.
    God loves us, but we in our fallen nature hate God.
    It is Christ in his offices as Lord, Saviour and High Priest who reconciles us to the Father through his sin-atoning death on Calvary.
    Far from being a hardened bigot, Calvin grieved over the state of the lost.
    He opened his church in Geneva to the people so that they could hear the Word of God on a daily basis.
    John Piper has a moving film on YouTube, In Calvin's Geneva.
    Mr Piper also edited an essential collection of essays, 'With Calvin in the Theater of God'.
    (John Piper's own preaching on YouTube is worth watching.)
    Calvin said we are all bad actors on the broken stage of the world.
    I have become a Calvin enthusiast in my old age and am thinking of forming a Friends of John Calvin Society even though he is only remembered by a minority of the Scottish people.
    Maybe one day you will form such a society in Paris.
    John Knox, the father of the Scottish Reformation, went out to Geneva to hear Calvin preach.
    I am pleased to say that a woman, Kathy Childress, has translated Calvin's 'Sermons on Galatians' into English, published by the Banner of Truth.
    A young American woman has written a book called 'Calvin's Ladder', and you can see her speaking on YouTube.
    The Pulitzer Prize winning American novelist Marilyn Robinson speaks up for Calvin in two books of her essays.
    I am told Calvin's French is quite beautiful.
    I imagine it is a bit like reading Shakespeare or John Milton in English.
    There is now a project in France to modernise his prose for a young readership.
    Karl Barth, who refused to take an oath of allegiance to Hitler, said he could have spent the rest of his life reading Calvin.
    Calvin married in his middle life, but his son died in infancy.
    He said, 'I stayed in one day to see if the child would smile before leaving this world.'
    He was a man of great depth who longed to bring sinners to Jesus Christ.
    Thanks.

    J Haggerty

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  4. Post script.
    I have just noticed a new book on the internet, Guillaume.
    'Enthralled - the Guru Cult of Tibetan Buddhism' by Christine A. Chandler.
    The author was on the inside track of Tibetan Buddhism for nearly 30 years, and has now come out of its belief system.
    Her thesis is that celebrity Tibetan lamas have infiltrated our colleges and institutions with Tantra ideas.
    For over a thousand years Tibetan Buddhist have regarded their child lamas as reincarnations of earlier lamas.
    Celebrities such as the actor Richard Gere have been indoctrinated into the guru-worship system.
    Christine meditated with a well-known Tibetan Buddhist lama.
    She says it all began with a Mindfulness weekend in Boston's Shambhala meditation centre.
    This makes me wonder about Mindfulness.
    Everyone seems to be doing it.
    The respected weekly magazine New Scientist ran a front cover story, 'Why Mindfulness is Here to Stay'.
    Many intelligent people swear by it.
    The danger of brainwashing cults is not confined to Eastern religion.
    The International Church of Christ (ICOC) has been banned from a number of college campuses in England for its proselytizing.
    It has caused a lot of hurt in its treatment of Jewish people.
    One Anglican chaplain of an English university says that ICOC targets new students, using aggressive techniques.
    The founder of ICOC, Kip McKean, has all the hallmarks of a cult leader.
    He claims his church has the 'revealed truth' as do the Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons.
    Dr. Elizabeth Tilden, a consultant psychiatrist, has treated former members of the London Church of Christ for psychological disorders.
    She says of ICOC: 'It's a totalitarian system.'
    Eileen Barker, a professor of sociology at the London School of Economics, has started an organisation called Inform.
    Inform researches information about new religious movements which have a strong authority structure.
    This would include churches where members are not allowed to question the recruitment system, the ideology, the leadership, the financial structure (such as tithing) or the discipline imposed on members who break the rules.
    Cultwatch has put the ICOC on its list of religious groups which use brainwashing techniques and separate members from their families and from outside society.
    The approach of atheists like Daniel Dennett or Sam Harris is a good way to judge the health of any religious movement.
    Ask this question: Does the church have cult tendencies?
    Is it guilty of mind abuse, manipulation, indoctrination, putting pressure on impressionable minds, denying the right to question the very tenets of the faith?
    There are people trained in 'exit counselling' who help individuals break free of the control of their cult leader.
    On YouTube there is a talk by Megan Phelps-Roper, 'I Grew Up In Westboro Baptist Church'.
    Westboro Church was run by her mother.
    It practises hate crime against gay people, and pickets the funerals of American soldiers with 'You are in hell' placards.
    Megan speaks with the voice of moderation and decency.
    She has a second podcast, 'Phelps on God's will and why she is no longer a Christian'.
    Julie Canlis is author of the book 'Calvin's Ladder'.
    She has three YouTube talks - Finding God in the Desert, Preparation for Lent and Lent to the Rescue.
    Like Megan Phelps-Roper, Julie has respect for human dignity.
    There's nothing coercive about her faith.

    John Haggerty

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