I don’t know what it’s like around the world but there was a time when there was a yoga movement in the United States where yuppies got together to exercise and stretch and pretend to be spiritual. Apparently this is a thing worldwide, not only in India, but even in Australia. I’ve reported in the past that some of these yoga centers suffer from the same problems that haunt religions of all kinds, sex abuse, physical abuse and emotional trauma. Here’s yet another story of spirituality gone horribly wrong.
Swami Satyananda, spiritual leader and founder of the Mangrove Satyananda ashram, has been accused of raping a 7-year old girl during an initiation ceremony which included cutting the skin between her breasts and drinking her blood at a NSW yoga ashram in the early 1980s. This is not the first run in with the law the Swami has had, he was convicted in 1989 of raping four girls but his conviction was eventually overturned in 1991 and the Swami eventually died in 2009. Now, police are looking into a growing number of rapes and other sexual indiscretions at the ashram from the 1970s through the mid 1990s.
One woman, speaking anonymously and known only as APR, says that there were 5-6 swamis at the ashram who all insisted that their followers remain celibate, but who were sexually active with a large number of their female followers. Another, Bhakti Manning, reported that Akhandananda had “violent, aggressive sex” with her when she was 17. On a trip abroad, she says her genitals were fondled and the Swami told her “this is our relationship, don’t tell anyone”. Other women in the court room of Commissioner Justice Jennifer Coate told similar stories as they began to look into the ashram under Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse laws. It has taken these women so long to come forward because in ashram culture, anyone who dares to speak out would be considered a criminal “for being a bad disciple for not accepting that what the guru had chosen to do to me for my own good”.
Witnesses have also come forward to report on violent beatings of children performed by Akhandananda and his partner Shishy, who insisted that the parents sign over legal authority to the Swami and the ashram. Tim Clark, who was a child at the ashram in the 80s, said he was violently beaten and sexually abused by some of the female swamis. According to APL, the facilities at Mangrove were very basic, children were often made to starve and perform hard physical labor. They were made to wear orange robes and have their heads shaved. Of course, the Swami and Shishy had no such difficulties, they had a hot tub, a television and drank alcohol regularly.
I don’t often write about Hinduism but when I do, it seems to almost always revolve around these ashrams and the sexual exploits of self-styled Swamis. I’m not sure why we don’t hear more horror stories about them considering there are thousands of ashrams and millions of followers worldwide. Perhaps, just like the Catholic Church, a great many sexual abuse cases fester just beneath the surface, waiting to explode. When it does, I’ll be sure to include them on Horror Show Sunday.