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When a Cult Isn’t a Cult

I watched Tiger King III over the weekend. In this segment of the now on-going series they focused on a Tiger-guy whose Sanskrit name was Bhagavan. He was a claimed disciple of my spiritual teacher, Swami Satchidananda. Now, I never met this man. It appears that he came into the fold later that I was there. He also was on the East Coast where I was a West Coast kid.

The thing that I found somewhat surprising about this series is that in the first two episodes of the three part series they really forced a lot on Swami Satchidananda. They continually bad-mouthed the man and they continually said that he lead was a cult leader, which helped to form the mindset of the Tiger-guy Bhagavan.

You know, whenever someone doesn’t understand something they call it a, “Cult.” Whenever something is different from the norm, they call it a, “Cult.” Whenever something is new and exploratory, they call it a, “Cult.” I was at the heart of the Integral Yoga Institute, I was a direct student of Swami Satchidananda, and I can tell you, and I’ve said all of this before, it was not a, “Cult!”

The people who lived at the Integral Yoga Institute, who were not monks, all had jobs. They had to pay rent. Even some of the Swami’s had jobs. No one ever told anyone how to dress, as was implied in Tiger King III. You could wear anything that you wanted. Yes, things like vegetarianism were suggested. Yes, it was suggested that you don’t do drugs and don’t drink alcohol, as it is not good for you. It was taught not to smoke as it is bad for you and everyone else. Yes, if someone wanted to learn how to do the physical aspects of yoga or learn how to meditate, this was the place to go. But, people could eat or drink or do anything that they wanted as long as they didn’t do it on the property. No one was recruited. No one was ever asked to stay. There were no people out there trying to find new disciples. There was nothing like that. It was simply a place and a teaching that offer people a way to live a healthier and more spiritual way of life based in the East Indian tradition, if that is what they wanted.

I mean, think about it. Isn’t the Christian Church a cult? Isn’t the islamic faith a cult? Isn’t the Jewish faith a cult? All of these traditions suggest to people what they should or should not do. They all tell people what they believe is right and wrong. What they are teaching is simply more established in the minds of the masses. In India, what Swami Satchidananda taught is simply the understood, expected norm. There, his teachings were long established throughout history. In India he was not a cult leader, he was simply a teacher—one of many.

Was Swami Satchidananda the perfect man? No. I’ve spoken and I’ve written about all of this before. Did some people idolize him? Yes. But, that is just the way some people are—that is how life is. Some people idolize movies stars, music stars, or sports stars. In this case, some people idolized a yogi. Was that asked for or required? Absolutely not. I never idolized him.

Now, I’ve detailed my time with this man and his organization in many places. Swami Satchidananda and his Integral Yoga Institute and the Sufi Order (under the guidance of Pir Vilayat Khan), were essential parts to my early years in life. I was an initiate of both and I, at least hope, I provided a worthy service and good example to both of these organizations. I was Swami Satchidananda’s West Coast sound man. Though I was young I had a skill-set that was needed and could be used. As for the Sufi Order, I helped them at the Renaissance Faire booth each year. I was asked to the be guy that collected the $2.00 entry fee for people to attended the Tuesday night Sufi Dances (the Dances of Universal Peace). Though I did not like doing that job, as I always felt they should be free. I mean, in all of the years I taught the marital arts, I did it for free. But, I understood the need for the exchange of money and I helped in the way that I could.

All this being said, yes both of these pathways and teachings were different from the Westernized understanding of the norm. But, was anything bad going on? No, absolutely not. Were they a cult? No.

And, I’ve talked about this before, as well… When I decided it was time for me to leave, I was gone. Nobody tried to hold me back. My life moved onto other places. Yes, Swami Satchidananda and the Sufi Order are still in my heart. Yes, I learned a lot from both of them. Yes, I would not be the person I am today without my interaction with them. But, were they a cult? No.

I believe that one of the problems with the world is, wherever someone feels that someone else has done something wrong they attempt to concoct a reason why. They try to find a focus of blame. But, the fact is, some people just do fucked up things. Some people are not good people. Some people go to a teacher like Swami Satchidananda and take away the good. Others look for a reason to find the bad.

But, good or bad is all a point of view. If you love Hell it becomes Heaven. Yes, there are people that do some very messed up things with their life. But, what and/or who defines that wrongness? Should it be you? Are you without sin? Is it the documentarians who are looking for people who will say bad things about Swami Satchidananda? Are they without sin?

I am not supporting or standing up for and/or undermining anyone’s hurt. If you were hurt you were hurt. But, to try to blame another man for what someone else, (male or female), does is not the true path to righteousness. It is simply a person looking for a justifiable excuse and a reason why when there truly are none. People are who they. People do what they do. If anyone is casting the shadow of blame onto anyone, that is the person who should be studied as they are the one with something to hide.