On May 23rd, 2008, I started my first blog called “My Life in a Cult” using the nom de plume, Freedom Writer. It was my first time being completely free to speak out about my years inside the cult. After making 13 posts, I decided to block the blog until after the criminal trial of Prakashanand Saraswati. I will repost all of the blog posts here as an archive. The following was my thirteenth blog post on “My Life in a Cult.”
August 18th, 2008 —
Accused felon Prakashanand Saraswati is free to wander anywhere in the world — except for on a 200-acre patch of land in the Texas Hill Country.
As part of the stipulation of his $10 million bond agreement issued on May 15, 2008, he cannot enter the ashram over which he ruled with unquestioned authority for 18 years.
It has really got to chap his hide not to be allowed to step one slippered foot inside the eight-foot-high fence separating his property from the rest of the United States of America. Like all autocrats, Prakashanand made all the rules in his kingdom, called all the shots, and was the sole judge and jury of those on the inside.
Before the ink was even dry on the property deed in 1990, he christened the land “Barsana Dham” and wasted no time refashioning the natural rolling hill country property into a simulated holy land that suited his every desire. Before long he renamed a prominent hill on the property from Friday Mountain to Barsana Hill, and renamed the property’s stretch of a winding stream from Onion Creek to the Kalindi River. And that was just the beginning of the manufacturing of his particular reality.
Prakashanand tells people that he has been “recreating” Braj India on his 200-plus acres. But this is like the Epcot Center claiming it has recreated France, Spain, and Venice in Orlando, Florida. The resemblance is childish, commercial, and unfulfilling.
One of the first orders he decreed upon taking possession of his new property was installing a chain-link fence to separate his land from his surrounding neighbors — including the Transcendental Meditation (TM) community, called Radiance, located directly to the south.
This enclosure not only physically separates his province from the rest of the country, but it also psychologically creates a barrier that has made many devotees feel alternatively cosseted and imprisoned. Prakashanand has reinforced these feelings by telling followers that his creation offers the only hope for people seeking God and warning them that the world outside of the gates is “hell.”
Among Prakashanand’s many rules within his kingdom are simple, modest, and renounced living for all residents (including anywhere from 40 to 70 people). Unfortunately, he has not been an exemplary role model for the austere lifestyle he verbally imposed over the years. It has been more a case of “do what I say, not what I do.” For example, his personal quarters on the second floor of the ashram’s large temple include a whirlpool bathtub, sauna, steam room, marble-counter kitchen, fine china in the cupboards, multi-count sheets on his plush mattress, and a balcony overlooking the most ornate section of the property.
Nothing is too small to ensure his maximum comfort. A cadre of devotees are devoted to ensuring that his very whim is swiftly and unerringly catered to. Anything could be cause for a life-or-death style crisis — such as the less-than-perfect shape of a pillow or the undesired degree of light emitting through his bedroom curtains.
Over the years, many people have been curious about this peculiar place. Occasionally, inquiring minds attempted to peek inside of the abnormal world — thinking they could actually know the inner workings simply from a superficial view of the showy exterior. Of course, their lack of discovery of the underbelly of Prakashanand Land wasn’t their fault. From my multiple years of experience, I now know that the reality of Barsana Dham is a murky otherworld hidden by a carefully crafted hard, glossy exterior finish.
While I do not agree with the judge’s decision to let Prakashanand free to roam the world, I applaud his decision to keep him out of his ashram located on RR 1826, 15 miles southwest of Austin, Texas. Perhaps the judge realized that the greater punishment than not letting this professed swami — who is accused of 20 counts of indecency with a child — back to India, was not giving him the keys back into his insular, protected kingdom.
UPDATE (Aug. 20th, 2008) — http://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/local/08/21/0821swamiji.html