Friday, June 3, 2011

The Weather was Cooler, But the Heat was on Last Summer at JKP-Barsana Dham

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 seventh blog post on “My Life in a Cult.”

July 4, 2008 — This summer in Austin is extremely hot. We are stuck under a ridge of high pressure that is keeping the place like an oven. It’s the kind of heat in which the shade offers little relief.

Last summer in Austin the weather was much different. It was rainy and wet, with temperatures cooler than normal. But that doesn’t mean that life was anymore bearable at JKP-Barsana Dham. The ashram was under its own “ridge of high pressure” of a different sort: Kripalu Maharaj (aka Ram Tripathi) was staying there for several weeks.

He had arrived in Barsana Dham on April 1st, 2007, a few weeks ahead of schedule for reasons never explained to most of us — but which would become clear later. The minute he stepped out of the Mercedes and his sneakered foot hit the pavement under the temple’s porte-cochere, the world became his and we just lived in it. And he likes his world to run a particular way down to the kind of milk he’ll drink (only fresh squeezed) and the television access he expects (all possible channels).

The devotees and guests had to work like demons to keep him, his family members, and hundreds of guests fed and housed. They also had to spend countless hours in the prayer hall each day from 5:00 AM until 10:00 PM chanting songs written by Kripalu in Hindi. And they were encouraged to spend their money everyday on everything from shawls ($50 each) to photos taken with him (up to $2,500 a pop).

We were told we had one year to pay off whatever debt (called “seva”) we accumulated. Then he left on May 14th for Trinidad.

Upon his departure, there was a palpable sigh of relief after a long and tiring month-and-a-half long whirlwind of activity and demands. But that respite was short-lived when we learned on May 25th that he had been arrested for rape. The arrest resulted in a significant change in his “world tour” plans, including canceling his visit to Canada (another unexplained mystery). Instead, he returned to Barsana Dham for two-and-a-half weeks from June 18th until the early morning of July 4th.

Despite the fact that serving Kripalu is supposed to be “the gift of a lifetime for a soul,” I don’t remember anybody seeming to be particularly happy about his return. By that time most people seemed to be out of energy and enthusiasm. But it wasn’t as if we had a choice — the chaos resumed whether we liked it or not.

One of the most notable aspects of his return was the sudden pressure to collect the money devotees owed him, despite the original 12-month payment plan. Everyday, at nearly every satsang session someone was standing up and announcing that devotees should pay as much as they could of the money they owed — in cash. For their convenience, an ATM machine was available just outside the temple doors.

I, for one, found it suspicious that the money collection had heated up to such a level. But mostly I just felt sorry for all of the people who were still willing to believe that such a person was anything other than just another human being with a scheme to keep himself and his family members living in the lap of luxury.

It may be hotter than Hades here in Austin this summer, but I am happy to be independent again and free from a fraudulent spiritual pressure cooker.

I’m counting my blessings this Fourth of July for the independence afforded me as a citizen of the U.S.A. and as a lover of God who is free from the stifling choke hold of a cult.

Happy Fourth of July to all lovers of freedom.

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