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Shaktipat in Ganeshpuri

The small village of Ganeshpuri, a six-hour drive northeast of Bombay, hosts one temple and one ashram. The ashram, built by Muktananda Paramahansa (1909-1982) is everything an ashram should be, and more. There is a hall with stone-grey floors seamed with red mortar where devotees, seated crossed-leg on thin coconut mats, take rice meals. In addition, there are austere yet comfortable bungalows, Muktananda’s bedchamber in which devotees walk clockwise and kiss the floor, an outdoor marble courtyard with cultivated leafy trees to disperse shade and sunlight, a small temple where blessings are dispersed, meditation halls, and two offices. Add to that a delicatessen which serves croissants and vegetarian delights, a sizeable swimming pool to provide relief from the 50-degree-Celsius summer heat, a productive dairy and organic garden, a health clinic, and condominiums. The 600 European and American devotees celebrating New Year’s eve 1983 in Ganeshpuri, therefore, had their choice--straight, laced, mix or match commitment.

Though well known to the movement, Muktananda’s successors, Swami Chidvilasananda and Swami Nityananda, used the New Year’s weekend to hold an intensive meditation weekend and meet the visiting staff from the European and American ashrams. The two-day intensive meditation, held in a large, carpeted basement with no direct light, consisted of morning and afternoon sessions concluding with evening chanting and video-documentaries of Muktananda’s worldwide tours. The pre-breakfast early-morning chanting of the Guru Gita (Sanskrit songs of devotion) to the gurus was optional, but well attended.

Following in the tradition of Muktananda, the session of intensive meditation began with chanting and singing, followed by the guru’s commentary on life from the Hindu perspective. Although fluent in colloquial English, both Chidvilasananda and Nityananda took turns talking in Hindi to their lotus-postured gallery of Western devotees while the other interpreted the message. A meditative hour based on kriya yoga, blue light, and black peacock feathers followed the discourses.
As lights dimmed, a small box organ lilted a chant melody line and pulled the devotees into a reflective and familiar consciousness. As meditators mentally dove inside themselves, the organ eased into quietude and the husky voice of a guru instructed the audience to breathe and meditate peacefully. The gates of cosmic oneness slid back gently, minds sought union with the guru, with the self. For some, however, the gateway resisted peaceful entry and the mind bumped along like a child running its finger on the pickets of a long fence. It was, afterall, kriya yoga.

Fast, sharp breathing exercises followed, with each inhalation and exhalation inducing hyperventilation. It was to awaken the third eye of spiritual perception. To see the blue light that Muktananda saw, the light of self-realization, is the cherished hope. Many said they saw the blue light or had visions or simply merged with cosmic ecstasy. Others lost control over their ecstasy and emitted sounds of the soul--tense gutteral barks and groans, chirps, mild, vigorous laughter, screams, or simply whispered fragments of language. Though no one really liked those sounds, everyone chuckled about them after the session, and some apologized for their outbursts. In the Hindu traditions, kriya yoga has power to transform meditator’s voices and contort their bodies into difficult postures.

During the meditation the two gurus circulated among their devotees with a sturdy fan of bound black peacock feathers that had been sprinkled with sandalwood oil. Crouching down, resting a hand on the devotee’s head, pressing a palm on the third eye, just above the nose, or whisking faces with peacock feathers, the gurus peeled away karma and gave the blessing--shaktipat. For some who have given heart and mind to the guru, shaktipat is more than a stroke of luck. It is the touch of God, and jolts of energy flushed over them, and they fell from their lotus postures onto the floor.
At the end of the day, testimonies from meditators were delivered through hand-held microphones. It was an important time for Chidvilasananda and Nityananda, and they were aware of it. Devotees do not let go of their gurus easily, even when the new guru comes from the same family, as it were. Muktananda’s departure, while not sudden or unprepared for, is the death of a father image, and loyalties to him are hard to transfer. A group of wealthy Bombay businessmen listened to the testimonies while they observed the new gurus who now guide the European and American leaders as well as the multi-million dollar structure that Muktananda left behind.

During the testimony session, many meditators cried and grieved for Muktananda, often calling his familiar name, "Baba." Yet they were quite responsive to the youthful successors. Their testimonies mentioned earlier doubts about the new gurus that were now slowly easing away. The affirmation was unavoidable: the brother and sister are winsome personalities. Several women said that Muktananda came to them while meditating and encouraged them to stay in the ashram. Others said the love of the new gurus was an extension of Baba’s grace. A climactic testimony from one meditator symbolically insured loyalty to Muktananda’s successors as people nodded their assent and applauded at the conclusion. Punctuating her story with swells of emotion and relief, the meditator recounted how she had seen Chidvilasananda and Nityananda sitting on their dias in front of a large photo of Muktananda’s own guru. They turned to gold while radiating waves of light. Baba emerged from the photo of his own guru and gave his blessing to the new successors. It was an overwhelming vision transmitted through her third eye which fulfilled the secret wish of everyone present.

Many Westerners are attracted to guruism, not only through their desire to submit to divinity in human form but also because Hindu traditions are rich with mythology and imagery, as compared to the milder Old and New Testaments. Hindu literature often has the excitement and plot lines of Homeric poems. That rich Hindu lore, however, was noticeably absent during the four major addresses which Muktananda’s successors gave. In its place were anecdotal stories and quotations from Western writers, leading one to think that the new gurus are by all means Eastern but by some means moving West.