At the age of twenty-four, the story goes that he was given the position of Shankaracharya of Karvirpithamone of four “popes” in the Hindu religious hierarchy. A mere two years later, however, he apparently simply abandoned that position, leaving without notice to meditate in the mountains instead.
Rama also claimed to have later studied in Hamburg, Utrecht and at Oxford University.
It turns out (Webster, 1990),
however, that significant elements in the official biography of the swami may well have
been merely “pulled out of thin air.”
In any case, Rama definitely came to the United States in 1969, and was soon participating in biofeedback demonstrations under Elmer and Alyce Green, at the Menninger Foundation in Topeka, Kansas. There, he showed the ability to consciously control various aspects of his autonomic (involuntary) nervous system.
In 1971, the swami founded the Himalayan International Institute“HI,” publisher of Yoga International magazinein Illinois, with the goal of translating ancient spiritual wisdom into contemporary terms. By 1977, that organization had moved to an ashram in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania, capable of housing more than one hundred residents and guests, along with their Institute headquarters.
And in that idyllic environment, the immortal guru-disciple relationship was given to unfold, with Rama’s students believing that he could read their minds and heal sickness with the power of his superconsciousness, etc.
That, though, is exactly par for the course: for the disciples to think any less of the guru would make them “disloyal,” riddled with mayic doubt.
One of the women involved further described a public, non-sexual encounter with the sage. There, the swami allegedly put a dog collar and leash around a woman’s neck, walking her around for the amusement of the other loyal followers present. He was also accused of kicking other women in the buttocks when they were weeding, already down on their hands and knees
Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, at the time the resident spiritual director of the Honesdale ashram and a member of the Institute’s teaching staff, reportedly responded
(in Webster, 1990) to the allegations of sexual abuse in this way:
Even if it happened, what’s the big deal? People say that Mahatma Gandhi slept with women. God knows whether it was true or not, and even if it was true, this is a normal phenomenon....
Even if I found outhow can I find out? Because I do not want to find out. There’s no need for finding out, if I know it is completely wrong.
The reported reaction of Swami Rama’s community to the women asserting improprieties on his part was further exactly as one would expect.
That is, they were allegedly discounted as being “emotionally disturbed,” or otherwise reportedly regarded as “liars”
* * *
As Tigunait noted above, Mahatma Gandhi was indeed sleeping with teenage girls (including his cousin’s granddaughter) toward the end of his life. As odd as it may sound, however, all reports are that the two parties were literally just sleeping beside each other, for him to test his resistance to sexual desire.
In explaining his position, Gandhiji said that it was indeed true that he permitted women workers to use his bed, this being undertaken as a spiritual experiment at times. Even if there were no trace of passion in him of which he was conscious, it was not unlikely that a residue might be left over, and that would make trouble for the girls who took part in his experiment [cf. “In the presence of one perfected in non-violence, enmity (in any creature) does not arise”Patanjali, Yoga Sutras] (Bose, 1974).
The possible psychological effects of that on the girls themselves, even without any breach of his brahmacharya celibacy vow, does not seem to have concerned the Mahatma.
Of course, Gandhi’s very human displays of (non-righteous) temper alone would have been enough to demonstrate to him or anyone else that he was not yet perfected in ahimsa. Those eruptions were indeed reported by his one-time secretary, N. K. Bose, a distinguished anthropologist who resigned the former secretarial position in part because of his objections to the Mahatma’s above “experiments.” Gandhi’s own admitted “detestation of sensual connection,” too, is a type of psychological violence upon himself. For, when it comes to metaphysical questions regarding attachment, repulsion is no better than is attraction.
Both Chapter XVIII of Bose’s (1974) My Days with Gandhi and
Chapter 4 in Koestler’s (1960) The Lotus and the Robot give reasonable analyses of the all-too-human psychological reasons behind Gandhi’s emphasis on celibacy. Included in those is the Mahatma’s abandoning of his father on the latter’s deathbed to be with his young wife sexually, thus being absent from the old man’s death, for which he never forgave himself.
Koestler also covers Gandhi’s disappointing treatment of his children, in the same book.
That handling included the Mahatma’s denying of a professional education to his older sons, in the attempt to mold them in his image. The eldest was later disowned by the “Great Soul” for having gotten married against his father’s prohibitions; and died an alcoholic wreck, after having been publicly attacked by Gandhi for his involvement in a business scandal.
Why then are the stories of the Mahatma’s “experiments with teenage girls” not more widely known?
The Gandhians were so thorough in effacing every trace of the scandal that Bose’s book is unobtainable not only in India, but also at the British Museum (Koestler, 1960).
* * *
Swami Rama passed away in 1996, being survived by, it has been suggested, at least one child
In the autumn of 1997, Pennsylvania jurors awarded $1.875 million in damages to a former female resident of the Himalayan Institute in Honesdale, PA. The woman in question claimed to have been sexually assaulted by Rama a full thirty times over a Yogic Summer of Love in the early ’90s. At the time, she was a nineteen-year-old virgin, just out of high school. Yet, as reported by
Phelps (1997), the Institute allegedly “did nothing to stop” that claimed abuse, even though having reportedly been informed not only of those alleged assaults but of similar complaints registered by other female disciples.
Pandit Tigunait, who accepted Rama as his guru when just a child in India, is now the “spiritual head of the Himalayan Institute,” and the acknowledged “spiritual successor” to Swami Rama there.
“Even if it happened....”