Sid Harta Publishers
Mary Garden’s Indian spiritual journey started in 1973 at the Henderson
Yoga Ashram in Auckland, New Zealand. And what a journey it was! Her story captivated
me from the start, not least because she has the ability to make each scene come
alive. She brings the reader right into each event through her vivid descriptions – sounds,
sights, details and her own thoughts and reactions at the time.
I have many things in common with Mary although I grew up in Norway, practically the other side of the world. I am the same age and as a child was also convinced that everything I was taught about Christianity was true, and that I would become a missionary. Later on I was also influenced by the same books as her and so many others at that time, such as Yogananda, Brunton and Hesse. In time I became a devotee of Sai Baba of Puttaparthi and went there many times, until I found out after 20 years that he was yet another of the many Indian gurus who abuses people and pretend to be something which he isn’t.
Her Indian guru called her a ‘mouse’, but I think she was very brave the way she gave up her life at home and went to live in India. She tells of how she was detached and unaffected by the appalling surroundings when she arrived and spent her first night in a hotel in Madras. I have been many times to India, and the first time I came I was almost terrified and really put off by the poverty, dirt and misery so uncomfortably close to me, and I wasn’t even alone like Mary was. She felt at home in India, and even when she later went through hard times and hated being there, she wasn’t frightened and didn’t feel it was alien to her. The times she was frightened was when she fled from Sai Baba’s ashram in a strange panic and when she, with good reason, feared the influence of her guru, Balyogi Premvarni. I have also experienced ‘unreasonable’ fear coming to the surface in India, and there is something about being there, the intensity of the physical environment has an impact that seems to affect the emotions and reactions to everything as well.
Her description of the night on the train after she leaves Sai Baba and Bangalore really reminds me of how I used to hate being in India when I was having a bad time – somehow bad is so bad there, and good can be so good. All her peace and joy are gone and she just wants to get away from the confusion, dirt and chaos in India to the clarity, order and cleanliness in the West.
There are many myths about Indians, and she writes for example: “Uninhibited behaviour between the opposite sexes is especially upsetting to the majority of Indian people as this goes against traditional Hindu culture.” Yes, so we are told, but then why are Indian men notorious for harassing foreign women in Western clothes when they are alone?
Reading how Mary bravely tells of how she got ensnared yet again after vowing to herself that after Sai Baba no guru should tell her what to do with her life, I feel a greater acceptance of my own gullibility in relation to Sai Baba. She shows very clearly that on a spiritual search we are not rational, we open up to deep levels in ourselves and therefore become easy prey to those on the hunt. Through recording her experiences in such an honest and straightforward manner, Mary Garden contributes to a greater understanding of how and why people get caught up in cults without even realising it, especially since Eastern religions are so strange and exotic to most Westerners even now, that it is difficult to recognise the signs of a cult, for the tradition of gurus and ashrams have many of the cult characteristics inherent in them. Such a system demands an impeccable guru, because of its nature where the devotee regards the guru as God.
This book also brings home to the reader how defenceless we can be when confronted with the sort of power wielded by gurus and yogis. In physical strength it would be the equivalent of an infant compared to an adult. Mostly we don’t know what we are dealing with and this combined with the putting down of the mind and intellect which is a basic part of the teachings leaves us helpless in the hands of ruthless gurus. The Balyogi said these things about the mind and intellect: “Too much intellect ..” “You think too much.” “”An academic brain. You won’t understand anything with that intellect of yours.” “…doubts .. destroy your faith…” “Yogic sadhana is a death of the mind and the ego.” “What faith! Like a diamond. Die mind!” Mary’s “clever intellect was my greatest barrier to faith, to finding out the truth about things.”
Sai Baba also says ‘diamond’ means ‘die mind’. He told my husband to stop thinking and generally goes on about the mind and intellect in exactly the same way. Very useful when gurus don’t want people to realise the truth about themselves. They go further to ensure that devotees won’t presume to know anything about what they are really up to and as Mary quotes her guru in the Himalayas, I see no difference to the teachings of Sai Baba: “You have no concept of my consciousness. The intellect cannot comprehend such notions. The only thing you need is faith. You need to surrender to me.” “Your real nature is your true guru.” (So why tell us to surrender to them?)
Premvarni, writes Mary Garden, “appeared to be an enlightened tantric master operating beyond our feeble conceptions of good and evil or right and wrong. This enabled us to rationalise that through his lessons he deliberately created chaos so that our petty egotistical minds would be still, exhausted and at last transcended.” Other devotees told Mary that “the level these gurus were operating at was at the level of Truth where there was no morality and one transcends good and evil.” How well I recognise this same argumentation from Sai Baba devotees, myself included at one time. How dangerous this attitude is!
As Sai Baba, Premvarni also puts down other gurus while praising his own disciples as special – old souls connected to him through many lives. Mary says that “the leaving of anyone made them feel that only they were strong enough to stay.” That is so true of Sai devotees as well. And the similarities go on: The Swami’s living quarters are luxurious compared to the bare concrete for devotees. In the Swami, anger is not anger, sex is not sex, hunger and greed are not hunger and greed, sickness is not sickness and so on. All that is only appearances and everything is done for the sake of the devotee; raising the kundalini, working off karma, taking on the illness of others, removing deep tendencies, samskaras, carried over from past times and lives and ‘testing one’s faith’. If the master suffers, it is because of the devotee. But the truth is that the Swami himself is not what he appears to be, just like Sai Baba.
It is appalling to read how Mary Garden was treated by Balyogi Premvarni and also by Sarasvati, another devotee. How very satisfying to read the end of the book and see that the mouse had turned into a roaring lion when she left India!
“ As with all groups, being at the periphery (…) is usually less damaging.”
“ The guru-disciple relationship is probably the most authoritarian in its demand for total surrender and obedience and hence potentially the most destructive of all relationships.”
“ Instead of freedom and enlightenment one experienced mental imprisonment.”
“ Our need was our downfall.”
Reidun Priddy, founder member of the Sai Baba Organisation in Oslo, Norway in 1983 and active worker until 1999.
The Serpent Rising is a journey of spiritual seduction is based on my experiences in India during the 70's. It is essentially a memoir. Read more about “The Serpent Rising”