Muktananda, Bhaktivedanta and Other Gurus Storm the Seventies
In the wake of the counterculture’s turn to the East and the media frenzy triggered by the Beatles’ Himalayan retreat, a series of gurus rose to prominence. Some had been here already, laboring in relative obscurity; others made their maiden voyages from India, usually at the behest of Western devotees.
They were multifaceted, idosyncratic, and hard to categorize; they attracted different types of students and emphasized different aspects of the Vedantic and yogic repertoires. The main ones covered in this chapter are:
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, aka Srila Prabhupada. The founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) arrived in 1965, and before long the sight of youngsters in orange or yellow garb chanting the Hare Krishna mahamantra was common everywhere from hippy enclaves to airports.
Swami Muktananda. If he wore a black turtleneck instead of traditional orange garments, he might have been mistaken for a jazz musician, and he did introduce new melodies and rhythms to spiritual seekers in the West, such as Kashmir Shaivism and shaktipat. In three visits to the U.S. he drew hundreds of thousands and established ashrams and the SYDA Foundation to carry on his Siddha Yoga lineage.
Swami Chidvilasananda aka Gurumayi. Muktananda’s successor has led the Siddha Yoga movement since her guru’s passing in 1982 (after a well-publicized break with her brother and co-leader, Swami Nityananda). Her charm and erudition made her one of the most popular spiritual leaders of the 80s and 90s, and certainly the best-known female guru. Wikipedia entry Official
NOTE: The images of Swami Mutkananda and Gurumayi that had been on this page were removed at the insistence of the SYDA Foundation, which owns the copyright to the photos. If anyone has public domain photos I can use in their place, I would be grateful. Their images deserve to be seen, along with those of their counterparts.
Sri Chinmoy. From his arrival in 1964 until his death in 2008, he led a relatively small spiritual community in the New York borough of Queens. But his influenced surpassed that of his following; he knew important people, led regular meditation sessions at the United Nations, wrote and painted prolifically, and engaged with his followers in Olympian athletic feats as a means of transcendence.
Prem Rawat aka Guru Maharaj Ji. Hailed as “The 13-year-old Perfect Master” when he arrived in 1971, he was revered by his many followers and ridiculed by the media, while his Divine Light Mission grew rapidly. After a few years he married and gave up the grandiose claims that had been attached to him. He continues to teach through his organization, Elan Vital.
Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, aka Osho. Far and away the most notorious of Indian spiritual teachers, the iconoclast would not like being called a guru. His tenure was shrouded in scandal and sensationalism, but he left behind a library of brilliant books and more satisfied followers than would have been predicted when he died in 1990.
Other gurus mentioned in the chapter include Hari Das Baba, Sant Keshavadas, Gurani Anjali, Swami Amar Jyoti, and two important figures who never came to the U.S.: Anandamayi Ma, the “joy-permeated mother,” and Sathya Sai Baba.
More to come. Please send links, videos and other materials.