By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
part 2 of 2
In April 1990 Stephanie was dawdling along the aisles of the Wild Oats health food store when the young woman from the ashram approached and asked if she had heard the news.
Revelations of the guru's sexual demands had come out at a meeting of devotees a month earlier, she told Stephanie. She didn't know the name of the woman who had been required to have the abortions, but Stephanie immediately thought of Diana, the beautiful young woman who had been the swami's near-constant companion.
Now that Stephanie thought about it, she hadn't seen the woman at the ashram in some time. It wasn't unusual for people to be banished for long periods of time, and devotees simply didn't ask about people who had left, because it implied a lack of focus and devotion to the guru. Still, Diana's long absence now made some sense.
Stephanie called her and asked if they could talk. They met at a Boulder restaurant. Diana sobbed as she told her story to Stephanie. She had come from a troubled family and was physically abused as a child. She and her husband had met the guru when they were young newlyweds, and both soon became devotees. She found in the guru the protective father she had never known.
"He was my Lord, I was his servant, child, disciple, and I trusted that he knew what I needed for my spiritual growth," Diana said. Devoting her life to him, she quickly became a favorite and was invited to live in the ashram.
One night she was called to the Swami Amar Jyoti's cottage only to find that he had more in mind than a foot rub. "The first time he approached me sexually, he made me promise that I would never, ever, under any circumstances, tell anyone...not even my best friend."
Over the years, the sexual demands continued. The guru insisted Diana accompany him on his trips and attend to his needs. He would demand sex even when she warned him she had no birth control and was in a fertile period. It didn't matter. And when she twice became pregnant, he ordered her to have abortions without telling her husband.
The woman told Stephanie she had finally left the ashram eight years earlier because she feared she would lose her son to the guru; she and her husband had already split up under the strain of her devotion. But leaving had taken tremendous courage, not just because she would be alone in the world with nothing--no job, no training, no skills--but also because of the warnings of the Guru-gita.
"I wouldn't have been surprised if I had been run over by a truck when I left the ashram," Diana said. Now she was terrified that her ex-husband would find out what had been going on all those years and do something rash.
Stephanie was soon crying along with Diana. As far as she was concerned, the guru had committed incest. In her desire for a "good daddy," she had denied the guru's similarities to her father--his manipulations of people's emotions, his way of humiliating those who loved and trusted him, his mysterious comings and goings. But there was no denying this.
She referred Diana to a therapist and also to Juanita Benetin, a Boulder attorney who'd recently won a case against a minister accused of sexually assaulting a member of his congregation. Word of the guru's sexual activities spread slowly through the ashram, in part because of the prohibition against inquiring after missing followers, in part because the men and women were segregated. But the news did leak out, especially when Stephanie started contacting other devotees. Some of the women who admitted having had sex with the guru told her they found it to be uplifting; others confided that it had been crude and rough, nothing remotely spiritual. But who were they to question God's ways?
Some followers weren't shocked by the revelations; they'd assumed something was going on with the guru's closest disciples. There was even some jealousy among the females that other women had been so favored. And a few of the men shrugged and said, "Lucky them."
But others stopped going to the ashram.
Angry and disappointed in the man he'd once considered not only his spiritual leader but his best friend, Tim Rea called the guru in India and demanded an explanation. The guru told him it was something he would have to explain in person, and avoided addressing the allegations. "It is what it is," he told Tim. "I'm not going to let them crucify me again."
While they awaited the swami's return, Stephanie organized the women who left the ashram into a support group. Although they met regularly for almost a year, the women were split on what action to take. Most needed to talk about their feelings, but otherwise they simply wanted this painful episode of their lives to go away. Only Stephanie and Marcia Richardson wanted to do more. Marcia had given up a college scholarship and a career to follow the guru. For years she had ridden an emotional rollercoaster: first a favorite living on the ashram gounds, then banished for something as trivial as arriving late at satsang. Every time the guru punished her, she blamed herself and was resigned to climbing the ladder of enlightenment all over again.