Today Salon ran a troubling piece critical of my recent column on vegetarian Iron Man yoga dude Sri Chinmoy. It begins this way:
The guru, Celia Corona-Doran recalls, asked her to strip and perform lesbian sex with another follower while he watched. Corona-Doran, called “Suchatula” while at the Sri Chinmoy Center—which offers free meditation classes and cultural events with the aim of “uplifting the human spirit,” according to its website—spent her entire adult life committed to the cult and felt compelled by guru Sri Chinmoy’s request for “total surrender.” Her conflict was so great that it shattered her faith. After trying to fake it, she refused to participate and instead confronted Guru. She was told to “forgive, as Chinmoy forgave,” in a twisted conflation of their collective sins and victim blaming. She was crushed, but Chinmoy died just a short time later in 2007. After another conflicted year or so, Corona-Doran left the Chinmoy family forever, set adrift at 40.
That doesn’t sound good, does it? And as one who recently devoted many months to writing an ebook about the horrific sexual abuse perpetrated by another bald Asian immigrant who got big in the ’60s and had a fondness for the ladies, I am not one to take this lightly. I hope people will check out the allegations in Edwin Lyngar’s piece.
One question that we should all mull over, though, not in defense of Sri Chinmoy, nor in defense of myself as a reporter, but simply to be intellectually rigorous. Most of the recent coverage of Sri Chinmoy, mine included, has been about his followers and the enduring community of which they are a part. Is there any evidence that any of them are sexually prurient or coercive in the way that some accuse their founder of being?
One critic of Sri Chinmoy says that after my column, "It’s far too late, because someone in Nebraska has read the article and is ‘inspired’ by it.” But too late for what? If that Nebraskan reader goes off to meditate with Sri Chinmoy followers, is she at risk of sexual victimization? Perhaps. But it’s also possible that Sri Chinmoy was abusive in certain ways without creating a culture in which his followers were predators, too. If we learned Abraham was a sexual predator (play along with me here — he was a bigamist), it wouldn’t mean Judaism today is sexually dangerous.