Aug 6, 2010

Ayurveda in the quest of recognition in UK

New Nation
David Watts
August 6, 2010
As Ayurveda, arguably India's greatest gift to the world, is fighting for formal recognition in Britain, its leading practitioners are seeking to raise money to establish a charity to that end. Ironically, just as Ayurveda increases in popularity and modern Western medicine and the pharmaceutical industry are accused of over-reliance on drugs, members of the British Association of Accredited Ayurvedic Practitioners (BAAAP) are striving against bureaucracy and prejudice to put their profession on a more regulated, professional footing.

The increased popularity of the Ayurveda system of medicine is resulting in a flood of poorly trained practitioners who are found to have been making erroneous patient assessments and treatments, which are threatening the credibility and reliability of the profession as a whole.

But the BAAAP is facing tighter legislative controls, adverse media coverage and opposition from the votaries of conventional medicine in its quest for recognition for Ayurveda as a worthwhile way of life and medical treatment. So, the organisation is now intent on setting up a charity in London to raise the money necessary to have its activities regulated and thereby put the profession on a new and sure footing more equal to its Western counterparts.

Jul 19, 2010

Learn about cults from a man who’s seen them from the inside

Commonwealth Club
July 19, 2010

Listen to David Sullivan, Professional Cult Investigator

"Learn about cults from a man who’s seen them from the inside. Professional investigator Sullivan describes the process of identifying and investigating cults, providing an overview of how cults recruit, convert and maintain control of their members through a variety of psychologically coercive techniques. A licensed private investigator for more than 19 years, Sullivan has worked in collaboration with leading authorities in the area of undue influence."

May 19, 2010

Flying yogis and flying millions Acolyte David Lynch isn't happy with this exposé of Transcendental Meditation

Flying yogis and flying millions Acolyte David Lynch isn't happy with this exposé of Transcendental Meditation
Brian D. Johnson

May 19, 2010

He was the original guru pop star. Made famous by the Beatles in the 1960s, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was the godfather of the Transcendental Meditation movement, known as TM. He inspired such acolytes as author Deepak Chopra and filmmaker David Lynch, and remained TM's figurehead until his death in 2008 at the age of 94. The Maharishi was once dubbed "the giggling guru." But now it appears he may have been giggling all the way to the bank. David Wants to Fly, [Facebook Page] a new documentary shown last week at Toronto's Hot Docs festival, offers compelling evidence that the Maharishi's empire of enlightenment is more devoted to shaking down its followers and amassing wealth than transcending the material world.

The "David" of David Wants to Fly refers to the film's director, a cheeky 32-year-old German named David Sieveking, and to the dubious feat of "yogic flying" or levitation. It could also refer to David Lynch, who has emerged as TM's most prominent spokesman and is the prime target of Sieveking's obsessive investigation. Sieveking embarked on his documentary as an avid Lynch fan dying to meet the genius behind Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks. But by the time he'd completed his film, five years later, it had turned into an exposé. Sieveking told Maclean's that Lynch threatened to sue him and tried to block the film's Berlin premiere. No wonder. It depicts TM as a secretive hierarchy with overtones of Scientology, and portrays Lynch as its Tom Cruise.

Sieveking, who makes himself a character in the documentary-a neurotic man on a mission-is like a cross between a young Werner Herzog and a skinny Michael Moore. He first travels to America to interview Lynch as a star-struck fan, then becomes an eager student of TM. As his odyssey takes him from Manhattan to the headwaters of the Ganges, he never loses faith in the power of meditation, but he becomes deeply skeptical about TM's well-heeled leadership.

He learns that its "rajas" pay $1 million for their exalted rank. At a groundbreaking ceremony for a TM university in Switzerland, we see Lynch introduce Raja Emanuel, TM's "King of Germany," who wears a gold crown and offers a provocative pledge: "I'm a good German who wants to make Germany invincible." Jeers erupt from the crowd and a voice yells, "That's what Adolf Hitler wanted!" Emanuel replies: "Unfortunately, he couldn't do it. He didn't have the right technique." Trying to quell the catcalls, Lynch leaps to the raja's defence, and hails him as "a great human being."

Sieveking interviews several TM defectors, including Colorado publisher Earl Kaplan, who donated over US$150 million toward the construction of a vast meditation centre in India, where 24-7 shifts of 10,000 yogic flyers would create world peace. Visiting the project site, Sieveking finds an abandoned, half-built ghost town. And he shows footage of "yogic flying," which looks more like cross-legged yogic hopping. We also meet the Maharishi's former personal assistant, who says, "He'd use people and discard them when they ran out of money." And although the guru preached celibacy, the ex-aide says one of his jobs was to bring women to the Maharishi's room for sex. Another ex-disciple, Judith Bourque, reminisces about her torrid love affair with the Maharishi, which ended when he found another young woman.

Rumours of the guru's sybaritic lifestyle have been rampant ever since the Beatles heard that he had hit on Mia Farrow in the late '60s. His behaviour provoked John Lennon to write a derisive song called Maharishi, which George Harrison persuaded him to retitle Sexy Sadie ("What have you done? You made a fool of everyone"). The film shows Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr rallying to support TM at Lynch's star-studded 2009 TM benefit. "John Lennon," says Sieveking, "would be rolling in his grave."

As for the analogy between TM and Scientology, the director acknowledges certain parallels, but considers TM less rigid-"you can't be a moderate Scientologist." Sieveking says he became paranoid after the German raja threatened to destroy his film career. Yet Lynch "is still a guru for me as a filmmaker," he maintains, just not as a spiritual figure. "I wanted to be his friend. It's tough for me, because now he sees me as an enemy." But Sieveking may have found a new guru. Apparently Michael Moore, that documentary raja, is anxious to see his film.

Apr 22, 2010

Pseudoscience, Religion Yogi In Politics: A Rationalist’s Thoughts On Baba Ramdev

by Narendra Nayak
April 22, 2010

The political space in India seems to be as large as the country itself. We have parties advocating everything from communism to capitalism, Hindutva to Islam, though not publicly, since the constitution prohibits it. We have the Manuvadi parties, the Dalit parties, parties of the OBCs, parties proposing an atheistic government and so on. Into this cacophony a new entrant has arrived, throwing his hat into the ring! All beware, the incorruptible, the squeaky clean, unmarried, physically fit superhero is here- step aside all, here is the man for whom the country has been waiting since independence- the messiah has finally arrived on the scene. Ram Kishen Yadav, aka Baba Ramdev who keeps churning his abdominal muscles on the stage, thumbing his nose at people and collecting millions in the name of yoga. If one watches his TV program one can see him jumping about, performing contortions, panting for breath, and as soon as he gets it back, uttering platitudes about everything under the sun,moon and stars!

He has simplistic solutions for all problems. Want to solve the poverty problem? Bring the money stashed in Swiss banks. Homosexuality is a disease and the cure for it is yoga. Its not one or two things that he talks about but, as previously said, he has an encyclopedic knowledge about all matters. He is a text book on medicine, surgery, nutrition, physical exercise, psychiatry and whatever one may need. Do you have a problem? Perform kapalbathi and pranayam. He talks about the good old days, lecturing about the skeleton of a 12 feet tall person discovered at an undisclosed location, and how the good food and clean air back in those days made them grow that big. To hell with medical evidence indicating that a 7 feet tall person can find it difficult to live a normal life because the human body has its logical and mechanical limitations.

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It has been a long climb to the top indeed for a contortionist to develop into a guru with solutions for all the problems facing us. He wants to start with India and make it the healthiest nation in the world. Then he wants to go out and do the same to the rest of the world! When he predicted several years ago that there would soon be a cure for AIDS, obtained from a combination of ayurveda and yoga, Ramdev got into trouble with a Health Minister from the central government who asked him to prove his claims or shut up because such talk could disrupt the campaign for the prevention of AIDS. Ramdev then gave a long-winded explanation for what he actually said, claiming he had been misquoted.

In his TV shows he has patients barging in with so-called ‘medical reports’ which he reads out in a halting manner, mispronouncing many of the medical terminologies. It runs like this: A middle aged lady goes to the stage with a report, which he reads out loud. Then he says- “Well, well what did the doctors say about this?” She answers- “Baba, they told me I would die in six months. Another dose of sarcasm- “Then you had to die”. She- “No Baba, I did not I started doing yoga and now I am fine”. He- “So, this is modern medicine for you, in the grip of the multinationals!” Then another round of contortions, heavy breathing, devotional songs etc. These are called as yog shibirs. On his stage are a few younger people doing the very same poses which he asks all people to do.

He has one more collaborator who goes to gardens, fields or anywhere that has greenery and brings back all sorts of leaves and plants. Ramdev holds lectures on these, listing their botanical names and dishing out advice on what they can heal and/or prevent. Of course, no sort of evidence or clinical trials are needed. You just have to take his word for it. The only proof that is offered is that our ancient texts say these things. When the swine flu epidemic hit the world he had a solution for it- boil a particular root in water and drink its extract to prevent the flu. The prices for that root went through the roof and no one was willing to listen to what we said- that it was like any other type of seasonal flu and would pass off. Now, the statistics has vindicated our stand. Of course, he can claim that it was his combination of yoga and ayurveda that saved India.

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What about his “medicines”? People have to sign an undertaking saying that they knew the “medicines” were not approved, to absolve him of any liability for any possible ill-effects arising from their use! He manufacures them at facilities which employ sweat shop labor. When they went on strike demanding fair wages, he set his goons upon them. When the trade unions of the left parties supported laborers and exposed the formulae of some of Ramdev’s concoctions, he made his usual allegation that they were tools of the multinationals. He was adding human bones to some of the “medicines” after powdering them; he defended this by saying that it was permitted in ayurveda. There are many such controversies about his panaceas, which are very, very expensive. The same allegation of exploitation that he makes against the multinationals is equally applicable to him, if not more! At least their products are based on evidence and clinical trials while his concoctions are marketed on his word alone and the claim that it is a truth found in ancient texts.

Ramdev’s hypocrisy needs to be pointed out here. On stage with a captive audience, he launches into tirades against the ‘corrupt’ politicians. But nothing prevents him from hob-nobbing with them, traveling with them on state helicopters and utilizing millions of rupees given as ‘grants for research’. He conveniently forgets that this money comes from the pocket of the tax payers, 300 million of them being malnourished, poverty stricken and with naturally flat stomachs caused by the years of malnutrition, and hence not impressed by his contortions on stage.

Well, who exactly is Ramdev?

If one looks at the audience at his sessions- for which one has to pay huge donations despite his talk of egalitarianism- the fat cats who pay heftier ‘donations’ are located close to the dais and are given more elbow room to carry out their maneuvering. The others have to lump it out far away from the stage, performing their contortions in cramped conditions. That is equality for you. As George Orwell said, all animals are equal but some are more equal than others. That is applicable to the disciples of Ramdev as well. But, for the over weight middle class with their sagging bellies, Ram Kishan Yadav is fitness personified. They want easy solutions to their problems; they would like to have toned bodies, full hair on their balding pates and, in short, quick and easy solutions for all their problems without having to work hard. His yoga classes look like the easy solution that these people seek. That is why we see the tension-ridden middle classes flocking there. Some exercise may work for some of them and these people shout it from the roof tops. Those for whom the exercises do not work, constituting the larger group, will be silent like they are expected to be – the silent majority! Again, he is very clever when offering advise to patients with serious problems; if they have diseases like cancer they will be told to continue with their therapy but also consume his concoctions and do things like pranayama etc. If they are cured he can take the credit- if not the money grabbing multinationals and the doctors can be blamed! In his much publicized ‘public’ debates with some of the branches of the Indian Medical Association, he cleverly wriggles out of tight situations by uttering cliches like you do your job and I will do mine. I recall a few similar instances, like when the Indian Medical Association branch of Goa ‘collaborated’ with him, having themselves photographed at his feet. When the national secretary of FIRA queried the office bearers as to why they were seen in such a position with a person who is opposed to them, the lame excuse was that they were just joining him for his anti tobacco campaign!

Why does this colorful personality wants to enter politics- or rather, why does he want to embrace the “dirty world of politics” as he says? It isramdev-baba the desire for power on one hand and for safe-guarding his empire on the other? Huge grants have been taken for establishing ‘research institutes’ but nothing useful has come out of them so far. Under the right to information act anyone can ask for the details of this funding and also ask for the results. Once these scandals come out there is going to be trouble. Not everyone in India is fat and middle-class- Ramdev’s constituency! He wants to get at other groups of people, for which he needs a larger net. Another factor is the large amount of black money that he must have amassed marketing his useless concoctions. Despite of all his claims to egalitarianism they are really expensive- more expensive than the concoctions of the multinationals whom he derides, but at least the latter are required to be scientifically tested to do what they claim to! Ramdev has forayed abroad and purchased his own island from where he hopes to market these concoctions without the need to satisfy regulatory bodies about their effectiveness.

Ramdev wants to be the ‘C team’ of the Hindutva gang. The A team- the right wing Bharathiya Janatha Party- has undergone a decline in growth, becoming stagnant. The rabid right wing groups like the Shiv Sena that form the B team are divided and losing their appeal. There is a need for one more team with more appeal to a different constituency, and that is what Ramdev is trying to create! While decrying all politicians as corrupt, he does not mind sharing the stage with the likes of Advani and co. While mocking the Congress party, he is not averse to taking grants from states run by that party. He feels that he has an appeal to his community- though he claims to be a ascetic with no caste, he is a Yadav, a dominant caste in many areas of the cow belt. Again, the saffron robes and the halo of being a renunciate may influence the electorate into voting for his candidates, and he hopes to win seats and worm his way into ruling combinations. No sir, he does not want power. He wants to reform the nation! He will not contest for elections but will put up honest, sincere, dedicated candidates who will do the task of nation building. In other words he wants to be a remote control and play the king maker!

Coming to the great personality himself one wonders why the cure-all yogic and the ayurvedic concoctions that he peddles are unable to cure his ever-present facial tic. What yogic quality makes him dye his hair and beard? The vanity of the renunciate?Is he the Hindu version of Benny Hinn? These questions will be answered soon when he enters electoral politics which has an audience that is not quite as captive and will need contortions of a different kind.

Professor Narendra Nayak is the president of the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations

Apr 21, 2010

India sex scandal guru arrested

April 21, 2010

Police in India say a controversial Hindu holy man facing charges of obscenity has been arrested.

Nithyananda Swami was detained in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh where he police say he had been hiding.

The guru stepped down last month as head of a religious organisation based in the southern city of Bangalore.

His announcement came after a video apparently showing him engaging in sexual acts with two women. He says he is innocent and the video is a fake.

Nithyananda Swami has a huge following in southern India and his mission has branches in several countries, including the US and Europe.

'Spiritual seclusion'
"Nithyananda Swami was arrested at Solan [in Himachal Pradesh] along with his associate Gopal Seelam Reddy and they would be brought to Bangalore soon," the city's director general of police, DV Guruprasaad, said.

On Tuesday, the authorities raided the swami's sprawling centre near Bangalore.
Nithyananda Swami, 32, stepped down as leader of the global Dhyanapeetam (Knowledge Centre) organisation soon after the police inquiry was launched.

"I have decided to live a life of spiritual seclusion for some indefinite time," the guru said in a statement.

"If required, I will return and talk about all that had happened as an independent witness to my conduct with a clean heart and pure soul and in a less prejudiced atmosphere."

The video shocked his devotees and angered locals - his ashram near Bangalore was vandalised after TV channels broadcast the video.

The guru's followers allege the video was created and distributed by a jealous inmate of the ashram in a bid to defame him.

Mar 12, 2010

Stampede: All three accused granted bail

Express News Service 
March 12, 2010 

Within 24 hours, all the three men, who were arrested in connection with the stampede at an ashram in Pratapgarh in which 63 people had died,walked free on Thursday after a local court granted them bail.

The manager of the Bhakti Dham Ashram, Hiranyamay Chatterji, contractor Shiv Kumar and Kripalu Maharaj’s secretary Amit Kumar were arrested from Mangarh and were booked under various sections of the IPC,including 304A (causing death due to negligence), 337 IPC (causing hurt to anyone by acting negligently) and 188 (violation of section 144 which deals against the gathering of people or organising any event without permission of the district magistrate).

Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate Kunda Arvind Kumar Upadhaya granted them bail on securities of Rs 20,000 each and two guarantors. The prosecution lawyer opposed the bail but in the absence of any valid ground to detain the accused under judicial custody,the court granted them bail, said A K Shukla,the counsel of the accused.

61 families receive compensation The Pratapgarh district administration on Thusrday distributed the compensation cheques of Rs 2.5 lakh announced by the state government to the kin of the victims who died in the stampede.
“Cheques of Rs 2.50 lakh each were distributed among kin of the 61 people killed in the stampede at Kripaluji Maharaj ashram on March 4,” said Additional District Magistrate Vansh Kumar Verma. Cheques were not given to two victim families due to a dispute over the heir,and would be distributed after legal help,he said.

“Financial assistance of Rs 75,000 each was provided to grievously injured,” Verma said. Nine persons who were grievously injured in the stampede were handed over cheques at Rani Medical Hospital in Allahabad where they were undergoing treatment,a district administration official said.

Mar 10, 2010

Editorial: Cast a wary eye on this swami scandal

The Province
March 10, 2010

One of the key qualities our public education system should help develop in children is a critical mind. No, we don't want our schools to raise a crop of cynics who mistrust everything they read or hear and wind up unable to support anything.

But we do want citizens who question things in a healthy manner so they don't fall prey to con artists who prey on the gullible — or exploit the basic human need to find spiritual enlightenment.

We may have progressed as a society in many ways. However, false prophets of every religious stripe remain. And it is often difficult to distinguish between them and the genuine article.

Certainly, the recent sex scandal involving Indian "godman" Swami Nithyananda, who has many followers in Greater Vancouver, and a Tamil actress has given one pause for thought. A video of the pair was reportedly shot by a disgruntled disciple out to expose the 32-year-old as a fraud.

Nithyananda, 32, has countered by assuring his devotees that he is not involved in anything illegal and is simply victim of a "false campaign" to discredit him.

Only time will tell, though, who the real victims are in this sordid affair. In the meantime, we should treat both him, and the allegations about him, with a healthy degree of skepticism.

Mar 6, 2010

Ashram stampede: Pratapgarh SP admits lapse on part of cops at outpost

Indian Express

Written by Vijay Pratap Singh

March 06, 2010 

While the district administration had tried to distance itself from the tragedy in which 63 women and children were killed in a stampede at the Bhakti Dham Ashram on Thursday,the fact is that there is a police post near the ashram which did nothing to control the crowds.

The police post,which is actually known as Bhakti Dham outpost and is under Kunda police station,has four policemen,including a sub-inspector. They watched the crowds swell,but did not do anything on their own,nor informed the higher authorities,it is learnt.
On Friday,Pratapgarh SP M P Mishra admitted that there had been negligence on the part of the policemen at the outpost and that action would be taken against them.
On Thursday,officiating District Magistrate Ashok Kumar Upadhyaya had said the administration had no advance information about the event organised by the ashram,otherwise they would have taken measures to regulate the crowds.
Allahabad Commissioner A K Upadhaya,who was asked to conduct an inquiry into the incident,and IG Chandra Prakash questioned Ram Kripal Tripathi alias Kripalu Maharaj at the ashram. Upadhyaya also recorded the statements of some victims and eyewitnesses,including men from the ashram.
Although the content of his interim report to the government could not be known,it is learnt that he has blamed the organisers and also the local police for the tragedy.
Meanwhile,in a statement,Kripalu Maharaj claimed that neither he nor any of his staff had invited the people who had gathered at the ashram on the occasion of his wife’s death anniversary.
On Thursday evening,ashram’s spokesperson Radhika Saran had told The Indian Express that keeping in mind the large number of gathering anticipated,the ashram had informed Kunda police and district administration on February 25.
The crowds from nearby villages had gathered to collect the ‘prasad’ of Rs 20,one utensil,one laddoo and one handkerchief that the ashram was to give to every visitor.
SP leader Ahikesh Yadav,Congress MP from Pratapgarh Ratna Singh,and Congress Legislature Party leader Pramod Tiwari visited the spot where the incident took place and met the injured in the hospital.
Who is Kripaluji Maharaj? Ram Kripal Tripathi (86),also known as Jagatguru Kripaluji Maharaj,was born into a poor farmer’s family in Mangarh. He participated in a religious competition in Allahabad and earned the title of ‘Jagatguru’ in 1957. * Tripathi holds a master’s degree in Sanskrit and was a purohit for some time. He has three daughters and two sons.
His Ashram * With help from his foreign disciples,Tripathi set up the Mangarh ashram 20 years ago. It is spread over 200 acres. He also has ashrams in Mathura,Nagpur and Trinidad. * He heads the Radha Madhav Society in Trinidad,which has around 300 centres worldwide. His followers believe him to be the fifth Jagatguru and the first in the last 700 years. * He owns a fleet of BMW and Mercedes cars. The Mangarh ashram has a helipad.
Under a cloud * Tripathi was charged with kidnapping two girls,and in 1991,cases of kidnapping and rape were registered against him in Nagpur. Another case of raping a minor was also lodged in Nagpur the same year. He was acquitted after the witnesses turned hostile * A 22-year-old Guyanese woman in South Trinidad filed a rape case against him in May 2007,which led to his arrest. He was in jail for over a month. ENS