Yoga Guru Devotees Rally To His Support  

The Richmond News Leader/August 3, 1991

Followers of a well-known yoga guru are rallying to his support as a handful of former devotees accuse him of sexual and psychological abuse.

Three opponents of the guru, Sri Swami Satchidananda, briefly interrupted a speech by the Hindu monk last night at the Omni Hotel here.

"How can you call yourself a spiritual leader when you sexually abused me and other women in the community?" called out Susan Cohen, a Connecticut mental-health therapist.

"Don't be fooled!" Ms. Cohen yelled as the three protesters headed for a door from the conference room.

"He's not a saint!" cried out another of the three, Joe Grace of Wingina, also a former follower.

A police officer followed the three outside but later said no arrests were made.

The gray-bearded Satchidananda, 76, sitting cross-legged in his saffron robe on a couch before a crowd of about 400, appeared unmoved. He muttered a thank-you, which drew a few laughs, then continued with his speech about discovering inner peace.

Satchidananda was the keynote speaker at the Psi Symposium, a meeting of believers in such fields as astrology, palmistry and New Age teachings. Satchidananda made no comment to reporters last night, but he has denied the accusations.

Ms. Cohen and New York lawyer Sylvia J. Shapiro have said in recent weeks that Satchidananda coerced them into having sex with him while they served as secretaries to him in the 1970s. A third woman, Joy Zuckerman of New York, said she sold her house and car, left her family and her career as an occupational therapist, to follow Satchidananda 12 years ago.

She lived in the swami's ashram, or commune, in Yogaville in Buckingham County, but left last December after hearing stories of sexual abuse and believing that Satchidananda lived in plusher conditions than his fellow monks, she said.

"I feel I was abused psychologically and spiritually," Ms. Zuckerman said.

The women were joined by perhaps 10 protesters who bore signs outside the hotel saying,

"Help Stop the Abuse, End the Cover Up," and, "Hypocrisy at Yogaville."

Inside, longtime followers of Satchidananda spoke in solid support. Shanti Mandelkorn, a former Richmond yoga teacher, was also a secretary to Satchidananda during the 1970s.

"I've never seen him do something to hurt anybody," said Mrs. Mandelkorn, who lives on the 650-acre ashram with her husband, Philip, and three children. Swami Karunananda, president of the ashram, said, "I think they (the allegations) are absolutely not true. All he has done is greatly benefit people's lives."

When one has had thousands of followers, it can be expected that a few will become disgruntled, she said. She said Satchidananda lives in a modest house.

About 100 people live on the ashram, with about 75 more living just outside, said Swami Karunananda. Many of the residents have outside jobs. Only about 24 have taken the monastic vows, which call for selflessness and celibacy. "Swami" is a title of respect for a Hindu monk.

Although Satchidananda comes from a Hindu background, he teaches ecumenism, or cooperation of all faiths. His followers, who retain their original faiths, include Christians and Jews.

Satchidananda came to the United States from India in 1966. His followers have included singer Carole King and artist Peter Max. He spoke at the opening of the Woodstock rock festival in 1969.

In 1979, he started Yogaville in western Buckingham in view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

In addition, he has followers at Integral Yoga institutes in New York and San Francisco and about 50 smaller nationwide training centers. Integral Yoga Natural Foods at 3016 W. Cary St. in Richmond is connected with the Yogaville ashram.


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