DKNY Accused of Cult Advertising  

Suite 101, August 3, 1999

By Weston Ochse

In the April issue of Vanity Fair Magazine, Donna Karan New York (DKNY) published a 128-page removable insert featuring advertisements on clothing and accessories. Included was a list of "favorite classes" that cool people should attend to remain cool. Among this list was a Yoga class sponsored by Integral Yoga International. All seemed fine, until it became known that Integral Yoga International was owned and operated by an Indian Guru named Sri Swami Satchidananda.

Swami Sarchidananda has run Yogaville since 1969, a compound located south of Charlottesville, Virginia. In addition to Yogaville, he also has Integral Yoga International locations in New York, San Francisco and over 50 other locations within the United States. The Swami is an esteemed Yoga master, and spiritual leader. Sri Swamiji is regarded by many as an apostle of peace. He is often affectionately referred to as the "Woodstock Guru," because he inaugurated the famed Woodstock Festival and went on to introduce an entire generation of young people to the benefits of Yoga.

Swami Sarchidananda has historically been a leader in the Hindu Spiritual Movement. He has sponsored numerous ecumenical symposiums, retreats and worship services. During several private audiences, H.H. Pope Paul VI praised these efforts in promoting interfaith activities. He has also had an audience with H.H. Pope John Paul II and continues to travel around the world promoting religious harmony and meeting with spiritual and governmental leaders, and other dignitaries. Over the years he has met with, among others: Mahatma Gandhi, H.H. the Dalai Lama, U Thant, Indira Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Mrs. Coretta Scott King.

So why is he considered dangerous and why is Integral Yoga International a possible cult? There have been many accusations. "Susan Cohen, joined the New York section of the institute in 1969. Cohen calls herself a survivor, and says the supposedly celibate swami involved her in an "incestuous secret affair." She says the swami and his students work in a type of father-daughter relationship that leaves women confused and unable to say no, a type of "spiritual incest." Cohen says she gets phone calls from all over the country with similar stories. Cohen calls the swami's community a "cult." She cites his demand for unquestioning authority, vows of obedience, celibacy, and the routing of money to the institute." (Montreal Mirror 1991)

This is the same New York section of the institute that DKNY is promoting. "The young female law student in New York attended Integral Yoga International classes for a brief period before Christmas break in 1998. She had a close relationship with her family, was planning marriage with her long-time boyfriend and looked forward to practicing law. After attending IYI classes she decided to participate in a one-month residential program at Yogaville. But the program never really ended for the student. In a matter of weeks, while within Yogaville, she abruptly decided to drop out of law school, isolated herself from family and friends and married a 'swami' (30 years older) she met while attending the ashram program. Her husband, the now former celibate swami, is a prominent long-time Yogaville member/Satchidananda devotee. Her family feels she has been manipulated and subjected to undue influence through her involvement with IYI and its programs." (Rick Ross)

"Sylvia Shapiro was a 19-year-old student of Satchidananda in California when he asked her to travel with him as a secretary. According to reports he was once 'the greatest influence in her life, her guru, who taught his unmarried followers to remain celibate, [but] was urging that she have sexual relations with him.' Ms. Shapiro said. 'I really loved him like a father. I didn't want to make him angry.'" (Rick Ross) These are merely a few of the first-person accounts leveled against the Swami in the past. What is worrisome is whether or not DKNY realized that the place and organization they were promoting had been accused of mind control, sexual manipulation and spiritual incest. Or were they merely ignorant in their need to appear on the cutting edge of physical and spiritual evolution? The result is still unknown, but what is certain is that many women who follow fashion trends and are faithful buyers of DKNY products may find themselves in the "clutches" of other celibate Swamis. What they believed was a carefully studied recommendation by DKNY, may turn out to be an accidental invitation into a world of coercion and manipulation.

It is abhorrent for anyone in positions of responsibility to suggest or perform sex with subordinates. Whether it is politicians, teachers, office managers or religious leaders, their very position provides an unfair coercive force upon the target of their carnal interests. "'Omigod,' said a Karan spokeswoman. She said that Karan has never taken the course, but beyond that, the company has no comment. 'Basically, I think Donna Karan blew it,' says Ross. 'She's trying to ride a popular trend and show that Donna Karan knows what's in and what's hot...but she should have had her people do more research before steering her fans into such a controversial class.'" (MSNBC) Caveat Emptor is the rule of the day. (Let the buyer beware) Just because something is promoted by famous people, doesn't mean it is the right thing to do.

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