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Cult Defectors

"Many who break with problems are hard-headed spirits against imposed dominance."

First, an SRF alert

SRF, Self-Realization Fellowship, as founded by the swami Yogananda, was registered as a church in California in late March, 1935. If you wonder why I don't go into stories of SRF members who stab themselves to death behind gas stations, jump off bridges, or die of alcoholism out of fear of having to get back to Yogananda after sobering up, the reasons are I am not in a position to go into such indelicate things. When I now and then think of telling stories of SRF members killing themselves, I add, "I don't know enough of each case, and I don't know how many SRF members kill themselves compared to the general population." So I refrain.

If you feel disconcerted, upset, offended and troubled over such tales, take heart. The SRF brother Anandamoy was asked about what to do in cases of guru disregard - or was it disturbing facts about SRF? - and answered that the good thing to do was to focus on doing the meditation techniques, and don't be bothered - something like that. If you want to go deeper into such a lax approach, which I recommend above being a twit, visit this page: [Link]

To clear things up a bit further

Mermaids and fairy folks

In the Autobiography of a Yogi it is said that Heaven "is peopled with . . . myriads of fairies, mermaids, fishes . . . goblins, gnomes, demigods and spirits." [Paramahansa Yogananda, Autobiography of a Yogi, 1998, Chap. 43, p. 355].

A mermaid is a legendary aquatic creature with the upper body of a woman and the tail of a fish. Mermaids appear in the folklore of many cultures worldwide. Mermaids are sometimes depicted as perilous creatures associated with floods, storms, shipwrecks, and drowning. In other folk traditions or sometimes within the same tradition they can be benevolent, bestowing boons or falling in love with humans. Dugongs and sea cows (manatees) have at times been mistaken for mermaids.

Also, a fairy is a type of mythical form of spirit. Folklore that uses the term fairy offers many definitions. Sometimes it is a markedly magical creature, at other times it is a more ethereal creature that is described.

Take a peek into what Wikipedia says about these and cognate creatures if you would like a broader overview.


'Christ' is not a brand name. Historically, it comes through Greek from the Hebrew term 'Messiah', the anointed one (by olive oil poured over one's head) as a sign of kingship over Hebrews here on earth. The Greek translation Christós also means 'anointed'. Yogananda jumped on the "Christ wagon" and appointed several gurus and kriya yoga practitioners as (New Age) Christs - there may be no law against it in many countries. However, the content of 'Christ' may start to feel different, and may sound diluted too, perhaps. There is that chance, although it may not seem so in the beginning [cf. Wikipedia, s.v. "Christ"]

The cult

This page is about sides to cultism. A cult is a religion or religious sect that is generally considered to be extremist or false, with its followers often living in an unconventional manner under the guidance of an authoritarian, charismatic leader, who may be claimed to have exclusive or exceptional power and rights. [SRF and Yogananda are mentioned in a list of cults and sects a in Belgian governmental report]

After some time the sect gets its half-religious or "whole-religious" worship and ritual and their ways of expressing religious reverence, ceremony and ritual. As with early Christianity, which started as a tense sect of Judaism, the sect is often found to go ritual-shopping, to borrow or nick ceremonies, attires and rituals from close quarters [More]. Soon the followers may turn faddish and "venerative" in agreed-on "deal of deals" - often thought of as esoteric among them.

The rest

Buddha teaches all how to overcome much duped belief. For such belief is what inexperienced people are hooked by, and baits serve such purposes too. [Buddha teachings about mature handling of ideas]

Study the sects around and see what possible baits dominate there. The baits young people are hooked by, large and small, reflect something in many people: and maybe something that the larger society or community did not take care of. If such persons are led into a cult by baits and after years wake up and find their group seems unhealthy and its teachings smacks of much bogus, and the persons then want to get out, they may have lost great opportunities and many years altogether, and may suffer greatly too, and perhaps with no one to turn to.

Doing what is truly good for you, is in part up to you. "Between 2000 and 2005 more than fifty monks and nuns are reported to have left the organization," writes attorney Jon Parsons about Self-Realization Fellowship in his book A Fight for Religious Freedom (2012:170). [◦Source]

One may add, some of them "rattled in various shackles" - for most part anonymously - for years afterwards, on a now defunct discussion forum. Here is a backup of its first years. See for yourself as long as a good backup is online: [◦SRF Walrus Backup]

Now, if you let others dominate you and ride you and your life course by lots of big and fine-sounding words of God, Mr and Mrs Big, Great, and godmen on their side, and so on - chances are you are hooked or fooled. Try not to be a sordid fool by keeping your key assets away from the cult in question, and stick to good fares and courses that normally would be open to you. It may also help to preserve whatever freedom you have and keep yourself in good standing. The cult may have its share of neurotics, and maladaptations can breed them to. Anyway, many deflectors may get hard and troubled times for all well-meaning counsels, but generally speaking it is bad counsel to make a door-mat of yourself so long as there are better things to do.

What about resorting to drinking beer? There is non-alcoholic bear. It could amount to a lot to reserve your beer-drinking to a little of that, for example for the B-vitamins in it. Getting brewer's yeasts may be better. It is a natural source of B vitamins.

Is there a fit alternative to drinking wine, then? Try resveratrol for some effects. It is non-alcoholic and may help building dentrites.

A sound brain could be a precious thing. Alcohol first lames the higher parts of it, and later kills off cells as well. If you still feel you could be helped by having an all right brain to remain competent, be wise and not otherwise.

Some cults teach meditation in such ways that they bind members. Self-Realization Fellowship teaches kriya yoga that way, and according to the founder-guru there is no way to get out of that bond either, not until you are safe - that is, liberated. The carrot (bait): formerly secret, great methods; sort of mind-blowing, etc. The whip: If you find out the methods are free otherwise after SRF and its gurus have bound you to unquestioning loyalty (by oath). Slaves can languish in a rather similar situation, but slaves are not bound for many lives. And if you still want to break the guru-given chains, will you be hunted down for lives and are the prospects the guru gives in that case, filled with bad experiences?

Seek out the best methods according to research, keep in mind the counsel of preserving your freedom as best you can, and then you could benefit from meditation, including a form of ujjayi that is core kriya, for you can learn it from others than SRF without forsaking your liberty, without having to swallow oath camels or some clownish faith, and so on. Do what is good for you. That is what I suggest.

Otherwise, there are cults around - They strive for members, in part by publishing guru material that may be too wrong or airy to help far and wide. It is much common. But what is good for a dominant guru may not be the thing for his or her many-lifetimes-submitted "spirit-serfs", who are bound by costy pledges on their part. [The SRF Kriya Pledge exposed at large]

Granted that, you can feel fine and be happy for a whole life in a closed religious group, or for a long while. But if you start to doubt, or fall in love outside of the cult, things might get difficult. Leaving a closed religious group may be difficult indeed. Many who break with sects or cults, may recognise parts of their situation on the following pages. They relate a lot to Self-Realization Fellowship, SRF, but you can put other group names instead of it as you like, it it fits.

A sect or cult

- is a group adhering to a distinctive doctrine or to a leader or both. The sect offers a limited scope, and may make persons narrow or bigoted. The term sect is used synonymously with cult. A member of a cult usually has great devotion to someone, or to his or her objects of devotion. Cults and sects are often small. If they grow big, they can be called religions. Christianity started out as one of the minor and tense sects of Judaism. Vishnuism, with its devotional Krishna focus, started as a cult, and is the facet of Hinduism that has the most members today by far - maybe nine out of ten Hindus are Vaishnavas.

Many who break with sects find themselves much alone afterwards and in dire need of building a new identity. Many appear to lack concepts (words) for what they have been grappling to come to terms with. They may need help to identify and understand what they have been through. There are other problems too, and many of them relate to dominance: Yogananda hailed Mussolini and dictatorship in his day too. Such "crowing" is not cozy, but reflects much authoritarian guts.

From a Norwegian Report

In a recent study by the "National Centre for Violence and Traumatic Stress", produced at the request of the Norwegian government, sixteen former members of religious groups were interviewed. The study suggests the need for a centre that maps out religious groups and members' rights. Key points on sectarianism should be taught in high schools. Health personell should know of cult defector problems and issues. Closed religious groups should receive information about human rights.

It stands out from interviews that former sect members have overwhelming feelings of being alone. Depressions, fear of hell, and isolation trouble many. There is a need to learn new cultural codes and learn to orient oneself again in life. Many defectors are tormented by faith and a fear of ending in hell after cultwise, repeated "mental rapes" where leaders among other things used bible verses to tell how bad people were.

Leaving a cult can be far worse than a broken marriage. Defectors risk losing their entire social networks and family in the church, in addition to being troubled by ideas that God condemns them.

Some cult defectors gradually get what is called a good life, while others struggle with depression. Many feel they have wasted part of their life. Hardest hit are those who have broken with a religious group where the rest of the family remains in it. Most defectors stick to their cult faith, although with tensions.

Cult defectors need information and courses, and ongoing assessments of members' rights from a human rights perspective - and a monitoring centre. Psychologists in general may be untrained for and unable to deal with faith and religious issues.

In Sweden, there are between 50 and 100 cult defectors yearly, according to estimates.

Roald Ramsdal. "Religiøse avhoppere skal få hjelp (Religious defectors are to get help)". Oslo: Aftenposten (The Evening Post) 27 Oct. 08.

Going through Yogananda's Self-Realization Fellowship, SRF

SRF is understood by some - including former monastics - to work like a cult. You may find it documented here and there. SRF's guru founder also preached heresy, according to a Catholic professor, Father Matheo. Christians, beware.

Opposition to cults and to new religious movements comes from several sources. There are cult-watching groups, opposition from traditional religion, from secular cult-critics, from sceptics, and from critical former members, defectors.

Critical former members once contributed to the now defunct SRF Walrus, the similarly defunct Cult Busters, SRF Division and others. But if matter-of-fact information is what is sought for, it may be best to see what well schooled, non-anonymous and independent writers conclude as best they can. For example, during the decades that Daya Mata was the head of SRF, "many of the men and women who where older disciples of the order either removed themselves or were forced out of SRF (Satyananda 2006:106)."

More strongly worded testimonies appear on the SRF Walrus, a website for devotees of Yogananda who are critical of the SRF organization. (Williamson 2010:77) [Lola Williamson's findings]


Quite opposed to fair and fit handling of material, some things are detrimental to finding out of sect matters. Here are some features to detect or surmise among defectors discussion groups for the lack of matter-of-fact (Sachlich) information that is relevant and valid and of good quality most often:

  • Fairness-hampering anonymity. Most posters shy away from revealing who they are. Some out of fear, others as a means to write bad stuff, such as gross, dwarfing slander.
  • Fear, neurotic fear, possible insanity. Some say they are afraid of repercussions. So I think we should reckon with the factor fear in these quarters.
  • Inadequate board management and ill-behaving ones. Some participants use mean and unfounded slander, foul language and attempts to dominate others by other unfit means too. Awful slander is either allowed by the board moderators or the moderators are not up to stuff for other bad reasons. Results speak for themselves - unfair and unfit contributions drag a board down. Then fine folks drop it, sensing that the goof thing had better be abandoned. Unfounded opinionation and slander can quickly make a board take a vicious turn.
  • Gross lack of well-founded or at least documented information is backed up too.
  • Very unsound mishmash results when boards are poorly operated and serve pet ideas and bias, by blocking good discussions.

Fit self-esteem

Building proper self-esteem within safe limits could eventually help a person out of sordid settings.

The guru founder of SRF hailed dictatorship. SRF has not capitalised on that, not yet, but they say find no fault with Yogananda's [blunderbuss] guidelines - and swindle in so doing, since they have removed some of them silently. [Notarised evidence]

So far, authoritarianism may be measured, although still imperfectly so: Adorno's Fascism scale was formed for doing it.

As for sound self-esteem, it may lead up to good laughter, and not superiority-strives and its denigrations. American humour is grosser and less cultivated that European styles, according to a study by the British Professor Richard Wiseman. It came to the fore how Americans and Canadians preferred jokes where somebody was "superior", either by others looking stupid or being humuliated and debased by others. "Level with me" takes a different turn. Humour has its surprises, turns and levels. [Richard Wiseman, Quirkology, 2008, p. 179-227]

There are self-help books on the subject of asserting oneself soundly and moderately out from and upward from debasing inferiority feelings beneath the strive for looking superior - and not by lip gloss and being fat - no, what assertiveness may work against is, rather, gross foolishness and lack of common sense. Self-help books on the subjects are shown below.

Maybe a profound lack of self-esteem lies near the bottom of some obvious failures of SRF and SRF-linked "discussion boards" for anonymous guys. It could work for your advantage to suspect - discreetly - there are many ugly or marring attitudes and outcomes in sectarian-branded persons.

Ananda Awareness Network, AAN

AAN is a group of people that have found documentation related to another group of Yogananda followers than SRF, and has kept materials published for some time now. AAN presents views on Ananda Sangha, a SRF spin-off community started by a former vice president of SRF, Nayaswami Kriyananda.

AAN's main goal is to provide information about Ananda Sangha - which is the same as Ananda Church of Self-Realization - so that better informed choices can be made about one's relationship with Ananda. Further, many who support AAN functions on contributions from former members of Ananda and from others. They write:

Many people once associated with Ananda now say that going to Ananda was ultimately a destructive force in their lives [and] leave shocked and disappointed. Often after years of dedicated service, of investing their whole lives in Ananda, as encouraged by the church, people can find themselves devastated financially, emotionally and spiritually. [◦More]

Ananda answers: "The Ananda Awareness "Network" is actually a handful of individuals who carefully conceal their identity, perhaps to keep the public from knowing how few they are." From here it gets more interesting . . . [◦More].

May it be added: "Not how few, but how right is what matters most to a good guy."

Anecdote The sculptor Jacob Epstein tells this story:

"When I was doing Professor Albert Einstein's bust he had many a jibe at the Nazi professors, one hundred of whom had condemned his theory of relativity in a book.

"Were I wrong," he said, "one professor would have been enough." [Fuller]

Some seek to discredit arguments or presentations of others by saying they the others are few. Such discrediting is low. Unsound argumentation has its fallacies. Compare: [Argumentation and fallacies]

Finding discussion forums that keep up good standards is not always a piece of cake

Scholarly investigations and many quality reports help. It may also be worth nothing that a professor at Rutgers University, when analysing leaver responses, found the testimonies of former members as least as reliable as statements from the groups themselves. [Wikipedia, sv. "Opposition to cults and new religious movements"]

Thus, when we read what ex-monastics of SRF write of the bad climate in the SRF parts of Los Angeles and what SRF writes to discredit the deflectors, the claims of one party may be as good as the other. The same may hold good for AAN and Ananda too, for what we know. Opinions are divided.

Reliable and sound cult information may be hard to come by

One serious problem with cults is that investigators may find they suffer from lack of adequate, fit knowledge . . . Now, the former SRF vice-president Kriyananda has estimated that

SRF has consistently - indeed, outrageously - bloated its membership figures.

In the late 1990s, the largest number of items mailed out [from SRF] . . . was fewer than 40,000. Those mailings had included such announcements as Christmas greetings, which would certainly have gone out to a considerable number of non-members.

My own suspicion is that their active membership number (those still living on this earth) stands somewhere below 10,000 - far below the one million ("or more") they have claimed. [Ry, chap. 14.]

The writer, Kriyananda, was SRF vice president many years ago. He also writes: "In my opinion, SRF is dying on the vine [Ry, chap 6]."

Maybe so, maybe not. At any rate, in the book, Kriyananda tells what he bases his conjecture on. Membership estimates vary between "below 10,000" and one million or more. Instead of saying "we are dwindling", SRF claims "Today, Self-Realization Fellowship has grown to include more than 500 temples and centers around the world and has members in over 175 countries." An outsider has perhaps no adequate means of ascertaining which figures apply so far. [◦More]

Transistory or wrong data offered and no valid check-ups found - the tangle has to be dealt with

SRF's kriya-church members are interacting in congregations, groups, even ◦business networking, which could be a good idea, in principle. Also, many SRF members around the world appear to be more isolated SRF-wise, "away from court, away from care", less involved with SRF as their church or network of belong, so to speak. There may be meagre advantages in that, but maybe not for the ceremony hungry ones, those who crave rituals in temples or homes, with rituals and other churchgoer matters. We are not all alike, and should respect the development steps others are on, those rungs of the ladder upwards or sectwards and downwards, as the case may be.

George Gurdjieff (1872? -1949)

- speaks of three levels to go through, particularly in adolescence. Kathleen Riordan expounds his schematising in the book Transpersonal Psychologies (1977), edited by Charles Tart, and in The Gurdjieff Work (1989) too:

  1. Number 1 is overtly gross and directed by instinct, crams and mimics bosses, is committed to ritual and ceremonies.
  2. Number 2 is the emotional one of likes and dislikes, who believes in religious love and persecutes others for heresy. Conforming up to idiocy. Fashions may also compared.
  3. Number 3 is the intellectual who often interprets things literally. Evidence and argument appeals to him or her, but he or she can be more inward-turned than the two foregoing sorts.
  4. Number 4 can be found to be inward-going, delving, or Self-probing, adjusting in reasonable ways, for example to facts. He or she accomplishes to develop the ego-side to Self as well.
  5. Number 5 manages to dip into the inner unity at times, or time and time again. Gathers Selfhood, is going for delicate strivings first. Has a marked sense of "I" inside.
  6. Number 6 is an individual in the forming, and struggles for rewarding outcomes from observing on that level. She or he can think or act for herself/himself.
  7. Number 7: Firmly set individual. Fit and very conscious. Advanced. Religiousity hardly appeals to her or him.

[Cf. Tart, p. 301 ff.]

One is, fundamentally, allowed to develop further and higher by degrees. The way on and up is marked by going from grossness to subtility, from extraneousness to inwardness, and keep a sense of being harmonious all along. Being an integrated individual is what is called for.


The first three levels are similar to the three developmental levels that Rudolf Steiner speaks of and that Waldorf Schooling is adjusted to in its ways. Also, the Swiss Jean Piaget's three levels are like it. [A Glimpse of Waldorf Education]

Reductionist ways hamper and hinder the forming of the Self. Just as in Abraham Maslow's thinking about a pyramid of needs from gross to self-propelling drives, lower needs may need to be met a bit before higher sides take force and start to manifest. [Maslow, 1987]

The voices of SRF dissidents and defectors may get more difficulties in being heard as they warn about dangers or impediments on the way on and up. However, to some, the ways of "a faithful devotee" may correspond to one's development inside. They may be content in their harness. Also, some cult-bent fellows may adapt seemingly well to "guru yokes", if their personalities fit into offered patterns or ways of life.

Some Hallmarks of Cults

  • They exclude others.
  • They take to reductionist thinking and such language to accomplish one or more general aims.
  • They separate members from the outside world somehow.
  • They bring ideological totalism and use reinforcements that shame some who do not conform enough.
  • There is simplistic thinking which tends to serve mind-control of members.

When assessing to what degree a group is a cult, simple "yes" and "no" answers may not be good enough: then try to nuance the responses to:
  1. "emphatic yes",
  2. "cool yes / to some degree, yes",
  3. "don't know" "of two minds" etc. in the middle,
  4. "cool no",
  5. emphatic no".

Finally you sum up the scores, and judge the findings. This sort of nuanced responses form the basis of the Likert scale, which is based on more differentiated responses than two, a yes or a no. The Likert scale is often used in the social science to get more reliable data. It may be good for light, personal sorting too.

In considering breaking out of a group, one's environment is a formidable influence. Similarly, if a virulent discussion board fosters mental troubles and evil and talks down on what is fit and fair, it should be abandoned. It is generally decent to take one's environment into consideration and what it can stand, not only oneself, the expert or councellor (whoever that may be), and one's sense of belonging, and firm expectations. These are main factors to take into account. Besides there are many others. Compare, for example, Widdowson, 2010.


Cult detection, probing cultish dealings, sect basics, sectarians at a glance, Self-Realization Fellowship, Literature  

Braiker, Harriet B. Who's Pulling Your Strings? New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004.

Branch, Rhena, and Rob Willson. Boosting Self-Esteem For Dummies. Chichester, West Sussex: John Wiley, 2009.

Dasgupta, Sailendra. Paramhansa Swami Yogananda: Life-portrait and Reminiscences. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, 2006.

Fuller, Edmund. 2500 Anecdotes for All Occasions. New York: Wings, 1970.

Jenner, Paul. Teach Yourself Confidence and Social Skills. London: Hodder Education, 2009.

Kriyananda, Swami. Rescuing Yogananda. Nevada City, CA: Crystal Clarity, 2010. ⍽▢⍽ Replaced by Yogananda for the World (rev. ed. same publisher, 2012), online and free:

Maslow, Abraham. The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973.

Maslow, Abraham H., with Deborah C. Stephens and Gary Heil. Maslow on Management. New York: John Wiley, 1998.

Maslow, Abraham. Motivation and Personality. 3rd ed. New York, HarperCollins, 1987. ⍽▢⍽ Here is much ground-breaking material about sound, mental development.

Maslow, Abraham. Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences. Columbus: Ohio State University, 1964.

Maslow, Abraham. Toward a Psychology of Being. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1968.

Parsons, Jon R. A Fight for Religious Freedom: A Lawyer's Personal Account of Copyrights, Karma and Dharmic Litigations. Nevada City, CA: Crystal Clarity, 2012. ⍽▢⍽ Here is an account of SRF's 12-year long legal battle against its spin-off Ananda, a legal battle that SRF lost almost completely. Such "warfare" is not known to be good for piousness.

Speeth, Kathleen Riordan. The Gurdjieff Work. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher / Putnam, 1989.

Tart, Charles, ed. Transpersonal Psychologies. New York: Harper Colophon, 1977.

Widdowson, Mark. Transactional Analysis: 100 Key Points and Techniques. London: Routledge, 2010.

Williamson, Lola. Transcendent in America: Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements as New Religion. Paperback ed. New York: New York University Press, 2010. ⍽▢⍽ Informative and well written. I like it.

Wiseman, Richard. Quirkology: How We Discover the Big Truths in Small Things. Paperback ed. New York: Basic Books, 2008.

Cult detection, probing cultish dealings, sect basics, sectarians at a glance, Self-Realization Fellowship, To top Section Set Next

Cult detection, probing cultish dealings, sect basics, sectarians at a glance, Self-Realization Fellowship. USER'S GUIDE: [Link]
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