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Cult Defectors

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

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, 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. A fine thing to do might be 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 . . .

Don't take my word for anything. - Yogananda. (Overriding proposition)

In the United States, Self Realization Fellowship (SRF) has been among the most influential of the Eastern religions. Swami Vivekananda came before him in 1893. SRF's founder-guru, Paramahansa Yogananda (1893–1952) was one of the earliest teachers of yoga to come to the West. He arrived in autumn 1920. In the following years he lectured widely throughout America and organised Self Realization Fellowship, SRF. It was registered as a church in California in 1935. The Autobiography of a Yogi (1946) brought fame and popularity.

Yogananda's church, SRF, remains active. Monks and nuns in it teach in ashram centres head SRF, decide what to do, and travel to conduct lectures and teaching seminars and they steer lay members in different ways. There are seven SRF temples in the United States, and nearly five hundred meditation centres in fifty-four countries. Centres had small followings in 1988.

Yogananda lectured in Christian churches that were favourably disposed toward interfaith dialogues or curious. He also reinterpreted parts of the Bible to suit his Hinduism.

(Mather, Nichols and Schmidt 2006, "Self-Realization Fellowship")

If everybody in a society is a sectarian, being one may not be recognised as clownish or very bad -

Much depends on lifestyles and doctrines a sect propagates, and on how hard it is to members and all who try to leave, and wives who stay and neither remarries nor get burnt on pyres to conform to estabished customs.

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].

If you have not seen them there yourself and take the Autobiography of a Yogi's words for it, you have got a belief. You may not talk about it in public even if it is still there. Is a belief that there are mermaids in heaven a rather telling or big symptom of something or is it not?

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.

Wikipedia gives a broader overview of these and cognate creatures.

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 a minor and tense offshoot of Judaism for example.

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 or plays upon authoritarian mind-sets.

A Christ cult

Buddha teaches how to overcome much duped belief. For such belief is what inexperienced people are hooked by and later lorded over by. Baits serve such purposes too. [Buddha teachings about wise handling of ideas]

Consider: 'Christ' is not a brand name. [cf. WP, "Christ"].

As Christianity grew larger in the Roman Empire and after the fall of the Empire, it was divided and divided again. In the west, 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.

A cult may be found to strive to impress by religious means - as veneers or otherwise - and followers may turn faddish and "venerative" in agreed-on "deal of deals" that may thought of as esoteric among them.

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 Christianity in the Roman empire, the sect is often found to go ritual-shopping, to borrow or nick ceremonies, attires and rituals from close quarters [More].

You can feel fine and be happy for a whole life in a closed religious group where ignorance is bliss, as they say, or for a long while. But if you start to doubt, or fall in love outside of the cult, things might get different. 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 consider other groups instead as you like.

Carrots, whips and rattling in one's shackles

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.

Better be warned of the goings in a cult. Seek reliable information before the lures strike you down. So doing what is truly good for you, is perhaps 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). One third of the monastics left, then. [◦Also]

One may add, some of them "rattled in 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. It would be shrews to keep key assets away from the cult in question. Preserve whatever freedom you have and keep yourself in good standing could help too. You never know . . . but to make a door-mat of yourself so long as there are better things to do is not fit.

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. [The SRF Kriya Pledge at large]

Seek out the best methods according to research, keep in mind the counsel of preserving your freedom and other assets 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.

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? One may try resveratrol for some effects. It is non-alcoholic and may help reducing decay in dendrites if not helping in building them.

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.

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 SRF monastics and a late main editor there - to be a cult.

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. "There was smoke; and a fire beneath." 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)

However, 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)."

To get away from bad or clownish fun on discussion boards, one may try a very simple "recipe for finding good resources" of the schooled:

  • First-class authors, doctors or otherwise;
  • Quality publishers, academic ones or otherwise;
  • Books of good standing among educated people (peer-reviewed or otherwise);
  • The very best relevant research findings.

You may succeed in getting some handy body of knowledge as you get skilled in this and as time goes by. Quite opposed to it, Anonymous (behind a psevdonym) is a bad source to cite or build on in any case, if possibly unfounded opinionation goes unchecked.

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 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. [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. What sound or moderate assertiveness may work against could include gross foolishness, lack of decency or common sense.

One may be wise to suspect - discreetly - ugly, sinister 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 . . . how few they are." From here it gets more interesting . . . [◦More].

How right they are matters more to a good guy than how many:

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 the others are few. Such discrediting is base. 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. 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. [WP, "Opposition to cults and new religious movements"]

Opinions seem divided.

Reliable and sound cult information may be missing

A 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.]

Kriyananda also writes: "In my opinion, SRF is dying on the vine [Ry, chap 6]."

In the light of SRF books, buildings, centres - maybe not. Yet in the light of what might be inside much steered members, perhaps. For the lack of data, Kriyananda uses conjecture. Membership estimates vary between his "below 10,000" and SRF's former claim of one million or more.

An outsider may have no adequate means of ascertaining much is closed circles, and that may often be as it should be as Big Data keeps limiting and in part taking over human freedom far and wide. [◦More]

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 others who seem content in their harness and "guru yokes" may differ on some issues and not all issues.

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 set responses to five instead of two (yes/no) or three (yes/maybe/no). That could be good help:
  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.

For considering

In considering breaking out of a group,

  • one's environment is a formidable influence. It can be all right to take one's environment into consideration and what it can stand.
  • oneself,
  • the expert or councellor (whoever that may be),
  • one's sense of belonging,
  • firm expectations.

These are main factors among many others. Compare, for example, Widdowson, 2010.


Cult detection, cultish dealings, sect basics, sectarians at a glance, Self-Realization Fellowship, Yogananda followers, 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.

Mather, George, Larry A. Nichols, and Alvin J. Schmidt. 2006. Dictionary of Cults, Sects, and World Religions. Rev. and updated ed. Grand Rapids, MN: Zondervan.

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.

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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