Thursday, May 13, 2010

Swami Rama, enlightenment and alleged sexual abuses

"Be happy and fearless. Remember that you are a child of Divinity. Loss and gain cannot even touch your shadow" - His Holiness Sri Swami Rama

The American securities broker Robert Walter’s website Son of a Swami welcomes visitors with the announcement, ‘Robert Walter was 12 when he discovered that his real father was his mother's guru, the renowned Indian yogi Swami Rama - not his alcoholic dad, Arne Walter’, and adds, ‘Robert hoped he'd finally found the strong, wise, and loving father he'd always yearned for. But he quickly realized that he was the guru's dirty little secret: Swamis are Indian monks who take vows of celibacy, and Robert was living proof that "His Holiness Swami Rama" was not the otherworldly saint his followers worshipped’.

Robert Walter who claims to be the son of Swami Rama and his mother, Shirley Walter, plan to publish a book, "Son of a Swami: A Life of Lies", a double memoir of their relationships with Swami Rama and their involvement with The Himalayan Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy. When Swami Rama landed in USA to spread the knowledge of Yoga, meditation, spirituality, etc., Shirley Walter’s Yoga center became his first base of his operations in the United States.

In the proposed book 'Son of a Swami: A Life of Lies', the website says, "Robert explores his painful quest for a bond with his father… Robert becomes caught in a web of lies and false promises… Robert confronts the questions that have plagued him since he was 12, 'Is he the son of a sex addict, a yogi with extraordinary powers, or both?'" Shirley explores "how she became one of Swami Rama's earliest supporters and one of his sexual victims". She also details the price she paid for extricating herself from the Himalayan Institute, and examines the ways she failed to understand her son's need for a truthful reckoning until now.

Swami Rama (1925-1996), born as Brij Kishore Dhasmana, in the Garhwal Himalayas in India, became the lineage holder of the Sankya Yoga tradition of the Himalayan Masters, under guidance by his guru Bengali Baba. After many years of further practice in Himalayan caves, Swami Rama was encouraged by his guru to go to the West where he lived a considerable portion of his life.

Swami Rama is recognized as one of the first Yogis to allow himself to be studied by Western scientists. In the 1960s he allowed the scientists at the Menninger Clinic to research on his ability to voluntarily control body processes such as heartbeat, blood pressure, body temperature, etc., which are considered to be involuntary or autonomic. Thus Swami Rama had contributed enormously to yoga's surging popularity in the United States, as he could control his brain waves, heartbeat, etc. His feats were praised sky-high by the media across the United States, winning him many devotees, including Robert Walter's mother, Shirley Walter.

His first ashram was established at the outskirt of Kathmandu, Nepal, where he went on barefoot with nothing but a Kamandalu and a tiger skin mat. Known widely as His Holiness Sri Swami Rama, he founded the Himalayan Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy which has its headquarters in Honesdale, PA and branches in the rest of USA, Canada, UK, Europe and India. The Himalayan Institute's headquarters are located on a 400-acre (1.6 squire km) campus in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania, USA.

The Himalayan Institute declares its mission as 'to discover and embrace the sacred link - the spirit of human heritage that unites East and West, spirituality and science, and ancient wisdom and modern technology.' The institute uses techniques of Yoga, Ayurveda, integrative medicine, spirituality, and holistic healing.

Swami Rama authored several books during his lifetime, in which he described his journey toward becoming a Yogi and emphasized philosophy and benefits of practices such as meditation. One of the common themes expressed in such books as Enlightenment Without God and Living With The Himalayan Masters is the ability of any person to achieve peace without the need for an established religion. He criticized of the tendency Yogis to use supernatural powers to claim their enlightenment.

On September 4, 1997 in the United District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania a jury returned an award against the defendant Himalayan International Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy of the USA in the amount of $275,000 in compensatory damages and $1.6 million in punitive damages for the sexual misconduct of the Himalayan Institute's former 'spiritual leader' Brijkishor Kumar, popularly known as the 'Swami Rama'. The award was in favour of the 19-year-old Jasmine Patel (Jasmine Patel, plaintiff Vs. Himalayan International Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy of the USA).

Jasmine Patel was 13 or 14 years old, when she was introduced to Swami Rama by her parents who treated him as their enlightened spiritual guide and family guru. In the summer of 1989 Jasmine joined the Institute’s 'Self-Transformation Program' from when the swami started abusing her, ending up in full-blown sexual relationship, the American Court order states. It also states, several other women’s similar experiences with Swami Rama.

In the above quoted verdict, the American jury found that Swami Rama (a) had engaged in sexual relations with the plaintiff Jasmine Patel, (b) he had abused his position as the plaintiff's guru to secure her consent to the sexual relations; (c) he had breached the standard of care and fiduciary duties inherent in the relationship between him and the plaintiff; (d) he had intentionally inflicted emotional distress on the plaintiff; (e) had acted maliciously and with conscious disregard for the welfare of the plaintiff; (f) and he was acting within the scope of his agency relationship with the Himalayan Institute when engaging in sexual relations with Jasmine Patel.

Apart from holding the Himalayan Institute liable for compensatory and punitive damages on a respondent superior theory, the American jury also imposed direct liability on the Institute, finding that (a) it had been negligent in allowing Swami Rama to be a sexual predator for a number of years; (b) the actions and inactions of Himalayan Institute constituted the intentional infliction of emotional distress; and (c) the Himalayan Institute had acted maliciously and with conscious disregard for the welfare of the plaintiff.

According to some reports, Swami Rama is survived by a daughter and two sons, two of whom have been acknowledged in 'At the Eleventh Hour', a biography of Swami Rama written by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, the current head of the Himalayan Institute of the USA. The two are his son Mohit Dhasmana, and daughter Devyani Mungali, by Swami Rama's former wife in India, Lilu Kumar. Lilu and Mohit Kumar have been involved in several lawsuits in India, notably Original Suit No. 865 of 1997 filed in the Court of the Civil Judge, Senior Division, Dehradun, challenging the current leaders of the Himalayan Institute Hospital Trust, founded by Swami Rama.

Miranda Marbaniang, another woman from Shillong, India, claims she is Swami Rama's oldest daughter. Swami Rama's devotees and followers have not acknowledged either Robert Walter or Miranda Marbaniang as the guru's children, as he was supposed to have taken vows of celibacy (Sannyas).

While he was alive, Swami Rama said on the allegations of sexual abuse, "Do not defend me", as part of the discipline of Asian Yogis to live up to their ideals.

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