Is this guru for real?
October 4, 2009 8:26 AM   Subscribe

What do you know about Nithyananda and the Life Bliss Foundation? Should I be worried that my partner is embracing this new spiritual path that is so alien to me?

Similar to the recent Amma the Hugging Saint thread, I'm wondering if anyone has experience or knowledge about the spiritual leader Nithyananda, or his Life Bliss Foundation.

My partner has recently become very involved--spending thousands of dollars to go to India and spend months on his ashram, and volunteering lots of time here in Canada at the local Life Bliss centre. Many aspect of what he's learning seem very positive--letting go of worry, regular meditation and yoga practice, etc.

But aspects of it freak me out. Now that he's back from India, he's whole hog into the organization, wants to start teaching yoga and giving the proceeds to Life Bliss (though the organization apparently expects only 60% of the proceeds of you teaching their method), volunteering at events that he also pays for. And aspects of the practice bother me--the worshiping of pictures of this guru, the wearing of beads blessed by him, the belief that predictions this guru made will eventually come all rubs me the wrong way.

Now, I'm probably being over sensitive because I fully admit that I am very uncomfortable with religion and spirituality, to the point of intolerance. I am very very much an atheist and none of this kind of thing appeals to me. For the most part our relationship seems to be surviving this rather large hurdle, and I've avoided posting this question until now because my partner is very okay with my doubts and my questions, and though he encourages me to meditate, he otherwise is not pressuring me in any way to embrace his new lifestyle. However I'm realizing that he will likely only become more and more fervently involved, and I'm becoming more and more intolerant in my own head...not a healthy thing to happen in a relationship, I know.

I guess my question is...are my internal alarm bells that are going "cult cult cult!" totally out of line? I've seen this critical Guruphiliac post, but it is the only piece of criticism I've found online and doesn't seem very reputable. I will admit that a nasty part of me totally wants this dude to be a fake so that I can "get my partner back"...again, not healthy thinking.

And there hope for two people with such divergent spiritual beliefs? Should I just grow some tolerance and get over myself?
posted by anonymous to Religion & Philosophy (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The fact that your partner is paying so much to the organization - the fact that your partner is paying anything at all, quite frankly - is what concerns me. Even if they aren't outright requiring all of the money he's paying them, it still seems shady to me. I would be concerned, too.
posted by juliplease at 8:40 AM on October 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

My understanding is that cults will always have some basic reason for existing that is acceptable or desireable to people in general; here it is self-care exercises such as meditation, yoga, etc. Most people would completely understand teaching yoga and donating half the proceeds; many yoga teachers and studios do the same.

Take these aspects out of your evaluation. I believe you need to see if your concerns are reasonable enough without the benefits; you can't balance them out if you have serious reservations.

It doesn't need to qualify as a cult to be a group that is unwise to be a member of. On the other hand, maybe this is what he needs. In that case, what is he getting from the group he doesn't get elsewhere? Does he not feel accepted by you? Have companionship? Someone to travel and share experiences and grow as a person with? What is it he is getting from you then?
posted by variella at 9:16 AM on October 4, 2009

I don't think you're being intolerant. There are some definite red flags here. If you don't believe in religious stuff, you inherently must believe that this guru is fake if he claims to have any kind of supernatural powers, like premonitions, etc.

Where does the money go for this organization? Do they do any charitable work at all/donate some funds to charity (and honestly, teaching yoga doesn't count, I'm talking helping with some basic need of the less fortunate in the community), or is the guru sitting back and getting rich off of this.

In most religions, tithing is optional, and you never have to pay to go to an event unless it's a fundraiser where you get something in return (supper, a concert, a play, etc.), and you would not have to pay to attend AND work at it. That doesn't even make sense.

The whole thing sounds scammy, frankly.
posted by ishotjr at 9:29 AM on October 4, 2009

Wow, what skywhite posted is probably exactly what you're looking for. Scary stuff.
posted by ishotjr at 9:31 AM on October 4, 2009

I think it's important to support your friend. It doesn't sound like the guru is hurting him and he did join freely. You should tell your friend you are happy for what he alone is doing and that you are there when he needs someone to talk to or chill out with. Don't turn yourself into an enemy.
posted by parmanparman at 9:34 AM on October 4, 2009

The cult of personality aspects of this sound disturbing, but many non-spiritual people conclude that meditation, in and of itself, is not necessarily a spiritual exercise, per se, neither is yoga. But if you have alarm bells going off about this particular group (about which I have no information), and this person is your partner (as in, lifepartner, or business parter, or what?), then the potential for his involvement to disrupt your relationship with him is permission enough for you to address your concerns with him. However, that does not entitle you to become upset if he does not immediately sway to your position.
posted by hippybear at 9:41 AM on October 4, 2009

Could you talk to him, honestly, about your concerns? Maybe once every so often, like, once every two or three months? Listen to what he has to say, but don't censor yourself either (while being kind). I think it would be ever weirder for the relationship if you didn't speak up about your concerns.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:41 AM on October 4, 2009

Here is what you want, I think, over at the institute of Rick Ross, who maintains the be-all end-all collection of newspaper clippings on different culty groups.
posted by johngoren at 10:21 AM on October 4, 2009

p.s. Oh wait, maybe that's a different Nithyanada.
posted by johngoren at 10:23 AM on October 4, 2009

Interesting situation.

The core issues seem to be:
- the concern that the organization is a fake and/or a scam.
- a difference in beliefs.

The approach I think that is positive for you and your partner is to be open minded enough to learn about each others beliefs.

I am agnostic and very scientific based. However, there IS science surrounding meditation, yoga and how it positively affects health.

Its not so terrible if you learn and perhaps even do some of the things your partner is doing.

And its not so terrible if your partner learns about the objective, science based knowledge regarding meditation and yoga and maybe even about atheism. Maybe he will see that he can get the same benefit from other organizations without the cultish stuff. Some of the hokey pokey mystical stuff turns me away too but lets not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Yoga and meditation should be taught in schools if you ask me - our society is so frazzled - we need something like that.

On the other hand, the financial stake your partner is putting into this organization is a bit scary. Its good to be skeptical of any organization asking for money the way they do.

The big question is whether your partner is open minded enough to learn about atheism and whether you are open minded enough to learn about his views in a respectful way.

This wasn't possible in my 12 year relationship and it ended due to a difference in beliefs. Still reeling from the pain but I still believe that people of different beliefs can make it work as long as they are respectful and as long as core values are not violated.

You both need to be mature and brave enough to talk about it. If not, it will linger underground and you will both resent each other eventually.
posted by simpleton at 11:20 AM on October 4, 2009

There is hope, but sequester your money IMMEDIATELY until this blows will probably never recover from the resentment if he spends all of your money--or even enough of it to make you miserable.

The rest can be dealt with as you go along, but money, money, that's so important to you and your life and you can't let him waste it all.
posted by kathrineg at 11:47 AM on October 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

Wow, what skywhite posted is probably exactly what you're looking for.

The original poster included a link to Guruphiliac.

As someone said above, there are two aspects to this - first, whether the guru is knowingly fraudulent and just trying to play your partner, and second, whether it is acceptable for your partner to believe in / be involved in the organization even if everyone is sincere and genuinely thinks they're doing good things. Is one side more important to you? If the motives are pure, would you be okay with the actions? Or perhaps are you concerned ultimately about the consequences of the actions?

Is it possible to connect to other aspects of the things your partner's learned without emphasizing the culty components? eg, you could explore yoga, sanskrit texts, hindu philosophy, meditation - a lot of this stuff is pretty neat just on a 'world ideas' level, and if it's less immediately linked to one guy, and more connected to the 4K years of history that guru is drawing from, maybe it wouldn't be all negative.

In the end, do you think your partner can handle the decisions they're making? That's an important question for determining your trust in them, in a way...
posted by mdn at 1:41 PM on October 4, 2009

I almost forgot about this new movie about yoga and skepticism.

Why don't you check it out with your partner.
posted by simpleton at 2:56 AM on October 5, 2009

Since you question mentions your personal resistance to religious belief and activity, I thought I might add a caution about some of the rhetoric that surrounds New Religious Movements, particularly their coverage on the web.

One rhetorical tactic that is frequently employed by the "anti-cult rescue" types, is the whole "brainwashing" motifs, that allows family and friends to understand (dismiss) the legitimate conversion of a loved one to some seemingly-bizarre set of beliefs or interest in a community.

I'm not saying that there aren't dangerous scams out there, or all sorts of groups that try to control members... just that you need to be careful to avoid using the idea of "brainwashing" to justify ignoring other people's rights and responsibilities. The temptation might exist to excuse your partner's weird behaviour by positing some type of overriding external influence, but the likelihood is that they know exactly what they are doing and choosing to do it for their own reasons.

This may not be a thing you are worried about, but just in case...
posted by ServSci at 10:06 AM on October 5, 2009

« Older This Duck Walks Into a Bar...   |   Find IBM Ad Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.