Gurumayi Chidvilasananda

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Born (1955-06-24) 24 June 1955 (age 59)

Gurumayi Chidvilasananda (or Swami Chidvilasananda) is the current spiritual head of the Siddha Yoga path. She is formally known as Swami Chidvilasananda or more informally as Gurumayi (the word translates to "immersed in the Guru"[1]). The Siddha Yoga lineage (parampara) was established by Bhagawan Nityananda, whose disciple and successor, Muktananda was Gurumayi's guru.

Life and career[edit]

Swami Chidvilasananda is the monastic name of Malti Shetty, who was the oldest child of a Mumbai couple who were devotees of Muktananda in the 1950s. Her parents took her the first time to the Gurudev Siddha Peeth ashram at Ganeshpuri when she was five years old. During her childhood, her parents brought her, her sister, and two brothers to the ashram on weekends.[2]

After she had been initiated by Muktananda through shaktipat at age fourteen,[3] she moved to the ashram as a formal disciple and yoga student.[4] At age fifteen, Muktananda made her his official English language translator and she accompanied him on his world tours.[5]

On 3 May 1982, she was initiated as a sannyasin into the Saraswati order, taking vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience, and acquiring the title and monastic name of Swami Chidvilasananda, (literally "bliss of the play of consciousness"). At this time Muktananda formally designated her as one of his successors, along with her brother Subhash Shetty, now known by his monastic name of Mahamandaleshwar Nityananda.[6]

Sharing her experience, Chidvilasananda wrote:

At one point during the pattabhisheka, the ceremony during which Baba Muktananda passed on to me the power of his lineage, he whispered soham and aham Brahmasmi in my ear. I experienced the mantra as an immensely powerful force which rocketed at lightning speed throughout my bloodstream and created an upheaval in my entire system. I instantly transcended body-consciousness and became aware that all distinctions such as inner and outer were false and artificial. Everything was the same; what was within me was also without. My mind became completely blank. There was only the pulsating awareness 'I am That,' accompanied by great bliss and light. When my mind again began to function, all I could think was, 'What is Baba? Who is this being who looks so ordinary, yet has the capacity to transmit such an experience at will?"[7]

Muktananda died in October 1982, after which Chidvilasananda and her brother took over the running of the Siddha Yoga organisation. However, the two co-gurus disagreed in 1985.[8] According to his 1986 interview in Hinduism Today, Nityananda left by his own choice, deciding to cease to be a Siddha Yoga Sannyasi but wishing his sister well as sole guru.[9] In 1987, Nityananda founded the Shanti Mandir ('Temple of Peace'), a separate organisation which "continues the spiritual work of his Guru, the renowned sage Baba Muktananda, whom he succeeded in 1982." Shanti Mandir runs two Ashrams in India, and – like Gurumayi – one in New York State.[10]

In 1992, Chidvilasananda incorporated the PRASAD Project in the United States.[11] The PRASAD project is an NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nation.[12]

In 1997 she founded the Muktabodha Indological Research Institute with its own publishing imprint, Agama Press.[13]

In the opinion of some, Chidvilasananda "is a superb singer", with a "deep, resonant contralto" voice which she uses to great effect when leading her devotees in chanting.[14] She has recorded several CDs of chanting, including the mantra "Om Namah Shivaya".[15]

The New York Times, The New Yorker and have all written that Chidvilasananda's ashrams have attracted celebrities, including Meg Ryan,[16] Melanie Griffith, Isabella Rossellini, Diana Ross and Don Johnson.[17][18] The Telegraph states that Scottish pop singer Lulu met Gurumayi.[19]

In 1994, Lis Harris noted that Gurumayi's ashram in New York State is "sleekly modernized, in country-club-glitz style" from three prewar Catskill hotels "in neatly landscaped grounds" of 550 acres, and had "an estimated market value of fifteen to seventeen million dollars" in 1994.[18] The ashram was able to earn "well over four million dollars" in 1989 selling books and other merchandise, and by running workshops (called intensives).[18]

Some of Chidvilasananda's critics maintain that she associates with celebrities and runs opulent ashrams, which they believe contradicts what is expected of a renunciate.[citation needed]

Author Linda Johnsen observed the appearance of wealth at the ashram and took it positively. She noted that the ascetic traditions of yoga are only one type and that others exist. She quotes a Brahmin priest who told her "The Goddess is beauty and wealth. Prosperity is a gift of the Mother."[20]

Eat, Pray, Love[edit]

Reporters for and The New York Post have speculated that Chidvilasananda was the guru featured in Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir Eat, Pray, Love and its film adaptation. Gilbert became a devotee of this guru after seeing a photo of this "radiantly beautiful Indian woman."[21] She later went to the guru's ashram in India as part of a year-long sabbatical. Gilbert has not identified by name the real-life ashram and guru featured in the book.[17][22]


  • Chidvilasananda, Swami (1989). Kindle My Heart. Prentice Hall Press. 
  • Chidvilasananda, Swami (1990). Ashes at My Guru's Feet. SYDA Foundation.
  • Chidvilasananda, Swami (1991). Siddha Yoga Diksha (in Hindi). SYDA Foundation.
  • Chidvilasananda, Swami (1994). My Lord Loves A Pure Heart. SYDA Foundation.
  • Chidvilasananda, Swami (1995). Inner Treasures. SYDA Foundation. 
  • Chidvilasananda, Swami (1995). Blaze The Trail of Equipoise. SYDA Foundation.
  • Muktananda, Swami & Chidvilasananda, Swami (1995). Resonate With Stillness. SYDA Foundation.
  • Chidvilasananda, Swami (1996). The Yoga of Discipline. SYDA Foundation.
  • Chidvilasananda, Swami (1996). The Magic of the Heart. SYDA Foundation.
  • Chidvilasananda, Swami (1997). Enthusiasm. SYDA Foundation.
  • Chidvilasananda, Gurumayi (April 1997). "Your True Companion: The Self Within". Hinduism Today. Retrieved 14 June 2007. 
  • Chidvilasananda, Gurumayi (1998). Remembrance. SYDA Foundation.
  • Chidvilasananda, Gurumayi (1999). Courage and Contentment. SYDA Foundation.
  • Chidvilasananda, Gurumayi (2006). Sadhana of the Heart – Siddha Yoga Messages for the Year Volume 1: 1995–1999. SYDA Foundation.


  1. ^ Johnsen, Linda. Daughters of the Goddess: The Women Saints of India. p. 73. 
  2. ^ Douglas Brooks, Swami Durgananda, Paul E. Muller-Ortega, Constantina Rhodes Bailly, S.P. Sabharathnam. Meditation Revolution: a History and Theology of the Siddha Yoga lineage. (Agama Press) 1997, p.62
  3. ^ Meditation Revolution, p.64
  4. ^ The Graceful Guru: Hindu Female Gurus in India and the United States, Karen Pechilis, Oxford University Press US, 2004, pg. 225
  5. ^ Sarah Caldwell (2001). "The Heart of the Secret: A Personal and Scholarly Encounter with Shakta Tantrism in Siddha Yoga" (Reprint). Nova Religio 5 (1): 9–51. doi:10.1525/nr.2001.5.1.9.  PDF – page 22. Note that Caldwell gives the age of Gurumayi's shaktipat as thirteen, not fourteen as stated by Pechilis.
  6. ^ Meditation Revolution, p.115
  7. ^ Swami Muktananda, I am That, Preface by Swami Chidvilasananda (South Fallsburg, New York: SYDA Foundation, 1992), p. xxiii.
  8. ^ S.P. Sabharathnam Douglas Brooks. Meditation Revolution: A History and Theology of the Siddha Yoga Lineage. Agama Press, 1997. page 115. ISBN 978-0-9654096-0-5
  9. ^ "Former SYDA Co-Guru Explains". Hinduism Today. January 1986. Retrieved 7 November 2011. 
  10. ^ "Shanti Mandir". About Shanti Mandir. Shanti Retrieved 7 November 2011. 
  11. ^ "PRASAD Project". Retrieved 18 March 2007. 
  12. ^ "Department of Economic and Social Affairs – Non-Governmental Organizations Section". Retrieved 16 November 2008. 
  13. ^ "Muktabodha Webpage". Retrieved 18 March 2007. 
  14. ^ Linda Johnsen 1994, pages 76–77
  15. ^ Chidvilasananda, Gurumayi (1987). "The Power of the Mantra (CD)". The Power of the Mantra – Om Namah Shivaya. SYDA Foundation. Retrieved 9 November 2011. 
  16. ^ "NYTimes:Style:New York". This Year, the Jet Set Is Seeking Nirvana. New York Times. 7 June 1998. Retrieved 7 November 2011. 
  17. ^ a b Shah, Riddhi. The "Eat, Pray, Love" guru's troubling past.", 14 August 2010. Retrieved 7 November 2011
  18. ^ a b c Harris, Lis (14 November 1994). "New Yorker". O Guru, Guru, Guru. Retrieved 8 November 2011. 
  19. ^ Grice, Elizabeth (4 February 2008). "The Telegraph". Lulu:'I think the best is yet to come — even now'. Retrieved 8 November 2011. 
  20. ^ Linda Johnsen 1994, pages 78–9
  21. ^ Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert (Bloomsbury Publishing) 2006, p.25
  22. ^ Stewart, Sara. "Eat pray zilch." The New York Post, 10 August 2010.

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