|Founder||Nirmala Srivastava (aka Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi)|
|kundalini awakening, meditation, self-realization|
Sahaja Yoga is a meditation style and new religious movement founded by Nirmala Srivastava, more widely known as Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi and affectionately as "Mother" by her followers, who are called Sahaja yogis. According to the movement, Sahaja Yoga is the state of self-realization produced by kundalini awakening and is accompanied by the experience of thoughtless awareness or mental silence. Practitioners of the Sahaja Yoga meditation technique say that they feel a cool breeze on their hands and on top of their heads while meditating; other effects include a dilation of the pupils and deep physical and mental relaxation. Sahaja Yoga is not only the name of the movement, but also the technique the movement teaches and the state of awareness achieved by the technique. The movement teaches that self-realization through kundalini awakening is a transformation which results in a more moral, united, integrated and balanced personality.
Sahaja Yoga started in India and England (where Nirmala Srivastava moved in 1974) and there are now Sahaja Yoga centres in almost 100 countries world-wide. Srivastava charged no money, insisting that her lesson was a birthright which should be freely available to all. "There can be no peace in the world until there is peace within," she said.
The organisation has been the centre of a number of controversies; some related to the behaviour of leaders and others to the perceived level of influence the founder has had over her followers. Some ex-members have labelled the movement a cult but it has been largely defended and exonerated from this label. Sahaja Yoga has been found to have been unfairly targeted by anti-cult organisations.
- 1 The term
- 2 Beliefs
- 3 Practices
- 4 Organization
- 5 Cult allegations and refutations
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 Further reading
- 9 External links
The word 'Sahaja' in Sanskrit has two components: saha meaning 'with' and ja meaning 'born'. Sahaja means natural, simple or innate and Yoga means union or yoking and refers to a spiritual path or a state of spiritual absorption. According to a book published by the movement, Sahaja Yoga means spontaneous and born with you meaning that the kundalini is born within us and can be awakened spontaneously.
In 2000 the term 'Sahaja Yoga' was trademarked in the United States by Vishwa Nirmala Dharma.
The term 'Sahaja Yoga' goes back at least to the 15th Century Indian mystic Kabir. and has been used to refer to Surat Shabd Yoga. The term 'Sahaja Yoga' is also used in tens of other meditative practices in various contexts. According to the Sahaja Yoga movement, one cannot put in any effort to awaken the kundalini; just have to ask for it to happen as it is spontaneous.
Sahaja Yogis respect and accept people from all religions and believe that the state achieved through self-realization makes the truth behind all religions apparent. Sahaja Yoga beliefs are seen as a re-discovered ancient knowledge which should be treated respectfully and scientifically, like an hypothesis and if found by experiments as truth, should be accepted. The technique itself is said to be already researched and does not require further development. Sahaja Yoga is held to be different from other yoga/meditations because it begins with self-realization through kundalini awakening rather than as a result of performing kriya techniques or asanas. This spontaneous awakening is said to be made possible by the presence of Shri Mataji herself, or even her photo. The hypothesis is that the experience of self-realization can be individually verified. It is believed that when the kundalini energy of an individual is awakened, he/she gets connected with the all pervading power and is in union with God.
Students are encouraged to experience and test the meditation for themselves rather than proceeding blindly or learning from a book. Advanced concepts are not generally taught until a beginner is understood to have gained enough knowledge of their own subtle system through actual experience. Without direct experience of the meditation, some people have reported difficulties understanding or proceeding to the more advanced material. Sociologist, Judith Coney, for example, reported facing a challenge in getting behind what she called "the public facade". She described Sahaja Yogis as adopting a low profile with uncommitted individuals to avoid unnecessary conflict.
Sahaja Yoga also states that spreading Sahaja Yoga techniques should be free for everyone. Sahaja Yoga members who pay for the events (booking rooms or stalls at fairs) usually do so through their own contributions.
The Subtle System – Chakras, Nadis and Void
Sahaja Yoga believes that in addition to our physical body there is a subtle body composed of nadis (channels) and chakras (energy centres). Psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar writes that Nirmala Srivastava's additions to this widespread traditional 'tantric' model include giving it a scientific, neurological veneer, an elaboration of the health aspects and an introduction of notions of traditional Christian morality. Nirmala Srivastava equates the Sushumna nadi with the parasympathetic nervous system, the Ida nadi with the left and the Pingala nadi with the right sides of the sympathetic nervous system. Kakar believes that this follows the theories of Vasant Rele.
The chakras as understood in Sahaja Yoga are listed as follows:
|Chakra||Location in body||Quality||Associated deity|
|Mūlādhāra, मूलाधार (Also Mooladhara)||Base of spine||Innocence of an eternal child, holiness of mother, purity, wisdom, auspiciousness, magnetism, spontaneity (Sahaj), power to raise the kundalini||Ganesha, Kartikeya|
|Swadhistana स्वाधिष्ठान||Lower abdomen||Pure knowledge, creativity, aesthetics, intellectual perception, pure attention, pure source of thinking||Brahmadeva, Saraswati, Fatimah Zahra, Ali ibn Abi Talib|
|Nabhi/Manipura मणिपूर||Solar plexus||Contentment, the Ten Commandments, ethics, honesty, center of seeking, generosity, household qualities, respect for others||Vishnu, Lakshmi|
|Void||Stomach area||Guru principle, self-mastery, discipline||Janaka, Abraham, Lao Tse, Zoraster, Sai Baba of Shirdi, Moses, Socrates, Confucius, Mohammad, Guru Nanak|
|Anāhata, अनाहत||Heart||Self confidence, fearlessness, protection, development of anti-bodies, love, joy, to be the spirit, responsibility, divine aspects of fatherly and motherly qualities||Shiva, Parvati, Durga, Rama, Sita|
|Viśuddhi, विशुद्ध (Viśuddha)||Throat||Collective consciousness, divine diplomacy, playful witness, omnipresence, purity of brother-sister relationship, self-respect, self witness, sweetness in sound, words, thoughts and behaviour||Krishna, Radha, Vishnu Maya, Vitthala Rukmini|
|Agnya,आज्ञा||Brain||Thoughtless awareness, forgiveness||Jesus Mary, Mahavira, Buddha|
|Sahasrāra, सहस्रार||Fontanelle (top of head)||Integration, collective consciousness, silence||Adi Shakti, Holy Spirit, Mahdi, Kalki|
The three Nadis(channels) with their respective deities and qualities are as follows:
|Nadi or channel||Quality||Associated deity|
|Central Channel or Sushumna Nadi||Being in the present, balance, morality||Mahalakshmi|
|The Moon(left)Channel or Ida Nadi||Pure desire||Mahakali, Bhairava, Archangel Michael|
|The Sun(Right)Channel or Pingala Nadi||The power of action||Mahasaraswati, Hanuman, Archangel Gabriel|
Kundalini, Self-Realization and vibratory awareness
Sahaja Yoga teaches that the chakras can be balanced by awakening the kundalini in the sacrum bone, which is conceived of as a normally dormant 'mother' energy. Nirmala Srivastava has said that the kundalini is the reflection within us of the Holy Spirit or Adi (Primordial) Shakti. She has said that kundalini "is the desire of God.... and the desire of God is the Shakti" and that yoga is impossible without kundalini awakening. As the kundalini rises through these centres, the qualities of the chakras are said to begin manifesting spontaneously. Most illnesses are said to be a result of damage to the chakras, and kundalini is said to repair them.
Sahaja Yoga teaches that when the sahasrara (topmost) chakra is pierced by the kundalini, a person will feel a cool breeze on top of their head and/or on their hands. The chakras and nadis have associated places on the hands. Sensations of heat or coolness in the hands, head and/or body are used to diagnose imbalances in the different chakras and nadis. These sensations (referred to as 'vibrations') are interpreted in Sahaja Yoga as indicating Self-Realization or an "encounter with Reality." The vibrations sensed are believed to be an objective divine energy that can even be caught on camera.
Reporting on Sahaja Yoga, Sudhir Kakar writes that mental and physical disease can be caused by "clogged chakras" or an overactivity of the left and right channels. If the chakras are not linked together by the flow of (kundalini) energy, there is no integrated personality. Sahaja Yoga claims that it has cured patients of high blood pressure, asthma, epilepsy, diabetes, cancer and can prevent many other ailments. In an interview, Nirmala Srivastava stated that Sahaja Yoga has cured people of AIDS. She has also said that Sahaja Yoga can cure mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. Kakar has written that followers of Nirmala Srivastava consider faith in her divinity to be a precondition for being cured.
Nirmala Srivastava is said to have made the unique discovery of a way to grant Self-Realization en masse on 5 May 1970. She visited different religious people including Rajneesh and said that she found them to be greedy and promiscuous rather than spiritual. She said she found the situation hopeless and began searching inside herself for a solution.
Nirmala Srivastava is said to have opened the primordial Sahasrara and thereby cleared the path for the kundalini to rise effortlessly in all who desire self-realization. She has said that when the kundalini reaches the top of the head, the Sahasrara chakra opens and enlightenment (samadhi) takes place. One "may feel a powerful sensation in the crown of the head, followed by a melting sensation and a flow of cool vibrations from the fontanelle area". She says this is the true second birth.
The ability to grant en-masse Self-Realization is held to be proof that Nirmala Srivastava is the 'Avatar of our times'. Nirmala Srivastava has claimed to be the complete incarnation of the Holy Ghost or Adi (Primordial) Shakti. The incarnation of the Adi (Primordial) Shakti was prophesied in the Markandeya Purana and the Nadi Grantha 2000 years ago.
According to followers, the practice of Sahaja Yoga results in spontaneous Self-realization which, according to the official Sahaja Yoga website, can even be obtained online as one sits in front of one's computer, although it is usually experienced at a Sahaja Yoga program.
Practitioners are encouraged to regularly practise techniques which can strengthen the experience of self-realization. These include meditation and chakra cleansing techniques, as well as rituals found in other religious traditions such as prayer and havan. Practices by Sahaja Yogis, rather than being just rituals, produce an actual experience of spiritual vibrations through the body. Sahaja Yogis emerge from these experiences in a pleasurable state, reporting feelings like increased mental clarity, being "blissed out" or filled with overwhelming love. Relief from pain or tiredness are also noted.
Sahaja Yoga meditation was developed during the 1970s by Nirmala Srivastava, and is followed and promoted among and by the Sahaja Yoga movement. The practitioner's aim is to enter the state of "thoughtless awareness" – a state of relaxation and clarity. Nirmala Devi has said that the establishment of thoughtless awareness in one's meditation is necessary before divine connection and spiritual growth can take place. Meditation is not thinking "about your problems at all, whatever chakras you have, anything", rather it "means exposing yourself to God’s grace."
It is suggested a candle or oil lamp be lit in front of a photograph of Shri Mataji, which is believed to emit a constant stream of "positive, cool vibrations (energy)". The practitioner generally begins by raising the kundalini in a physical exercise with their hands and attention and puts on 'bandhan'. He or she then sits comfortably, breathes normally and holds the hands out, palm upwards, as if receiving something precious. During meditation, the attention is focused on the Sahasrara chakra. Sahaja Yoga can be practised while listening to music or in silence. Nirmala Srivasta has described meditation as "an individual journey towards God."
In her Diwali talk in 2002, Nirmala Srivastava said that those who do not meditate cannot get the full advantage of Sahaja Yoga. Judith Coney wrote that practitioners who decide to leave the movement generally do so after not meditating for 6 months or more. An Australian study of the health of Sahaja Yoga practitioners noted that a substantial correlation existed between the frequency of the mental silence experience and the vitality, general health and especially mental health of practitioners.
The practice has been taught to prisoners in Italy and the United States, such as at Rikers Island as a form of prison contemplative program. Nirmala Srivastava has said that the younger children practice meditation the better.
An Australian study of the long term health of Sahaja Yoga practitioners found significantly better results in six out of eight SF-36 sub scales (bodily pain, general health, mental health, role limitation—emotional, social functioning, and vitality) compared to national norms, the remaining two (role limitation—physical, physical functioning) were not significantly different from average.
Some studies have suggested that Sahaja Yoga may have some effect in addressing some medical ailments.
A news report on a preliminary study suggested that Sahaja Yoga "may be the most effective form of treatment for occupational stress". According to an article in the Medical Observer Weekly, Sahaja Yoga was found to be "significantly more effective than a generic form of meditation in reducing stress, anxiety and depressive symptoms".
One study reports results with asthma patients. Short-term effects on asthma were noticed, by both objective and subjective measures. The authors acknowledged the help of Sahaja Yoga practitioners during the trials and the role of Shri Mataji.
A pilot study (N = 14, no control group) on the effect of Sahaja Yoga conducted by Dr Ramesh Manocha of the Royal Hospital for Women in Sydney, Dr. Barbara Semmar of the department of Psychology at Bond University and Dr. Deborah Black of the Faculty of Medicine at the School of Community Medicine of the University of New South Wales on menopausal symptoms showed that "Changes in vasomotor symptoms, especially hot flashes, were most prominent as a significant decrease of 67% at post-treatment and 57% at follow-up". All other symptom measures improved substantially indicating that most of these changes were significant. These findings tentatively suggested that menopausal symptoms, especially vasomotor symptoms, and particularly hot flashes, might be substantially improved by Sahaja Yoga. Dr. Ramesh Manocha was thanked by Nirmala Srivastava's husband for assisting in his wife's medical team in Australia in 2006.
A case study showed that test subjects who were practising Sahaja Yoga had "significant improvement in VCS (Visual Contrast Sensitivity)", and that meditation appeared to bring about changes in some of the electrophysiological responses studied in epileptic patients. Another study indicated that Sahaja Yoga results in fewer and less acute epileptic seizures[this quote needs a citation] A review of the studies determined that there was insufficient evidence to draw conclusions about the efficacy of Sahaja Yoga in treating epilepsy and that further studies were needed. One of the authors of this study, Dr U.C. Rai, former head of the Physiology Department of Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research, Pondicherry, and professor in various medical colleges in Delhi, was appointed by Nirmala Srivastava as the first director of the International Sahaja Yoga Research and Health Center in 1996.
Mishra reported that Sahaja Yoga resulted in a "significant increase" in beta-endorphins between control and meditating subjects. The endogenous opiates, b-endorphins, are known to have a role in body homeostasis. They strengthen the immune system, and are involved in the maintenance of a healthy psychological functioning. They can even combat cancer cells, which could explain so-called 'miraculous cures' in cancer patients after the practice of Yoga meditation.
Manocha et al. used temperature readings to verify that coolness experienced on the palms of the hands resulted from the Sahaja Yoga meditation technique. The degree of skin temperature change correlated strongly with the meditator's self-reported experience of mental silence.
Some cleansing techniques involve the natural elements in the form of candle flame, camphor flame, the earth and salt water. Others techniques involve ice, lemons, chillies, coconuts, ajwain, affirmations, mantras and "shoe-beating".
Nirmala Srivastava has developed a liver diet to promote better health. White cane sugar, white rice, yogurt, ginger, fruits and vegetables promote the "cooling" of the liver. Alcohol, fried foods, red meat, fish, cream and chocolate are among the foods that are "heating" and thus may be harmful if taken in excess.
Water can be spiritually vibrated, according to Sahaja Yoga, changing the characteristics of the water, and resulting in purification.
Puja is a traditional Hindu ceremony. In Sahaja Yoga, puja is one of the means for expressing devotion to particular deities. In some pujas, Nirmala Srivastava allowed herself to be worshiped as the Adi Shakti. This may include ghee, honey, yoghurt, milk, sugar and water being poured on Nirmala Srivastava's feet.
Pujas are only recommended for realised souls (people who have received their Self-realization – knowledge of Self) for them to gain from these pujas.
All the gain that you have from Puja is only possible when you are a realised soul otherwise it is useless to do any Puja, any worship, people go to church, sing few hymns and come back, they are just the same and afterwards go to the pub because they think pub is the only place where they can get some joy.
Nirmala Srivastava strongly indicated that puja in Sahaja Yoga is only meant for people who have reached the state of Nirvichara (thoughtless awareness), and people which haven't reached that state should not come for the puja.
"For Puja, we should not have people who are not at least in Nirvichara ... means if they still think ... they should not come... nothing will work out with them".
"Puja is one of the things by which you can excite the forms into formless. Now your centres are the centres of energies, but they too have a guiding deity sitting on all these chakras. They are also the formless made into forms. And when you do the puja, the forms melt into formless energies. And these formless energies start flowing, and then blows the wind. And that is how these misidentifications, these superimpositions on the Spirit are removed."
According to a Canadian Sahaja Yoga website, puja is defined as: "the act of showing reverence to a God, or another aspect of the Divine through invocations, prayers and songs" and notes that a Sahaja Yoga puja involves "the same kind of ceremony as practised thousands of years ago in the East when mankind had a much closer relationship with God".
Couples intending to marry would generally consult Shri Mataji first. The traditional practice of arranged marriages is also promoted, and the movement hosts its own voluntary arranged marriage system. An official testimony says that arranged marriages save devotees from spending unnecessary attention on searching for prospective partners for potentially the wrong reasons for example, physical attraction. Applicants for arranged marriages and their leaders fill in a form detailing their qualities, backgrounds and involvement in the movement. International seminars often provide an opportunity for practitioners to meet another, often from another country, for the purpose of marriage. The couples are introduced, either through Shri Mataji or one of the movement's national leaders. When matching couples, Shri Mataji took into consideration their vibrational compatibility. No pressure was placed on the partners to proceed and they are encouraged not to go ahead if they have any doubts, according to an official website. 'Mass marriage ceremonies' are sometimes held at puja events. Reportedly not all marriages arranged by Shri Mataji were successful but official statements boast high rates of success.
Nirmala Srivastava herself said that marriage is "spontaneous" and can not be "organized". "Marriage is secondary, and is spontaneous – it cannot be organised."
Nirmala Srivastava emphasised that marriage should be a "support", not a prime thing in Sahaja Yoga. "So marriage should not be the prime thing ... it's supportive ... what is the prime thing is the kundalini."
Commitment and relationships with family and friends
The aim of the Sahaja Yogi is to develop detachment but not run away from family or society. It is suggested that by remaining detached and unaffected, the yogi can play a part in transforming society.
Tasks, meditation requirements, and devotion however, may make great demands on free time, and this can mean that as commitment increases some devotees cut themselves off from relatives and former friends. INFORM has said that over time the Guru's advice (about child rearing, marriage and divorce) can take precedence for some devotees.
Judith Coney observed that the movement tolerates a variety of world views and levels of commitment with some practitioners choosing to remain on the periphery.
Devotion to the guru
Sahaja Yoga officially preaches for practitioners to become their own gurus through their understanding of themselves using Sahaj techniques though practitioners are expected to have a level of devotion to the founder Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi. There is no measurement or achievement awarded to an individual which recognises them as being their own guru.
A 2001 INFORM leaflet says that the emphasis on complete devotion has led to problems and controversy. There is a culture amongst a minority of Sahaja Yogis to believe that those who deviate in particular ways may be possessed by 'negativity' or may be said to be mentally abnormal. Those who fight the pressure to follow the Guru's suggestions and radically change their lifestyle risk being expelled. It is claimed that this may bring problems for those who still believe in the power of the Guru and fear 'losing vibrations'. This expulsion is not enforced but is something understood socially and other Yogis are not expected to react differently to those expelled. It is also not a permanent expulsion; there have been cases of returning Sahaja Yogis following brief periods 'out'.
Barrett writes that some former members say that they were expelled from the movement because they "resisted influence that Mataji had over their lives". According to Barrett, the movement's founder's degree of control over members' lives has given rise to concerns. The Austrian Ministry for Environment, Youth and Family regards Nirmala Srivastava as an authority who cannot be questioned.
Vishwa Nirmala Dharma (trans: Universal Pure Religion, also known as Sahaja Yoga International) is the organizational part of the movement. It is a registered organisation in many countries such as Colombia, the United States of America, France, and Austria. It is registered as a religion in Spain.
The organisation is governed by the World Council for the Advancement of Sahaja Yoga and, in addition to directly promoting Sahaja Yoga, promotes Sahaja culture, runs schools, a health centre, a youth movement, and a project for the rehabilitation of "destitute women and orphaned children".
World Council for the Advancement of Sahaja Yoga
The World Council for the Advancement of Sahaja Yoga (WCASY, also known as the "Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi Sahaja Yoga World Foundation") is the highest authority in Sahaja Yoga. It was proposed in December 2003 and formed the following year. In July 2005 the role of the WCASY was affirmed by C. P. Srivastava Hon KCMG speaking on behalf of his wife, Nirmala Srivastava. The WCASY is intended as a model of collective leadership to increase the ownership of decisions taken by those concerned and to ensure a system of checks and balances.
The WCASY has 31 members, "World Leaders", who represent Sahaja Yoga collectives from across the world. Among the latest additions to the WCASY are Dr. Bohdan Shehovych, Gagan Ahluwalia, Paul Ellis, Alan Wherry, and Alan Pereira in 2005. Dr Bohdan Shehovych was fined in Brisbane's District Court in 2001 for assaulting a critic while delivering to him a letter from the movement's founder. According to an official Sahaja Yoga website, Guido Lanza, a World Leader, was suspended from all activities in Sahaja Yoga in 2005, for disrupting a havan ritual and threatening members. An Italian ashram was "temporarily closed". The same website announced that a Russian World Leader, Sergey Perezhogin, resigned his position in 2005.
In 2005 the founder transferred the world-wide rights for all of her talks in video, audio and written form to the World Foundation for Sahaja Yoga as well as her house in New Jersey for the foundation's headquarters. In the same year the Cabella property was given to an Italian based non-profit foundation.
- The International Sahaja Public School in Dharamsala founded in 1990, teaches around 250 international students annually and has accepted children from the age of 6. India is said to be free from harmful Western influences, and children benefit from what is considered to be a more favourable environment.
- The Shri P.K.Salve Kala Pratishthan is an Indian Classical Music and Fine Arts academy that was founded in Vaitarna, India, in 2003.
- The Cabella Primary School in Italy will open in September 2008, with the children attending the local village school in Rocchetta Ligure.
- An international kindergarten was opened in Borotin, Czech Republic.
- A small kindergarten and primary boarding school was opened in Canajoharie, New York in 2004. As of 2006 it had an enrolment of fourteen students from pre-kindergarten through grade 3.
- There has been a Sahaja Yoga school in Rome.
Judith Coney wrote that the Sahaja Yoga school in Rome accepted boarding infants from the age of 2. Coney also reported the allegation that "when Swiss parents protested to Sri Mataji about their children going away from the age of three, thinking that the command to send their offspring came from the national leader rather than her, she personally reinforced his orders and, moreover, ordered them to have no contact with their children for at least a year."
The organisation runs the International Sahaja Yoga Health and Research Centre in Mumbai, India, which uses Sahaja Yoga methods. Daily activities at the center include meditation, clearing techniques, listening to Nirmala Srivastava's lectures and bhajan singing. This health center claims to have been successful in curing incurable diseases such as (refractory) high blood pressure, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis. The center's website states: "What really counts in this Health Centre is that Our Holy Mother Shri Mataji has Her Divine Attention here and it is evident that She effects all cures."
On 9 May 2007 a conference called Towards Sustainable Global Health was held. The conference was organised by the United Nations, UNESCO-UNEVOC and the University of Bonn. Sahaja Yoga was presented at a conference symposium by doctors from the Sahaja Yoga Research and Health Centre, Mumbai, India, Prof Katya Rubia, King’s College, London and others.
Sahaja Yoga's youth movement is called "Yuvashakti" (also "Nirmal Shakti Yuva Sangha"), from the Sanskrit words Yuva (Youth) and Shakti (Power).
As well as helping organise Sahaja Yoga events such as Realize America tour, The European realisation tour, and Realise Australia, Yuvashakti is active in forums such as the World Youth Conference and TakingITGlobal which aim at discussing global issues, and ways of solving them.
An example of this is the participation in the 2000 "Civil Society & Governance Project" in which Yuvashakti were "instrumental in reaching out to women from the poor communities and providing them with work".
Sahaja Yoga culture
Because of the diversity of cultures practising Sahaja Yoga, a range of different projects focusing on the similarities and differences between cultures was born, including the formation of theatre activity and musical groups playing fusion of different genres, such as Nirmal Bhakti, Sahaj Unlimited and Indialucia including Flamenco, Qawwali and Indian classical music. As Academy of Indian Classical Music and Fine Arts state: music is Divine Inspiration to become the spirit.
Vishwa Nirmal Prem ashram
The Vishwa Nirmala Prem Ashram is a not-for profit project by the NGO Vishwa Nirmala Dharma (Sahaja Yoga International) located in Noida, Delhi, India, opened in 2003. The ashram is a "facility where women and girls are rehabilitated by being taught meditation and other skills that help them overcome trauma". In 2005, 21 girls were housed, most of them full orphans, aged between 5 and 12 years, and a "reasonable number of destitute women".
The World Council supports the creation of an 108-room Ashram complex in Chhindwara, near the birthplace of its founder. Another project is the transfer of her audio and video tapes, many in delicate condition, to digital media. The founder is said to have given several of her homes to the trust run by the World Council to be used in future projects by the organisation. The International Sahaja Yoga Book Project aims to publish 10 or 11 books by Nirmala Srivastava. Sahaja Yoga also broadcasts radio programs.
The methods for practising Sahaja Yoga are made available free of charge to those interested. According to the official Sahaja Yoga website there is a fee for attending international pujas to cover costs and voluntary dakshina. In the US, the dakshina has only been collected separately from the costs since 2005, when the customary dakshina was $75 per adult but varying according to circumstance.
Shri Mataji neither charged for her lectures nor for her ability to give Self Realization, nor does one have to become a member of this organisation. She insisted that one cannot pay for enlightenment and she continued to denounce the false self-proclaimed 'gurus' who are more interested in the seekers' purse than their spiritual ascent. However, according to the author David V. Barrett, the movement had been criticised because of encouragement of its members to make donations to pay for Mataji's trips and "expensive properties."
Sahaja Yoga leaders deny this, pointing out that their group is a recognised religion in both the US and Russia, that all members are free to come and go as they please. They admit that members are asked for voluntary contributions to events and projects, but that the money does not go to the founder herself. A current member of 25 years said: "All the organisation owns is a few properties in various countries. If we were into making money, that would be a pretty feeble return."
A 2001 complaint by Vishwa Nirmala Dharma (a.k.a. Sahaja Yoga) to the World Intellectual Property Organization about the use of the term "Sahaja Yoga" in an ex member's domain name was unsuccessful due in part to the determination that the words 'Sahaja' and 'Yoga' are descriptive Sanskrit words heard in Buddhism, used by Kabir and also referred to by Guru Nanak in Sikhism. The presiding panellist disagreed with the decision and stated his belief that the registration by a group of ex members of a domain name using the term Sahaja Yoga to discredit the organisation was deceitful and in bad faith.
Cult allegations and refutations
A 2008 court case in Brussels has ruled that Sahaja Yoga had been wrongly labelled as a cult by a Belgian state authority and awarded the group compensation. A French National Assembly report has also referred to Sahaja Yoga as a cult.
France and Belgium have been repeatedly criticised at the UN and at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) for fostering religious intolerance and discrimination through state entities and state-funded private entities. Willy Fautré, the Director of Human Rights Without Frontiers writes that "up to now, the negative image of Sahaja Yoga has been mainly conveyed by 'antisect' organisations and 'state sect observatories' without any serious control of the rumours concerning this movement as the Belgian court decisions clearly show".
Judith Coney found that most people who leave the movement voluntarily, still had positive things to say about it. A smaller group of ex-members have made complaints against the movement which have been reported in the press. In 2001, The Independent reported that certain ex-members say "that Sahaja Yoga is a cult which aims to control the minds of its members". In 2005, The Record reported that some critics who feel that the group is a cult have started their own websites. In 2001, The Evening Standard reported that Sahaja Yoga has been "described as a dangerous cult" and "has a dissident website created by former members".
In 2001, the Sahaja Yoga Association published a response to the online allegations of ex-practitioners who were described as "dissatisfied" and having been previously asked to leave the movement.
Sahaja Yoga practitioners have been concerned with how their beliefs are represented in the media. In response to one press article in which cult allegations were made, a meeting was held after a national puja to discuss the level of secrecy within the group. In an effort to be transparent, a researching sociologist, Judith Coney, was allowed to attend this meeting. Sahaja yogis discussed the ways in which some of their beliefs were disguised when in contact with non-members. Coney described this discussion as frank and revealing.
John Crace from the Evening Standard wrote about an event he attended and noted that a Sahaja Yoga representative asked him to feel free to talk to whomever he wanted. He remarked, "Either their openness is a PR charm offensive, or they genuinely have nothing to hide". He proposed that "one of the key definitions of a cult is the rigour with which it strives to recruit new members" and concluded that there was no aggressive recruitment squeeze.
In 2013 De Morgen reported that the Belgian Department of State Security monitors how often politicians are contacted and lobbied by organisations it considers dangerous. The list of organisations includes Sahaja Yoga, as well as Scientology and The Muslim Brotherhood.
- "Experience Your Self Realization". Sahaja Yoga. Vishwa Nirmala Dharma. 12 June 2006. Retrieved 26 November 2011.
- Coney, Judith (1999). Sahaja Yoga: Socializing Processes in a South Asian New Religious Movement. London: Curzon Press. p. 220. ISBN 0-7007-1061-2.
- Nirmala Devi, Shri Mataji (1989). Sahaja Yoga Book One (2nd ed.). Australia: Nirmala Yoga.
- "What Is Sahaja Yoga". Sahaja Yoga.
- Coney, Judith (1999). Sahaja Yoga: Socializing Processes in a South Asian New Religious Movement. pp. 55–56.
- "Administrative Panel Decision 'Vishwa Nirmala Dharma a.k.a. Sahaja Yoga v. Sahaja Yoga Ex-Members Network and SD Montford' Case No. D 2001-0467". WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center. 16 June 2001.
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- Nirmala Srivastava, Doctor's Conference, 7 August 1993, Moscow "I call Sahaja Yoga as meta science because the method of science is not employed in Sahaja Yoga, e. g. in the medical science when we want to search something then we take a hypothesis. We think possibly this might be the solution of a particular disease... Unless we know what are we made of and what is our inner being, and how these diseases are caused, we will not be able to do some thing accurately. Specially allopathic medicines are very heat creating. So we have to take something to neutralise the heat that is also another blind alley, Sahaja Yoga is a meta science. Here you do not have to research anything. It is already researched and we do not have to go working hard for it for years"[full citation needed]
- "Frequently Asked Questions". Sahaja Yoga Australia. Retrieved 19 March 2011.
- Judith Coney, Sahaja Yoga: Socializing Processes in a South Asian New Religious Movement (1999) p214 "Finally, throughout the study I faced the challenge of getting Sahaja Yogis to let me get behind the public facade. This was achieved with varying degrees of success. On one fortunate occasion, for instance, I attended a national puja, after which there was an extremely frank and revealing discussion of why Sahaja Yoga had been seen as a cult in a particular press article and of the level of secrecy in the group. There I listened to a number of speakers talk about the ways in which they disguised some of their beliefs when in contact with non-members."
- Judith Coney, Children in New Religions Susan J. Palmer, Charlotte Hardman, Rutgers University Press (July 1999)
- "::: Sahaja Yoga UK :::". Sahajayoga.org.uk. Retrieved 19 March 2011.
- Kakar, Sudhir (1984) Shamans, Mystics and Doctors: A Psychological Inquiry into India and Its Healing Traditions, ISBN 0-226-42279-8 p196 "Essentially, Mataji's model of the human psyche is comprised of the traditional tantric and hatha yoga notions of the subtle body, with its 'nerves' and 'centers,' and fuelled by a pervasive 'subtle energy' that courses through both the human and the divine, through the body and the cosmos. Mataji's contributions to this ancient model are not strikingly original: as a former medical student she has sought to give it a scientific, neurological veneer; as a former faith healer, she has elaborated upon those aspects of the model that are concerned with sickness and health; as someone born into an Indian Christian family she has tried to introduce notions of traditional Christian morality into an otherwise amoral Hindu view of the psyche."
- Kakar, Sudhir (1984) Shamans, Mystics and Doctors: A Psychological Inquiry into India and Its Healing Traditions, ISBN 0-226-42279-8 p197
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- Kakar, Sudhir (1984) Shamans, Mystics and Doctors: A Psychological Inquiry into India and Its Healing Traditions, ISBN 0-226-42279-8 p204 "In summary, besides the overactivity of the left and right channels, which creates mental tension, gives rise to psychopathological conditions and may connect an individual to the world of dead souls, upset or clogged chakras are held to be a second root cause of mental and physical disease. If the chakras are not linked together by the flow of energy, there is no "integrated" personality, while a "catch" on a chakra prevents its presiding god from sending out his particular "virtue" into the body-mind system."
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- VOA ITV Interview with Shri Mataji – 1/8/2003 p14 "Shri Mataji: And now you see also so many diseases we have cured – cancer, everything. Except for AIDS and this Alzheimer’s. Not that we cannot cure, we have cured. But they’re extremely rude people, specially these Alzheimer’s people are. They abuse you, say all kinds of things. And the other ones think they’re martyrs. AIDS people think they’re martyrs."
- "Monday night with the divine mother". The Evening Standard, London, England, 18 July 2001, John Crace
- Kakar, Sudhir (1984) Shamans, Mystics and Doctors: A Psychological Inquiry into India and Its Healing Traditions, ISBN 0-226-42279-8 p206 "The cult members of course consider such temporary cures as showing a lack of faith in Mataji and her divinity. Given their premise that faith in Mataji can permanently cure the most intractable disease, a patient's persisting symptoms "prove" that he lacks faith, which in turn "proves" the correctness of the premise. As Paul Watzlawick and Leon Festinger, among others, have pointed out, once a tentative explanation has taken hold of our minds, information to the contrary may produce not corrections but elaborations of the explanation."
- Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi. "Sahaja Yoga – An Unique Discovery". Sahaja Yoga Hongkong. Archived from the original on 2008-05-02.
- Sahaja Yoga – Canada. "Sahaja Yoga Canada | Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi". Sahajayoga.ca. Retrieved 19 March 2011.
- Director/Writer: Carolin Dassel, "Nirmala Devi: Freedom and Liberation – Ein Leben für die Freiheit", A film by Carolin Dassel / produced by devifilm GbR / Carolin Dassel, Joseph Reidinger / Co-Production with University of Munich Television and Film and Bayerischer Rundfunk Claudia Gladziejewski, 2006 "Then I started going to different people supposed to be preaching about spirituality, talking about spirituality. But what I found they themselves were not spiritual. Very greedy, trying to want everything, running after women... I said what sort of things these are? If they are like this, what are they going to teach me? So I gave up hopes. Then I started searching myself, within myself. And one day in a forest I was with lots of people who were seeking and I went near the big sea and there I was sitting. And suddenly a light came into me and I saw it clearly that I am a satisfied soul. I don't need anything, I don't want anything. And that is the time when I saw a few things happening."
- "prophecies for the comforter, the redeemer, god on earth". Meditate4free.co.uk. Retrieved 19 March 2011.
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- Srivastava, Nirmala (21 March 1983) Birthday Puja, Sydney, Australia "I am the Holy Ghost. I am the Adi Shakti. I am the One who has come on this Earth for the first time in this Form to do this tremendous task. The more you understand this the better it would be. You will change tremendously. I knew I'll have to say that openly one day and we have said it. But now it is you people who have to prove it that I'm that."
- N B Salkune (2002) "Raising Kundalini With Sahaj Yog" The Times of India. Editorial 1 Mar "Shri Markandeya Purana has prophesied the incarnation of the Adi Shakti for the salvation of human beings... Indian Jyotisha Acharya Kaka Bhujandar Tatvacharya noted in his renowned Nadi Grantha, some 2,000 years ago, that a great yogi will appear on the earth and this yogi will have all the powers (shaktis) of the Adi Shakti."
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- Srivastava, Nirmala (3 November 2002) Diwali Puja, Los Angeles, USA "Main thing is your connection with the Divine is only possible when you meditate and become thoughtlessly aware. That’s the point where your mind works, it helps. It comes to your help in such a way that you don’t know how you have achieved it. So thoughtless awareness is the first point all of you should achieve – very important. After that, we can achieve something else, but the first step is thoughtless awareness. It’s very important to become thoughtlessly aware because then there are no thoughts coming from the left or the right, from the past or the future. Just in the present you are there. It’s something you all have, it’s not that I’m saying that to you, but all of you have this, but steady yourself. You have to steady yourself at thoughtless awareness. How long – that’s not the point. The point is once you’ve touched it, you’ll go on touching it."
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- An Unlikely Source for Meditative Study – Queen's tribune online
- "The preliminary study by the Royal Hospital for Women's (RHW) Natural Therapies unit trialled the Sahaja Yoga technique of meditation which is based on 'thoughtless awareness'." NSW: Meditation found to relieve occupational stress AAP News Australia 15 June 2001 "A meditation technique may be the most effective form of treatment for occupational stress, a new study to be unveiled in Sydney tomorrow has shown. The preliminary study by the Royal Hospital for Women's (RHW) Natural Therapies unit trialled the Sahaja Yoga technique of meditation based on "thoughtless awareness".
- "Making sense of meditation", 13 August 2004, Medical Observer Weekly
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- Manocha, R. (2003). "Letters to the editor: Sahaja yoga in asthma". Thorax 58: 825–826. doi:10.1136/thorax.58.9.825-a. "The authors sincerely regret any misunderstanding ... They sincerely and gratefully acknowledge the important and crucial role played by HH Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi and the Sahaja yoga practitioners of Australia in the execution of this study, and sincerely regret not having made more appropriate acknowledgements in the original article."
- A Pilot Study of a Mental Silence Form of Meditation for Women in Perimenopause Clinical Psychology in Medical settings viewed 15 November 2007.
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"Sahaja Yoga appears to bring about changes in some of the electrophysiological responses studied in epileptic patients"
- Panjwani U, Selvamurthy W, Singh SH, Gupta HL, Thakur L, Rai UC. "Effect of sahaja yoga practice on seizure control & EEG changes in patients of epilepsy." Indian J Med Res 1996;103: 165–72.[ISI][Medline]
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- "Welcome to our Site". International Sahaja Yoga Research and Health Center.
- Mishra, Ram K.; Barlas, Cia; Pradhan, A. "Effect of meditation on plasma beta-endorphins in humans". Poster Sessions, Toward a Science of Consciousness 2006. Center for Consciousness Studies, University of Arizona. "The present study was undertaken to evaluate the effectiveness of the meditative practice of Sahaja yoga on plasma β-endorphin levels. .... There was a significant increase (p<0.01) between control and meditating subjects when controlled for age and gender. Female subjects, however, displayed less increase in the β-endorphins as compared to male subjects."
- "Alterations in physiological parameters during Sahaja Yoga meditation". Archived from the original on 2007-12-06.
- Manocha, R.; Black, D.; Ryan, J; Stough, C.; Spiro, D. (March 2010). "Changing Definitions of Meditation – Is there a Physiological Corollary?". Journal of the International Society of Life Sciences 28 (1): 23–31. "This study demonstrates a skin temperature reduction on the palms of the hands during the experience of mental silence, arising as a result of a single 10-minute session of Sahaja yoga meditation."
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- Sahaja Yoga Turya Course session seven"The authentic format of the ceremony has changed very little over the years, except that in the case of Sahaja Yoga the whole focus of the program is to move closer to the Divine and experience a Spiritual communication which goes much further than simply singing a few songs. The vibrational impact of a Puja can be simply astonishing".
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- Srivastava, Nirmala (26 February 1995) Shivaratri Puja, Castle Mountain, Sydney, Australia "The first achievement shows that from inside they start getting detached. Now, detachment is not mental. It's not mental. It is not that we have to take to some sort of a Sanyasa or we have to go to Himalayas, give up our families and all that. But the detachment is within oneself. When that detachment starts working, the first sign is that we become joyous. We become happy. Now if you ask anyone, "Why are you unhappy?", he'll talk about his wife, maybe his house, maybe his children, maybe his country, maybe society, whatever it is. So he gets absolutely upset, or maybe very unhappy to see things happening around him. Now [if] he is a realized soul – this unhappiness is not going to help. What is needed is, now, to know that you can correct all these ills of the society, of the family, of the whole country by transforming others, not by feeling bad. But while doing that, the main thing that you should have is a complete detachment."
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- Barrett, David V. (2001). The New Believers. Cassell. pp. 297–298. ISBN 0-304-35592-5. "Sahaja Yoga, like many other new religious movements, is involved in charitable social work, including a hospital and a cancer research centre – both using Sahaja Yoga methods for healing – a classical musical school, and a shelter for the poor in Delhi. Sahaja Yoga makes a big point of its teaching being free: – Amazingly, without any financial support from any person, Shri Mataji neither charges for Her lectures nor for Her ability to give Self Realization, nor does one have to become a member of this organization. She insists that you cannot pay for enlightenment and to-date she continues to denounce the false self-proclaimed ‘gurus’ who are more interested in the seekers’ purse than their spiritual ascent. – But in fact this is one of the major criticisms of the movement, that the often middle-class members are encouraged to make regular donations to pay for Shri Mataji’s trips around the world, and to buy her expensive properties, such as Shudy Camps Park House near Cambridge, England, in 1986 and an Italian castle in 1991. (...) Devoted member refer to her as the Divine Mother, and she has called herself Adi Shakh, Primal Mother of All; many take her advice on child-rearing, and some ask her to choose their marriage partners. This amount of influence over her followers’ lives has caused concern in several countries. Some former have said that they were expelled from the movement because they resisted Shri Mataji’s influence over their lives."
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Brisbane's District Court has been told a GP grabbed a man round the head and dragged him over a backyard fence – accusing him of befouling members of an Indian cult. The court was told Dr BOHDAN MYRON SHEHOVYCH was among a group delivering a letter to the man from the founder of the meditation religion, Sahaja Yoga. The 52-year-old doctor from the New South Wales central coast today pleaded guilty to entering a house at Mount Ommaney in Brisbane' west and assaulting TERENCE RICHARD BLACKLEY on 3 March this year. The court heard the group was delivering a letter to BLACKLEY from spiritual leader SHRI MATAJI NIRMALA DEVI, alleging spiritual and criminal wrongdoings. Judge KERRY O'BRIEN today told the doctor that someone of his intelligence should have known better than to behave in that manner. He's fined Dr SHEHOVYCH $1,500 but did not record a conviction.
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- Coney, Judith (1999) Sahaja Yoga: Socializing Processes in a South Asian New Religious Movement, (London: Curzon Press) ISBN 0-7007-1061-2
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- List of research papers, conferences and publications relating to the Sahaja Yoga research and health center.