Gurumayi Chidvilasananda

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Born (1955-06-24) 24 June 1955 (age 62)
Mangalore, India[1]

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 Sanskrit word translates to "immersed in the Guru").[2] 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. She was born at the foot of a mountain near Mangalore, India on June 24, 1955.[3] Malti was the oldest child of a Mumbai couple who were devotees of Muktananda in the 1950s. Her parents took her to the Gurudev Siddha Peeth ashram at Ganeshpuri for the first time when she was five years old. During her childhood, her parents brought her, her sister, and two brothers to the ashram on weekends.[4]

After she had been initiated by Muktananda through shaktipat at age fourteen,[5] she moved to the ashram as a formal disciple and yoga student.[6] At age twenty, Muktananda made her his official English language translator and she accompanied him on his second and third world tours.[7][8]

On 3 May 1982, she was initiated as a sannyasin into the Saraswati order of monks, taking vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience, and acquiring the title and monastic name of Swami Chidvilasananda, (Sanskrit for "bliss of the play of consciousness"). At this time Muktananda formally designated her as one of his successors, along with her younger brother Subhash Shetty, whose monastic name was Swami Nityananda.[9]

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?"[10]

Muktananda died in October 1982, after which Chidvilasananda and her brother became joint spiritual heads of the Siddha Yoga path. However, Chidvilasananda's brother left the Siddha Yoga path in 1985.[11] 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.[12] But in a 1994 interview in The New Yorker, Nityananda admitted to sexual relations with several devotees and claims he was held isolated for 18 days, caned for three hours, and banished from the ashram. Chidvilasananda confirmed that Nityananda was locked in the ashram and caned, but denies that he was banished.[13] In 1987, Nityananda founded the Shanti Mandir ('Temple of Peace'), a separate organisation which he now runs as Mahamandaleshwar Nityananda.

In the decades of the 1980s and 1990s, Chidvilasananda gave lectures and conducted Siddha Yoga Shaktipat Intensives in India, United States, Europe, Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, and Mexico. Through Shaktipat Intensives, participants are said to receive Shaktipat initiation (the awakening of Kundalini energy that, according to Indian scriptural tradition, resides within each person) and to deepen their practice of Siddha Yoga meditation.[14] Since 1989, the SYDA Foundation - the organization that "protects, preserves, and facilitates the dissemination of the Siddha Yoga teachings" - has sponsored the Siddha Yoga Shaktipat Intensive given globally each year.[14]

Between 1989 and 2006, Chidvilasananda wrote nine books of spiritual discourses, three books of poetry and three books of spiritual stories for children. These books were published by the SYDA Foundation.[15] According to the SYDA Foundation, Chidvilasananda's books have been published in 14 languages.[16]

Each year, on January 1, Chidvilasananda gives a spiritual message that Siddha Yoga students may contemplate and practice.

In addition to her teaching through books, lectures and via the Siddha Yoga path website, Chidvilasananda has also demonstrated the spiritual practice of chanting through live and recorded chants. 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.[17] She has recorded several CDs of chanting, including the mantra "Om Namah Shivaya".[18]

Philanthropic work[edit]

In 1992, Chidvilasananda's humanitarian initiative, the PRASAD Project, was incorporated in the United States.[19] The PRASAD project is an NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.[20] The PRASAD Project assists "people to achieve lives of self-reliance and dignity by offering programs of health, education and sustainable community development in India, dental care in the United States and eye care in Mexico."[21] In the treatment of cataracts, PRASAD de Mexico has "performed free eye surgery on 26,087 adults and children."[22]

In 1997, Chidvilasananda founded the Muktabodha Indological Research Institute which now has its own publishing imprint, Agama Press.[23] The mission of Muktabodha, based on Chidvilasananda's original intention for the organization in 1997, is "to preserve endangered texts from the religious and philosophical traditions of classical India and make them accessible for study and scholarship worldwide."[24]

Through the SYDA Foundation, Chidvilasananda also supports the Prison Project, originally created by Muktananda in 1979. The Prison Project makes the teachings and practices of the Siddha Yoga path available to incarcerated individuals. There are "six thousand students in over fifteen hundred prisons in North America, Europe, Canada, and Australia."[25]


  • 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.


The New York Times, The New Yorker and have all written that Chidvilasananda's ashrams have attracted celebrities, including Meg Ryan,[26] Melanie Griffith, Isabella Rossellini, Diana Ross and Don Johnson.[13][27] The Telegraph states that Scottish pop singer Lulu met Gurumayi.[28]

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."[29] 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.[27][30]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Johnsen, Linda. Daughters of the Goddess: The Women Saints of India. p. 73. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ 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
  5. ^ Meditation Revolution, p.64
  6. ^ The Graceful Guru: Hindu Female Gurus in India and the United States, Karen Pechilis, Oxford University Press US, 2004, pg. 225
  7. ^ 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.99. This history records Chidvilasandna as starting as translator for Muktananda at the age of 20. She translated for Muktananda on his second and third world tours but not on his first.
  8. ^ 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. . Note that Caldwell gives the age of Gurumayi's shaktipat as thirteen, not fourteen as stated by Pechilis.
  9. ^ Meditation Revolution, p.115
  10. ^ Swami Muktananda, I am That, Preface by Swami Chidvilasananda (South Fallsburg, New York: SYDA Foundation, 1992), p. xxiii.
  11. ^ 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
  12. ^ "Former SYDA Co-Guru Explains". Hinduism Today. January 1986. Retrieved 7 November 2011. 
  13. ^ a b Harris, Lis (14 November 1994). "New Yorker". O Guru, Guru, Guru. Retrieved 8 November 2011. 
  14. ^ a b S.P. Sabharathnam Douglas Brooks. Meditation Revolution: A History and Theology of the Siddha Yoga Lineage. Agama Press, 1997. pages 135-152. ISBN 978-0-9654096-0-5
  15. ^, retrieved November 18, 2014
  16. ^ Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, Sadhana of the Heart, vol. 1, (South Fallsburg, NY: SYDA Foundation, 2006; second printing 2011), page 16
  17. ^ Linda Johnsen 1994, pages 76–77
  18. ^ Chidvilasananda, Gurumayi (1987). "The Power of the Mantra (CD)". The Power of the Mantra – Om Namah Shivaya. SYDA Foundation. Retrieved 9 November 2011. 
  19. ^ "PRASAD Project". Archived from the original on 21 April 2007. Retrieved 18 March 2007. 
  20. ^ "Department of Economic and Social Affairs – Non-Governmental Organizations Section". Retrieved 16 November 2008. 
  21. ^ "About Us". Retrieved 18 November 2014. 
  22. ^ "PRASAD Eye Care Programs, Mexico". Retrieved 18 November 2014. 
  23. ^ "Muktabodha Webpage". Retrieved 18 March 2007. 
  24. ^ "Muktabodha Webpage". Retrieved 18 November 2014. 
  25. ^ "Siddha Yoga path webpage". Retrieved 18 November 2014. 
  26. ^ "NYTimes:Style:New York". This Year, the Jet Set Is Seeking Nirvana. New York Times. 7 June 1998. Retrieved 7 November 2011. 
  27. ^ a b Shah, Riddhi. The "Eat, Pray, Love" guru's troubling past.", 14 August 2010. Retrieved 7 November 2011
  28. ^ Grice, Elizabeth (4 February 2008). "The Telegraph". Lulu:'I think the best is yet to come — even now'. Retrieved 8 November 2011. 
  29. ^ Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert (Bloomsbury Publishing) 2006, p.25
  30. ^ Stewart, Sara. "Eat pray zilch." Archived 13 November 2011 at the Wayback Machine. The New York Post, 10 August 2010.

Further reading[edit]

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