Gurumayi Chidvilasananda

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Gurumayi Chidvilasananda
Born (1955-06-24) 24 June 1955 (age 67)
Occupation(s)Guru, head of Siddha Yoga
Notable workKindle My Heart (1989)

Gurumayi Chidvilasananda (or Gurumayi or Swami Chidvilasananda), born Malti Shetty on 24 June 1955, is the guru or spiritual head of the Siddha Yoga path, with ashrams in India at Ganeshpuri and the Western world, with the headquarters of the SYDA foundation in South Fallsburg, New York.

Gurumayi received spiritual initiation (shaktipat) from her guru, Swami Muktananda, when she was 14, at which time he designated her and her brother Swami Nityananda as his successors. She became a renunciate (sanyassin) in 1982. Muktananda died later that year and she and her brother jointly became the heads of Siddha Yoga. They proceeded to expand the South Fallsburg ashram to accommodate large numbers of devotees. In 1985 Nityananda left the Siddha Yoga path.

She has authored several devotional books, starting with the 1989 Kindle My Heart.

Life and career[edit]

Early life[edit]

Gurumayi Chidvilasananda was born near Mangalore, India on 24 June 1955.[1] She was called Malti as a child and was the eldest of three children to 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.[2]

She received spiritual initiation (shaktipat) from Muktananda at age fourteen[3] and moved to the ashram as a formal disciple and yoga student.[4] At age twenty, Swami Muktananda made her his official English language translator and she accompanied him on his second and third world tours.[5][6]


On 3 May 1982, Gurumayi 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, (and later, Gurumayi; the two names being Sanskrit for "immersed in the Guru" and "bliss of the play of consciousness").[7] At this time Swami Muktananda formally designated her as one of his successors, along with her younger brother Subhash Shetty, whose monastic name was Swami Nityananda.[8]

Swami Muktananda died in October 1982, after which Gurumayi and Nityananda became joint spiritual heads of the Siddha Yoga path. Nityananda left the Siddha Yoga path in 1985;[9] according to his 1986 interview in Hinduism Today, he left by his own choice, admitting to having sex with several devotees, deciding to cease to be a Siddha Yoga sannyasi but wishing his sister well as sole guru.[10] A different version of the events was reported later, that there had been a battle for succession,[4][11][12] in which Gurumayi "denounced and deposed" her brother "for allegedly participating in antinomian sexual rituals".[13][14] Swami Chidvilasananda stated that she punished him for his misconduct by letting the women he slept with hit him with a stick; eye-witnesses reported that he was bruised.[13][6]

Purity[clarification needed] is emphasized in the Siddha Yoga tradition. Pechilis writes that Gurumayi's purity is highlighted to show that she continues the guru tradition, and that she is a suitably pure person to be the spiritual leader of the organization. Pechilis comments that while purity may have been an implicit credential for her predecessor gurus, one point of view is that it became "explicit and greatly emphasized during the succession dispute and is now a primary lens"[15] for understanding Gurumayi's spiritual path. Unusually for female gurus, Pechilis writes, she was not apparently expected to marry at any time. Instead she took sannyasa in the way a male guru would.[15]

The scholars Jeffrey Kripal[16] and Sarah Caldwell[17] write that the 1997 book Meditation Revolution,[9] which includes five recognized scholars among its six authors, essentially legitimizes, systematizes, and canonizes Gurumayi Chidvilasanda's Siddha Yoga lineage. They state that this would be unexceptionable if presented as from devotees, but is problematic given their presentation of themselves as scholarly historians of religion.[18]


In the 1980s and 1990s, Gurumayi 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.[19] From 1989 to 2019, the SYDA Foundation - the organization that "protects, preserves, and facilitates the dissemination of the Siddha Yoga teachings" - sponsored the Siddha Yoga Shaktipat Intensive given globally.[19][20]

In 1992, Gurumayi's humanitarian initiative, the PRASAD Project, was incorporated in the United States.[21] The project is an NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.[22] It 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."[23] In the treatment of cataracts, PRASAD de Mexico has "performed free eye surgery on 26,087 adults and children."[24]

In 1997, Gurumayi founded the Muktabodha Indological Research Institute with its own publishing imprint, Agama Press.[25] The mission of Muktabodha, based on Gurumayi’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."[26]

In 1998, The New York Times published an article about Siddha Yoga titled "This year, the jet set is seeking Nirvana."[27] Celebrities including Meg Ryan, Melanie Griffith, Isabella Rossellini, Diana Ross, Lisa Kudrow, and Lulu publicly became devotees and frequented the South Fallsburg ashram. Large numbers of devotees also visited during weekends, for short stays, or for longer periods of service.[27][28]

Between 1989 and 2006, Gurumayi wrote nine books of spiritual discourses, three books of poetry, three books of spiritual stories for children, and recordings in which she chants mantras. These were published by the SYDA Foundation,[29] which holds copyright to all Muktananda and Childvilasananda works.[30] The titles of her autobiographical books such as Ashes at My Guru's Feet and Growing up with Baba emphasize the importance of lineage in Siddha Yoga, placing her as the third of its spiritual masters.[15] During this era, the SYDA Foundation, the business entity associated with Siddha Yoga developed "into a multimillion dollar entity" with business-type executives.[4]

In 2020, in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, Gurumayi started appearing in frequent live video satsangs streamed on the Siddha Yoga website.[31]


The scholar of religion Andrea Jain states that Gurumayi has adopted "a strategy of denial" that presents Muktananda as essentially perfect, in order to maintain the Siddha Yoga mission. She cites the scholar Douglas Renfrew Brooks's comment that she, like Muktananda, cites the Hindu tantric scripture Kularnava Tantra "frequently but selectively".[13]

The scholar Karen Pechilis notes that female celibacy has caused conflict within the families of gurus such as Ammachi and Gauri Ma, but that it is not reported as an issue in biographies of Chidvilasananda.[32] Another scholar of religion, Katherine Wessinger, comments that Chidvilasananda's position is "remarkable in that she combines the charisma of her ecstatic love for God (this is apparent when she chants the names of God) with the institutional authority of having been initiated as a sannyasin and of having been designated guru in a parampara (lineage of gurus) [her italics]".[14]

The guru in Elizabeth Gilbert's 2006 memoir Eat, Pray, Love has been identified by multiple sources as Chidvilasananda.[33][34][35][36] There are multiple close parallels: the guru is described as "feminine, multilingual, university-educated"; she resides in the United States; devotees recite the 90-minute-long Guru Gita every morning; she followed an Indian swami when a teenager; she worked as his translator before becoming a guru; she was in her 20s when she succeeded him.[34]

In 1994, The New Yorker published an extensive profile of Gurumayi.[37]

Shaktipat experience[edit]

Sharing her shaktipat experience, Gurumayi wrote: "At one point during the pattābhisheka, the ceremony during which Baba Muktananda passed on to me the power of his lineage, he whispered So’ham [I am He] and Aham Brahmāsmi [I am of Brahman] in my ear. I experienced the mantra as an immensely powerful force that 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?” I knew beyond a doubt that the mantra was God. I had never experienced a force so mighty, yet at the same time so soothing."[38]


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


  1. ^ a b "A Talk about Gurumayi's Life and Legacy". SYDA Foundation. 1 June 2017. Retrieved 27 August 2019.
  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. ^ a b c Pechilis, Karen (2004). "Gurumayi, the Play of Shakti and Guru". The Graceful Guru: Hindu Female Gurus in India and the United States. Oxford University Press. pp. 219–243. ISBN 0-19-514538-0.
  5. ^ 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 records Gurumayi as starting as translator for Muktananda at the age of 20. She translated for Muktananda on his second and third world tours.
  6. ^ a b Caldwell, Sarah (2001). "The Heart of the Secret: A Personal and Scholarly Encounter with Shakta Tantrism in Siddha Yoga". 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.
  7. ^ Johnsen, Linda (1994). Daughters of the Goddess: The Women Saints of India. Yes International Publishers. p. 73. ISBN 0-936663-09-X.
  8. ^ Meditation Revolution, p.115
  9. ^ a b 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
  10. ^ "Former SYDA Co-Guru Explains". Hinduism Today. January 1986. Retrieved 7 November 2011.
  11. ^ Syman, Stefanie (2010). The Subtle Body: the Story of Yoga in America. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. pp. 285–289. ISBN 978-0-374-53284-0. OCLC 456171421.
  12. ^ Beck, Julie (13 March 2017). "This Article Won't Change Your Mind" (PDF). The Atlantic. Retrieved 22 August 2021.
  13. ^ a b c Jain, Andrea (2014). "Muktananda: Entrepreneurial Godman, Tantric Hero". In Singleton, Mark; Goldberg, Ellen (eds.). Gurus of Modern Yoga. Oxford University Press. pp. 192, 198, 204–207. ISBN 978-0199938728.
  14. ^ a b Wessinger, Catherine (1993). "Woman guru, woman roshi: the legitimation of female religious leadership in Hindu and Buddhist groups in America". Women's leadership in marginal religions: Explorations outside the Mainstream (PDF). University of Illinois Press. pp. 125–146. ISBN 978-0-25206-332-9. Swami Nityananda was compelled to withdraw from the position in 1985 due to charges that he had repeatedly broken his vow of celibacy[dead link]
  15. ^ a b c Pechilis 2004, pp. 219–243.
  16. ^ Kripal, Jeffrey J. (1999). "Inside-Out, Outside-In. Existential Place and Academic Practice in the Study of North American Guru-Traditions". Religious Studies Review. 24 (3): 233–238.
  17. ^ Caldwell 2001.
  18. ^ Jain 2014.
  19. ^ 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
  20. ^ "Calendar for Siddha Yoga Study and Practice in 2021". Retrieved 6 October 2021.
  21. ^ "PRASAD Project". Archived from the original on 21 April 2007. Retrieved 18 March 2007.
  22. ^ "Department of Economic and Social Affairs – Non-Governmental Organizations Section". Retrieved 16 November 2008.
  23. ^ "About Us". Retrieved 18 November 2014.
  24. ^ "PRASAD Eye Care Programs, Mexico". Retrieved 18 November 2014.
  25. ^ "Muktabodha Webpage". Retrieved 18 March 2007.
  26. ^ "Muktabodha Webpage". Retrieved 18 November 2014.
  27. ^ a b Kuczynski, Alex (7 June 1998). "This year, the jet set is seeking Nirvana". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 October 2021.
  28. ^ Chaudhuri, Anita (27 August 2000). "Spiritual guides: Gurus: the finishing touch". The Observer. Retrieved 6 October 2021.
  29. ^ "Publications > By Author > Gurumayi Chidvilasananda". Siddha Yoga Bookstore. Retrieved 18 July 2020.
  30. ^ Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, Sadhana of the Heart, vol. 1, (South Fallsburg, NY: SYDA Foundation, 2006; second printing 2011), page 16
  31. ^ "About 'Be in the Temple'". SYDA. Retrieved 2 October 2021.
  32. ^ Pechilis, Karen (2015). "Women Gurus in Hinduism" (PDF). Prabuddha Bharata. 120 (6): 400–409.
  33. ^ "No ashram for Julia Roberts". 20 August 2009. Retrieved 5 October 2021. it is widely guessed that she stayed at Gurudev Siddha Peeth at Ganeshpuri (Thane district) in Maharashtra and her guru was Gurumayi Chidvilasananda
  34. ^ a b Shah, Riddhi (14 August 2010). "The "Eat, Pray, Love" guru's troubling past". Salon. Retrieved 22 August 2021.
  35. ^ Stewart, Sara (20 August 2010). "Eat, Pray, Zilch". New York Post. Retrieved 22 August 2021.
  36. ^ Leba, Jennifer (12 October 2010). "The Guru Looked Good: Valley Yogi vs. Eat, Pray, Love". Hudson Valley. Retrieved 5 October 2021.
  37. ^ Harris, Lis (6 November 1994). "Oh guru, guru, guru". The New Yorker. Retrieved 5 January 2023.
  38. ^ Swami, Chidvilasananda (1992). "The Science of Hamsa from the Vijnana Bhairava, by Swami Muktananda". SYDA Foundation.

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