Sahaja Yoga

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Sahaja Yoga
Founder Nirmala Srivastava (aka Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi)
Established 1970
Practice emphases
kundalini, meditation, self-realization[1]

Sahaja Yoga is a new religious movement[2][3][4]founded in 1970 by Nirmala Srivastava (1923-2011), more widely known as Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi or as "Mother" by her followers, who are called Sahaja yogis.[4][5] Sahaja Yoga is not only the name of the movement, but also the meditation technique the movement teaches and the state of awareness that is said to be achieved by the technique.[6] According to the movement, this state is the state of self-realization produced by kundalini awakening and is accompanied by the experience of thoughtless awareness or mental silence.[7][8] The movement teaches the belief that self-realization through kundalini awakening is a transformation which can be experienced on the central nervous system and results in a more "moral, united, integrated and balanced" personality.[9]

The teachings, practices and beliefs of Sahaja Yoga are mainly Hindu-based, with a predominance of elements from mystical traditions, as well as local customs of India.[10][4] There are however important elements of Christian origin, such as the eternal battle between good and evil.[10][4] References to a variety of other religious, spiritual, mystical as well as modern scientific frameworks are also interwoven in Srivastava's teachings, although to a lesser degree.[10][4]

Srivastava described Sahaja Yoga as the pure, universal religion integrating all other religions.[4] She also claimed that she herself was a divine incarnation,[11]more precisely an incarnation of the Holy Ghost, or the Adi Shakti of the Hindu tradition, the great mother goddess who had come to save humanity.[4][10]This is also the way she is regarded upon by most of her devotees.[9]

Sahaja Yoga ashrams are present in diverse countries which include the following : Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Italy, Kuwait, Nigeria, United Kingdom, United States of America, but are not limited to the aforementioned countries.[12]

Meaning of the name[edit]

The word 'Sahaja' in Sanskrit has two components: saha meaning 'with' and ja meaning 'born'.[11] A Dictionary of Buddhism gives the literal translation of Sahaja as "innate" and defines it as "denoting the natural presence of enlightenment (bodhi) or purity."[13] 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, without effort.[7]

The term 'Sahaja Yoga' goes back at least to the 15th Century Indian mystic Kabir.[14] and has also been used to refer to Surat Shabd Yoga.[15]

In 2000, the term 'Sahaja Yoga' was trademarked in the United States by Vishwa Nirmala Dharma.[16]

History[edit]

Before starting Sahaja Yoga, its founder Nirmala Srivastava earned a reputation as a faith healer.[10] With a small group of devotees around her, she began spreading her message of Sahaja Yoga in India in the year 1970. As she moved with her husband to London, UK, she continued her work there, and year by year the movement grew and spread throughout Europe, by the mid-80's reaching North America. In 1989, Srivastava made her first trip to Russia and Eastern Europe.[3] 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.[17]

Beliefs[edit]

Sahaja Yoga beliefs are seen by the organisation as a re-discovered ancient knowledge[18] that should be treated respectfully and scientifically, like a hypothesis[19] and if found by experiments as truth, should be accepted.[20] Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi is considered to be an "avatar" by many of her followers and as a carrier of the divine presence which leads some critics to find the organization as cultic. 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".[n 1] She described Sahaja yogis as adopting a low profile with uncommitted individuals to avoid unnecessary conflict.[22]

Sahaja Yoga also states that spreading Sahaja Yoga techniques should be free for everyone.[23]

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.[24]

The Subtle System – Chakras, Nadis and Void[edit]

Chakra Kundalini Diagram

Sahaja Yoga believes that in addition to our physical body there is a subtle body composed of nadis (channels) and chakras (energy centres). There is no biomedical evidence of chakras.[25] 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.[n 2] 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.

Kundalini, Self-Realization and vibratory awareness[edit]

Sahaja Yoga believes 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"[27] and that yoga is impossible without kundalini awakening.[28] 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.[27]

According to Sahaja Yoga, once 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.[29] The chakras and nadis are believed by Sahaja Yoga to have associated places on the hands. Sensations of heat or coolness in the hands, head and/or body are used to make purported diagnoses of imbalances in the different chakras and nadis.[30][31][32] These sensations (referred to as 'vibrations') are interpreted in Sahaja Yoga as indicating Self-Realization or an "encounter with Reality."[33] The vibrations sensed are believed to be an objective divine energy that can even be caught on camera.[34]

A Sahaja Yoga belief is that upon self-realization, the practitioner may also experience thoughtless awareness (Nirvichar Samādhi).[8]

Organization[edit]

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 countries such as Colombia,[35] the United States of America,[36] and Austria.[37] It is registered as a religion in Spain.[38]

The organisation is governed by the World Council for the Advancement of Sahaja Yoga (WCASY), proposed in 2003 and formed the following year.[39][40]

In addition to directly promoting Sahaja Yoga, the council promotes Sahaja culture, runs schools, a health centre, a youth movement, and a project for the rehabilitation of "destitute women and orphaned children".

Membership statistics[edit]

There are no available statistical data about Sahaja Yoga membership. In 2001, the number of core members worldwide were estimated to 10,000, in addition to which around 100,000 practitioners more or less in the periphery were estimated to be found.[11] There are varying reports about the movement's distribution worldwide. According to the Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi Sahaja Yoga World Foundation, Sahaja Yoga centers are established in over 95 countries.[41] In a news article in Indian Express published on the occasion of Srivastava's death in 2011, however, Sahaja Yoga centers were told to be found in over 140 countries.[5]

Schools[edit]

  • 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.[42] India is said[by whom?] to be free from harmful Western influences,[citation needed] and children benefit from what is considered[by whom?] to be a more favourable environment[11]
  • The Shri P.K.Salve Kala Pratishthan is an Indian Classical Music and Fine Arts academy that was founded in Vaitarna, India, in 2003.[43]
  • The Cabella Primary School in Italy was scheduled to open in September 2008, with the children attending the local village school in Rocchetta Ligure.[44]
  • An international kindergarten was opened in Borotin, Czech Republic.[45]
  • A small kindergarten and primary boarding school was opened in Canajoharie, New York in 2004.[46] As of 2006 it had an enrolment of fourteen students from pre-kindergarten through grade 3.[47]
  • There has been a Sahaja Yoga school in Rome.[48]

Yuvashakti[edit]

Sahaja Yoga's youth movement is called "Yuvashakti" (also "Nirmal Shakti Yuva Sangha"), from the Sanskrit words Yuva (Youth) and Shakti (Power).

The movement is active in forums such as the World Youth Conference[49] and TakingITGlobal which aim at discussing global issues, and ways of solving them.

The Yuvashakti participated in the 2000 "Civil Society & Governance Project"[50] in which they were "instrumental in reaching out to women from the poor communities and providing them with work".

Vishwa Nirmal Prem ashram[edit]

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".[51][52]

Funding[edit]

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.[53]

According to author David V. Barrett, "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, the movement had been criticised because of encouragement of its members to make donations to pay the travel charges for Mataji's visits to their respective countries.[54]

Cult allegations and refutations[edit]

Judith Coney found that most people who leave the movement voluntarily, still had positive things to say about it.[n 1][55] 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".[56] In 2005, The Record reported that some critics who feel that the group is a cult have started their own websites.[57] In response to this, Sahaja yogis in one centre reflected on the ways in which some of their beliefs are disguised when in contact with non-members. Coney described this discussion as a "frank and revealing".[n 1]

A 2008 court case in Brussels ruled that Sahaja Yoga had been wrongly labelled as a cult by a Belgian state authority and awarded the group compensation.[58][59][60]

In 2013, De Morgen reported that the Belgian Department of State Security monitors how often politicians are contacted and lobbied by organisations. The list of organisations includes Sahaja Yoga, as well as Scientology and The Muslim Brotherhood.[61]

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". The reporter, John Crace, 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.[62]

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'.[11] This expulsion is not enforced but is something understood socially and other yogis are not expected to change the way they react to those who have been expelled. It is also not a permanent expulsion; there have been cases of returning Sahaja yogis following brief periods 'out'.

David V. Barrett wrote 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.[54] The Austrian Ministry for Environment, Youth and Family states that "Sahaja Yoga" regards Nirmala Srivastava as an authority who cannot be questioned.[63]

Research[edit]

Sahaja yoga meditation has been shown to correlate with particular brain and brain wave activity.[64][65] Some studies have led to suggestions that Sahaja meditation involves 'switching off' irrelevant brain networks for the maintenance of focused internalized attention and inhibition of inappropriate information.[66]

A study comparing practitioners of Sahaja Yoga meditation with a group of non meditators doing a simple relaxation exercise, measured a drop in skin temperature in the meditators compared to a rise in skin temperature in the non meditators as they relaxed. The researchers noted that all other meditation studies that have observed skin temperature have recorded increases and none have recorded a decrease in skin temperature. This suggests that Sahaja Yoga meditation, being a mental silence approach, may differ both experientially and physiologically from simple relaxation.[67]

Sahaja meditators scored above peer group for emotional wellbeing measures on SF-36 ratings.[68]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Judith Coney wrote in her book Sahaja Yoga: Socializing Processes in a South Asian New Religious Movement, "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."[21]
  2. ^ Sudhir Kakar wrote in his book Shamans, Mystics and Doctors, "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."[26]

References[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

  • Srivastava, Nirmala (1997) Meta Modern Era, (Vishwa Nirmala Dharma) ISBN 81-86650-05-9
  • Pullar, Philippa (1984) The Shortest Journey, ISBN 0-04-291018-8
  • Coney, Judith (1995). "'Belonging to a Global Religion': The Sociological Dimensions of International Elements in Sahaja Yoga". Sociological Analysis. 10 (2): 109–20. doi:10.1080/13537909508580732. 
  • Rai, Umesh (1993) Medical science enlightened: new insight into vibratory awareness for holistic health care (New Delhi: Life Eternal Trust) ISBN 81-900325-0-X
  • Descieux, Flore (1995) The Light of the Koran: Knowledge through Sahaja Yoga (Paris: La Pensee Universelle, 1995; English translation: New Delhi: Ritana Books, 1998) ISBN 81-85250-02-6
  • Apte, Arun (1997) Music and Sahaja Yoga (Pune: NITL)
  • de Kalbermatten, Gregoire (2003) The Third Advent (New York: daisyamerica, 2003; Melbourne: Penguin Australia, 2004; Delhi: Penguin India, 2004) ISBN 1-932406-07-7
  • Powell, Nigel (2004) Meditation: The Joy of Spiritual Self Knowledge Through Sahaja Yoga Meditation (Corvalis Publishing) ISBN 0-9548519-0-0
  • List of research papers, conferences and publications relating to the Sahaja Yoga research and health center.

External links[edit]