Collecting good rebuttals to bad journalism
I previously blew the whistle on blogger Edwin Lyngar and his agent Elizabeth Kracht for planting a false story in Salon libeling the late meditation teacher and humanitarian Sri Chinmoy (1931-2007). I analyzed the false Salon story in relation to a false story (on a different subject) appearing in Rolling Stone. (See “Can Salon Learn From Rolling Stone’s Mistakes? Part 1.”)
I’ve recently been beating the bushes, making a nuisance of myself, trying to track down what people said at the time in rebuttal to Salon. I remembered people wrote some good things, but realized they were scattered in different places and somewhat difficult to access. So I hope no one minds that I’ve collated what different people said and presented it in a single blog post, where the whole may be greater than the sum of the parts. The purpose is to resolve a matter of public concern.
Section 1 collates different people’s responses, Section 2 presents a few letters and commendations received by Sri Chinmoy, and Section 3 summons earlier published statements and articles by Celia Corona-Doran (a.k.a. Suchatula Cecelia Corona) which massively contradict her claims in Salon. In Section 4, I’ve taken the liberty of reposting some reviews of Jayanti Tamm’s book — including one by David Serlin, who is Ms. Tamm’s uncle, watched her grow up, and was a member of Sri Chinmoy Centre for 45 years. Mr. Serlin claims that Cartwheels in a Sari is 99% fiction. The Conclusion adds closing comments.
Why is this material important? Because subsequent to his death, there have been efforts to discredit Sri Chinmoy. His spiritual message was and is timely and transformational; he was a harbinger of joy and progress; but the very spirituality he helped to awaken is also an inconvenient truth to those wedded to secular materialism, those convinced that politics alone can solve all human problems, and those who find it difficult to be true to their own highest selves. As a poet, musician, artist, and spiritual teacher, Sri Chinmoy is one of America’s great natural resources. That resource is being polluted by people who have no inkling of its value. It needs to be protected so that it’s always available to those in need.
Section 1 — Rebuttals to Salon
Dr. Kusumita Pedersen
Over the years I and other members of the Sri Chinmoy Centres have read and respected Salon as a valuable source of news and commentary from an enlightened liberal perspective.
It was therefore a painful shock to see the piece posted by Edwin Lyngar on May 9, “The media’s love affair with accused sex criminal Sri Chinmoy.” The headline jumped out at me not just because of its lurid tone but because it condemns a person I knew well. When did Salon become the jury, judge and executioner of a person never under investigation?
The article falsely and recklessly refers to Sri Chinmoy as an “accused sex criminal,” notwithstanding the total lack of any complaint to that effect filed anywhere at any time in any jurisdiction with any body having relevant authority.
Sri Chinmoy was a distinguished Indian-American who took American citizenship and lived the better part of his life in the United States, from 1964 until his passing in 2007. Throughout that time, he was never under investigation for any crime (sexual or otherwise), and indeed received numerous commendations for good citizenship. See this “Tribute to Sri Chinmoy” from the Congressional Record dated Thursday, July 27, 2006. He was honored with many other proclamations and numerous awards in this country and internationally.
I am directly involved because I am quoted in Mark Oppenheimer’s “Beliefs” essay in the April 29 New York Times, “Legacy of Spiritual Master Endures in Healthy Meals Served by His Followers.” It seems that Mr. Lyngar thinks Mr. Oppenheimer is naïve because he took seriously his conversations with me and two other students of Sri Chinmoy, whose collective experience spans nearly 100 years of study.
Because of the usually high journalistic standards of Salon, I and many others would have hoped for something better. We would expect that a libelous attack on a person’s character and on a whole spiritual community, with mistakes on basic facts, would not have passed the scrutiny of your editors so easily. Salon should not let a piece like this stand as a blemish on its reputation.
Edwin Lyngar did not contact me or any of the other current members of the Sri Chinmoy Centre quoted by Mark Oppenheimer. Had he done so, he would have learned that the bizarre allegations he published are without merit. It is ironic that he mocks Mr. Oppenheimer’s Times piece – which was based on solid interviews with three reliable sources – while he himself makes a cardinal error by failing to contact the Sri Chinmoy Centre for comment. He also makes factual mistakes, such as that members of the Centres are vegans or that we oppose conventional medical treatment. Overall the article panders to negative stereotypes of Asian spiritual leaders that remain entrenched in American culture, but which enlightened educators are trying to overcome.
The result is a smear of both Sri Chinmoy and the spiritual community he founded, to which I have belonged since 1971. Lyngar’s false and reckless claims constitute a type of disparagement which has far-reaching consequences for many decent people around the world who make minority religious choices. The Sri Chinmoy Centre is an organization existing in many countries. In the United States the consequences of being associated in major media with criminality and being tarred as a “cult” are emotional pain and a stain on the reputation of our members. In some countries, however, where there are few laws protecting religious minorities and such laws are not enforced, Lyngar’s misrepresentations can result in persecution and threats to life and livelihood.
The Lyngar article also casts doubt on my own personal truthfulness and mental balance, since it implies that anyone who still belongs to such a group must be engaged in deliberate deception or deeply deluded, or both.
As a woman and as a feminist, I am always greatly concerned about the mistreatment of women and girls throughout the world, as well as any neglect or repressive measures which would silence their testimony. But as a woman concerned about justice, and as a scholar familiar with the history of spiritual communities, and as someone who knew Sri Chinmoy personally, I must point out that the allegations floated by Lyngar are categorically false. They are being used to stigmatize an innocent person, and by extension those who remain loyal to him.
In the article it is actually the students of Sri Chinmoy who have been neglected and silenced, their own direct experiences replaced by a crude media stereotype. This is especially an injustice to women in the Centre like myself, since it implies that we lack any sense of discrimination or moral judgment, engaging in wrong and outlandish practices. Our teacher led a life of the utmost purity and integrity, which he also commended to us. I was in constant contact with him for thirty-six years and witnessed his impeccable conduct day after day, year after year. We who knew him best were not consulted about our experiences.
I am trained as a historian of religions, with a doctorate in Buddhist Studies from Columbia University. I have spent my professional life since the 1970s teaching in colleges and universities and working in interfaith organizations. I have studied religion and spirituality and have been in contact with people of all religious traditions for my whole adult life. I practiced Zen in Japan and the United States before starting to study with Sri Chinmoy. In my own spiritual search and in interfaith settings over many years, I have met spiritual teachers of many different paths, both men and women, and have had extensive personal interactions with them. I think it is fair to say that I am not naïve about religious and spiritual life, as I am not ignorant of it.
I became a disciple of Sri Chinmoy in 1971, after meeting a number of spiritual teachers and reading the works of others. I judged him to be a completely genuine and enlightened teacher. Such judgements have to be constantly tested and renewed. In the years that followed, I never had any reason to question my deeply, carefully and continually considered judgement. Perhaps some people think that I am part of a cover-up conspiracy; I find this laugh-out-loud ludicrous – but it is also part of the libel.
I do hope to have the opportunity for an in-person conversation with you about how the false and harmful content of Lyngar’s article and its headline can be corrected. I look forward to hearing from you promptly, as this matter is most serious from both a journalistic and a legal perspective.
With many thanks for your consideration,
Kusumita P. Pedersen
Professor of Religious Studies
St. Francis College
The Interfaith Center of New York
Karen M. Asner (excerpts)
I am an attorney and am writing you concerning a defamatory article originally published by Salon on May 9, 2014 entitled “The media’s love affair with accused sex criminal Chinmoy” (the “Article”). This letter constitutes a formal request to retract and remove the Article, together with any associated URLs.
The Article purports to report on the Centre and its founder, Sri Chinmoy, following three articles in “two of America’s most prestigious newspapers” – The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal – that “praised” Chinmoy and “affiliated creations.” The Article, by self-identified atheist Edwin Lyngar, is riddled with untrue and unsupported statements that defame the Centre and its founder.
Most fundamentally, the Article’s headline and associated URLs state that Sri Chinmoy was an “accused sex criminal” or “alleged sex criminal,” and the Article repeatedly states that Sri Chinmoy and the Centre were involved in “crimes.” These statements are undeniably false, defamatory and malicious and, under New York law, are libel per se.
The Centre’s mission is to promote peace through meditation, the arts and sports. Its founder, Sri Chinmoy, was a beloved world figure who has been praised by the likes of Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, President Mikhail Gorbachev, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Princess Diana and President Bill Clinton. For 37 years, Sri Chinmoy directed peace meditations at the United Nations; hundreds of UN staff, ambassadors, members of Congress and representatives of various religions paid tributes to him following his death, during a posthumous celebration at the UN headquarters* in New York.
But regardless of whether Mr. Lyngar or Salon wishes to afford any respect to Sri Chinmoy’s legacy and the Centre’s mission, nothing in Ms. Corona-Doran’s account or Ms. Tamm’s book supports Salon’s statements that the Centre was involved in “crimes” or that the Centre’s founder was an “accused” or “alleged sex criminal.” Nor do any supposed undisclosed “Google search[es]” or “internet” posts. The mere fact that the Article would purport to rely on such anonymous and defamatory rumor and innuendo speaks volumes about the quality of the reporting and Mr. Lyngar’s journalistic bias.
Mr. Lyngar’s comparisons to convicted criminal Warren Jeffs are equally reprehensible and defamatory. Mr. Jeffs was placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List in 2006 and, among other things, was convicted in 2011 of felony child sexual assault. By contrast, Sri Chinmoy and the Centre have never been investigated, indicted or convicted of any crimes.
Given that he was a world figure, Sri Chinmoy occasionally faced baseless and defamatory allegations. He did, in fact, categorically deny such allegations during his lifetime. Those who work to preserve his memory, and the Centre he founded, will continue to deny them, including through legal action.
Karen M. Asner
*Note: For more on the posthumous celebration at UN headquarters see this commemorative booklet.
I have followed this story with sadness, an occasional smirk, but most of all with my heart crying and crying. I have been a disciple of Sri Chinmoy for 43 years. The people who have made these accusations know me, and I know them. They would know that I have had more personal access to Sri Chinmoy than almost any other disciple. And I know that in writing what I am about to write, I am also inviting their attacks, their wrath. So be it. But I must say what must be said. I will not waste time with explanation. I simply must say this: these accusations are patently false.
Michael Howard (Comment #1)
Dr. Pedersen’s eloquent rebuttal is representative of thousands of people who came to know Sri Chinmoy well, and knew the measure of the man. He was popular with the media and in the interfaith community because he was a kind, wise, and true teacher. For 40 years he offered a clear, consistent message of universal tolerance. When reporters met with him and covered his diverse spiritual, athletic, artistic, and humanitarian activities, they typically went away with a sense that here was a remarkable man who stood for something noble and was able to impart a spiritual vision that inspired people to do good works.
Sri Chinmoy maintained celibacy throughout his life, and always upheld the highest standard of personal conduct. He was greatly beloved by those who opened their hearts to him, and whose hearts he opened. The motives of those who now want to conduct an Internet show trial (ex post facto) of this great and good teacher can only be guessed at. That apostates often provide inaccurate accounts is well-known to scholars of religion, but apparently not to Mr. Lyngar.
What we need is a peaceful world where everyone is free to pursue their own interests — political or spiritual, secular or religious. Some people feel a genuine spiritual need which is satisfied by joining a community where people pray, meditate, sing, laugh, run, read, study, work, and reflect. If people leave such a community after 20 years, they may become unhappy. But this unhappiness is not caused by the spiritual community.
To make sense of the spiritual landscape, we need basic human empathy and a tolerant attitude. Where Mr. Lyngar falsely stereotypes people who make minority choices, this is not ethically right. By consulting only anti-cult sources like Jayanti Tamm, he ended up producing a hateful screed. In truth, alternative spiritual choices are both reasonable and progressive, and are a type of allowed behavior in a free society.
Like Obamacare horror stories, anti-cult horror stories are often eye-catching and fictional. They’re used as bait to draw media attention, and to justify harassment of spiritual groups. Where they form a cognitive dissonance with the known facts and record of a deceased spiritual figure, they should be taken cum grano salis.
For 40 years, Sri Chinmoy lived and taught in the heart of New York City, where there is no shortage of police or lawyers. He has a clean record because he lived a clean life. He taught a familiar type of bhakti yoga which the Gale Encyclopedia explains clearly and concisely:
Bhakti yoga is the path of love and devotion. An individual with an emotional temperament can transform those emotions, to be absorbed in spiritual service instead of being attached to physical or sensory gratification. Love can be centered on a familiar form of God, a great saint, or some great task in life. In bhakti yoga, the whole universe, whether animate or inanimate, is seen as permeated by divinity. Bhakti (meaning loving devotion) is the practice of self-surrender for the purpose of identifying with the source of love, the higher self.
Naturally, a community based on bhakti yoga will differ from the mainstream, but difference does not equal abuse. Nor is it “magical thinking” to take up time-honoured spiritual practices which (as it turns out) work really well, or to believe in a teacher who has proved his worth to one’s own satisfaction — and indeed, beyond one’s imagination.
One problem with an Internet show trial is that it quickly degenerates into an exercise in what sociologists call a “moral panic” and lawyers call “hearsay.” People who, on a witness stand, would be forced to admit that in 20 years following Sri Chinmoy’s path they never observed a single instance of sexual abuse, can nevertheless go on the Internet (often pseudonymously) and imply that there was widespread abuse, despite the lack of evidence.
I have personally seen people float a rumor under one alias, and pretend to “confirm” it under a different alias. When I complained about this, another member of the anti-cult group told me “We’re trying to get her to stop doing that.”
I concur with Dr. Pedersen that it’s the female members of Sri Chinmoy Centre who suffer most when hate material casting aspersions on their pure lifestyle is circulated. They deserve an apology from Salon for running such a poorly sourced and rabidly anti-religious article.
The reason publications like The New York Times and Wall Street Journal have often published positive stories about Sri Chinmoy Centre is simple: They sent reporters to interview the people and scope out the activities with a careful eye. They found the people to be sincere and the activities reflective of a genuine concern for the human condition. Reporters visited the Centre on numerous occasions and didn’t find any abuse. Quite to the contrary, they found the people to be energetic and enthusiastic. When interviewed, they could easily explain why they chose a spiritual lifestyle and how it benefits them. Some reporters may have been aware of vilification material, but upon investigation they didn’t find it credible.
There’s a lot of “astroturfing” going on, and reputable news outlets need to be wary of uncritically accepting stories with a “cult abuse” angle, which can easily turn out to be libel bait from tainted sources.
Michael Howard (Comment #2)
In the real world, Sri Chinmoy was an exemplary citizen who received numerous awards for his outstanding contributions to American life. He was never under investigation for any kind of crime, and no one has given any “testimony” against him. Posting “stuff” on the Internet is not testimony — or if it is then I’ve seen testimony showing how you can use an eggplant to recharge your cell phone.
Filing false police reports is a crime. Lying under oath is a crime. Posting “stuff” on the Internet people sometimes get away with, and that is how some anti-cultists spend their time. It’s similar to political dirty tricks like leaving flyers on car windshields falsely claiming that a candidate was embroiled in scandal.
In the real world, Sri Chinmoy was a much beloved teacher who always remained true. His passing was mourned by thousands who wept at the loss of such a noble soul from this benighted earth. I know. I was there to weep.
If Person A posts “stuff” on the Internet, this does not require Person B (who has better things to do) to “investigate” it. This is especially true if Person A has earned a reputation as a kook, pest, or provocateur.
Nevertheless, when bizarre claims began to surface on the Internet, a few people did investigate. As someone who did so myself, I can state categorically that this material is false.
In the real world, Sri Chinmoy denied that there was any truth to the rumors, and his strong denials were printed in the appropriate public fora. Those who claim otherwise are simply deceiving the public.
Female members of Sri Chinmoy Centre have been especially vociferous in denying that they’re “abused” or “victims” when they in fact feel safe, happy, free and are pursuing spiritual goals which they find meaningful.
Of course one can’t prove a negative, so if someone says they were vacationing in Greece when the ghost of Elvis stole into their hotel room and sang “Blue Suede Shoes,” who can say it didn’t happen? But it’s nonsensical on its face; all the more so if the person telling the tale is associated with an interest group with its own bizarre agenda.
I have little sympathy for Jayanti Tamm and the American Family Foundation (ICSA), who circulate false and alarmist “information” in an effort to discredit respected spiritual figures. Sri Chinmoy’s legacy has withstood the test of time because it’s a solid legacy built up in over 40 years of teaching and impeccable conduct. His enduring wisdom and surviving organization are valuable resources for anyone seeking greater knowledge about meditation and inner peace.
In recent decades, most Americans have come to accept that people make a wide variety of spiritual choices in their search for a livable set of values. Yet the anti-cult viewpoint remains reactionary, rejecting change and seeking to vilify spiritual minorities.
The Internet is not an investigative or judicatory body. Pretending to take “testimony” and then publicly flaying some person or organization is a type of vigilante activity carried out by an unruly mob. Neither politics nor social cliquism can justify it. Any attorney participating in such abuse of process should be disbarred.
Nor are memoir writers above reproach. We should not confuse emotionalism with honesty, or creative writing with accurate reportage. Some people write memoirs not to tell the truth, but to evade it, whitewash it. We all want to be the heroes of our own story, but when someone has betrayed a kindly mentor and acted badly, how do they deal with this painful truth? Often it’s by blaming and demonizing the person they betrayed — a kind of psychological inversion intended to salve their own guilty conscience.
As a student of human nature, I’ve seen this happen time and time again. People can’t live up to a noble truth that once inspired them — that some saintly figure helped them to discover — so they proceed to cut that saintly figure down. Such lillipution behavior, trying to feel tall by cutting the legs out from under a deceased mentor, is truly shameful — all the more so when someone like Ms. Tamm uses it to write her own personal meal ticket.
As publications have grown increasingly skeptical of atrocity stories circulated by anti-cult groups, such groups have turned to third party technique as a means of spreading disinformation. Salon should not allow itself to be astroturfed by interest groups whose fundamental message is one of intolerance toward progressive change — the type of change which Sri Chinmoy helped foster by providing people with tools they could use to empower themselves spiritually.
Sri Chinmoy’s only crime was bringing to light the inconvenient truth that despite great advances in science and technology, some people still experience spiritual hunger. One of the remarkable features of his life is that when he held public events like meditations, concerts and art exhibits, he was able to create a sacred space in which people felt their own personal connection to the sacred. His message was non-political and non-sectarian, but nevertheless had profound implications for creating a better world.
This comment is directed to Jayanti Tamm — I knew your brother better than most people on this planet — including you. I know that when your mom left the Sri Chinmoy Centre, her condition to her son for maintaining relations with her was for him to leave his teacher. He was 40 years old and he made his own choice — to stay — and ultimately be free from the attempts at control from his own mother.
In 2006 when he heard you were writing a tell-all he was mortified at the lies you would tell about him. And indeed when that book came out in 2008 and he read your take-down of him, he was shaken to the core. He never stopped loving you but you betrayed him. From what he told me and what I saw, that was the beginning of the end for him — your book, which you and your mother wrote together. So hearing you talk about him as if you knew him or cared about him makes me sick to my stomach. You abandoned him and betrayed him in the most public of fashions and to presumably enrich yourself. Shame.
I remember in the early 2000s Ketan got into a car accident. His car was wrecked but he looked and felt fine and didn’t want to go to the hospital. Sri Chinmoy called him personally and demanded he go right away. And in fact he had internal bleeding. But of course you wouldn’t know any of these details because you abandoned him for a decade. Those of us who knew him and actually cared for him were devastated by his passing. And believe me, many of us were totally in shock by the rapidity of his demise. He told me for years about the regular physical check ups he was getting and even named the doctor. I realize now that he wasn’t getting any treatment — at least not what he claimed.
And it was a disciple who in the end begged him to go to see a doctor, that his “cold” was not a cold but something worse.
If you had an ounce of compassion for him, you would show some respect for him, his friends and his choices, even in his death.
I’m no longer in the Centre and I have moved on in my life but I haven’t resorted to lies to maintain a sense of self.
Shame on you. Shame on you. Shame on you.
I was Sri Chinmoy’s student for 15 years and knew Ketan well. Ketan’s death was very sad and I know that he struggled with his sexuality within the environment of the Center. What is not mentioned in this article was the very close bond that Ketan shared with Sri Chinmoy and the fact that Ketan chose to remain Sri Chinmoy’s student because of it.
I always found Sri Chinmoy’s actions to be in complete alignment with his teachings. Anyone could leave the Center whenever they chose to. I will always cherish my time with a genuine spiritual teacher who asked only that I be sincere in my practice and in return guided me in my meditation life.
There has been a concerted campaign during the last decade to discredit Sri Chinmoy by ex students based on lies and fabrications. Unfortunately, ridiculous, baseless accusations can be hurled at people on the internet in fora such as these and even though there has never been any evidence of wrongdoing, authors such as this one can recklessly smear the memories of good people like Sri Chinmoy.
In a prior post, I included documentation establishing the good reputation which Sri Chinmoy earned in decades of teaching and humanitarian activities. Here are additions which underscore that those who care for freedom, religious tolerance, and ecumenism have warmly embraced Sri Chinmoy’s contributions to American life and the world culture of peace:
Letter from Mayor Abraham Beame to Sri Chinmoy
The City Of New York
Office of the Mayor
New York, N.Y. 10007
August 27, 1976
Mr. Sri Chinmoy
United Nations Meditation Group
United Nations Secretariat Building
New York, N.Y. 10017
Dear Mr. Chinmoy,
It gives me great joy to extend the official appreciation of the people of the City of New York to you on this, your 45th birthday.
During the 12 years you have been a resident of our City, you have selflessly offered hundreds of public meditations — attended by thousands of New Yorkers of every age, race, and religion — conducted dozens of free concerts and opened your art gallery to the people, and never have you charged a fee.
I enjoyed meeting you at the official city welcome home for the Liberty Torch Runners and look forward to seeing you again as each of us continues to do our very best to serve the needs of New Yorkers.
With best wishes to you on your Bicentennial year birthday,
Abraham D. Beame
M A Y O R
View scanned document of Mayor Abraham Beame letter on Digital Citizens area of Scribd.com.
1976 Proclamation by Mayor George R. Moscone, and Bearing the Seal of His Office
On behalf of the City and County of San Francisco, I would like to offer congratulations to Sri Chinmoy Ghose on the occasion of the completion and publication of his 300th book entitled Aspiration-Tree. Since this book is a collection of questions asked of Sri Chinmoy by his students at the San Francisco Sri Chinmoy Centre, it is appropriate to acknowledge the association of this accomplishment with our city.
I would also like to acknowledge the many activities which Sri Chinmoy has sponsored and presented in San Francisco for the public benefit, including the Liberty Torch Bicentennial Run, the Jharna-Kala Art Exhibition, and his lectures at California State University at San Francisco and other universities in the Bay area. Acknowledgement is also given to the Sri Chinmoy Centre of San Francisco for its numerous educational, musical, and civic programs which have been presented for the benefit of residents of the city.
George R. Moscone
View scanned document of Mayor George Moscone proclamation on Digital Citizens area of Scribd.com.
Letter from Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan to Sri Chinmoy
Daniel P. Moynihan (New York)
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510-3201
April 29, 1999
Dear Sri Chinmoy:
Great congratulations! Word has reached me that on April 13, you celebrated the 35th anniversary of your arrival in the United States of America.
As an accomplished poet, author, artist, musician, athlete and spiritual leader, you have lived your life to the fullest and your achievements are innumerable. Whether it be your service to the UN, the Sri Chinmoy Oneness-Home Peace Run, the Peace-Blossoms, or your numerous university and literary awards, you have not only been tremendously successful, but inspirational.
Your tireless effort to promote peace around the world is not only exemplary, but testimony to the indomitable human spirit. May you continue to change the world with your simple message of peace and love.
I close with a quote from Benedict Spinoza that I feel echoes the spirit of your teachings:
Peace is not an absence of war, it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan
View scanned document of Sen. Moynihan letter on Digital Citizens area of Scribd.com.
Letter from Sister Nirmala Joshi to Sri Chinmoy
Missionaries of Charity
13th April 2004
Dear Sri Chinmoy,
Heartfelt congratulations on the 40th anniversary of your beautiful work of peace and service for the glory of God and the good of all His children!
May God bless you, dear Sri Chinmoy, for all the good you have done, the gifts you have shared and the joy you have given these last 40 years and grant you long and healthy life so that you may continue spreading His peace and love wherever you go.
We remember you in our prayer today with affection and deep gratitude for your friendship and generosity over the years toward our Mother, the Missionaries of Charity and the poorest of the poor we serve. I am certain that your dear friend, our Mother, Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, is praying for you and asking the Lord to bless you and your mission of peace.
God bless you
View scanned document of Sister Nirmala letter on Digital Citizens area of Scribd.com.
Section 3 — Celia Corona-Doran (Suchatula Cecilia Corona)
These published statements and articles by Ms. Corona-Doran — written both before and after Sri Chinmoy’s death — are necessary to resolving matters of public concern which she created. They constitute exculpatory evidence (and powerful evidence at that).
Celia Corona-Doran (Suchatula Cecilia Corona): Testimonial 1
Sun Mar 21, 2004 6:52 pm
Re: Question for the Women – from Suchatula
Thank you for your question. I do not consider myself a “writer”, but I was inspired to answer your question. I have been on Sri Chinmoy’s spiritual path for over 17 years now. That is nearly half my life. I joined when I was 18 years old in December of 1986. I was in my first year of college and did not really have a plan for my life just yet. When I started reading Sri Chinmoy’s books I was so moved. I felt, “This person is a real holy and very spiritual person.” His philosophy struck me in an all-new way, and yet I felt very familiar with it. This was something that I believed in, yet was never taught, that the world is one and we are all God’s children, all at different stages in our spiritual evolution. The question of safety never crossed my mind. In my heart I feel the teachings of Sri Chinmoy are the truth. Over the last 17 years I feel I have really grown up with Sri Chinmoy as my father and at times as my dearest friend. One poem that has always struck me is:
In the universal heart, all hearts are one,
inseparable, I know.
Yet knowing this, I hurt the hearts of others
day and night.
We are all the slaves of fate;
It dances on our foreheads.
In peace sublime is the extinction-sleep of fate.
I know this secret.
O Jewel of my eye, pour into my heart
Your golden Silence.
I feel on Sri Chinmoy’s Path, all his spiritual children, my spiritual sisters and brothers, are trying to live in the universal heart. There the question of safety is put to rest. I remember a few years back my mother telling me that of all her children, I am the only one she never has to worry about.
Gratitude to the questioner and all those who have inspired me to reply with all their inspiring replies.
In oneness, Suchatula
Celia Corona-Doran (Suchatula Cecilia Corona): Testimonial 2
“My heart’s victory over my mind’s doubts” by Suchatula
On March 15, 2008 Paree’s group, also known as “My Rainbow-Heart,” celebrated its 21st anniversary. This turned out to be a very special day and weekend for me – and I nearly missed it. Had I listened to my mind instead of my heart, I would have not gone. It has always been that, when I made a wrong choice, Guru let me know it loud and clear. Although He has left the body He is without a doubt very much here, guiding me!
I have heard quite a few people say, “Since Guru is not here we have to make our own decisions.” Well, Guru is either getting a very good laugh or a very sad cry. All I can say is that, in my own experience, He is making it very clear what I should and should not do. It is up to us to listen. If we do our part then we will hear Him. I am not saying that I always do my part or that I always listen but, by His grace, this time I did. I had decided long before our singing group’s anniversary that I would not go to New York, mainly because of money. But I was also thinking, “Guru is no longer there in the physical.” About two weeks before the anniversary I told Govinda on the phone that I was not coming. But as I was telling her this, inwardly I knew it was wrong. If you have ever had the experience of your heart kicking you, then you know what I am talking about.
So right after I hung up with Govinda I called the airline and booked my flight. I had not been in New York since October and when I got to San Francisco airport I was just as excited to be leaving for New York as I have always been. I had the same feeling that I was going to see Guru and I was really happy. Bihagee and I flew together and we got in just before midnight. When we arrived at the baggage claim we had a great surprise! Govinda was there waiting for us and Saroja was out in the car. It was very kind of both of them to go out so late and pick us up, especially since we had a long wait for our luggage. We were very happy to see the girls again. I told them that I could feel Guru so powerfully in New York.
Saturday started with a short visit to Aspiration Ground and Guru’s Samadhi. It is so beautiful there! Projjwal and Shashanka gave a fantastic description of what it looks like in the last issue. All I can add is that in the stillness I could feel Guru so powerfully. As I write this, my heart swells and tears fill my eyes just as when I stood there in front of the shrine. Not tears of sorrow because Guru is no longer there, but tears straight from the heart and the soul because Guru is very much there. There is nothing greater than when you feel Guru so powerfully inside your heart. You do not need anything else. It was a perfect way to start the day.
From there we went to the race. I can sum that up in one word: Ouch! After the race we had time to play. Breakfast at the Smile of the Beyond with Aruna, Vasudha, Kalyanika, Palash, Adarini and Bihagee. What wild group! We were all a bit toasted, but we still managed to have fun! The day flew by with a singing practice, the afternoon meditation (which again was very nice) and more eating. It was Annam Brahma’s anniversary and I was happily surprised to see the owners working the floor. They are very good workers.
Soon it was Saturday night and time for our performance. Paree chose 21 beautiful songs for us to sing. As we were singing I was imagining Guru sitting in His chair meditating on all of us. Then I thought of Him driving His chariot around the court. It was a very sweet feeling. There were plays and singing and a video of Guru giving a talk and answering questions at a bookstore. It is very inspiring. It would be a great video to show in classes.
Sunday! Aruna’s 32nd birthday!!!! And Tyagani’s too! So, we had twice as much fun celebrating both their birthdays together. Yippy! What a fun day it was. The party was at Panorama and Ketan did a superb job organizing the food and drinks. Oh yes and the cakes! There were some 30 girls there and we had the back half of the café reserved. We had a blast! Vasudha put together a game of Centre Jeopardy! I do believe that everyone there had a jolly good time. I gave it a fantabulous three snaps up! (That translates into “really good.”) Monday morning we were back on a plane heading to San Francisco. Our visit to New York was short, but it was inspiring in the fullest sense. With our batteries completely charged we were ready to return home and do the needful. Of course it helped to know that we would be back in just a few short weeks! Gratitude to Guru for being here for us.
Source: Inspiration-Sun magazine, Issue #2 – April 2008
View source document “Suchatula Testimonial 2” on Digital Citizens area of Scribd.com.
Celia Corona-Doran (Suchatula Cecilia Corona): Testimonial 3
“Great Celebrations” by Suchatala
It is Sunday morning. I returned from our April Celebrations in New York last Thursday. I am sitting in my room drinking my yummy cup of coffee substitute, eating a delicious piece of very berry pie and reading my copy of Inspiration-Sun. I take a moment to think about what I should write for the next issue. Projjwal was really trying to encourage everyone to write.
The only problem is that I am not sure what I liked best. What was the one thing that touched me the most? It could have been the bhajans during the birthday celebration of Guru’s Mother Yogamaya. That was, indeed, a very special day and a perfect way to start the April Celebrations. It could also have been the 12-Hour Walk or the April 13 celebration itself, with a walk-past in front of Guru’s Samadhi followed by a walk-past at his house.
Maybe it was the start of the World Harmony Run with Billie Jean King blowing our hearts’ doors wide open with the love that poured out of her own heart for our beloved Guru. Maybe it was the fantastic concert tribute to our dear Guru, or maybe it was just sitting quietly at Aspiration Ground having an inner conversation with Guru.
There were so many beautiful moments during the Celebrations that it is very difficult to choose just one topic to write about. So, I am choosing all the events together, because that is what Celebrations are, not just one event or one person, but the collective effort of everyone to make it special. It is being together with all our friends, whether it was laughing together or crying together or just talking and hanging out. Guru put great importance on friendships. He personally encouraged me to call my friends often to either inspire them or to get inspiration from them.
I had the opportunity to speak with Guru on the phone in July 2007, and one of the things he said was that it gave him joy when his disciples talked to each other. He always gave us such simple ways to please Him.
Thank you to all the disciples who came together to make it a very special Celebrations. I offer an extra special thank you to all the New York disciples who did such a great job as the host centre. Gratitude to Guru for being ever-present in all of our lives and inspiring us to “do the needful.”
Source: Inspiration-Sun magazine, Issue #3 – May 2008
View source document “Suchatula Testimonial 3” on Digital Citizens area of Scribd.com.
Celia Corona-Doran (Suchatula Cecilia Corona): Testimonial 4
Life Is Good!
Skipping, playing, laughing
Four sisters and I
One night under a vast
A crescent moon and
Stars so bright
“What is the occasion?”
A voice cried out
in the night.
“What is that you say?”
Life is good!
Our happy reply.
“Oh” with a melting
Heart he sighed
“God Bless you”
was his final goodbye.
Source: Panorama, the poetry of Sri Chinmoy’s students, April 2004 Edition
Section 4 — Reviews of Jayanti Tamm’s Book Cartwheels in a Sari
These reviews are relevant to the question of whether Ms. Tamm is an accurate source on Sri Chinmoy or Sri Chinmoy Centre.
Unintended Consequences of Publish or Perish, by David Serlin
Jayanti was an instructor at a tiny community college teaching “Creative Writing.” Her school decided that, to continue to teach writing and keep her job, she would need to be a published author. So she wrote a memoir that was based on real people but 99% “creative” in its content. That by itself is fine. What isn’t is that she does not mention that the book is a fictional account. Nearly all the incidents in her book are either distorted beyond recognition, or fabricated out of “whole cloth.” How would I know? I was her uncle, married to her father’s sister and I was there. I was there when her father first introduced Ms. Tamm’s soon-to-be mother to Sri Chinmoy in a tidy middle class house in a Queens residential area not far from where the “All in the family” TV show was supposedly set. I spent an evening talking to a woman who was a friend of her father and present when her father actually met her mother in San Francisco, well before either knew Sri Chinmoy existed. I was at the hospital in Connecticut when she was born. I watched her grow up in a very ethnically diverse community in Queens where women in Saris, Hijabs and an occasional Chador, co-mingled with those in tight jeans and mini-skirts. Because of a legend about her birth created and fanned by her own father to enhance his own social status, Jayanti was treated with extreme respect her whole life. Why that is now seen as terrible is a mystery to me. I watched as she hit puberty and her hormones started to bubble. I saw the stress she created flirting with the young men who were also struggling with their own hormones. This happens in conservative cultures all over the world and right here in the US, be it Mormon, Mennonite, Amish, Orthodox Jewish groups, whatever. Condemning that from the perspective of over sexualized Western “Culture” is naïve. As many teenagers do, she chose to rebel against the norms and values of the community she grew up in. When her behavior became too disruptive (by that community’s standards) she was not punished. She was not flogged, stoned, mutilated, or shot as she might have been in some cultures. Rather she was just asked to leave. To now malign the memory of people who treated her with enormous love and respect her entire childhood just to squeeze out the one book she needed to keep her job is, to say the least, sad.
cartwheels of banality, by J R Kirby
I find it remarkable that people can take this book seriously. I met Sri Chinmoy on a number of occasions in a professional capacity and had reason to carefully and objectively examine his activities and character, including the views of his detractors. What is so frightening in this age of the internet and global media is a growing mass hypnosis where people so easily relinquish their objectivity and critical faculties and simply accept what is read as fact.
Tamm’s book is colored in with all the predictable clichés and pejorative terms that have everyone tut-tutting at this latest awful ‘cult’ and her own repressed childhood — but there is a certain ignobility of character in those who crusade and profit by vilifying others, especially when this spiritual teacher’s life was so deeply and demonstrably committed to the welfare of others. Tamm’s ‘poor me’ ramblings make Sri Chinmoy the real victim, not herself, and the willing suspension of disbelief and objectivity by most of her readership will drive the last nail home. Disturbing too is the blatant shallowness of magazine and media reviewers in the U.S. — their fawning collaboration in this long whine is saddening and reprehensible. But then historically the great men and women down through time have always been persecuted — imagine the online barrage against Christ had the internet been available then! “Who is this cult leader who claims that he and ‘the Father’ are one? Who sympathizes with prostitutes, claims to have divine healing powers, throws the legitimate merchants out of the temple and demands that his disciples are unworthy if they will not give up everything to follow him!” And the criticisms of Swami Vivekananda; the attempts on the life of the Buddha; the years of warfare Sri Krishna endured against the Kauravas; the 27 years in jail of Nelson Mandela before the tide of opinion turned to favor him. Miss Tamm, discard your imagined victimhood and get on with your life — lest you be remembered as just another Judas.
A Child of Privilege, by Michael Howard
I don’t want to interfere with your enjoyment of any book that entertains you. But you should known that in an increasingly secular and materialistic world, there’s a bigger commercial market for books which try to discredit genuine spiritual teachers than for books which extol them.
Cartwheels is a mostly fictional account written by an imposter who was never the “Chosen One” (as she claims)*, though she did grow up a child of privilege in Connecticut. She left Sri Chinmoy around the same time she discovered dating, and has few if any spiritual insights.
If you’re interested in accurate accounts, then look for books by people who never broke with their faith and stayed around long enough in their adult lives to get to know Sri Chinmoy and understand his teachings. These books are harder to find because they’re not as commercial as accounts which pander to populist prejudices and a materialist view. But from books by real disciples you’ll get a sense of inspiration, and you’ll also get information which is consistent with the historical record and with scholarly material about Sri Chinmoy. The choice is yours.
Because so few people take courses in comparative religion, they often have no baseline knowledge to help them tell fake memoirs from real ones. The guru in Cartwheels is not Sri Chinmoy, but a bad stereotype drawn partly from boilerplate anti-cult material, and partly from Ms. Tamm’s own imagination — but it’s simply not Sri Chinmoy, who was an extremely kind and caring person, and a genuine spiritual teacher.
*Note: The notion that Jayanti Tamm was the “Chosen One” is a publicity gimmick to sell her book. Sri Chinmoy never designated anyone in that manner, and in his absence Sri Chinmoy Centre is run by a committee of responsible adults who’ve demonstrated both willingness and ability to do the job.
I hope the comments and documentation provided here help to correct the false Salon story. In some respects, the issues transcend the individuals concerned. As I’ve noted elsewhere, the false Salon story represents an example of the demise of fact-based journalism and the ascendance of the politics of personal destruction. Similarly, Cartwheels in a Sari represents an attempt to replace the true biography of a spiritual figure with a false account more pleasing to special interests — namely, Ms. Tamm’s minders at the American Family Foundation (a.k.a. International Cultic Studies Association). In both cases, we’re confronted with writers who have little regard for truth; and as I’m fond of saying, the need for truth is not liberal or conservative, female or male, religious or secular, but something universal. We all need truth. Truth matters.
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