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Gangaji, Eli, and the The Jewel in Disillusionment Retreat

The controversy, indeed, crisis, created through Eli Jaxon-Bear's sexual exploitation of a young female devotee behind his wife Gangaji's back, being deeply disrespectful to both women, and Gangaji's decision to forgive him, has to leave Eli's organisation Leela. As a result, Gangaji and Eli will be hosting an expensive retreat on disillusionment to be given by Gangaji, called The Jewel in Disillusionment Retreat,- to try to deal with the situation. Rather than healing things, this seems to only add to the controversy, implying that these gurus may have been too insulated from the wor,ld by their supportive disciples to really know how to handle something like this. (Compare Wilber's infamous "Earpy" episode, Andrew Cohen's rambling blog post, Sai Baba's childish attempts to bribe his sexual victims with "materialisations" of cheap watches or rings, Da Free John's behaviour, and so on).

What is surprising is how Gangaji, who is Poonjaji's appointed succesor, and strikes me as someone free of narcissism, could be involved in this. Perhaps the interpersonal dynamics may be a factor. In their relationship, Gangaji would seme to serve as the higher spiritual teacher, while her husband Eli (who is of a much lesser stature spiritually) grounds and supports her. Asthe more practical person, he probably is making these descions. And just as Osho did with Ma Anand Sheela, she is letting herself follow along with them, rather than acting strongly on her own. This can only serve to further harm her reputation (recall that Osho was totally brought down by Sheela). I am not saying that Eli has any of the moral baseness of Ma Sheela, but there is a certain common pattern here. Gangaji may be, like me, a naive and trusting head in the clouds type person. Sometimes it pays to have a bit of cynicisms and hard-headeddness about youm especially if thereare oithers with negative agendas around. I know becauuse of my naivity I have been sucked in to believing deceitful people in the past. People who are trusting and want to see only the very best in others can be manipulated in this way. This happened to me, and I fear it is happening to Gangaji too.

Questions of Cost

The following bitter comment, I assume by an ex-devotee and originally posted blogosphere here (scroll to bottom of page), and blogosphere here was forwarded on to me:

11/26/2006 11:19 AM, Anonymous said... Today I received emails from the Gangaji and Leela Foundations informing me of a retreat given by Gangaji called The Jewel in Disillusionment Retreat. The cost of the retreat is $465. This is nerve. Both Gangaji and Eli have shut down free and open dialogue about the scandal at the behest of their lawyers and now they ask us to pay them to discuss the pain they've caused. I assume that Gangaji because of the legal advice she's received will not openly discuss the scandal at the retreat but will once again play guru expecting us to open our souls to her at a sizeable cost. She clearly doesn't get it. When is she going to get off the pedestal and become human?

Before going on to the real matter at hand I would like to address the shadow projection of this post. In my experience with Gangaji I never once saw any signs of arrogance; just the oipposite in fact. Gangaji seemed to contsantly downplay the guru thing, and emphasised the equality of everyone. To this end she had people who wante dto see her or ask questions come up and sit on the chair next to her on the stage, showing that she was no higher than they. She would hold their hand and personally I have never seen a more loving human being. So much for Anonymous's closing sentence. When I see someone whose experiuencediffers so radically from my own, it makes me sceptical of the rest of what they are saying. Of course, it may be simply that this is one more example of the hall of mirrors that is the Intermediate Zone. Everyone experiences something different, according to their own receptivity, aspiration, and psychological predispositions and biases. So (if that is the case) it is not that one is right and the other wrong.

But shadow projection aside, the issue of money cannot be dimissed so easily. Why charge so much money for what is essentially about asking for forgiveness from devotees? I actually find this more significant than the tabloid sex scandal element. And again, I would relate it less to Gangaji herself, as to Gangaji's naively and trustingly allowing herself to go along with Eli, and perhaps with other advisers around her, who are equally misleading. For the sadhaka and aspirant should only follow the spiritual Light, it is dangerous to listen to the advice of those enmeshed in a lower consciousness. That same advice, that would not harm a gross person, can be devestatingly destructive to someone in the higher Light. Only the Light should guide the Light. But unfortunately the Advaitin tecahings of Maharishi and Poonjaji that Gangaji follows do not mention the Intermediate Zone. And Gangaji herself, despirte all her purity, does not seem to have the strength in her outer vehicles to follow the Advaitin message of Maharshi totally, integrally. If she did, then afgain this whole disatsre could be avoided.

Of course Gangaji's and Eli's supporters and devotees see nothing strange about the cost, so Gangaji is not getting realistic feedback. The following quote from a devotee, Skeptical Judas, is exerpted from blogosphere this informative thread.the blogosphere, and is perhaps representative of the sort of justification one might find here (I am not in any way criticising Skeptical Judas' sincerity here) .

"I have studied Gangaji for 3 years, and never ever has she picked my pocket. When I went on retreat, it was always my choice to go and spend the money required. "

"The foundations [ed. note - this is Eli's and Gangaji's] charges roughly $435. for a 5 day retreat.You then pay the Tenaya lodge for lodging and meals,which charges the same thing to any other convention that is held at this lodge.roughly $700 as I recall. That is reasonable in my opinion.

You speak of needing proof?This can be proved, but not in your mind.Just stop for a second and realize the proof is who you are. And you won't have to believe a damn thing. And no guru will steal your money."

For purposes of comparison, I have been told that at a Zen Center in a part of California where costs are high, last year the cost of a 7 day retreat was $ 300 USD. This included 3 meals--freshly cooked each day with organic veggies--and with attention paid to the needs of persons with allergies or medical conditions, unlimited tea during breaks, a daily lecture, a daily tai chi class to assist people to keep limber, and about 7 hours of zen meditation in the hall. The first period began at 5 am and the last sitting period was 8:30 pm. The abbot who led this retreat was up earlier than we were, because he had to make the rounds of the building, ritually beginning the day by offering incense at the many altars throughout the temple. And he gave most of the lectures, met with students to discuss practice issues with them, and joined us for meals (served in a complex process in the hall) and finished up with the last period at night. Leading something like this is no sinecure.

(A note about the food: Last year (2005) they had so many retreatants with medical trouble that the meals were cooked with no added spices, no garlic and just a bare trace of onion. An attendee who is used to spicey food has told me that everything was done so well that it all tasted wonderful.)

If you needed to stay in the building, that was about $35 to 40 per night, so for 7 days that would work out to $230-280 USD. There are work study arrangements available for persons who work for free as volunteers some times a year and then can accumulate time and attend a retreat for free later that year.

So, it is up to the guru whether to choose a conference center that puts such an obscenely high price on accommodations for spiritual purposes. If you care about making your emancipatory teaching accessible to as many people as possible it is the leader's responsibility to find ways to keep matters economically accessible as well as wheelchair accessible.

Increased Cultism

It has been suggested to me that one effect of that retreat, whether Gangaji planned it so or did not, is it may have an effect similar to Wilber's infamous Wyatt Earpy rant. Both the topic and the cost may cause a split between the true believers and the sceptics. The result will be that after that retreat, Gangaji will be at the center of a smaller but much more adulatory, and hence more cultic, group.

Personal Opinion

In my own meeting, the powerful experience and transmission of Ramana's Light, and the positive Light I feel around Gangaji (even in her photos) she seems to be a teacher of great integrity and selflessness. So if she can bring these qualities through they may well counteract the effects of cultic isolation. But even if she does, her reputation may be irreparable tarnished. This again shows how important it is for a genuine teacher to have people of sincerity around them. A true spiritual teacher, even a half-realised intermediate zone one, is like a precious jewell, and there is no end oif stories of gurus who were let down, betrayed by, or simply not looked after properly in the material world, by disciples and devotees both well-meaning and selfish.

In any case, none of this changes the reality of Gangaji's transmission of Ramana's Light to me, or my extremely positive experience of her in person, but it is interesting in that it provides insight into how the Intermediate Zone works

All this has convinced me that it is important to give up this idea of the Intermediate Zone as something completely negative, but this is missing the whole point. If the Intermediate Zone was like that, then no one would be fooled by it. The whole point of the Intermediate Zone is that the very same phenomenon can both heal and harm, both convey enlightenment and feed the ego

I believe that a true appreciation of the Intermediate Zone will absolutely revolutionise the way that we in the West think about spirituality. It will be a real paradigm shift, in the original Kuhnian sense.

Web links Links Web links

Typing Gangaji into Google Google search results in some 93,600 hits (as of Nov 06). The following is therefore just a brief listing of links. If you know of other good links, please contact me

Website Gangaji Foundation - Home Page

Web Page Gangaji: Interview with Alexandra Hart for AHP

Web Page LA Yoga. Sitting Down With. Gangaji - interview with Julie Deife

Web Page Cullen Anderson on Gangaji - email to Sarlo (Guru Ratings, Visitor Feedback) - a few of Cullen's impressions here match my own experience; he also thinks highly of Isaac Shapiro.another Papaji disciple who I don't know (apart from his website). Sarlo's assesment seems fair enough

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page by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 1 December 2006