Former Chinmoy devotees reflect upon member's untimely death

News Summary

The sister of Bennett Madway spent some time trying to reconstruct the events that led up to her brother's tragic death.

Subsequently she located former members of the Sri Chinmoy organization, which has often been called a "cult," to better understand the circumstances.

The Chinmoy assistant that had contacted the Madways to tell them of Bennett's death was the first person she found, but he barely could remember him.

"My recollections about him are kind of peripheral," the one-time aide to the guru said.

After eight years in the group the man left because of Chinmoy's "rigid discipline." And he got "pissed off" by the "increasingly controlled nature of things:"

The guru's one-time aide also found the celibacy demanded by the guru difficult, which even included married couples.

"It wasn't the right place for me," he told Madway's sister.

Recalling her brother's death he said, "I felt so bad."

Nevertheless the former Chinmoy devotee defended his former group and insisted that the organization was not responsible for the death of the 27-year-old, who drowned in a bucket of water while practicing a stunt to entertain his guru and demonstrate his devotion.

"Bennett's death was a fluke and a tragedy but&it wasn't as though it was the result of somebody's evil," he explained apologetically.

He then went on to describe Chinmoy's followers as "intelligent, articulate, educated people."

They believe the guru is an "avatar" or a divine representation of God.

The regimen of meditation followed by Chinmoy's disciples includes a rigid schedule of meditation sessions spent staring at the guru's photo. Many former members have said this brings about a trance state not unlike hypnosis.

Apparently Bennett Madway grew tired of celibacy too and wanted to marry, but his guru said no.

Madway fell in love with another Chinmoy follower named Joni from New Jersey.

His sister located the young man's former sweetheart, who had also left the group.

Now in her thirties, married and completing a Ph.D. she spoke with disdain about the guru's handling of Bennett Madway's death. "I also didn't like the way Bennett's death was very quickly forgotten," she said.

"They were so fanatical that they closed their brains off."

Joni commented about the "authoritarian" nature of the group. "There was too much emphasis on Chinmoy as the guru. And I felt that was very unhealthy," she said.

"There was definitely a lot of indoctrination," the woman recalled and pointed out that there seemed to be constant fear within the group.

Joni did not attend Bennett Madway's funeral. She said Chinmoy members never contacted her about the arrangements.

"You can't replace someone like that even if you get married.... He is not forgotten. I still love him very deeply, and he'll always have a place in my heart," she said.

Note: This news summary was based upon "Former cult members recall group they left they left," Washington Jewish Week March 25, 1993

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