Cult watchdogs and mental health professionals warn public about Sri Chinmoy

News Summary

This is a news summary of the last installment of a three-part series run within Washington Jewish Week about the Sri Chinmoy Center and the tragic death of Bennett D. Madway, a Chinmoy devotee that drowned while practicing an underwater stunt that he hoped would entertain his guru.

"Once you realize who I am, then you do not have to do anything, you do not have to say anything, you do not have to become anything.... Everything is useless, everybody is useless except the one Reality: the Supreme in your Guru...and the Supreme as your Guru," says Guru Sri Chinmoy.

Mark Powers the Baltimore director of a Jewish anti-cult organization called "Jews for Judaism" labeled the Chinmoy group a "full-fledged cult."

Other national cult watchdog groups and mental health professionals also alleged Sri Chinmoy heads a "destructive cult" with as many as 1,500 devotees.

Powers pulled a file with case histories to back up his claim. "There is no doubt in my mind that this is a destructive cult," he said.

"What makes it a cult is that the leader has set himself up as a divine authority...The methods of recruitment are the same." Sri Chinmoy's particular process" of attracting recruits is through these projects of bringing 'peace and harmony and happiness' to the world," Powers alleged.

But this process is subtle Powers said.

Potential members "don't buy into a cult; they buy into a process. Mind control is a ...[slow] process... If they laid the entire doctrine out in one sitting, everyone would laugh and walk away," he explained.

Philip Abramowitz, Ph.D., Director of a cult task force for the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York stated the Chinmoy group is "very destructive, very authoritarian."

Abramowitz agreed with Powers stating that they "use of a lot of mind control."

"People are being exploited&[and] have no free thought," Abramowitz claimed.

Abramowitz was also concerned about Chinmoy's use of the United Nations logo on Center promotional literature.

The guru holds meditation meetings at the UN building in Manhattan, but has no official "delegate" status.

The Toronto Council on Mind Abuse alleged that Chinmoy has misrepresented his status regarding the UN.

Arnold Markowitz, director of the New York Jewish Community cult hotline and clinic said, "Sri Chinmoy has produced the most psychiatric casualties of the meditation groups that I've experienced."

Markowitz claimed that Chinmoy's meditation has caused some members to "dissociate" or lose touch with reality.

Former members have stated that they meditated four times a day for hours at a time and before going to bed.

Members also practiced "concentration" by staring at candle flames and black dots on walls, which is a common technique for inducing trance through hypnosis.

Markowitz said, "many [Chinmoy devotees] have serious, adverse psychological or psychiatric reactions on a continuum from intense, increased anxiety to psychosis&[due to] hypnotic induction."

"The deeper the person goes within themselves, there's a detachment from the outside world.... It erodes whatever hold they have on reality. And it gives them a greater sense of unreality, which is part of the dissociation," the clinician stated.

"The dissociation ... can become psychotic," Markowitz added. Even though it "may feel good to people who do it initially because they feel a reduction of their anxiety or deepening of their concentration, but in the end ... there is a rebound effect."

"Ultimately, people get more distressed when not meditating," he commented, and "it becomes habitual, addictive."

Markowitz cautioned that cult members who have become psychotic "are not people who necessarily had problems or showed any evidence of having problems" previously. "These are people who functioned without ever having a breakdown who go into a group and become forever psychotic..."

Note: This news summary is based upon the article "Cults attract by default," Washington Jewish Week, April 1, 1993

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