"Swami" accused of "abuse"

July 21, 2005
By Rick Ross

J. Michael Shoemaker, overweight bald headed 52-year-old college dropout from Indiana, is the would-be guru "Swami Chetanananda" of Portland, Oregon. But the seemingly sleazy swami has been accused of "financial, sexual and spiritual abuse" by dozens of his former followers as reported by the Oregonian.

Shoemaker operates from a big old Victorian house located at 1021 N.E. 33rd Avenue in Portland, Oregon, the turn of the century manse houses 75 of his devotees.

Many of the guru’s disciples are well educated and hold down jobs including lawyers and business managers.

The allegedly sleazy swami is the son of a nurse and pharmacist and was raised Catholic in Indiana. He dropped out of an Indiana university to become a supposed spiritual seeker at the age of 22. The young Shoemaker then hooked up with a Brooklyn born Jew named "Rudi" who called himself "Swami Rudrananda."

Shoemaker eventually joined Rudi’s ashram in Big Indian, New York. And he was amongst the 50 other full-time workers that built a thriving little consortium of guru businesses.

In 1971 Shoemaker went back to Indiana to open another branch for his mentor, but Rudrananda died two years later in a plane crash. Then the one-time pupil took over his teacher’s business and continued to build a kind of spiritual empire.

Another controversial teacher named Swami Muktananda, the Indian founder of Siddha Meditation, reportedly initiated Shoemaker and he thus became "Swami Chetanananda."

Shoemaker’s followers now run a yoga school and "Movement Center" called the "Rudrananda Ashram" that affects the lives of hundreds of Oregonians.

Many people that began as students reportedly eventually became devoted group members.

The Nityananda Institute, a tax-exempt church, is the umbrella organization over Shoemaker’s spiritual enterprises.

Former followers told the Oregonian that Chetanananda ran their lives, threatened those that wanted to leave and caused them psychological and spiritual damage.

Eleven of his former disciples say he had sex with them.

One woman claimed he took $400,000 from her and then lost the money in failed investments.

The guru did not respond to interview requests from the Oregonian and instead sent a prepared typed statement.

"I have never abused any women or children or men…I have never threatened any person who wanted to leave our community. I have never coerced anyone, period," said Shoemaker. He admitted having sex with consenting adult women.

The swami lamented, "I find it incomprehensible that people could say these things…It breaks my heart."

Ruth Knight, a devoted disciple of Shoemaker since 1986 defended her teacher. She explained, "It is said that simply to sit in the presence of a teacher brings great benefit." Knight dropped out of college to run the ashram’s kitchen.

Another follower Gunner Anderson who joined the group in 1974 claimed it has saved his life.

The Oregonian reported that the Shoemaker teaches his followers to "‘surrender’ the mind," which is achieved through a process of meditation.

"What surrender means is that you open yourself deeply: that you suspend your feelings of fear, resistance, doubt and misunderstanding…In this way you become a manifestation of the teaching," said Chetanananda in a group publication.

In 1978 Lawrence and Mary Eyink of Cincinnati reportedly abducted their son Dan in a failed attempt to deprogram him. Like Ruth Knight Dan Eyink had dropped out of college to follow Shoemaker. "It seemed like his eyes were dead…He had a mechanical smile," his father told the press. The 24-year-old reportedly cut off his family. Dan Eyink, now a doctor in his fifties, lives in Portland and still attends classes at Shoemaker’s ashram.

Veteran cult watcher and former Catholic priest Kent Burtner told the Oregonian that he had counseled some of the swami’s past followers.

City records reflect that some of Shoemaker’s disciples have held positions of influence in Portland. Sharon Ward, the guru’s sister-in-law and director of his institute has been chairwoman of the board of the Kearns Neighborhood Association. Ten other devotees have held elected position over the neighborhood that includes more than five thousand Portland residents.

Note: This article is based upon "In the Grip of the Guru - Part 1: Securing a spiritual empire" by Richard Read published by the Oregonian July 15, 2001.

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