Fasting guru defends cult as doctors warn that her disciples are on path to suicide

The Express, September 23, 1999
By Laura Kibby

A "SPIRITUAL cleansing" philosophy which advocates extreme fasting was yesterday condemned as an incitement to suicide.

New Age guru Jasmuheen, 42, formerly Australian businesswoman Ellen Greve, claims to have 5,000 devotees to her "breatharian" programme. She stood by her diet regime yesterday despite the death of disciple Verity Linn.

Ms Linn, a 40-year-old expatriate Australian from the Findhorn Community in Scotland, was discovered starved to death after going without food and water for days.

Speaking on Radio 4's Today programme, mother-of-two Jasmuheen, who claims not to have eaten for five years in her quest for "spiritual fulfilment", said she was living proof her philosophy worked.

"I can go for months and months without having anything at all other than a cup of tea," she said. "My body runs on a different kind of nourishment." She said that some people have gone for up to six years without eating or drinking.

But she warned against individuals trying it without the proper preparation. "It would be like someone attempting the triathlon without any training," she said.

She added: "I would like to offer my sincere condolences to Verity's family and friends. Unfortunately, I have never had the pleasure of connecting with Verity during her life - from what I have read, she sounds like a remarkable woman."

Last night Gaynor Bussell, spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association, said there was growing concern at the increasing number of people turning to weird and wacky food plans.

Ms Bussell warned disciples were being "led down a path that does not work. Anyone who claims it does is lying". She added: "People are trying to find a cause and this seems like a cause. It becomes a cult thing but it is almost like a religious suicide."

Those on rice-based macrobiotic diets and fruitarians, who won't eat vegetables because they believe plants have feelings, are also considered to put their lives at risk.

Nutrition scientist Sarah Schenker feared the breatharian philosophy would simply add fuel to eating disorders. "This goes against every bit of scientific evidence," she said.

Without food the body would literally start eating itself leading to tissue damage and eventually death from kidney or heart failure. But without liquid, dehydration would kill in a matter of days.

Breatharians believe they are sustained by Pranic light, an ancient spiritual belief in the light of God which is found across the universe and inside everyone. But the organisation has been dogged by scandal. In 1983, most of the leadership of the cult in California resigned when Wiley Brooks, its 47-year-old leader, who claimed not to have eaten for 19 years, was caught sneaking into a hotel and ordering a chicken pie. Last year Lani Morris died in Australia after having nothing to eat or drink for 10 days. Her mentor, who is mentioned in Ms Greve's book, was charged with her manslaughter.

The cult originated in China and the Far East. Last year a monk in Bangalore claimed to have fasted for a 365 days, drinking only one cup of hot water after sunrise and another before sunset. During this time he lost more than five stone. Western doctors who monitored his condition said it was astonishing.

In Britain, IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands died after 66 days. Animal rights activist Barry Horne fasted for 68 days but drank orange juice and tea. But Jasmuheen and her supporters insist it is possible to live without food. Jeffry Sharp, 33, from Ilkley, West Yorkshire, said he regularly fasted for periods of up to 30 days, drinking only water and the occasional herbal or fruit tea. "I have lost a stone in the first two weeks but then my weight stabilises. I have more energy and a greater state of awareness when I'm not eating," he said.

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