Swami Satchidananda died over this past weekend in India from natural causes. The guru, who was 87, suffered from high blood pressure and died in intensive care due to internal bleeding. An American citizen, his body is being flown back to the United States for internment within a prepared tomb at his ashram in Virginia.

Satchidananda came from India to the United States in the 60s. He eventually established his first yoga school in New York during 1966. The guru became a US citizen ten years later. The chain of schools he founded would later be known as “Integral Yoga International” (IYI).

Various celebrities were once involved with Satchidananda at one time or another, such as actors Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum, artist Peter Max, diet doctor Dean Ornish and singer-songwriter Carole King. It was his devotee “Karuna” (Carole King) in 1978 who gave Satchidananda hundreds of acres in western Connecticut, which he sold in 1979 to buy land near Buckingham, Virginia that was used to create his own ashram called “Yogaville.” Yogaville became a compound for the swami’s most devoted followers and eventually the site of the so-called “Lotus Shrine” dedicated in 1986.

However, contrary to the swami’s supposed status as a celibate “Hindu monk”and despite the requirement that many of his devotees not marry and refrain from sex, Satchidananda was plagued by allegations of sexual misconduct. In 1991 numerous female followers stated that he had used his role as their spiritual mentor to exploit them sexually. One of Satchidananda’s former personal secretaries and an alleged victim said, “I feel betrayed.”

After the allegations became public many devotees abandoned Satchidananda and hundreds of students left IYI schools, but the swami never admitted any wrongdoing. He instead said, “Don’t judge me, I am your guru. If you choose to believe it you can leave right now. Or, if you have faith, you can stay and continue in my service.”

Another scandal more recently rocked IYI and Yogaville in 1999. A young woman attending a “30 day program” at the ashram suddenly quit law school, dropped her fiancée and married a monk there; who was 30 years, her senior. The woman’s distraught family said she was “brainwashed.” That family later detailed their allegations publicly.

According to the guru’s ardent followers Satchidananda was “one of the most revered living Yoga Masters of our time.” However, for many he was simply a “cult leader” who left behind a legacy of personal pain. His death will no doubt create a vacuum within IYI and Yogaville. Like many cult figures Satchidananda drew followers through his personal charisma, IYI and Yogaville were largely defined by his personality.

Satchidananda also drew in millions of dollars during his long career as a guru, which was used to create a tangible legacy that includes real estate holdings and other assets. This residue of accumulated material wealth will no doubt prompt someone to eventually fill the organizational vacuum created by his death.


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