The burgeoning growth industry of self-improvement within the United States continues to include exotic spiritual mentors. And India has been a fount for a litany of purported “gurus,” “swamis,” “yogis” and other would-be “god-men” that have enthralled Americans.

But in India such supposedly “spiritual” types are increasingly seen as simply tricksters or confidence men. And the police in Bombay are busting them, reports Reuters.

One Indian official who has exposed more than a few explained, “[Our] campaign is meant to be an eye-opener. We want to put a complete stop to those posing as god-men.”

But in the United States the First Amendment precludes putting a “complete stop” to any “religious” endeavor. So many of the “god-men” of India have immigrated to a more open market. After all, why work Bombay when you can come to America and make the big bucks?

Since the sixties a virtual wave of Indian gurus has washed upon the shores of North America. And seemingly gullible Americans have proven over and over again that they are willing to buy the wares of these “god-men” and a few “god-women” too.

The list of such spiritual entrepreneurs keeps growing.

There was Swami Satchidananda (now deceased), Guru Sri Chinmoy (still carrying on in Queens New York), Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (perhaps the richest guru on earth), Guru Maharaji (a boy wonder), Swami Prabhupada (deceased founder of “Krishna Consciousness”), Sai Baba, Swami Muktananda (deceased founder of Siddha), Yogi Bhajan of 3HO, Swami Rama and let’s not forget the notorious Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh who was deported before he died.

A new female “guru” is breaking into the American market named “Chalanda Sai Ma.” She is apparently a former pupil of Sai Baba and others, but is now touring solo.

Of course the United States appears to have plenty of homegrown flim flam, which includes an assortment of psychics, faith healers, mediums and even snake handlers. And American authorities are often far less vigilant than their Indian counterparts, when it comes to protecting the public.

Still, despite easily accessible homegrown holy men, there seems to be something about flowing saffron robes, mantras and exotic India that exicites the imagination of many within the US spiritual marketplace. Many “god-men” seem to know how to tap into that market, or that is, turn on the tap to cash in.

The historic success of Indian gurus in the US seems to have inspired a growing list of American wannabes that have taken on Indian names and titles.

Frank Jones from Brooklyn is now “god-man Adi Da,” Fred Lenz was called “Zen Master Rama,” a former New York housewife Joyce Green calls herself “Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati,” Mike Shoemaker became “Swami Chetananada” and Donald Waters became “Swami Kriyananda,” just to name a few.

Some of the “god-men” have turned out to have feet of clay. There have been several scandals and a few lawsuits regarding sexual misconduct and other allegations.

The old consumer adage “buyer beware” seems to be equally appropriate advice within the spiritual marketplace.

One Indian activist intent upon exposing “god-men” as simply con-men said, “It’s easy money — without any investment. As long as fear exists among people such god-men will thrive.”

For many yoga enthusiasts the practice is simply good exercise. But it seems for some it’s all about profits, ego and power. Some yoga schools and related businesses apparently are more concerned with maintaining their franchise and market share than the bodies of their clients, reports Business 2.0.

The article takes readers on a tour of prominent yoga entrepreneurs, who appear to be the antithesis of what you would expect, much more about the bottom line than something transcendent.

The yoga notables covered include seemingly status-driven celebrity name-dropper Bikram Choudhury, who likes flashy watches and John Abbot former banker and now the owner of “Yoga Journal” magazine, who seems intensely focused on his market share.

The article is an interesting look at how yoga has become little more than a business to make money for many of its advocates.

But another aspect of the yoga business is the use of the now popular and fashionable practice to proselytize. That is, some groups called “cults” or “cult-like” draw in adherents through an apparent kind of “bait and switch” process. These groups seem to feed off yoga as a vehicle to bring people into their subculture and/or mindset. And this process can be intensified through the use of “meditation,” often more like hypnotic trance induction, which makes students more malleable.

Yoga practitioners involved in this process may eventually become more than just exercise buffs. They can become devotees of some charismatic leader and/or sect.

This recruitment process is not uncommon. After all, yoga’s actual roots are religious not secular. Anyone interested in taking classes should check out the background of their school before becoming involved, to make sure it doesn’t have a hidden agenda.

Some groups, which have raised concerns are 3HO led by “Yogi Bhajan,” Integral Yoga International (IYI) and “Yogaville” founded by Swami Satchidananda, Dahn Hak Tao “Healing Society” led by “Master Lee” and a Patanjali Yoga Shala studio in Manhattan run by teacher Eddie Stern.

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.