Cult Following

Very few people will have noticed that there is a street named after Sri Chinmoy in Ruakaka. Even fewer will care, although they may wonder at the relevance of having a new street in a subdivision named after a dead Indian guy who spent way too much time in blue silk pajamas. Likewise, it will come as some surprise to many Aucklanders that the Auckland Domain is in fact the 'Sri Chinmoy Auckland Domain' (there is a bronze plaque hiding behind an insignificant shrub stating that it was gifted to Sri some years ago). There are about 15 million Aussies who have no idea that they gave away the Great Barrier Reef to show their gratitude for all the peace Sri has brought to the world. So far Iraq and Somalia have been slow to give it up for Sri and world peace but I guess they've had a lot on their plate. The Argentines would be amazed to discover that Igazu falls was gifted to this enlightened being and, being South American may pause for a second and wonder at how a man who proclaimed to have had absolutely no interest in the material world could possibly have acquired so much stuff. The various citizens who have ended up with his image cast in bronze statues in countless cities round the world might also question who the hell he was and how come they now have to live with him in their local park. They might also marvel at what an ego that knew no mortal boundaries and could manipulate thousands of people to work for nothing in his various enterprises controlling everything about them from what they ate to whom they slept with – could achieve in one small life time.

I wouldn't know about Sri Chinmoy, or be outraged about a street name in Ruakaka, and could care even less about his followers if one of them didn't happen to be my sister. Someone who graduated with a double degree in literature and international trade and law when English was her second language. Someone who just happened to be walking past a sari clad friendly soul on the day her boyfriend dumped her. Someone who I encouraged to go to the meditation classes they offered because I thought they'd help. Someone whose stellar mind and sparkling personality for the last 15 years have been slowly and efficiently washed away with mindless truisms and dodgy spiritual insights that are mostly a borrowed mish mash of the Bhagavad-Gita and new age faux Christian clap trap.

Losing a family member to a cult is almost as bad as losing them to drugs – worse in many ways. While you can argue against the resulting tooth loss and general capacity for unwarranted random violence that an addiction to P may engender, it is very difficult to argue against someone wanting to contribute to world peace in a sing song voice and a bright pink sari. When quite a lot of the world and a good chunk of the people in it can often be fairly unattractive it is really hard to question the validity of withdrawing from it. My father's spiritual Rambo raid on the inner sanctum of peace and general lotus love and his threat to come back and 'deal to' the spiritual leader if he ever found anyone had touched my sister is not recommended as an intervention technique. In fairness though – the dodgy Nigel with the exotic nomenclature smugly insisting 'no chains held her' would have made giving him a hiding really fun. Whatever chains held her were definitely not visible but they were mighty effective. And they hold her still.

Cults don't compensate. Not for the careers never followed, the lovers left unloved or the children never born. Not for the hours spent in slave labour or the theft of the gumption needed to keep footing it in the big world. Cults never pay the dentist bills. Sri Chinmoy's estate has more than 2 million dollars sitting in bank accounts. I hope some of it goes to help the people whose lives he wasted instead of campaigns to keep naming more streets after a dodgy spiritual practitioner of dubious worth.

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