|Founder||Nirmala Srivastava (aka Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi)|
|kundalini, meditation, self-realization|
Sahaja Yoga is a spiritual technique founded by Nirmala Srivastava, more widely known as Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi or as "Mother" by her followers, who are called Sahaja yogis. According to the movement, Sahaja Yoga is the state of self-realization produced by kundalini awakening and is accompanied by the experience of thoughtless awareness or mental silence.
Sahaja Yoga is not only the name of the movement, but also the technique the movement teaches and the state of awareness achieved by the technique. The movement teaches the belief that self-realization through kundalini awakening is a transformation which can be experienced on the central nervous system and results in a more moral, united, integrated and balanced personality.
Sahaja Yoga started in India and England (where Nirmala Srivastava moved in 1974) and there are now Sahaja Yoga centres in almost 100 countries world-wide. Srivastava charged no money, insisting that her lesson was a birthright which should be freely available to all. "There can be no peace in the world until there is peace within," she said.
The word 'Sahaja' in Sanskrit has two components: saha meaning 'with' and ja meaning 'born'. A Dictionary of Buddhism gives the literal translation of Sahaja as "innate" and defines it as "denoting the natural presence of enlightenment (bodhi) or purity." and Yoga means union or yoking and refers to a spiritual path or a state of spiritual absorption. According to a book published by the movement, Sahaja Yoga means spontaneous and born with you meaning that the kundalini is born within us and can be awakened spontaneously, without effort.
Sahaja Yoga beliefs are seen by the organisation as a re-discovered ancient knowledge that should be treated respectfully and scientifically, like a hypothesis and if found by experiments as truth, should be accepted.Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi is considered to be an "avatar" by many of her followers and as a carrier of the divine presence which leads some critics to find the organization as cultic. Advanced concepts are not generally taught until a beginner is understood to have gained enough knowledge of their own subtle system through actual experience. Without direct experience of the meditation, some people have reported difficulties understanding or proceeding to the more advanced material. Sociologist, Judith Coney, for example, reported facing a challenge in getting behind what she called "the public facade". She described Sahaja yogis as adopting a low profile with uncommitted individuals to avoid unnecessary conflict.
The Subtle System – Chakras, Nadis and Void
Sahaja Yoga believes that in addition to our physical body there is a subtle body composed of nadis (channels) and chakras (energy centres). There is no biomedical evidence of chakras. Psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar writes that Nirmala Srivastava's additions to this widespread traditional 'tantric' model include giving it a scientific, neurological veneer, an elaboration of the health aspects and an introduction of notions of traditional Christian morality. Nirmala Srivastava equates the Sushumna nadi with the parasympathetic nervous system, the Ida nadi with the left and the Pingala nadi with the right sides of the sympathetic nervous system.
Kundalini, Self-Realization and vibratory awareness
Sahaja Yoga believes that the chakras can be balanced by awakening the kundalini in the sacrum bone, which is conceived of as a normally dormant 'mother' energy. Nirmala Srivastava has said that the kundalini is the reflection within us of the Holy Spirit or Adi (Primordial) Shakti. She has said that kundalini "is the desire of God.... and the desire of God is the Shakti" and that yoga is impossible without kundalini awakening. As the kundalini rises through these centres, the qualities of the chakras are said to begin manifesting spontaneously. Most illnesses are said to be a result of damage to the chakras, and kundalini is said to repair them.
According to Sahaja Yoga, once the sahasrara (topmost) chakra is pierced by the kundalini, a person will feel a cool breeze on top of their head and/or on their hands. The chakras and nadis are believed by Sahaja Yoga to have associated places on the hands. Sensations of heat or coolness in the hands, head and/or body are used to make purported diagnoses of imbalances in the different chakras and nadis. These sensations (referred to as 'vibrations') are interpreted in Sahaja Yoga as indicating Self-Realization or an "encounter with Reality." The vibrations sensed are believed to be an objective divine energy that can even be caught on camera.
A Sahaja Yoga belief is that upon self-realization, the practitioner may also experience thoughtless awareness (Nirvichar Samādhi).
Vishwa Nirmala Dharma (trans: Universal Pure Religion, also known as Sahaja Yoga International) is the organizational part of the movement. It is a registered organisation in countries such as Colombia, the United States of America, and Austria. It is registered as a religion in Spain.
In addition to directly promoting Sahaja Yoga, the council promotes Sahaja culture, runs schools, a health centre, a youth movement, and a project for the rehabilitation of "destitute women and orphaned children".
- The International Sahaja Public School in Dharamsala founded in 1990, teaches around 250 international students annually and has accepted children from the age of 6. India is said to be free from harmful Western influences, and children benefit from what is considered to be a more favourable environment.
- The Shri P.K.Salve Kala Pratishthan is an Indian Classical Music and Fine Arts academy that was founded in Vaitarna, India, in 2003.
- The Cabella Primary School in Italy was scheduled to open in September 2008, with the children attending the local village school in Rocchetta Ligure.
- An international kindergarten was opened in Borotin, Czech Republic.
- A small kindergarten and primary boarding school was opened in Canajoharie, New York in 2004. As of 2006 it had an enrolment of fourteen students from pre-kindergarten through grade 3.
- There has been a Sahaja Yoga school in Rome.
Sahaja Yoga's youth movement is called "Yuvashakti" (also "Nirmal Shakti Yuva Sangha"), from the Sanskrit words Yuva (Youth) and Shakti (Power).
The movement is active in forums such as the World Youth Conference and TakingITGlobal which aim at discussing global issues, and ways of solving them.
Vishwa Nirmal Prem ashram
The Vishwa Nirmala Prem Ashram is a not-for profit project by the NGO Vishwa Nirmala Dharma (Sahaja Yoga International) located in Noida, Delhi, India, opened in 2003. The ashram is a "facility where women and girls are rehabilitated by being taught meditation and other skills that help them overcome trauma".
The methods for practising Sahaja Yoga are made available free of charge to those interested. According to the official Sahaja Yoga website there is a fee for attending international pujas to cover costs and voluntary dakshina.
According to author David V. Barrett, "Shri Mataji neither charged for her lectures nor for her ability to give Self Realization, nor does one have to become a member of this organisation. She insisted that one cannot pay for enlightenment and she continued to denounce the false self-proclaimed 'gurus' who are more interested in the seekers' purse than their spiritual ascent". However, the movement had been criticised because of encouragement of its members to make donations to pay the travel charges for Mataji's visits to their respective countries.
Cult allegations and refutations
Judith Coney found that most people who leave the movement voluntarily, still had positive things to say about it. A smaller group of ex-members have made complaints against the movement which have been reported in the press. In 2001, The Independent reported that certain ex-members say "that Sahaja Yoga is a cult which aims to control the minds of its members". In 2005, The Record reported that some critics who feel that the group is a cult have started their own websites. Coney described a Sahaja yogi discussion about the ways in which some of their beliefs were disguised when in contact with non-members as "frank and revealing".
In 2013, De Morgen reported that the Belgian Department of State Security monitors how often politicians are contacted and lobbied by organisations. The list of organisations includes Sahaja Yoga, as well as Scientology and The Muslim Brotherhood.
In 2001, The Evening Standard reported that Sahaja Yoga has been "described as a dangerous cult" and "has a dissident website created by former members". The reporter, John Crace, wrote about an event he attended and noted that a Sahaja Yoga representative asked him to feel free to talk to whomever he wanted. He remarked, "Either their openness is a PR charm offensive, or they genuinely have nothing to hide." He proposed that "one of the key definitions of a cult is the rigour with which it strives to recruit new members" and concluded that there was no aggressive recruitment squeeze.
A 2001 INFORM leaflet says that the emphasis on complete devotion has led to problems and controversy. There is a culture amongst a minority of Sahaja yogis to believe that those who deviate in particular ways may be possessed by 'negativity' or may be said to be mentally abnormal. Those who fight the pressure to follow the Guru's suggestions and radically change their lifestyle risk being expelled. It is claimed that this may bring problems for those who still believe in the power of the Guru and fear 'losing vibrations'. This expulsion is not enforced but is something understood socially and other yogis are not expected to change the way they react to those who have been expelled. It is also not a permanent expulsion; there have been cases of returning Sahaja yogis following brief periods 'out'.
David V. Barrett wrote that some former members say that they were expelled from the movement because they "resisted influence that Mataji had over their lives". According to Barrett, the movement's founder's degree of control over members' lives has given rise to concerns. The Austrian Ministry for Environment, Youth and Family states that "Sahaja Yoga" regards Nirmala Srivastava as an authority who cannot be questioned.
Sahaja yoga meditation has been shown to correlate with particular brain and brain wave activity. Some studies have led to suggestions that Sahaja meditation involves 'switching off' irrelevant brain networks for the maintenance of focused internalized attention and inhibition of inappropriate information.
A study comparing practitioners of Sahaja Yoga meditation with a group of non meditators doing a simple relaxation exercise, measured a drop in skin temperature in the meditators compared to a rise in skin temperature in the non meditators as they relaxed. The researchers noted that all other meditation studies that have observed skin temperature have recorded increases and none have recorded a decrease in skin temperature. This suggests that Sahaja Yoga meditation, being a mental silence approach, may differ both experientially and physiologically from simple relaxation.
Sahaja meditators scored above peer group for emotional wellbeing measures on SF-36 ratings.
- Judith Coney wrote in her book Sahaja Yoga: Socializing Processes in a South Asian New Religious Movement, "Finally, throughout the study I faced the challenge of getting Sahaja yogis to let me get behind the public facade. This was achieved with varying degrees of success. On one fortunate occasion, for instance, I attended a national puja, after which there was an extremely frank and revealing discussion of why Sahaja Yoga had been seen as a cult in a particular press article and of the level of secrecy in the group. There I listened to a number of speakers talk about the ways in which they disguised some of their beliefs when in contact with non-members."
- Sudhir Kakar wrote in his book Shamans, Mystics and Doctors, "Essentially, Mataji's model of the human psyche is comprised of the traditional tantric and hatha yoga notions of the subtle body, with its 'nerves' and 'centers,' and fuelled by a pervasive 'subtle energy' that courses through both the human and the divine, through the body and the cosmos. Mataji's contributions to this ancient model are not strikingly original: as a former medical student she has sought to give it a scientific, neurological veneer; as a former faith healer, she has elaborated upon those aspects of the model that are concerned with sickness and health; as someone born into an Indian Christian family she has tried to introduce notions of traditional Christian morality into an otherwise amoral Hindu view of the psyche."
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