Swai Premvarni Balayogi - with tragic results
 A Journey of Spiritual Seduction - The Serpent Rising - by Mary Garden

Review by Reidun Priddy

Mary Garden's Indian spiritual journey started in 1973 at the Henderson Yoga Ashram in Auckland, New Zealand. And what a journey it was! Her story captivated me from the start, not least because she has the ability to make each scene come alive. She brings the reader right into each event through her vivid descriptions - sounds, sights, details and her own thoughts and reactions at the time.

I have many things in common with Mary although I grew up in Norway, practically the other side of the world. I am the same age and as a child was also convinced that everything I was taught about Christianity was true, and that I would become a missionary. Later on I was also influenced by the same books as her and so many others at that time, such as Yogananda, Brunton and Hesse. In time I became a devotee of Sai Baba of Puttaparthi and went there many times, until I found out after 20 years that he was yet another of the many Indian gurus who abuses people and pretend to be something which he isn't.

Her Indian guru called her a 'mouse', but I think she was very brave the way she gave up her life at home and went to live in India. She tells of how she was detached and unaffected by the appalling surroundings when she arrived and spent her first night in a hotel in Madras. I have been many times to India, and the first time I came I was almost terrified and really put off by the poverty, dirt and misery so uncomfortably close to me, and I wasn't even alone like Mary was. She felt at home in India, and even when she later went through hard times and hated being there, she wasn't frightened and didn't feel it was alien to her. The times she was frightened was when she fled from Sai Baba's ashram in a strange panic and when she, with good reason, feared the influence of her guru, Balyogi Premvarni. I have also experienced 'unreasonable' fear coming to the surface in India, and there is something about being there, the intensity of the physical environment has an impact that seems to affect the emotions and reactions to everything as well.

Her description of the night on the train after she leaves Sai Baba and Bangalore really reminds me of how I used to hate being in India when I was having a bad time - somehow bad is so bad there, and good can be so good. All her peace and joy are gone and she just wants to get away from the confusion, dirt and chaos in India to the clarity, order and cleanliness in the West.

There are many myths about Indians, and she writes for example: "Uninhibited behaviour between the opposite sexes is especially upsetting to the majority of Indian people as this goes against traditional Hindu culture." Yes, so we are told, but then why are Indian men notorious for harassing foreign women in Western clothes when they are alone?

Reading how Mary bravely tells of how she got ensnared yet again after vowing to herself that after Sai Baba no guru should tell her what to do with her life, I feel a greater acceptance of my own gullibility in relation to Sai Baba. She shows very clearly that on a spiritual search we are not rational, we open up to deep levels in ourselves and therefore become easy prey to those on the hunt. Through recording her experiences in such an honest and straightforward manner, Mary Garden contributes to a greater understanding of how and why people get caught up in cults without even realising it, especially since Eastern religions are so strange and exotic to most Westerners even now, that it is difficult to recognise the signs of a cult, for the tradition of gurus and ashrams have many of the cult characteristics inherent in them. Such a system demands an impeccable guru, because of its nature where the devotee regards the guru as God.

This book also brings home to the reader how defenceless we can be when confronted with the sort of power wielded by gurus and yogis. In physical strength it would be the equivalent of an infant compared to an adult. Mostly we don't know what we are dealing with and this combined with the putting down of the mind and intellect which is a basic part of the teachings leaves us helpless in the hands of ruthless gurus. The Balyogi said these things about the mind and intellect: "Too much intellect .." "You think too much." ""An academic brain. You won't understand anything with that intellect of yours." "…doubts .. destroy your faith…" "Yogic sadhana is a death of the mind and the ego." "What faith! Like a diamond. Die mind!" Mary's "clever intellect was my greatest barrier to faith, to finding out the truth about things."

Sai Baba also says 'diamond' means 'die mind'. He told my husband to stop thinking and generally goes on about the mind and intellect in exactly the same way. Very useful when gurus don't want people to realise the truth about themselves. They go further to ensure that devotees won't presume to know anything about what they are really up to and as Mary quotes her guru in the Himalayas, I see no difference to the teachings of Sai Baba: "You have no concept of my consciousness. The intellect cannot comprehend such notions. The only thing you need is faith. You need to surrender to me." "Your real nature is your true guru." (So why tell us to surrender to them?)

Premvarni, writes Mary Garden, "appeared to be an enlightened tantric master operating beyond our feeble conceptions of good and evil or right and wrong. This enabled us to rationalise that through his lessons he deliberately created chaos so that our petty egotistical minds would be still, exhausted and at last transcended." Other devotees told Mary that "the level these gurus were operating at was at the level of Truth where there was no morality and one transcends good and evil." How well I recognise this same argumentation from Sai Baba devotees, myself included at one time. How dangerous this attitude is!

As Sai Baba, Premvarni also puts down other gurus while praising his own disciples as special - old souls connected to him through many lives. Mary says that "the leaving of anyone made them feel that only they were strong enough to stay." That is so true of Sai devotees as well. And the similarities go on: The Swami's living quarters are luxurious compared to the bare concrete for devotees. In the Swami, anger is not anger, sex is not sex, hunger and greed are not hunger and greed, sickness is not sickness and so on. All that is only appearances and everything is done for the sake of the devotee; raising the kundalini, working off karma, taking on the illness of others, removing deep tendencies, samskaras, carried over from past times and lives and 'testing one's faith'. If the master suffers, it is because of the devotee. But the truth is that the Swami himself is not what he appears to be, just like Sai Baba.

It is appalling to read how Mary Garden was treated by Balyogi Premvarni and also by Sarasvati, another devotee. How very satisfying to read the end of the book and see that the mouse had turned into a roaring lion when she left India!

"As with all groups, being at the periphery (…) is usually less damaging."

"The guru-disciple relationship is probably the most authoritarian in its demand for total surrender and obedience and hence potentially the most destructive of all relationships."

"Instead of freedom and enlightenment one experienced mental imprisonment."

"Our need was our downfall."

'The Serpent Rising' by Mary Garden

Review by Robert Priddy

A real life spiritual thriller! Such a frank and wholly engaging account of such a remarkable 'spiritual journey' to India has seldom been written. This can be said with confidence because it is shatteringly frank. It takes 'seekers of the spiritual' on a vicarious tour of the mystique of yogis, gurus, swamis and their kind, without personally having to go through the accompanying betrayals and horrors that happened to Mary Garden and which so often occur. The extraordinary psychic and paranormal experiences, which are almost invariably also a baited hook, were also had by Mary Garden in plenty. For me this account represents a broad and experientially-founded rebuttal of much of what the vast New Age literature builds up in groping for spiritual solutions to living and following fraudulent gurus, and not least the search for transcendental experiences of any kind at all costs. The dangers she encountered were great and her survival of them and the intense physical and mental-emotional sufferings involved shows how the human spirit can recover from the direst of abuses.

Mary Garden's marathon through seven years of inner and outer heaven and hell began after arriving in India in the early 1970s at the ashram of the self-declared 'avatar' or Incarnate God of all Gods, Sai Baba of Puttaparthi in South India. The experience of staying in the ashram after having entered into an inner spiritual bond with this self-proclaimed avatar are recorded with great accuracy, a fact to which I can attest because my wife and I experienced or observed all the described kind of events there 12 years later, so little of real import had evidently changed. The teaching for self-brainwashing was already firmly in place and at that time the sinister aspects of a dangerous cult were already present, later to become known only when sexual abuses and cold-blooded murders were impossible to suppress successfully. Mary Garden eventually realised the fraud involved when she was told frankly about Sai Baba's homosexual abuse of young men in the name of God by an American lady who lived and worked in Bangalore and who was not under the delusions shared by all Sai followers.

This episode, bad enough in itself, was as nothing compared to what was to come. .. from the frying pan into the actual fire, with another 'pure yogi' with undoubted powers of an extraordinary nature who turned out to be a seducer of women and many a worse quality. That it was anything like an 'ordinary trip' would be a huge understatement… but the reading of the book itself alone can convey what is to be learned from it. Meanwhile, throughout the long agon, the anachronistic time capsule that is India becomes almost sensually present, like virtual reality… but one where unearthliness mixed with the direct social reality rules so much of the lives of its inhabitants.

Speech by David Main at the launch of The Serpent Rising by Mary Garden

A young woman sees a poster in a window of a health-shop in New Zealand. The poster contains the image of a snake. The snake is coiled; its head points to the sky and there is a telephone number with an invitation to attend a meeting at the Henderson Yoga Ashram. And so begins a journey from New Zealand to India – a yatra, a seeking of the soul that will take this young woman to various ashrams, and to one in particular, one at the foothills of the Himalayas where the holy Ganges emerges from the greatest range of mountains in the world.

But let me get back to this snake. It’s an allegorical snake – the great king cobra said to have shaded Lord Krishna’s face with its hood and thereby become sacred. The king of all the cobras grows to a length of sixteen feet. Its hood is the size of a dinner plate and it raises six feet of its body clear of the ground when it strikes. Mary should have trusted her instincts. And yes, it’s a beautiful snake. Midnight black, it carries the white spectacle mark bestowed on it by Krishna and its belly is gold, pure gold flecked with orange. Such a beautiful snake, and so seductive; how could a wide-eyed girl escape its coils?

She didn’t. She didn’t escape. She embraced those coils, she embraced them with the zeal of the innocent young, and she embraced them with a hope of knowing the unknown. The girl was infected with poison, a poison strong as any known opiate. She became a victim.

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. I was invited by Mary to say a few words only because I was born and bred less than twenty miles from where she was used, abused and humiliated in the name of a great religion. I know the river of which she writes; I know the ashrams on the Ganges. And because of its significant in the Hindu world, the great river is significant in Mary’s story

The Ganges has its source in and ice-cave high in the Himalayas. Two thousand kilometres later it reaches the sea. This is a celestial stream that Lord Shiva took on his head and allowed to trickle down to earth otherwise the world would have been drowned. Miraculous powers are attributed to its waters and it does indeed appear to have strange properties. It can be stored for long periods and remains fresh when other waters become stale and rancid: Indians claim that bacteria does not survive long in the Ganges and the bones of thousands cremated along its banks dissolve rapidly in Ganges water. Perhaps the water has special properties due to the minerals it gathers on its journey through the mountains, perhaps the heavy screen of silt filters out bacteria. Nobody knows the answer.

Nobody knows the true answer, but every Guru in every ashram won’t hesitate to give you his version. But how can this be when Hinduism is a philosophy? When Hinduism has no written word? There are no rules, no Ten Commandments, and the Upanishads from the Rig Veda are merely philosophical couplets open to interpretation by the subtle minds of Indian sages.

The only truth is that Brahmins sit on top of the food chain and they run the show. Devotees are fed a diet of philosophy and mantras. Meditation mixed with yoga is common fare, and to flavour the stew-pot, toss in a handful of sex and tantric magic. Anything goes. And its all backed up ladies and gentlemen, all explained away by a charlatans using bits plagiarized from a great religion that goes back six thousand years. The sages, the pundits, the sadhus and especially the gurus will all tell you they know the unknown, that knowledge is locked in the intricacies of Sanskrit words of which they alone hold the patent. They will ask you to repeat mantras over and over again until everything, and I mean everything, is blotted out of your Western mind.

Om nama ha Shiva
Om nama ha Shiva

Say it ten thousand times before breakfast and see how you feel
Go further up the mountain where Buddhism blurs the lines and try

Om mane padme hum
Om mane padme hum

Let it run through your mind even when you’re sitting on the loo
It’s like a dose of Epsom salts. It empties the mind of everything, everything including logic.

Om nama ha Shiva
Om nama ha Shiva
God’s name is Shiva
God’s name is Shiva
God’s name is also Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver and Shiva the destroyer. Shiva is seen not only as a destroyer but also of a god of regeneration because over the Christian era an accommodation was reached. Hinduism is flexible and the concept of a trinity of gods became fashionable. Never underestimate the subtle minds of Indian sages keeping up with the times.

Om nama ha Shiva
Om nama ha Shiva

Say it as you walk, say it as you sweep, say it over and over as you cook, even as you eat. And even as you sleep safe in the ashram, because Ashrams are factories of words, factories of Sanskrit where the subtle minds of sages make the complicated even more complex.

The derivation of the word Ashram, is from the Hindi word, Aram, to rest. Resting places as people made their pilgrimages up the banks of the great holy rivers.

History of ashrams: resting places as pilgrims travel up and down India’s rivers

The cult of the guru started in ashrams where pilgrims, mostly Brahmins took up residence. The cult of the guru has been exported. Ashrams now have their own web sites, Soul is big business in India, soul seeking brings beautiful foreign dollars where it suits the present Prime Minister and helps the economy when he claims Sai Baba is an incarnation of God.

Many Gurus claim divinity. It’s all about money. It all comes down to dollars in the end.

But back to our story. A young girl goes to an exotic land. She’s tasted India and it isn’t exotic. It’s far from exotic. Her mind has been shocked by bizarre sights, smells and sounds of everyday India. She’s seen beggars, she’s seen lepers, she’s been propositioned by legions of men, she’s seen people defecating in public because there are no public toilets and on top of it all, she’s been harassed where ever she goes and has been robbed of money and passport. And when finally she gets to where she has wanted to be all along, perhaps she’s a little afraid as she walks through the gates of her chosen ashram. Frightened, disorientated and far from home in a tranquil and beautiful setting, she finds sanctuary.

This is a typical story, and as any young seeker for the truth kneels and looks up into his eyes, the gentle brown eyes of the resident swami, she hears him say “You have come a long way my child, the journey was difficult, but it was destined. Trust me my child. Empty your mind of the poison of the West. Trust me because the rumors you hear about me are true. It’s true I lived in an Ice Cave for six months; true I lived on Prana when there was no air, no water, no food. Not even light and there I survived when any other mortal would have died.

Aho Atma! I found the true light.
Aho Atma. The light was in me. God dwells within me, Om mane padme hum. The jewel is in the lotus’ Look into my eyes, trust me as my words wash over you - Kabira sangat sadhu ke…etc.

Come into my parlour said the spider to the fly
Come into my parlour. Leave your mind outside with your shoes, don’t be afraid my child, bask amongst the coils of the great king cobra, but forgive me if I’m a little vague. You see I’ve been changing my skin. Ask the chelas, ask the other disciples and they will tell you I have been away for the winter, I have been back to my ice cave to meditate, to shed my worldly skin, to regenerate my link with the cosmos.

The truth is the little shit has been in Acapulco for the last six months. He’s been on a yacht with a four plump blonds and a couple of cases of Chivas Regal.

It’s a well-known joke amongst Indians that if a woman is barren or her husband is woefully impotent, that she should spend a week at a particular ashram. Those ashrams are known. The poor wife can expect a visit from a god, a god that comes in the night, a god in need of a shave and a dose of deodorant.

So come into my parlour said the spider to the fly
Mary Garden walked into that parlour of her own volition. She walked out when she had the courage to run but she went back, equally, of her own volition. Not dragged back kicking and screaming, because the psychologist Jung says – “it is well known that we are susceptible only to those suggestions with which we are already secretly in accord”. Mary Garden wanted desperately to believe in something, something the West could not offer. She sought solace and knowledge from a great Eastern religion and in turn was used and abused by charlatans in the name of that same religion. This is where gurus and I part company, but this kind of thing is not confined to gurus or India. Look closer to home; false teachers surround us.

I found The Serpent Rising compulsive reading despite becoming more and more frustrated as Mary returned to fall at the feet of a psychopath. This is the story of a girl hooked by a very clever man, hooked and kept on a leash like an addict on an exotic opiate. And it’s nothing new. We see women trapped in violent marriages, we see the populace manipulated by politicians, we’ve seen entire nations bent to the will of dictators, we see religion denigrated by wolves who prey on the innocent. We’ve witnessed the Jones massacre in Ghana and mass murder by the Branch Davidians in America. We’ve seen cults like the Moonies grow as early morning TV bombards us with clap-trap from marginalised faiths based on the Bible – It’s all about money and mind control and it happens only when democracy allows it to.

We need books like The Serpent Rising to expose what is basically bull-shit, and finally I salute Mary for giving us her brave and tragic story - an example of what can happen to an innocent girl in a single unguarded moment.

Review of Mary Garden's 'The Serpent Rising1' by Ann Faraday