Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, born in Mangalore, India in 1955, is the current leading guru of the Siddha Yoga tradition.
Her name in Sanskrit translating as “the bliss of the play of consciousness” and “immersed in the Guru”, Chidvilasananda is said to have an enlightened state of self-realization as a modern day spiritual master.
Siddha Yoga, founded by Swami Muktananda, is a yogic path focussed on awakening kundalini energy through familiar practices (meditation, mantra, contemplation, service) to establish knowledge of the self.
The Siddha Yoga tradition has a key aspect of initiation through Shaktipat, which is a guru-to-student process of kundalini awakening. Chidvilasananda to this day offers ‘Shaktipat Intensives’ through the Siddha Yoga Foundation and its gurus.
Gurumayi Chidvilasananda brought Siddha Yoga to global attention, predominantly in North America. Both Chidvilsananda and the Siddha Yoga Foundation have seen a great measure of controversy in relation to the practice, the gurus and its financing.
Chidvilasananda, much like other prominent yogis, also commands humanitarian action in the world.
For example, initiating yoga teachings into prisons, health, education and community development in India, and preserving endangered religious and philosophical texts of classical India.
In this article, we’ll take a look at:
- Her Life and Background
- Her Teachings
- Her Impact
Life and Background
1. Early Life
Gurumayi Chidvilasananda was born in 1955 in Mangalore. The eldest of three, she was born into a family who were ardent devotees of Swami Muktananda in the 1950s.Gurumayi’s spiritual journey began when she was just five years old. Her parents took her to the revered Gurudev Siddha Peeth ashram at Ganeshpuri on weekends, where she had her first experience of the Siddha Yoga teachings.
Gurudev Siddha Peeth is considered the very first Siddha ashram, and Siddha yogis consider it a center of spiritual energy, accrued from countless hours of sadhana that have taken place there.
2. Her Shaktipat Initiation
According to the Siddha Yoga path, a spiritual initiation of shaktipat is the key to comprehending the divine vision of ourselves.
A shaktipat is a profound experience through which a guru initiates a spiritual awakening, marking the beginning of the path to self-realization. Gurumayi Chidvilasananda received her spiritual initiation at the age of 14, from Swami Muktananda.
Recalling her experience of the shaktipat, Gurumayi said:
“I experienced the mantra as an immensely powerful force that rocketed at lightning speed throughout my bloodstream and created an upheaval in my entire system.
I instantly transcended body-consciousness and became aware that all distinctions such as inner and outer were false and artificial.
Everything was the same; what was within me was also without. My mind became completely blank. There was only the pulsating awareness “I am That” accompanied by great bliss and light.”Gurumayi Chidvilasananda
Following this experience, she moved into the ashram as an official disciple and yoga student of Muktananda. Clearly very quickly becoming an integral part of the ashram, she became Muktananda’s English language translator as a teenager.
As his translator, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda regularly accompanied her guru on his teaching world tours, spreading the message of Siddha Yoga.
3. Initiation Into The Saraswati Order
In the 8th century CE, the mystic Hindu philosopher Adi Shankaracharya established 10 orders of asceticism, which are still prominent today. These orders exist as guilds for sannyasins.
A sannyasin is generally defined as a religious ascetic who has renounced worldly pleasures in pursuit of attaining self-knowledge.
In 1982, Chidvilasananda was initiated as a sannyasin into one of the 10 orders of monks: the Sarasvati order. This saw her taking vows of obedience, poverty, and celibacy with the theme of renunciation.
By this time, Muktananda had officially designated Gurumayi Chidvalisananda as one of his two successors for the Siddha Yoga Foundation, with her brother Nithyananda as the other.
This designation took place during a five day fire ceremony called a yajna in which mantra chanting and offerings are made.
4. Head Of The SYDA Foundation (Siddha Yoga)
Swami Muktananda passed away in 1982, around half a year after appointing Chidvalisananda and her brother as future successors. Gurumayi Chidvalisananda and Nithyananda became co-gurus of the ashram and the foundation after their guru’s death.
However, Nithyananda left the Siddha Yoga Foundation in 1985 – one of many controversies surrounding the foundation. There is mixed information and witness accounts, but he claims that he left voluntarily.
Nithyananda admitted he engaged in sexual relations with multiple followers and resolved to renounce his status as a Siddha Yoga sannyasin and as co-guru, expressing well wishes for his sister and her sole leadership.
Subsequently though, an alternative version of events surfaced indicating a power struggle between the siblings. Supposedly, Chidvalisananda had deposed her brother for participation in lewd sexual rituals.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Chidvilasananda delivered speeches and led Siddha Yoga Shaktipat Intensives across several countries, including India, North America, in Europe, Australia, Japan, and Mexico.
These ‘Shaktipat Intensives’ offered participants the opportunity to receive Shaktipat initiation, which purportedly activates the kundalini energy residing within each individual, as stated in Indian scripture.
The very same shaktipat experience Gurumayi Chidvilasananda had herself!
Her Teachings And Impact
Teachings: Siddha Yoga
Gurumayi Chidvilasananda is the current head of Siddha Yoga, which has two primary ashrams: one in India, and one in New York.
“Siddha Yoga” translated from Tamil means “perfect” or “perfected” yoga. Muktananda coined the name to describe his path of self-realization that he took under the guidance of his guru: the Indian mystic Bhagawan Nityanananda.
Muktananda named it “Siddha” as a perfect path because it embodied all of the traditional yogic paths: jnana yoga, karma yoga, raja yoga, and bhakti yoga. He claimed that following the Siddha path accumulated perfection in each path. A tall order!
Based on primarily eastern philosophy, Siddha Yoga naturally has scriptural roots in classic Vedic texts.
The Siddha Yoga practices are intended to help disciples “touch and expand their inner mystical state, until over time they become established in their experience of yoga or oneness with God.”
The actual practice has an integral focus on these aspects:
- Activating internal kundalini energy
- Study of religious scripture and learning through Siddha discourses
- Selfless service or “seva”
Selfless service is a key tenet, in which Siddha yogis embrace the universal teaching of community and brotherhood. To attain self-realization or the Great Reality of God within, is to also “see God in each other”.
New York Ashram
Shree Muktananda Ashram is a famous Siddha Yoga temple based 130km from New York City, offering retreats and courses in the path.
In the 90s, Siddha Yoga saw the attention of a variety of celebrities such as Meg Ryan, Diana Ross, Lisa Kudrow, and Lulu as they became public devotees of the ashram and path.
Impact: Humanitarian Initiatives
Beyond the teaching itself, Chidvilasananda and the Siddha Yoga Foundation have both been a force of good in the world, and also a source of negative controversy.
Starting with the positives, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda founded a multitude of humanitarian initiatives via the Siddha Yoga Foundation:
#1: PRASAD Project
In 1992, she established the PRASAD Project in the United States. This project is an NGO that holds special consultative status with the economic and social council of the United Nations.
Through the PRASAD Project, Chidvilasanda has supported communities in health, education and sustainability development in India, as well as providing eye and dental care in the United States and Mexico.
Notably, PRASAD has conducted free eye surgery to treat cataracts for over 30,000 adults and children in Mexico!
#2: The Prison Project
Originally created by Muktananda in 1979, the Prison Project is a programme that makes available the Siddha Yoga path to prisoners.
Chidvilasananda saw through an expansion of this project, and there are now thousands of incarcerated students in prisons across the Americas, Europe and Australia.
#3: Muktabodha Indological Research Institute
In 1996, Chidvilasananda founded the Muktabodha Indological Research Institute. The institute’s mission is to preserve endangered classical Indian religious and philosophical scriptures and texts.
With the preservation of these texts and traditions, it intends to make them accessible for scholarship worldwide for future generations.
On the other hand, there has been a lot of controversial attention surrounding the organization, such as Chidvalisananda’s brothers sexual encounters with disciples we previously mentioned.
Some criticize Chidvilasananda for not embodying a truly pure and holy yogic life, claiming that she and other Siddha gurus are concerned only with money and fame.
These critics believe that because she rubs shoulders with celebrities, and manages sleekly modernized ashrams, her behavior is in direct contrast to what is expected of a sannyasin.
By extension, there is also the hotly discussed topic of how much money the Siddha Yoga foundation appears to have.
For example, the foundation owns multiple hotels, attracts wealthy celebrity followers and has become a “multi-million-dollar business entity”, employing actual strategy executives.
Despite the controversy, Gurumayi Chidvalisananda’s presence has no doubt left a major impact in the world of yoga, with students worldwide paying homage in emotion and joy.
And with Siddha Yoga itself, the practice is realistic and offers no shortcuts, which is a true hallmark of actual spiritual integrity. If you’d like to learn more about Siddha Yoga, and maybe even take part in your own shaktipat intensive, why not check out their website.
If you’d like to learn more about other yogis and their spiritual teachings why not check out our other articles: