Meet a Guru: Gurumayi

A woman known as Gurumayi Chidvilasananda is the current leader of the Siddha Yoga tradition.


The path was founded by Swami Muktananda based on teachings from his guru Bhagawan Nityananda. It was in 1975 that Muktananda began opening ashrams and schools in America.

Gurumayi started in the tradition as a child in India. Her parents brought her and her brother to study with Muktanada in the 1950s. By 14 she had her official initiation (“shaktipat”) and she lived at the ashram. Muktananda named both she and her brother co-successors in 1982.

After Muktananda’s death there was a falling out between brother and sister. It is unclear what happened. One side claims that Gurumayi’s brother left of his own volition to create his own school. The other says that Gurumayi forced her brother out.


The vision statement of Siddha Yoga is: “For everyone, everywhere, to realize the presence of divinity in themselves and creation, the cessation of all miseries and suffering, and the attainment of supreme bliss.”

Siddha Yoga offers lectures, chanting, meditation, and many of the other hallmarks of Hindu schools. They have a focus on awakening the “kundalini power” within.

Muktananda believed that the path he learned from was the most ideal because it embraced and used all the traditional yogic disciplines.

It is heavy on devotion and on using sound to vibrate one’s self into a good place (i.e., heavy emphasis on meditation, singing, and chanting). Its teachings are based on Vedanta.

My Experience

I discovered this school when I was in college. I don’t know if they still do it, but at the time there was an available correspondence course, which I signed up for. I would receive a six page letters on a regular basis and the instructions were to read it over and over and over, letting the words sink in beneath conscious thought.

I enjoyed the correspondence course a lot. The teachings were very similar to what I had been brought up with and I found it comforting and blissful.

An event was offered in the area a short time later and I signed up to go. With a small group of other college students, I went to a meditation retreat to have my kundalini energy awakened. It was meditation for much longer than I was used to doing! They claimed that one could not spiritually progress until this kundalini at the base of the spine was woken up, though the tradition I had back home said that the act of meditation itself unlocked kundalini.

I found the retreat a bit uncomfortable. It was so close to what I was used to, but slightly off. The reverence with which people bowed to images of the guru disturbed me (This just happens to be a trigger for me and it is not at all unusual for Hindu schools to teach high devotion to the guru. I require knowing a guru very well before giving him or her deference).

Back on campus I went to a few meetings with the Siddha Yoga group of kids, but I really didn’t like it. I soon stopped going. Sometime after that I heard some criticisms of the Siddha Yoga path, though I have no personal experience of that.

I find that I am ill at ease with how similar this school is to the one I grew up in. Whatever criticisms or praise there are for Siddha Yoga, I think most of the same are said of the organization I grew up with (whether justified or not, I don’t know). The locations, teachings, etc. are eerily similar. I wouldn’t be surprised if people hearing that I grew up in an Americanized Hindu organization would assume it was this one. It was not. One of these days I will do a post on my own organization. (And I did!)


There has been a lot of speculation that the Siddha Yoga organization is the one that Elizabeth Gilbert followed in writing her book Eat, Pray, Love, though that has never been officially confirmed. The evidence is pretty strong for it, though:

But if you’re somewhat familiar with India’s spiritual landscape, it’s easy to figure out that this “feminine, multilingual, university-educated” guru is Gurumayi Chidvilasananda — the head of the SYDA. For starters, India doesn’t have very many female gurus, and fewer still that speak impeccable English and reside in the United States. Gilbert also dedicates a sizable chunk of the India portion of her book to the troubles she has with the “Gurugita,” an obscure 90-minute-long hymn that Gurumayi’s devotees are required to chant every morning. –

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* I am not endorsing any of the teachers highlighted in this feature



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About Ambaa Choate

Ambaa is an American woman of European ancestry who is also a practicing Hindu. She is fascinated with questions of philosophy, culture, and the meaning of life. Join her in the journey to explore how a non-Indian convert to Hinduism experiences her religion.

  • Eddie Bryan

    The Siddha Yoga Correspondence Course written by Ram Butler ended but its author now writes a course in training online at Go and enjoy his online satsangs. He also expresses the divine Shakti (my word) through workshops on YouTube at

    • Ambaa

      Thank you! I do really enjoy the training course materials.

  • Eddie Bryan

    Did you ever read Play of Consciousness? and if you did, have you ever re-read it? The world itself is God. Only the Guru can show you this. Whomever your Guru is you should be devoted to him or her, you should exult in their blessedness. Adidam Samraj says the same. In India you are always hearing of the greatness of the Guru. America is retarded in this way. I believe that was his word. Americans have no idea of the greatness of the Guru and how he or she should be worshiped. Gurumayi, for her part has been very humble given this, she calls herself only a meditation teacher. Is humility not something to be valued?

    • Pixie5

      You actually remind me of the mindset of some Christians. You have to do things a certain way or you are disqualified as a True Christian. What is wrong with questioning until you know whether this Guru should be trusted? And worshipping a human seems excessive. Gurus are just as fallible as anyone else.
      Admittedly I do not know a great deal about Hinduism but I do not believe that anyone should give their power away like that. That is why many people of all religions get involved in cults (I am not saying that this Guru is a cult leader. I do not know). Once you believe that the person is infallible then you lose touch with your own spirituality.
      People have their own paths to God. They can decide themselves whether a teacher or Guru will help or hinder them.
      Also I would appreciate you not using the term “retarded” That is an offensive term that most people do not use anymore.

  • Eddie Bryan

    What ego. A kindergarten? Or maybe you really didn’t want to do the work?

    • Pixie5

      His path took him somewhere else. Why judge him? It was not right for him.

  • David Murali Cowan

    The guru should point out who you really are.

  • David Murali Cowan

    I had the same problem with tibetan buddhism. There wasn’t enough importance put in our divinity.

  • David Murali Cowan

    Kundalini rocks LOL. I miss the visions the most :-)

  • David Murali Cowan

    Did you know Kundalini is the divine goddess? True kundalini awakening results in atma awaking. This means you are awake beyond deep sleep.

  • Stephanie Ellison

    One problem for traditionalists! Gurumayi Chidvilasananda is indeed a neo-Hindu. Proof? Go here… It’s right there in the article!

    You’ll also note that Swami Shraddhananda is also known as Rev. Dr. Sonya Jones, OUnI. (!) How about that??

    I’m constructing a two-sided list of all the people in either the traditional or the neo camp, That way, I can keep my information straight. Again, Christian creep into eastern religion and philosophy is absolutely insidious.

    • Ambaa

      I’m not interested in deciding who counts as Hindu and who doesn’t. I think a list like that is dangerous and serves only to divide those who should be united.

      • Stephanie Ellison

        The problem is THIS. The neos want to bring over the traditionals. Rajiv speaks of the digestion of Hinduism into Christianity, and that is the danger with these people.

        • Stephanie Ellison
        • Andrea

          I’m sorry, but I don’t think it’s our job as white people to ‘save’ Hinduism. Religions, like cultures, change and grow, and trying to pick out ‘Christian creep’ where it may or may not exist (and our Western eyes don’t get to decide that) is probably not the best use of our time. If you want to see actual Christian-influenced Hinduism (syncretism, or creep?), check out the concept of “Yeshu bhakt” which is commonly used by campus ministries to convert Hindu students to Christianity.

          • Stephanie Ellison

            It is us whities’ job to save Hinduism, BUT it is OUR job to observe our western bias, acknowledge the Indian viewpoint of the British phenomenon and their own culture, support the born-Hindus, and try to educate our academicians on the errors of their research. You have NO IDEA of what has come up in white research in Hinduism. Have you heard of Wendy’s Child Syndrome? Look it up. Yeshu Bhakt is a very blatant example of such activities, because there, they absolutely admit to it. It’s in academic circles and the layperson circles where it is not realized what’s going on. A week and a half ago, I didn’t even realize that this was going on. I mean, sure, I knew about the colonization history, which is where Ghurka soldiers and Banana Republic’s old Ghurka shorts came from, but I had NO IDEA that because the British failed to subdue India physically, they went after a second tactic, that of culturally annihilating the Indians. I was completely blindsided by this lack of knowledge, which is what the British wanted of me, EXACTLY. They wanted me to not know about that, but rather know a westernized, Universal version of Hinduism, if I attempted to outwardly stray from the congregation and escape to eastern thought. In other words, they wanted to destroy eastern thought and impose western thought EVERYWHERE, create a western boundary through which westerners can’t escape.

            I just discovered within the last week the involvement of the Unitarian Universalist church in this effort, and I had been going to the local church in the area until I moved out to the farm. I was going there not because I wanted to become a UU, but because I didn’t know anyone, and it was the ONLY place where I could go without my beliefs attacked and make new friends in the area, but now that I have looked at the issue, I realize what’s going on.

            We whities have to put a stop to OUR behaviors and start listening to people outside of our race, culture, beliefs, and outside of our Eurocentric historical perspectives. I commented in another post my family’s Cherokee history, which bears repeating.

            My ancestors had lost their ways, as much of what was traditional Cherokee was largely forgotten by the mid-late 1800s. The only reason we have some knowledge of what existed before 1800 is because of missionary documentation of these things while the language, culture, and way of life was still practiced. Fortunately, the language was well preserved through Sequoyah’s writing system. Had I been born 25 years earlier, my grandmother and great-grandmother would not have been much help in the history department because they were converted to Baptism around the time of my great-grandmother. The only thing that my Dad could share was that my great-grandmother was a boarding school student at one of the Indian schools, and the treatment she received from them for being Indian was rough. She was simply being as she was raised prior to boarding school, and yet she was punished, knuckles rapped, etc.

            So, yes, I have an investment in stopping the Christian advance, and I’m siding with Lt. Gen O’Neill, Teal’c, and Dr. Jackson (Stargate) on the real threat that Christianity presents, because they are a HARD PROSELYTIZING religion, and they leave NO ROOM for anyone else, very similar to the Ori arc of the Stargate TV series story lines. The Ori story line was modeled after Christianity’s history. They leave no room for anyone else, just like the Muslims, because they are History-centric, meaning they believe that their history is right, and the other side is wrong. Hinduism has some elements of being History-centric, but is mainly not History-centric, and Hinduism risks falling into becoming completely History-centric if the situation is not reversed and stabilized. THEN you have a three-way war between Christians, Muslims, and Hindus as Hinduism becomes digested into Christianity. Then the Muslims see the Christians allied with Hindus. Just watch… Just watch.

          • Ambaa

            I think you also need to realize that there are a variety of viewpoints of Indians and born Hindus also. In listening to them and their feelings, let’s make sure we listen to all the voices.

            Gurumayi, for example, is an Indian and a born Hindu and you accuse her of not being a true Hindu. That seems pretty outrageous to me.

            I stand up against the spread of Christianity but I am also absolutely certain that Hinduism can never be destroyed. As long as people are finding meaning in it, it will survive any assault. It has survived for thousands and thousands of years through all kinds of threats. It is still strong and authentic.

            Again I say, if you want authentic Hinduism all you have to do is read the Vedas, read the Upanishads, read the Gita: it’s all right there and ready for you.

          • Stephanie Ellison

            Gah!! The first sentence in my reply is wrong… It was supposed to say, “It is NOT us whities’ job to save Hinduism, but…”

            The reason I make that accusation is that yes, she did grow up as Hindu in her homeland, but gave a westernized message to Americans and other westerners.

            I sincerely hope that it survives the Christian invasion. I really do… Every year, I see people who listened to rap, sexed up music, or otherwise lived in an empty way and jump into the fire of Christianity. I see it all the time in this part of the country. I rarely see them try to deculturate for a while and study things before jumping in. Christians look for these kinds of people, and Texas is full of them.

            Perhaps, you are right in that I need to pull back from the war room and just dive into the text for a while. Can you recommend a source of translations with as little reinterpretation as possible?

            Can you also provide links showing where Christians are faltering in the battle to take over the world? It would give me a bit of confidence, because I was really surprised to see you write that they are losing what you indicate to be significant numbers. I’m so in the middle of this battle that I can’t tell whether the power of the Ori is flowing or ebbing. Just this week, the local paper did a poll regarding the Supreme Court ruling on contraception in health plans and employers’ right to refuse to provide coverage based upon their beliefs. We were outvoted by the Christians by a huge margin. It really feels like I’m fighting a losing battle. I’m sorry that I will be leaving people your age behind in this world, as I am older than you are. I hope you don’t have to fight the big battle…

          • Ambaa

            I realize that it’s very hard to see Christianity’s weakness from Texas. You are right in the center of the madness. I am sorry for that!

            Where I am in the north east I see a lot of people moving away from Christianity and certainly away from radical Christianity. I think there’s some digging in happening in the Bible belt now, but the radical evangelical resistance to love and kindness is going to destroy it. The younger generation are mostly uncomfortable that the kindness of the stories of Jesus are being ignored in favor of cruelty and hate.

            I’ll look into a translation of the Vedas for you, but in the meantime, look at the Sargeant translation of the Gita. As I said, it’s got the Sanskrit text, a transliteration of the text, dictionary definitions of every word, and a translation that favors word to word over poetry. I think you’ll really enjoy it!

          • Andrea

            As a former Texan, it’s definitely part of the culture, just like Islam is part of the culture in, say, Dubai. And in out of the way places like east Texas it’s pretty in your face for sure. I’ve definitely seen how the evangelism works. But I don’t think Hinduism is in danger because a bunch of people in Texas want to convert everyone. *shrug* They can’t even decide what flavor of Christianity is the right one, and they’re not the only conversion religion out there either … and despite both Islam and Christianity surviving in India for centuries, there is a coexistence that exists there… it can be strained as far as politics play out (religion plus politics is a dangerous combination, methinks) and people can be prejudiced against one or the other religion, but I personally found people to be more religiously aware and tolerant in New Delhi than in Dallas. And sure, there’s likely more prejudice to be found in less cosmopolitan places, where you’re surrounded by a majority of one religion or another and those who do not conform are not welcome, but that’s everywhere.

            Do we as white people need to be self-aware? Yes. Do we need to be careful about appropriating cultural elements that may bring harm to marginalized communities? Yes. Do we need to be careful about not speaking for those of marginalized communities? Absolutely. But I don’t think it is wise for us to go around telling people that their religious practice is incorrect because it may have some syncretistic elements of Islam or Christianity. Chillies and tomatoes are from the Western Hemisphere, but what would Indian food be without them?

        • Ambaa

          In 5,000 years and two massive invasions Hinduism has survived. I do not believe that it is in danger. I see Christians losing ground every day. For whatever small gains they get in India, there is a backlash and they’re rapidly losing members in the west.

          There is room in Hinduism for us all.

          Let people find meaning and help towards moksha where they can. You can practice Hinduism as you want to and everyone else can practice as they want to. There is no need to convert everyone to one way of practicing Hinduism. That is the most insidious thing Christianity and the west have going for it.

          They are the ones who say there is one right path and everyone has to be on it. If you don’t want to be like them, don’t give in to their world view.