Holy Hell of an Ashram

Arun N. Madhavan , an Indian humanist wrote about the book Holy Hell for my blog.

It has been few weeks since the book written by former disciple of the so called hugging saint Amrithanandamayi has started making waves in social media in Kerala in south India. The book named “Holy Hell, A memoir of faith devotion and pure madness” is written by Gail Tredwell, a former devotee and close assistant of Sudhamani (Amrithanandamayi). The book reveals the dirty underbelly of the Ashram with revelations of rape, sexual encounters between Sudhamani and her senior “celibate” swamis, financial irregularities and cut throat rivalries between those in the Spirituality business. By contrast the mainstream media, always hungry for controversies and scandals, strangely remained silent until the Ashram made its first public statement of denial.

Gail Tredwell was born and educated in Australia. Coming from a dysfunctional family background, she reached India on an Asian tour in search of elusive happiness and meaning of life. She was 19 when she landed in India in 1978. Falling instantly in love with Indian spirituality, she began her search for a guru to show her the way to salvation. Finally in 1980, her search ended as she became a devotee and assistant of Sudhamani.

Sudhamani was then called Ammachi and was a member of fishermen community near Kollam in South Kerala. During those days she used to act as Krishna and Devi (gods of Hinduism) at her family shrine and bless devotees by hugging. Her fame spread as there were stories of her performing miracles. As the disciples increased, including some people of white skin, her popularity surged. An Ashram was constructed and later she became Mata Amrithanandamayi as she proclaimed herself to be a saint.

By the time the disillusioned Gail Tredwell left the Ashram after 20 years of devoted service, the mutt has grown up to a multimillion dollar empire comprising of several branches all over the world, hospitals, several colleges and schools and even a deemed University.

With in 2 years of service at Ashram, Tredwell came to know about one of the lies that was being spread about Sudhamani. Her devotees where told that she is ‘pure’ and do not have menstruation. But one day Tredwell was witness to the event. See how she describe it in her book:
“For a moment I was in shock. But I let it go. This discovery did not affect my faith. It made me feel trusted and special. She had her menstruation every month from that day onward, and I did my best to help her conceal the fact. I always knew it was a secret. Not once did it ever cross my mind that it was a lie. I was so wound up in my devotion and in holding onto my dream position that the full implications of the deception were lost on me. I either blocked out or completely forgot the truth. Her biography clearly stated that she was“pure.” Amma obviously knew this claim to be incorrect. She allowed it to be published anyhow”.
Tredwell was in such a blind devotional trance that she could not understand this as plain deception. Also this underlines the patriarchal basis of Indian Spirituality, were a menstruating woman could not be called a saint.

Tredwell describes how the second in command of the Ashram, Balu raped her several times. Why she never reported it to Amma? She explains:
“I tried to argue and plead my way out, but he was obsessed and relentless. I felt trapped. If I didn’t oblige, he would start sulking and acting weird. People would begin to wonder what was going on. If this ever came to light, I would be the one to suffer. I would be the one punished—not Balu. Amma had never shown any leniency to me before, so I had no reason to believe this time would be any different. The common notion in India is that Western women possess loose morals. I believed I would be blamed, possibly kicked out of the ashram, and most definitely no longer allowed to serve Amma. I knew I couldn’t live with such consequences. I felt I had no other choice but to succumb to his demands—to his manipulation“.

She also talk about sexual encounters between senior Swamis (who were supposed to be celibate) of the Ashram and Sudhamani. There are also vivid descriptions of the verbal abuse and physical assaults Tredwell and few other women disciples had to endure from Sudhamani.
“Within a few months of getting my robes, history began repeating itself. Once more I was being hit, kicked, slapped, and thrown out of her room. She even invented a new form of punishment for me when she was really angry. Grabbing me by the throat with one hand, she would dig her nails in and rip towards the center, scraping the skin as she went. I was then left with bright red scratch marks across my throat, and sometimes blood”.

To a keen observer of such spiritual ashrams of India, the book is never shocking. Such tales has been told by several former disciples about gurus and swamis of all hues. It’s said that there are two types of spiritual gurus and god men. Those caught out as fake and those yet to be caught.

Most interesting about this book is how beautifully it reveals the mind of a theist. Gail Tredwell was convinced that there is a hidden meaning for life, which can only be revealed to her by a guru. She was in search of elusive happiness outside her material world. Though she receives setbacks after setbacks she remains convinced that all these bad experiences were there to test her devotion. See how she rationalizes the sexual encounters between Sudhamani and Swamis.

“I didn’t want to leave the ashram and give up what I believed to be the opportunity of many lifetimes. This was my life, my family, all I knew, and all I wanted. I had myself convinced that I was on the express train to God, and I couldn’t imagine being pushed off at full speed. In that moment I made a choice. I vowed myself to silence. Mustering every ounce of justification juice, I accepted this behavior as Amma’s way of “keeping it in the family.” Because she is one with God (I explained to myself), she’s beyond any form of human desire, longing, or attachment. She’s letting these senior fellows release any pent-up sexual frustration upon her as part of the bigger picture in her mission to save the world”.

Gail Tredwell rationalized like this for 20 years, before she became wise enough to escape. Even then for several years she continued to suffer from severe mental trauma. Only now she could come out of her closet to write a memoire, to get everything out of her system. She writes:
“I offer my story with the sincere hope that it will illustrate to spiritual seekers the downside of blind faith, and that surrender to a guru/teacher is sometimes mind control in disguise. Perhaps some readers will now recognize that they too have turned a blind eye to reality in order to protect their beliefs. I hope that those who doubt will feel free to question, those with questions will find answers, and those already suffering the wounds of betrayal and disillusionment will find consolation and validation.
Ultimately, I hope this book will empower those trapped in any form of abusive relationship or unhealthy situation to find the courage to step away and to trust that an amazing life awaits them—a life full of unexpected blessings and wonderful people”.

This book if widely read may slightly reduce the popularity of Mata Amrithanandamayi. But the vast majority of susceptible theists will continue their elusive quest for salvation, going from one guru to another. As long as there is demand, the product of spirituality will sell like hot cakes.

Scientifically speaking life happened spontaneously, not because of some definite purpose. Bacteria, mosquitoes or cows do not worry about the aim of their lives. It’s the highly developed human brain that makes us think about aims of life. Gail Treadwell’s experiences underline the fact that one has to find one’s own meaning for life and find happiness ourselves. Humanistic ideals can serve as a guide, but ultimately we are on our own. No guru or mata can help you. Only the lazy theist waits for an elusive guru or become a fundamentalist believer of a book or prophet or a mythical god. A rationalist finds her way herself.


    • Ramesh Barah says

      Truth is bitter as always my friend, I know it is hard for you to digest when it came into light, but what can be done, truth is truth.

  1. John Coelho says

    I have a saying: Everything is perfect; anything is imperfect–including gurus. To say that Ammachi is imperfect is to state the obvious.Thanks to rationalists, the flaws of gurus are coming to light. To deny, however, that she has spiritual power and strong compassion is to be spiritually obtuse. Anyone with any sensitivity who has been in her presence knows otherwise.

    Rationalism is an important evolutionary stage from which many critiques are emerging about the flaws of gurus. In the future, however, a world view may emerge where a more modest and defined role of the guru may emerge and a greater respect for spirituality belonging to no religion and avaialble to everyone may appear.

  2. John Coelho says

    The following is an elaboration supportive of the idea that secular democracy with almost full free expression is compatible with not only rationailsm but genuine spirituality as well

    The terrorist attacks in Washington, DC and New York a decade ago have led people to wonder how religion could motivate people to commit such horrific acts. Such behavior might lead one to reject any concern for what lies beyond mundane existence and live a dry secular life but there’s no solution to the human dilemma in this for we all will ultimately want to know what’s beyond our limited scope. First of all, even though the terms religion and spirituality are often used interchangeably, the religion of the terrorists is of a particular common type: it is religion unsubordinated to spirituality. Religion and spirituality denote two distinct phenomena. If we are going to maintain an interest in the beyond we should ask what religion is and how it differs from spirituality.

    Religion is a theological belief system and a code of conduct. Spirituality is the experience of love, compassion and unity . In contrast to religion which is mental, but often not intellectual, spirituality exists in the realm of feeling and can only be experienced to the degree that the mental function can be transcended. Religion legitimately achieves two purposes: providing a lifestyle in which spirituality can flourish and serving as a”finger pointing at the moon”. In the latter case it points the metaphysical novice toward an experience of God by giving him an abstract though temporary way of perceiving God.

    The fact that 90% of religion has become an end in itself is an old story. The religion of the hijackers is cancerous in the sense that it doesn’t subordinate itself to spirituality just as cancerous tissue in an organism doesn’t subordinate itself to the higher needs of the organism. Much as malignant tissue comes to dominate an organism so does an attachment to religious doctrine or, for that matter, attachment to a secular credo come to dominate the soul and protect the believer from uncertainty.

    Religion that subordinates itself to spirituality can be found in such practices as the sabbath when the sacred day is observed as a surcease from material concerns allowing the mind to rest on the spiritual and in moral codes that cause one to feel in balance with the needs of society and, hence more open to spiritual vibrations.

    Cancerous religion can be seen in forcing others to observe the sabbath and other moral or religious practices beyond concern for what is hazardous to societal well being. The motivation comes from insecurity and fear and the result can even be harmful to society.. An example is the Taliban decree that no woman can work outside of the home causing thousands of war widows to starve to death. In contrast, the prohibition and punishment of theft, rape, and murder can, from any reasonable point of view, be considered justified and not based on malignant religion..

    To the degree that religion becomes an end in itself what unconscious dynamics are empowering it? A good degree of the exploitive, cold uncaring hierarchical nature of society is merely the outward projection of the “ego” or, the neurotic character structure. This is the contracted egocentric structure of the “bound soul”. If religion is not in service to peoples’ spirituality what other part of human consciousness is it in service to? I think we can see by the results in death and destruction.

    One of the surest ways to know if a motivation is based on this malignant kind of religion is to what degree it focuses on belief.. As a central theme of most western religion, belief is based on ignorance and insecurity. You don’t know what you believe and you don’t believe what you know. The reason you want to believe it is to avoid feeling insecure. If you knew it you wouldn’t need to believe it. If you believe it it’s for sure you don’t know it and no matter how much you hide from insecurity in belief it is always there waiting for you.. We know a religion is full of spiritual ignorance and to what degree it is dangerous to others in the degree of fervor to which it concentrates on belief. Spirituality, in contrast, shows you how to face insecurity through direct experience of the void within. Better to face it than to force others to live in such a way as to enhance your fragile security.

    One of the biggest examples of religion being an end in itself is where it exalts belief above the values it purports to uphold. In my Catholic childhood I was told that a nice guy who is an atheist was of a lower order than a cretin who believed. The atheist would never go to heaven because he didn’t believe where as the cretinous believer might slip in if he repented for any mortal sins he might have committed.

    Of course in the West the inroads of rationalism have steadily eroded the absolutism of Christianity as the result of the renaissance and the enlightenment. Unfortunately Islam never had these two moderating historical events; hence we see belief leading to the mayhem in New York City and Washington, DC. Never the less while the West focuses on the Islamic world looking for allies in the war against violent muslim extremists the focus is on the more educated elites. The rationality these people have gained from secular education makes them more relativistic but there has always been another redoubt of tolerant relativism in the Islamic world, based on spirituality, the mystical Sufi sect, another source of potential allies.

    As far as popular awareness is concerned we have two options: the absolutist religious fundamentalists who are all too ready to sacrifice you to their beliefs and the rationalist who, as a relativist, is tolerant. But the spiritual or mystical person is also tolerant and a relativist- on a deeper level. The mystic experiences a universe in which only the totality is absolute. Anything in it is only relative to something else. For example heat is relative to cold and good is relative evil. The beliefs of malignant religion bring its adherents into the perpetual struggle between two opposite principles trying to make one of them absolute. For example, if God, separate from his creation, is absolute good then of necessity there must also be an absolute evil which immediately makes the two only relative to each other but the average member of an Abrahamic religion thinks that God is absolute good in spite of this. The spiritual perception that God comprises all opposites making him beyond good and evil solves this source of endless conflict.

    The fact that the rationalist and the spiritual person are natural allies is seen in a number of phenomena. Rationalism has found through science more and more complex ways in which even the smallest speck of matter animate or inanimate is in harmony with everything else suggesting an intelligence behind phenomena. The theory of relativity, in effect a pantheist statement, states that everything is energy. Einstein, himself, was not conventionally religious but communicated the perception that his endless scientific quest showed him more and more of God’s nature. The intellectual researcher is a truth seeker as is the mystic. The malignantly religious person is “sure” he has found the truth and need look no further. If he is a Presbyterian minister enunciating some Christian doctrine at the table he might just bore you to death with his “certainty.” If he’s a Taliban militant he might actually kill you rather than tolerate any uncertainty.
    These malignantly religious people are immune to the perception that you have to be empty and only then will God come in. Empty of materialism, empty of religious concepts, empty. Paradoxically, one of the biggest obstacles to an experience of God is a belief in God, as necessary as such a belief might have been in the beginning to motivate someone to seek God.

    Since a spiritual person is a truth seeker he doesn’t blot out knowledge from outside whatever religion he is part of. For example, the population explosion and its resultant poverty, ethnic conflict and ecological crisis, the need for alternative energy to slow down the greenhouse effect and so on are realities that the spiritual person may allow into his mind and he may behave accordingly. If having large families disrupts the balance of nature and contributes to poverty and unrest then he may practice birth control. If the hybrid car pollutes less he may try to buy one, etc. If, however the cancerously religious person spends all his time reading the bible, koran or torah considering all truth to be therein then he may and often does contribute greatly to the problems of the world. In fact studies show that fundamentalist families tend to have far more children than other families and are oblivious to many social and ecological concerns.

    Because self exploration is not part of the fundamentalist mind set the religiously motivated terrorist will tell you that he is willing to die because he is a selfless servant of God or the dispossessed. An exposure of motivations will show that the terrorist hopes to gain something for himself whether it be a special place in heaven or the admiration of his contemporaries.

    It’s time that cancerous religion were taken off its pedestal and the motivations of religious fanatics were exposed. Whether it be terror or sociopolitical problems only reason and real spirituality with religion as a junior partner will provide any help.

  3. Sajeev Dharan says

    Many of the people who write articles defending Gail Tredwell do not know Mata Amritanandamayi or they may have heard something about this person but did not take the time to find out really the details.

    Some say Mata Amritanandamayi has performed miracles. Some say such things are just fairy tales. But no one can deny that Amma’s life has been an offering to humanity. Sitting 15, 20, sometimes more than 24 hours straight, ignoring all bodily needs just to dry one more tear, to hold one more person, to turn one more frown into a smile. Taking no private time, no compensation, nor anything else for herself… Just giving—hour after hour, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year—for more than four decades, without ever taking a vacation. To me, that in itself is a miracle. Has anyone else in this world ever embraced everyone and anyone who comes to them like this? Even if you ignore everything else Amma has done, this is a fact that cannot be denied – Sheha.

    The allegations put forth in Gail Tredwell’s memoir are untrue and are the fabrications of a disturbed mind. It is puzzling that 15 years after leaving Amma’s ashram, Ms. Tredwell has decided to self-publish this book, fabricating incidents that supposedly took place as many as 30 years ago -.Kusuma

    Read and undertstand the Truth from this blog :http://ammascandal.wordpress.com/category/amma-lies/


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