B y D a n H u f f
GOD RECENTLY FAILED to show up in small claims court. He was found guilty of second- and third-degree sexual assault anyway. And in her own humble way, Antoinette Marcel, the woman who filed the suit, has helped make the quest of spiritual seekers a tiny bit safer in this dangerous world.
Marcel is a former devotee of the Swami Amar Jyoti, an Indian guru who has the gall to intimate he's an incarnation of one aspect of the Hindu god Vishnu.
But Jyoti, who puts on a big show of being celibate and other-worldly, is really just another religious con man, a manipulative, two-faced slimeball abusing the trust of others and bullying them to satisfy his uncontrollable cravings--in the cases of Marcel and other female victims, his need for total control and secretive sex; in the case of others, he manipulates them into renouncing personal property, which he absorbs into his own empire.
Jyoti's far-flung scam includes ashrams in Boulder, Colorado, Poona, India and, unfortunately, Tucson. His centers in Michigan, New Zealand and California have already folded.
Marcel is quick to point out she's not trying to denigrate religion in general nor Hinduism in particular.
She says what she hoped to accomplish in last month's suit in a Colorado court was to "gain some closure" on the abuse she suffered at the hands of this petty creep, and to help warn others--especially the young and impressionable--of the dangers of turning their lives over to anyone who claims to have all the answers.
The judge also awarded her $3,500 in damages to help pay for the counseling she needed to put her life back together once she escaped from Jyoti's grasping fingers and his pathetic little cult of brainwashed devotees.
As spiritual leaders go, Swami Jyoti sounds like a major piece of shit. He's also a coward--his Tucson spokeswoman refused to give her name, refused to divulge his whereabouts and refused to discuss his sexual peccadilloes, which may be considerable, judging by the length of time he's been running his guru scam.
MARCEL WAS introduced to Jyoti in 1974, when she was 23 years old and a student at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon.
As a novice spiritual seeker, she had a couple of strikes against her that Jyoti, whom others have described as a master of psychological manipulation, must have recognized:
"There had been abuse and neglect in my family," Marcel recalls. "And I had not come to terms with that. Also, I'd gone into an early marriage before I started college. I had a 5-year-old child and my marriage had fallen apart. I'd made a bad choice and I hadn't dealt with it. I'd just been plugging along, which is what you do when you're young and you have that kind of responsibility."
She'd been meditating for two years and searching for spiritual answers to her suffering. "And then, when I met Swami, his message was one of enlightenment and peace of mind. He seemed to pay special attention to me from the beginning. He was a charismatic and brilliant speaker of spiritual truth, and I didn't perceive that he was subtly twisting these ancient teachings and presenting them in a self-serving way."
Incredible as it sounds, he required sex of her almost immediately--at a retreat organized by one of her professors at the college.
"It's hard to explain," Marcel says of being sucked into Jyoti's sexcapades. "He was supposed to be pure. He was like this celibate monk to the world. But he was supposed to be doing it to help me spiritually. There was a lot of manipulation involved. If I didn't comply he said he wouldn't be able to help me as much, and I felt pressured and honored. You feel flattered to be singled out for attention."
Only after the fact, she says, did he make their liaison a matter of utmost secrecy. "He told me it would hurt other people spiritually. People I cared about. He claimed to have special powers to know these things, and I believed him." He also told her it would harm her if she told anyone: "He said it would result in more confusion for me. In other words, I was supposed to trust him completely."
All this went on during the first retreat. After that, they corresponded for about a year, until Jyoti returned for another retreat--and, of course, more of that pants-down hanky-panky he insisted was essential to spiritual enlightenment.
"Again there was more fear and a lot of manipulation," Marcel recalls.
The first time around Jyoti had said Marcel and her son soon would be able to live in the ashram he was building outside of Boulder. "But by the time he came back, I was much more of a follower, and he said there would be no children at the ashram."
She recalls being "really psyched up" for months before his second visit, thinking life under Jyoti's tutelage was her true destiny.
"Then he made this major change on me--but he let me know I was welcome to come, and that this was my path. Gradually, it became obvious he wanted me to renounce my son. Part of Swami's teaching involved overcoming personal attachments."
Her son was almost six. Marcel sat him down and told him she might never see him again.
"It's one of my worst memories," she recalls. "He was stressed out during that time. It showed. I look back at photos; he was thinner."
The stress on Marcel was immense, too. "I was very attached to my son. I love him very much, but I was really believing Swami knew what was best, not only for my life, but my son's. I was raising him alone. I thought it might be something in the long run I could do that would help my son."
BUT THE sleazy swami's demand turned out to be just too great; her maternal instincts fought back, and Marcel's belief in Jyoti started to unravel. She went to a retreat he was giving in Tacoma, Washington.
"I was having misgivings. When I tried to talk with him, he just blew up, and I saw an angry side of him I hadn't seen before."
He'd always told her that when a guru gets angry, it's not real anger in the sense ordinary people feel--it's a show of anger for the follower's own good. Right--the egoless, unselfish enlightened one. But Marcel's father had been a very volatile person. She had been abused as a child. "Swami's anger seemed very real and very threatening."
At his well-attended public lecture that day, he talked about Judas betraying Jesus, about how Judas had to hang himself after betraying his guru.
"I felt like I was going to die, I was so scared," Marcel recalls. "The fear was so intense I couldn't deal with it any more."
For three years she stayed away. "But at the same time, I still believed he was my spiritual teacher." For three years she believed she was failing in her quest for enlightenment. "Because I had been abused as a child, I had learned to associate harsh criticism with someone who loves you. I felt he was trying to correct me."
Jyoti responded to Marcel's withdrawal by telling her in a phone conversation there was an "evilness" in her; he ordered her not to call the ashram because it would "disturb the vibrations" there.
"I know it sounds incredible, but that's how it works," she says. "I still believe the man has a genius, but it's a genius for manipulating people. He has the sort of genius you'd see at Waco or Jonestown."
She now realizes that if she'd actually done what Jyoti demanded, if she had given up her son, the control-fiend swami would have owned her completely. There would have been no escape.
"I want people in Tucson to understand what this man is about," she says, adding there are probably many women throughout the world Jyoti's abused--others have reached undisclosed out-of-court "resolutions" with Jyoti in his capacity as president of Truth Consciousness Inc. One of those who allegedly obtained a resolution was a Boulder woman whom Swami reportedly ordered to have two abortions after their sexual liaisons--this while she and her husband, as a young couple, lived at Jyoti's Colorado ashram.
AS FOR Marcel, for years she put her feelings on hold. Then, a few years ago, she went through an "especially depressing time" and began seeing a psychotherapist and attending a group for abused women.
"The wound was still there," she says. "It was fresh again. But this time I was able to understand the full parameters of what he had done to me."
Although her abuse had taken place in Oregon, she called a police sex-crimes detective in Boulder, near the site of Jyoti's largest U.S. ashram. The detective said there wasn't much to be done, unless someone else came forward. Marcel also called the victim/witness program there.
"I wanted them to be aware--so they'd know if another woman came forward."
Months went by; she called back to check. Someone told her to call Westword, the alternative weekly paper in Denver.
"They told me they had just done a story about the abuse that had gone on at the Boulder ashram. Steve Jackson was the reporter, and his story is about a woman who lived there."
The woman wasn't sexually abused, "but she described the other types of abuse that go on as Swami takes control over people's lives," Marcel says. "I read the article. I started crying. It was such a great relief because I knew I wasn't alone, this was not an isolated thing. It gave me courage."
So, eventually, she sued the son of a bitch.
She chose small claims court due to statute-of-limitation complications, and because Jyoti's attorney would be unable to stall with expensive motions and maneuverings allowed in a full-blown civil action.
The sleazy swami didn't bother to appear; after years of suffering, Marcel got her closure.
But there was more to her effort than mere personal healing--much more:
"A teacher's doing some good by us--even what we perceive as a profound spiritual good--does not excuse the abuse," Marcel says. "It only makes the situation more confusing. We feel grateful for the good, but it shouldn't silence us any more than we should tolerate a child being beaten because it's only beaten from time to time.
"I read an interview with the Dalai Lama," she says. "I'm not a Buddhist, but I've always felt he has a certain integrity. His followers asked him what you do when you encounter an abusive teacher, someone like Swami. The Dalai Lama said these people should be held accountable publicly. First you try to settle the matter with them, but if they won't admit to what they've done, then you publish. You give their names because they must be held accountable so the abuse can stop. He said criticize openly--it's the only way."
And so, to slimeball pseudo-swami Amar Jyoti, wherever you're hiding: It's still your move, asshole.
Cutline: Thou shalt not covet thy worshipper's flesh. Photo by Sean Justice
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