By Guest Blogger, Cult*ural In$ergent
Once upon a time there was a Satyananda Ashram some 15-20 mins drive out from Nimbin. It no longer exists as such – the property has been renamed Kaivalya Meru, a place where Kirtan Camps are held.
In the early 1980s one of my sisters took me to a retreat which was held at the Satyananda Ashram in the Mangrove Mountain region. My sister was exploring rebirthing, psychotherapy, reiki and various other philosophies/disciplines here and there. I was not. Still, it was a beautiful place and while my sister immersed herself in the daily ‘spiritual’ activities I wandered around the grounds with my eldest son who was a toddler at the time. The permanent residents and some of the visitors had created luxuriant garden beds around and about. I particularly remember the rockmelon vines which were running riot at that time of year. Yes, it was a gloriously verdant environment.
What wasn’t so glorious was the abuse of power by the then head of the Mangrove Mountain ashram, Swami Akhandananda. Coercive manipulation was employed as a means to an end – that end being to ensure that ‘earthly desires’ were met. This involved the sexual abuse of minors. He was charged and did time in prison. Satyananda Yoga Mangrove’s facebook page offers an “apology to the children and adults whose lives were affected by the abuse [by] and misconduct of those in charge of the ashram in the late 70’s and early 80’s.” That’s a great start but no amount of Hari Oms will completely heal the deep wounds that were inflicted upon those affected by the abuse. Nor can chanting even the most heartfelt kirtans.
Satyananda Yoga Australasia’s website describes their Mangrove Yoga Ashram as being “the largest residential yoga retreat in the Southern Hemisphere… providing a haven of peace for people from all walks of life since 1975.” Huh, really? I hardly think that any of those impacted by the abuse at Mangrove Mountain felt that they were provided with any sort of haven at that time.
Satyananda Survivors have a facebook page. Their story is tragically similar to case after case of abuse the world over. There’s an exceedingly heavy toll exacted and a virtually immeasurable impact upon victims and their loved ones regardless of the how, when, where or why. It seems that some attempt was made to address the past damage done to the Satyananda Survivors by allowing comments (about the abuse they were subjected to) to be posted on a web page but apparently the comments disappeared/were removed. At least this is what I’ve gleaned from my reading. That just seems like abuse upon abuse. Silenced again. History repeating.
An offer of free attendance to the 40th anniversary celebrations was extended to those who previously resided at Mangrove Mountain. This, I’d imagine, was done with the best of intentions as a path to healing. It would be understandable, though, if some of those who suffered abuse may never want (or even be able) to set foot on that soil again.
Some people and places, although they may appear lovely and peaceful, have a past (or, in some cases, a present) that is sordid and fetid. This needs to be publicly acknowledged so that those who have been abused and then subsequently silenced or ignored are finally able to speak and be heard. That’s empowering and goes at least some way to a kind of healing.
Satyananda Yoga Mangrove Mountain Ashram under Child Abuse Royal Commission scrutiny – resource page links to Royal Commission inquiry web page and news reports.