Recently the Satyananda Yoga Ashram at Mangrove Mountain in Australia was placed under the spotlight with regards to the examination of reported child sexual abuse that occurred at the Ashram in the 1970’s and 1980’s as part of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The appalling sexual abuse of young people at the Ashram (and at other institutions) has thus been called to account.
False Claims and Comparisons by Esther Rockett about the Satyanada Ashram & Universal Medicine
What is disturbing is that these events have been used in a hate campaign – led by one Esther Rockett – against Serge Benhayon and Universal Medicine to assert similarities between the Satyananda Ashram and Universal Medicine. Esther Rockett has used the publicity surrounding the Ashram to perpetuate her fabricated accounts about Universal Medicine being a danger, particularly attempting to have an analogy drawn between the abuse that occurred at the Ashram and her complete lies and fabrications about abuse she claimed has occurred with Universal Medicine.
In the case of Universal Medicine, nothing could be further from the truth.
Esther Rockett has spent 3 years asking so called ‘victims’ to come forward… none have, simply because there are none. The teenagers whom Esther Rockett has alleged have been sexually assaulted and ‘groomed’ have spoken up and clearly articulated that there has never been any conduct of any kind that could be construed in the way that Esther Rockett insinuates, and furthermore that their experiences with Serge Benhayon and Universal Medicine have been only positive, providing a foundation for a way of approaching life where they are not caught up in the usual self-abuse that teenagers engage in, and on the contrary they eschew alcohol and drugs for a more engaged and alive experience of life.
It would be thought that this would be a matter to be celebrated given the consistent media reports about teen drinking, drugs and violence, however Esther Rockett has not only falsely accused the teenagers of being victims of sexual abuse, but also abused them for standing up and saying that they are not. Her latest tack is to start making false connections between Universal Medicine and organisations that have abused in order to create a moral panic.
As mentioned, one of the organisations selected by Esther Rockett is the Satyananda Yoga Ashram. In a bid to create fear and moral panic, Rockett has tried to make a case that Universal Medicine – an organisation that has as its keynote an interest in the community and community development, with no ‘ashram’ style residences, and further promotes that an individual make personal choices that feel appropriate for themselves in all aspects of life – poses the same threat as the Satyananda Ashram, which can be characterised in my view as an organisation that encouraged withdrawal from life into a sheltered existence in the closed environment of the Ashram, where there was a strict and authoritarian regime governing all aspects of life.
My Personal Lived Experience of the Satyananda Ashram
I can say I know the difference between the Satyananda Ashram and Universal Medicine having personally experienced both, and I can only assume based on this experience that Esther Rockett does not. As a child I was exposed to the Satyananda Ashram over a four-year period, actually living in the Ashram during 1987 with my family. As an adult I have by choice become a student of Universal Medicine.
I have lived and experienced both Satyananda Ashram and Universal Medicine for a minimum of four years each. My experience is very different to the claims that are being made. Universal Medicine has absolutely no commonality with Satyananda Ashram and anyone who implies or states this has simply not completed their research or is misinformed and making very broad, false, misleading and defamatory allegations in the information they are sharing!
The following summarises my time in both the Satyananda Ashram and Universal Medicine… two vastly different and incomparable organisations based on my lived experience of both!
As a Child Frequenting Satyananda Ashrams
In the mid to late 80’s I was living with my mother and her 3rd husband in ‘Ashgrove’, a Brisbane suburb in Australia. We had moved to Ashgrove in 1984 when I was 9 years of age; my older sister was living with us and in this same year my brother was born.
I don’t remember how it started, but I do remember our family frequently visiting the Satyananda Ashram just a few streets away from our family home. My recollection of those early days is a little sketchy as it was quite a number of years ago, but I do remember attending the Ashram some mornings for yoga classes and meditation and I remember Sunday evenings we would meet for a form of singing and chanting, followed by a community evening meal provided by the swamis: I remember fondly the dahl, sabji and warm chai teas.
Our visits increased in frequency and over time I began independently riding my bike to the Ashram to simply hang out with the swamis, even when there was no official engagement happening at the Ashram.
I would simply hang out doing whatever the swamis were doing – helping in the garden, cleaning out the fish pond, doing their washing, cooking or whatever the task. I remember just loving hanging out with them. I loved their gentleness, the way they showed interest in my life, the way they were happy for me to shadow them in whatever they were doing and the way they treated me with equality and respect.
During the following years the Ashram became like a second home to me and my family. We all had our names changed to swami names and often took to wearing orange sarongs; my head was shaved a few times.
At the same time I was still being a typical kid, attending school, playing softball and hanging out with my friends, often having my friends visit the Ashram with me.
Questioning the ‘Realness’ of the Satyananda Ashram
As much as I loved my time at the Ashram, I remember as a child thinking that the swamis were ‘escaping something’… they were not part of what I called ‘the real world.’ I remember having conversations with them, asking lots of questions and wondering why they would be willing to leave their ‘other life’.
I was one of those annoying kids who asked a lot of questions trying to understand life – this is one characteristic that has not left me. Each swami had their own story, most of which I don’t remember; except I remember thinking they all had a ‘sad story’.
I was aware that to become a full swami you needed to sign over all your personal material possessions to the ownership of the Ashram (including houses, cars, furniture, clothing… everything). From what I remember the swamis did not have jobs; I don’t remember ever meeting any of their families unless this included those who were also swamis, and their visits to the community seemed to be quite infrequent and were based on supplementing the supplies needed for living. The swamis in Brisbane were very self-sufficient, having their own vegetable garden that supplied most of their food except their grains (such as flours, rice, split peas etc.) and powdered milk, which they bought in bulk.
From my memory, the swamis’ diets were quite restricted being vegetarian and having mostly the same meals each day (dahl, rice and sabji) that they ate with their fingers (I’m not sure why but cutlery was not used to eat with). I found this quite a novel experience at the time. Within the Ashram each person had their key area of responsibility, with one being in charge of the garden, another the cooking, another the cleaning and so on. From memory they would have about 4 or 5 swamis living in Brisbane Ashram at one time, some coming and going, but mostly a core group who I remember.
Visiting other Satyananda Ashrams
During 1984 and 1987, we as a family visited other Satyananda Ashrams. I don’t remember them all but I do remember one at Lillian Rock in northern NSW, one at Gosford and I also remember visiting Mangrove Mountain a few times – Mangrove Mountain being the headquarters where a lot of swamis lived. My time at Mangrove Mountain from memory was spent swimming in the lake, playing endlessly with the swami children who lived full time at Mangrove Mountain and singing lots of songs; I remember the stars being so bright as we were out of the city and we would lay on the trampoline at night searching for shooting stars.
Although it seemed like fun at the time, I had the same lingering curiosity as to why so many people (as a child it seemed like Mangrove Mountain had hundreds of swamis living there but I’m not sure if this is true) would escape their old life to live away from the ‘real world’. However, both at Mangrove Mountain and all the other Ashrams I observed a similar feeling of peace and calmness to that I’d experienced with the Brisbane swamis.
I don’t remember ever meeting the Australian head (Swami Akananda); from memory he was someone who was mostly in his quarters and would come out for presentations every now and then. I’m not sure if this was the norm, but based on what I remember others saying it seemed typical to not see him and he was glorified when they did see him.
From what I understand the adult swamis were not entitled to choose which Ashram they were going to live in and were governed very much by the decisions of those at Headquarters (from what I could gather they seemed to be the decision makers for the whole of Australia). I remember hearing of the extreme sadness from one mother who was moved away from Mangrove Mountain while her child was to stay there: however, it was like they had resigned themselves to the fact that ‘it would just be that way.’
As much as my time seemed like fun, I was fully aware this was not the case for all!
Living in the Ashgrove Satyananda Ashram & Rumours of Child Sexual Abuse
In 1986/1987 my mother separated from her 3rd husband and my mother, sister, brother and myself all moved to live in the Ashgrove Satyananda Ashram. I don’t remember how long we stayed, but I know we had left the Ashram by 1988.
During this time I heard rumors of child sexual abuse cases happening in Mangrove Mountain, with Swami Akananda being accused of this abuse. As a child I remember it was ‘hush hush’, however somehow I was still aware of these claims. I personally was never exposed or experienced what was being claimed, however I was certainly aware of the rumors. I was aware of discussions of certain Ashrams needing to be sold to help fund court cases related to the sexual abuse charges.
So although my time in the Ashram is one that I remember at the time as enjoyable, I was fully aware that:
- The Ashram lifestyle was one of escaping ‘the real world’… and
- My experience was certainly not that experienced by many other people living in Mangrove Mountain.
Thus, my explanation of my experience is not to take away the knowing of the severe abuse and harm that many have suffered as a result of their time in the Ashram. I understand the experience of my family, not fully immersing ourselves in this lifestyle while still staying very much a part of the ‘real world’, allowed me to observe and enjoy the best parts yet not get completely lost in this ‘escaped lifestyle’. However this time certainly left a feeling of wariness as I continued into life.
Life after the Satyananda Ashram
By 1988 we had left the Ashram to live with a man that my mum had met while we were living in the Ashram and the remainder of that year my lifestyle was not so great with my mum – living in a house that had drugs, alcohol and frequently changing relationships. I ran away a lot this year, either running back to the Ashram or sleeping at times anywhere but in my home.
By 1989 I had moved to live with my dad and his family. The remainder of my teenage years and early adult life I lived a pretty typical lifestyle filled with school, sports, family activities and later leaving home for further studies and pursuing my own adult life.
I was exposed at times to different religions, philosophies and lifestyles, all of which I was curious about but never immersed myself in as I could feel a similar ‘escape from the real world’ theme that I experienced with the Ashram.
As a young adult my lifestyle became ‘typically Australian’ (if I may be so bold as to categorise it) – studying, working and partying (lots of partying!). Although my life ticked many boxes I could still feel there was something missing: although I had a ‘great life’, I was not fulfilled.
Being Introduced to Serge Benhayon, the Benhayon Family & Universal Medicine
When I was 35 (2010) I was introduced to a practitioner of esoteric therapies. I had experienced frequently what I called ‘alternative therapies’, having previously used acupuncture, homeopathy, massage, chiropractic and other alternative health treatments on a regular basis, however I had never before heard of ‘esoteric therapies’. I continued having esoteric treatments as these sessions left me feeling vastly different in comparison to the other alternative therapies I had experienced and I soon became interested in the principles of Universal Medicine; my curious nature kicked in and I began asking lots of questions.
After a time I was introduced to Serge Benhayon and the teachings of Universal Medicine.
For at least the first two years of attending Universal Medicine events, I was very curious yet also aware that I had said to myself as a child “I would never become like the swamis, escaping from the real world.”
I observed a lot of the people who attended Universal Medicine events, some of whom I could relate to and others who I could not relate to at all. I observed those who ran the events (i.e. the Benhayon family) and I studied them constantly. By this time in life I was a qualified and experienced Behaviour Specialist so I was certainly well practised in the art of observing and analysing behaviour.
I observed that the way the Benhayon family lived was often extremely different to the way many of the other Universal Medicine student body members were living, so in time I began to study the Benhayon family in more detail. I could see their way of living was something I had never experienced before. They had the same gentleness I had experienced with the swamis yet the thing that was very different is that there was no escaping from life on any level and they were very much part of ‘the real world.’
My curiosity increased, and yet so did my radar for ‘wariness’ – “I was not going to be sucked in like the other swamis” was my constant statement to myself. I was confused as I never wanted to ‘belong’ to any group, yet I could feel something very different about this family and this organisation – they oozed integrity, love, care (for themselves and others) and a quality I’d never experienced before.
My wariness intensified as I could see many of those attending courses start becoming dogmatic and rule orientated; yet when I listened to the presenters (mostly Serge Benhayon and Natalie Benhayon) I could hear they were never dictating rules or telling people what to do. There was no exclusive group to belong to; they were simply offering a presentation of the way they were living and allowing others the opportunity to feel that they too are able to make the same choices. I continued to observe and admittedly, to this day, I am still observing.
A Summary of My Experiences with Universal Medicine
A summary of the key things I have observed and experienced with Universal Medicine are:
- How truly supportive all the Benhayon family are.
- How the Benhayon family never judge any person, yet freely offer support when support is sought out.
- How they hold every person as an equal, always supporting other people to live their full-potential.
- How the Benhayon family support people to heal their hurts so they no longer want to ‘escape from life,’ and who are now willingly immersing themselves in society within their community, living life in commitment to a much bigger picture than their own individual lives.
- How the art of discernment is always encouraged as we frequently hear words such as “Don’t believe me, you need to discern whether this is true for you or not” or “Feel free to challenge me at any time.”
- How sometimes the finer details of how the Benhayons personally live is not shared as there is a genuine concern that people will just ‘copy them’ and mimic the exact same way of living as the Benhayons.
- A genuine love, understanding and acceptance for all people in the world.
In summary I have been greatly inspired by all that I have observed and know that what is on offer through Universal Medicine is certainly a way of living I know is of true support to myself and the world as a whole.
I know without hesitation that the way of living I continue to experience through Universal Medicine has the opportunity to support humanity through many of the societal crises we are currently facing.
Universal Medicine makes it about a much bigger picture than our own individual lives.
In time I have come to understand and appreciate that Universal Medicine is not like the Ashram (or in fact any other institutionalised religion) I have ever experienced in any way, shape or form.
The Facts about my Experience with the Satyananda Ashram & Universal Medicine
The table below highlights the facts of what I have experienced in both the Satyananda Ashram and with Universal Medicine.
The Satyananda Ashram from the Lived Experience and Memory as a Child
Universal Medicine from the Lived Experience as an Adult
|Swamis exclude themselves from society and other people, often closing off or isolating themselves from the world outside of the Ashram – as such their inclusion in mainstream society is minimised.||Mainstream society integration is the only option and is fully supported and encouraged. Societal matters are openly discussed with the purpose of addressing and opening up to all that is really happening in the world.|
|Heads dictate rules regarding the way life will be lived (yet according to many news reports often live the opposite of what is being taught).||Presenters simply present an offering of the way they live and then allow others to live according to their own choices. Free Will is understood and respected.|
|Swamis are required to sign over all their material possessions including house, cars, furniture, savings etc.||No possessions are ever asked to be signed over to any person.|
|Required to change your name to a name selected for you by the Ashram heads.||Supported to claim your birth name in full, yet respected if you’d prefer to be called by a nickname.|
|Swamis do not appear to work in paid employment (based on my memory and experience from a child’s perspective).||Students of Universal Medicine are no different to the rest of society with rents, mortgages, and bills etc. to pay. Working and committing to society and within the community is fully supported, and always in respect to each individual’s choice, circumstances and skills etc.|
|Required to shave your head.||All hair styles, colours and cuts are welcomed.|
|Required to wear orange clothing, mostly sarongs. At the time of my experience, swamis were rationed so many sarongs per year.||All fashion styles are welcomed and clothing is chosen and worn by the students themselves based on their own style choice.|
|Woman removed from their children to live in different locations.||No-one is withdrawn from any family, other family members or in fact any part of society. All individuals choose whom they live with and where they live.|
|Celibacy is a requirement (although I remember this not always being adhered to).||Relationships are supported to be truly loving and respectful of partners with intimacy known to be a natural and needed part of life (how else would we have children 🙂 ), together with being one of the expressions of love in an intimate relationship.|
|Families are separated without choice.||Families are supported to live lovingly, in either remaining together as a family, or in separation should either member of the couple choose to leave a relationship for their own personal choices.|
|Diets are restricted and instructed as to what is and is not allowed.||Explanations are provided as to the benefits or potential ill effects of some foods, while people are left to make their own choices of foods to either eat or remove from their diet based on being aware of how certain foods affect the body.|
|People are told where to live and with whom they will live.||People live in whatever location they choose and with whomever they choose to live.|
|The head Swami (Akananda) did not appear accessible to the general person and was put up on a pedestal in a guru like fashion.||Serge Benhayon, the founder of Universal Medicine is accessible to all people, making time to talk to anyone who approaches him. Serge consistently presents and shares how he is the same as everyone else, leaving no room on his part for people to put him above anyone else.|
|Swamis are required to adhere to and ‘follow’ doctrines as presented by the Ashram.||Universal Medicine’s presentations discourages ‘following’ and asks everyone to always ‘discern’ for themselves all that they choose to live.|
|Makes it about individuals, self, the Ashram and the Ashram’s community.||Makes it about the All… as the name suggests it offers ‘Universal Medicine’.|
Sexual Abuse Allegations in Relation to the Satyananda Ashram & Universal Medicine
The serious allegations of sexual abuse at the Satyananda Ashram highlight yet another significant point of difference to Universal Medicine, for which by the very nature of Universal Medicine, there can be absolutely NO comparison whatsoever.
There has been no sexual abuse of any kind by Serge Benhayon or within Universal Medicine.
The fact that there is even the suggestion of similarities being drawn by the likes of Esther Rockett constitutes a gross injustice against Serge Benhayon and Universal Medicine and displays an utter lack of regard, understanding and respect for what this organisation truly represents, simply serving to highlight the personal vendetta and hate campaign that Esther Rockett has been fuelling for the past 3 years.
There has been NO sexual abuse of any kind whatsoever in any way, shape or form regarding Universal Medicine or Serge Benhayon, reported or committed. In stark contrast, it is likely that the cloistered environment of the Satyananda Ashram, where the head swami was treated with such reverence, created an environment where such sexual abuse has been able to flourish. In Universal Medicine there are no cloistered enclaves: those who choose to attend courses offered by the organisation live in their own homes in ordinary suburban communities, as do those who present the courses, such as Serge Benhayon, who also live in the ordinary suburbs in ordinary houses.
There is clearly no room to even suggest the Satyananda Ashram and Universal Medicine could be compared: these two organisations are the polar opposite of each other, and it is simply ludicrous that anyone in sound mind could consider, or make suggestion, that they are similar.
It seems clear that Esther Rockett’s campaign to draw similarity is designed to sow the seed of doubt in any person considering attending a Universal Medicine healing or event, in effect attempting to draw the audience into a moral panic about Universal Medicine from the completely false premise that it poses a risk of controlling all those who attend, or that children may face serious sexual abuse and assault. As I have maintained there is no analogy to be drawn and certainly no cases of sexual abuse despite what Esther Rockett has maliciously asserted.
Thus the real question is: “Why would someone be so vindictive as to spread to the public absolute lies, and where does true responsibility and accountability rest for spreading these lies?”
If any person suggests that these organisations are remotely alike, I can say from my own lived experience of both the Satyananda Ashram and Universal Medicine that there is absolutely no substance to this claim, and absolutely nothing to compare!
By Tanya Curtis, Behaviour Specialist & Counsellor, Assoc Dip Ed. (Child Care), BHlthSci. (BehMgt), MBehMgt, MCoun
|Tanya Curtis is a Behaviour Specialist, Author, Director of Fabic, Co-Director of Sunlight Ink Publishing, and dedicated to the development of services for people. You can learn more about Tanya Curtis at www.tanyacurtis.com.au, www.fabic.com.au or www.sunlightink.com
You can follow Tanya Curtis on Twitter @fabicptyltd
|Serge Benhayon is an author and presenter and the founder of Universal Medicine. You can learn more about Serge Benhayon at his personal website www.sergebenhayon.com|
– The Truth about Universal Medicine: Esther Rockett’s False Parallels with Scientology
– Esther Rockett & Lance Martin’s Lies about Serge Benhayon and Universal Medicine: We are Speaking Out
– A Response to False Accusations of Sexual Misconduct & Abuse by Universal Medicine & Serge Benhayon
– Standing by the Truth of Universal Medicine: Calling Abuse & Bias to Account