Excerpts from the introduction
by Dr Jacques Vigne, psychiatrist, author and specialist of India
Full PDF version in the archives page
As the author quotes in his dedication, the concept of the guru-disciple relationship is associated with precise and rigorous ethical criteria that have been clearly documented centuries ago.
By contrast, the author provides key insider testimony. He visited India for the first time in 1970 at the age of sixteen and stayed six months a year in Tiruvannamalai, one of Hinduism’s major places, with its sacred mountain, its great temple from the 15th-16th centuries dedicated to Shiva and above all, the ashram of the sage Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950) before returning to settle there in 1978. From an early age he was deeply impressed by the high ideal of the guru as given by sage Shankarāchārya in the 8th century and quoted in the dedication of this book. He finally joined Amma in 1979 before being sent back to Europe five years later in 1984 as her representative and to spread the word about her. He served her for fourteen years, closely during the first five years at the Vallickavu ashram, then as a regular interpreter during her European tours, or otherwise remotely in Europe giving talks and founding and developing her movement.
Jacques worked on the languages of India. He studied Sanskrit to understand the etymology of the terms in the founding texts of Hinduism and also acquired a good working knowledge of Tamil. He learned Malayalam, a difficult language that very few Western devotees, even those who have been with her for a long time, can understand and speak fluently. Since he could also speak several European languages, this earned him the role of Amma’s interpreter in Europe. With his privileged position among the first circle of disciples, he was obviously not only aware of the official discourse, but of what was being said behind the scenes and able to understand the internal affairs of his ex-master and her organisation. It is about this divorce between the two discourses that he reports on in this testimony in a captivating and especially useful way, which is nothing short of an eye-opener.
His book is teeming with quality testimonies, incriminations and evidence of serious ethical excesses related to the behaviour of his ex-master and to the management of her organisation. Reading it, we realise the huge discrepancy between the façade and reality, we discover how, in this organisation, lie and deception is part of a parallel reality. It is even quantifiable when the author analyses and dissects with rigour the foreign contributions accounts published on the website of the Indian Home Ministry. Fortunately for us, he deals with the subject he knows perfectly, as an investigative journalist would. Listening attentively to his testimony unveiling fundamental thematics related to the organisation could save many people a lot of time and energy.
One of the valuable elements of the work to be noted is the reinterpretation of the official biography. The author’s hindsight and his insider knowledge make it possible to demystify the official discourse and to lay bare the reality of the person, her evolution and her realisations. After Gail Tredwell, Jacques in turn reveals in his own way the functioning, the tendencies, and the intimate thought of their former master.
The author guides the reader in the gradual discovery of the various dysfunctions and excesses of his ex-master and her organisation. His direct experience and investigation cover a whole range of themes: spiritual lineage, learning and achievement, megalomania and manipulation, psychotic outbursts and decompensations, sexuality and greed, personality cult, miracles and prophecies, infantilisation and violence, media fabrication and contradictory information, finances and charity, entrepreneurial empire in education and health and development aid with various key testimonies and reports, construction of the myth and reality, plagiarism and innovative authenticity, empowerment of women and support of patriarchy, politics and power, celebrities and traditions.
What also gives weight to this work is the number of directly accessible internet links which support the author’s analysis: almost on every page, readers will be able to start their own research on the subjects that interest them or on which they may have doubts – especially useful in the electronic version of the book. Readers will therefore be able to form their own opinions on the basis of his testimony and investigative work.
After his personal testimony, in the second part of the work, the author gives us the means to understand the criteria of the authentic spiritual master, the true meaning of the guru-disciple relationship, and in case of need, the elements to regain our autonomy with the minimum of losses. He insists on putting into perspective the guru-disciple relationship and the meaning of Dharma within the framework of classical tradition, with Sanskrit sources. This makes it possible for people to remain rooted in a solid foundation in their further development and broadens the debate by going beyond the criticism of one-off/factual excesses of given persons or groups.
In particular, I recommend the reading of the last pages of this second part carefully. There he develops what we could call the psychology of deconversion, that is to say how to extract and empower oneself in relation to a belief, a religion, a group, or a master that one has followed for some time.
His book is not only a precious and authentic testimony, but also a guide for finding oneself and navigating one’s way around a situation of spiritual, social and personal involvement that is often complex to grasp and to disentangle from. Those who fear the repercussions of a coming-out will be able to comfort themselves with these words of Mahatma Gandhi: “Tell the truth: at the beginning you will be alone, then most will follow you!” As the saying goes: “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time!”